Thursday, 16 June 2016

Are our ‘devices’ causing us to lose connection?

I was recently taking part in an interview panel for a Director of Boarding role, and the question was raised regarding just how much the art of conversation has disappeared amongst our young people. The comment was made of the number of time two teenagers were sitting in the same room and were texting each other, not a word was spoken.

Should we be concerned?
I think we should! Even in business we see today the advent of people thinking it is appropriate to text in when they are not able to go to work or are running late, or to send an email to a colleague rather than walking across the office to discuss an idea. What happened to creating teams where everyone is able to collaborate, discuss and come up with the best idea as a group? These discussions are the lifeblood of good business, and ensure the younger and less experienced members learn from those with more experience. If this is done without any personal contact, with no body language watched and with no opportunity to ask deep questions, then younger business people will struggle to develop quickly in their roles.

Those in relationships who text rather than talk, or talk over the phone without really connecting up, don’t actually get the chance to see face-to-face how their partner is actually feeling, and can’t reach out to share a personal touch to help develop the partnership. Many young people today think that texting solves all woes, and fail to see that actually making the physical connection changes everything!

So how can you help the teenagers in your care? Maybe try some ‘device free’ time each weekend, or each night? Maybe provide time and places where friendships can flourish? Maybe teach the art of recognising body language? Maybe have areas in your boarding house where phones can’t be used? Or do you have ideas …..

Food for thought!

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Do You Have a Change Agenda?


At a large hospital in the centre of London, during the Second World War, the powers that be decided that they would seek ways of reducing the cost of fuel associated with bringing staff to and from work.  As well, bombing raids during the war made public transport both hazardous and unreliable.  It was decided that the staff would be encouraged to ride bicycles to work.  To monitor the effectiveness of this plan, a Bicycle Book was established in the Porter’s Lodge at the entrance to the hospital.  The number of bicycles and who was riding the machine were recorded.

In 1975, during a routine efficiency audit, the specialists conducting the assessment chanced upon the Porter’s Lodge and began an inventory of all that went on there.  The Bicycle Book emerged in the look see and the auditor asked about the book and its contents.  It was explained that the book contained details of anyone who rode a bicycle through the hospital gates.  When asked what happened to the information, the Porter proudly announced, “Nothing, Sir.  It’s just always been done that way.  My father’s father was Porter here during the war, and we have carefully kept up the tradition.  Every bicycle ridden through these gates since 1942 has been faithfully recorded.”

Like any good Talmudic parable, it’s best not to comment on the story.

I can’t imagine working in a boarding program where I didn’t have a change agenda and a couple on the back burner.

(The story came from Edward de Bono in the 80s.)

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Flight Zone - from Lights Out

Queensland graziers have been advocating that stockmen should understand and respect the ‘flight zone’ of cattle when close to the herd or moving a mob of cattle.  They suggest that there is  valuable saving to both cattleman and beast if cattle are moved from place to place slowly and quietly without stress.  Whip cracking and shouting to move cattle from one place to another should be replaced by a quieter and more relaxed form of management.  The Queensland graziers believe the results have been noticeable that animals seem less anxious and cattle go forward in better condition!

The Queensland graziers explain that at times you have to get close or inside the ‘flight zone’ to shift cattle however the majority of contact with the animals can be made from a distance, respecting the animal’s private space.

The team responsible for the management and care of school boarders can gain knowledge from this practical example of controlling live stock.  If the supervision of boarders by staff is erratic and without the appreciation that boarders need a good deal of  ‘space’  it will create a negative response by the students and an unsettled atmosphere in boarding houses.  Boarders will feel much more secure and comfortable  if they know boarding staff are taking care of them and maintaining a  keen interest in their development from a sensitive distance.  Boarders do not need staff who are absent from their watch for  long periods of time and then suddenly penetrate their ‘flight zone’ when things become unsettled. 

A consistent living environment and they thrive and routine provides the opportunity for a boarder to thrive.  Residentail students will feel comfortable if they are constantly supported by well trained, friendly  boarding staff who can be relied upon twenty - four hours a day.  Boarders who are left without stable supervision will develop less consistent standards of behaviour (especially over weekends) and will react poorly to supervisors who are not reliable.  I have noticed cattle reacting in the same way.   Cattle that are isolated for months on end without human contact that suddenly have horses, bikes and dogs racing around them will take fright and behave badly.

Boarders benefit from a boarding program that is carefully designed and well organised.  Organisation and discipline should be clearly understood by the boarders and administered by competent staff.  Decades ago boarders suffered largely under the control of inexperienced senior students who had permission to discipline younger boarders.  Boarding staff were also quick to revert to corporal punishment for incidents viewed today as minor matters! The atmosphere and environment in boarding houses often lacked trust and security between boarders and staff.

Today  the well-being of all boarders can be achieved in a quieter more relaxed and caring environment.  Certainly there are times when staff have to make urgent corrections to an adolescent’s behaviour and intervene their ‘flight zone’,  however most boarders will grow and develop in a caring and supportive environment where there is no sign of panic, raised voices or severe punishment!

Boarders today live in a relationship of friendship with peers of their own age and fellow boarders older and younger.  Respect for senior students is earned by the leader by their performance as a fair and supportive role model, not gained through fear.   Boarders will thrive in a secure, well organised and compassionate environment. 

If the correct atmosphere prevails in boarding houses  boarders will respect the boarding staff and also display respect for fellow boarder’s privacy and space.   The allegiance of staff and boarders will be based upon  co-operation and trust. If boarders living in the boarding community feel comfortable they will treat their fellow boarders with admiration and help each other to cope with the many physical and emotional demands of teenage years. They will also have confidence in the boarding house management team.

I have no idea how cattle think but if cattle are approached with respect and have more time to understand what a stockman is trying to do with them they may do what the stockman wants then to do!  Good communication and timing by House supervisors are also paramount in giving boarders the chance of  comprehending and understanding daily routine. Early and regular information from House staff regarding boarding house rules, personal expectations of behaviour and performance will  provide boarders with greater opportunity to do the right thing.  Boarding House staff must give the boarders plenty of notice regarding their responsibilities by meeting with them daily and displaying news of coming events on notice boards and internet portals well in advance of deadlines.  If boarding supervisors do detect problems with an individual they should discuss the matter with the boarder and seek as much specialist help as is available. If everyone has a clear understanding of what is happening on campus the boarding community will be more relaxed, comfortable and it will result in a more successful place.

The administration and organisation of a boarding house is not rocket science. It can be compared to the needs of a family unit.  All groups need a sympathetic understanding by their managers and an understanding every child have their own God given talents. It is the responsibility of carers to discover those talents and allow the individual to shine in the community by being able to demonstrate those talents providing the individual with self esteem and confidence. 

Boarding house supervisors must be attentive at all times yet not be too obtrusive. There are no short cuts when caring for boarders especially in regard to the time and interest that must be devoted to their care. The flight zone must be kept on the radar at all times but not always penetrated!

David L Anderson
Shore School

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

How Many Staff are Needed?

Andrew Knott Special Counsel Tresscox Lawyers 

We have been requested to make some comments in relation to the issue, understandably of concern to both decision-making staff and implementing staff, of how many staff need to be on duty in different situations. Unfortunately, this question, as with the meaning in particular circumstances of ‘what is reasonable’, cannot be answered with great precision, but there are a number of things we can say which may be of assistance. 
First, in applying the general duty of care it is important to remember that it is about taking the steps that are reasonable to minimise the risk of foreseeable injury. In determining what is appropriate, one looks at a vast range of issues such as the details of the situation, risk factors, the age, maturity, and behaviour patterns of the students in question, the resources that are available, and balancing the two considerations of risk minimisation and giving students, particularly as they become older, the opportunity to accept responsibility for themselves (in a manner consistent with the duty of care being implemented). From the supervisor’s perspective, there is a need to consider what resources should be made available. This can be a difficult decision to make in the context of the operation of a boarding house, but if the supervising decision- maker feels that the resources are in- adequate, there will clearly be a duty to alert the management to whom the supervisor reports so that the matter can be reviewed. Similarly, staff at the ‘pointy end’ who are implementing the relevant supervision should raise with their supervisor or with management concerns that they have. The provi- sion of information, when there may be unacceptable risks, is an obvious duty which can be discharged with minimum time and effort but may have significant impact. 
Secondly, consultation and collegiate decision-making can produce (and demonstrate) careful, informed out- comes. 
Thirdly, there are a number of contexts in which there may be specific provisions. For example, there may be provisions in relation to transport regarding maximum number of persons who can be in a vehicle (which goes to staff/student ratio as, if a second vehicle is needed, for that reason then obviously a second staff member is needed to be in the second vehicle). Workplace health and safety legislation, particularly codes of practice, may have some specific requirements which are imposed by law. That is a matter which will vary across jurisdictions. Fire and emergency laws may be relevant. Sporting association protocols may assist. 
In many States and Territories, there already exist mandated standards. These should be examined, not only to ascertain whether numbers are included, but as to whether the mandated standards are relevant to assessing what staff ratio is appropriate. Simi- 
larly, the draft boarding standard (accessible on the ABSA website) has relevant principles, such as 3.4(e) relating to the need for ‘an accredited and capable person available at all times who can administer and manage’ certain medical issues. 
Finally, (and somewhat sadly), numbers are sometimes recommended by Coroners in inquests resulting out of tragic situations, such as drownings in pools or on excursions. 

It is important in such situations to err on the side of caution and to be part of ‘the mainstream’. Conversations with peers in other boarding schools or at conferences of boarding school staff and discussion within the school boarding house are all of assistance in developing approaches which will be supportable in the event of criticism in that the person who has made a decision about numbers can show that they have considered the issues, and consulted appropriately, and that their general approach is consistent with that of the boarding school community generally. 

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Why wouldn't you attend your industry conference?

This last week I was reminded about the importance of attending Professional Development which is targetted at your work. The Australasian Society of Association Executives ran a two day Conference and Exhibition, and those of us who attended were privileged to hear Alex Malley, CEO of the Association for CPAs who challenged us to do some uncomfortable things, but I was expecting to hear from people such as Alex, and whilst he was quite outstanding, this was no surprise.

However, it was speakers such as Janette Wright, CEO and State Librarian from the State Library of Queensland who made it such a special time for me. I would never have 'chosen' to be at her talk, but given she was a keynote I thought I had better go along, and I am so happy I did. It is wonderful to listen to and learn from an expert, especially one who loves her job as much as Janette does. What she is doing for society, not just for the State Library, is nothing short of remarkable, as she works to engage the community by coding stories, and to digitise memories to ensure everyone can capture the history and spirit of our community. Janette was wonderful - shy, unassuming, and making a difference for everyone in Queensland, and I would have missed hearing her story if I hadn't gone along.

Later the same day I was privileged to listen to CEO of Getup! Australia, Sam McLean who talked to us about needing a low floor and a high ceiling for our members, to encourage all to come in and take high impact actions. He too would not have made my 'list' but made my time out of the office so worthwhile.

So this got me thinking - are you coming to our Leadership Symposium in Alice Springs in August? If not, why not? Too far, too expensive, to hard to get away? I learnt just how important it is to step out of your comfort zone and learn from those you don't think have anything to tell you - they'll make you think.......

See you all in Alice!

Friday, 6 December 2013

Signing in . . .Homesickness - not a disease!

As we are all heading into the Christmas Break, and looking forward to our long break, spare a thought for the families of our boarders who are preparing to send a new child away to board for the first time. The apprehension for many of these young people about living away from home, not having mum and/or dad there ready to offer support, worrying about missing their older or younger siblings, and moving into a foreign environment with a strange woman or man looking after them, can be quite overwhelming for many.  And we must not forget those returning boarders we have who miss home so much every time them return to the Boarding House.

So, how do you handle homesickness in your boarding house? Do you spend time with the families and students before they start and explain how they might feel homesick, and that sometimes they don’t even know why the feel that way? Do you explain to the mums (and dads in many cases) that they need to say goodnight in the lounge room rather than in their child’s bedroom for some months in preparation for them ‘leaving home? And how about teaching their child to put their laundry out each night and change their beds weekly rather than doing it for them? Have you encouraged them to visit the school, and the boarding house, in the year prior to them coming, so that the experience is not as foreign? Do you write to the child in the months leading up to them joining your community, telling them how much you are looking forward to having them join your ‘family’? These are just a few of many ideas which happen in boarding houses all over Australia to help new boarders prepare for their time away from home.

And what happens in your community once the new boarders arrive? Do you welcome them on a separate day to the returning boarders? Do you have big sisters/brothers available to help them on that first day? Do you make their beds for them before they arrive so it looks welcoming? Do you gradually split them from their families, rather than one heart-wrenching break at the end of the day (which often happens anyway, but at least they have had some time apart during the day)? Do you have some form of ritual to help them feel a part of your house? Do you make sure you are available on that first night (or first week!) as a stable presence for the new boarders to talk with?

That first weekend - is there so much organised that they can’t get bored? Do you spend time at those activities helping them all have fun (and showing you are human)? Is the food great so that they have little to complain about? Are the teachers educated to help the boarders understand why they feel that way, and to ensure they don’t feel too much like a little fish in a very big pond? Have you told the parents to write - or email - rather than always phoning as the boarders can enjoy reading, and re-reading, and re-reading again and again that written piece? Have you told the boarders to write back? Have you warned the parents that their son or daughter will call at their lowest, and, once they dump, will probably go off to have a great time while the parents sit at home fretting?

And when second term (and third, and fourth and ….) starts, do you understand that this might all return once again?

Of course homesickness doesn’t affect every boarder, and usually is something the boarders get used to, even if they don’t get over it. The wonderful work all our boarding staff do to help our boarders to make the most of every opportunity at school, and not miss home too much, is something we need to celebrate! 

Do you have ideas we can add for others to read? Please email us at and let us know what you have found effective - we’ll be more than happy to publish your words.

Until next time, Signing Out……

PS - We all hope that the Christmas break is a happy and holy one for you all, and that you take the time to regenerate and refresh - so that you can return to this wonderful work with renewed vigour!! Enjoy!!!!!!

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Signing in . . . Location, Location, Location

I'm sitting here on a day off to celebrate Labour Day, and got to thinking about a workshop on the topic of 'Active Duty' I am putting together for Toowoomba, Sydney and Perth in the coming months, following on from a wonderful presentation by Mika Browning at St Michael's Collegiate, Hobart during the recent Tasmanian State Conference. Mika entitled her talk "Location, Location, Location" and raised a number of key questions about how Boarding Supervisors go about their work.

There are many things about working in Boarding Schools which can be a bit scary, but the issue which is most challenging is ensuring staff are where they need to be. Do supervisors know where the boarders are and what they are up to? Do the boarders expect to see a staff member regularly, wherever they are? Do the supervisors work hard at developing positive relationships with the boarders in their care?

The challenge of new technologies, and especially the connectedness of young people, often means they find it challenging not to check their Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat accounts all the time, and this leads to them being behind a computer screen or on their mobile device at times when they might better be served doing other things. This refers not only to our boarders, but our young staff as well. It becomes critical that supervisors remember what their role is - to be observing and supporting the boarders in their lives. Checking in on what their friends are doing while they are actually on duty can cause them to miss important observations or issues - we would rather see them be active listeners, story tellers, carers and above all great role models for the young people in our care.

So, next time you are on duty make sure you 'turn off' your outside connections, 'turn on' your active duty button and get out there with the boarders in your care - and help your fellow staff do the same thing. Our boarders and boarding houses will be all the better for it!

Until next time  . . . Signing Out