Friday, 16 August 2019

The Role of a Head of Boarding

I regularly get asked what the role of Head of Boarding is like, and can honestly say that it is impossible to explain to someone who hasn’t ever done it. However, it has got me thinking - what should a modern day Head of Boarding be doing?

First and foremost, I believe the role is one of Leadership not Management. Too often in the busy-ness of life those running a boarding house can get bogged down in management tasks - approving leave, answering emails, writing reports, and the myriad of paperwork tasks which come across their desk every day. I can clearly recall how difficult it was to get on top of this all and still do the job I was meant to be doing - actually leading my staff and my boarders and the community as a whole. It is the place of the leader to develop the strategy of the boarding house and put together an action plan for this strategy, not just be doing the actions!

My thoughts are that a Head of Boarding needs to step away from their desk and provide the boarders with the life skills they will need for their future. With the boarders spending 40 weeks of their year under our care they miss out on so many opportunities to learn the important things in life - about money, about health, about sex and relationships, and about living independently, just to name a few. Our boarding houses are being challenged more and more to fill these gaps, and we should all be reaching out to grab this opportunity with both hands. However, I am surprised and concerned that so many of those leading our boarding houses don’t see this as a critical part of their role, or say that they don’t have time for this. If we do not provide these life skills for those under our care, who will? The answer is actually quite simple - no-one - and this is very obvious when you talk with some of those ex-boarders who can’t budget and are always running out of money, don’t know anything about the options of where they might live when they leave the boarding house, of how to sign a lease and find the bond payments necessary, of how to cook simple meals, change the tyres on their car or even sew on a button or iron their clothes. It is the boarding houses job to teach these - not the schools, and we can’t rely on their parents as they are not at home long enough to do this. We need to develop a Residential Curriculum for our boarders, and put the time and effort into ensuring age specific skills are learnt by every boarder, and it is the job of the leader of the boarding house - the Head of Boarding - to do this.

So, when anyone working in boarding feels snowed under with the administration needs, it is time for them to step aside and re-analyse the way they are working. Our Leaders Conference in Adelaide in August will help with these skills - email ninja which teaches you how to be on top of your emails every day, the skills of turning strategy into action, balancing work and life and ensuring the important things are done well, all of the time. We all need to read more on leadership (have you read ‘Leaders Eat Last’ by Simon Sinek?), to spend time being the role model for whom your boarders are looking, and to see strategy as the way forward, not just busy work.

I was once told you should never answer a question with ‘I didn’t have time’ as time is a choice - you choose whether to do something or not to - and I believe all those leading our boarding communities need to make the choice to lead, to develop their own Residential Curriculum, and to make sure that when their boarders leave school they are fully equipped for the challenges they face.

Richard Stokes

Chief Executive Officer

Friday, 26 May 2017


How long ago is it since you completed the ABSA Duty of Care Certificate Course in Student Residential Care? In recent times we have heard many staff say that they have already done the course and that they see no need to re-visit what is in there.

We disagree. Edition 3 of the Duty of Care workbooks is completely updated, and includes a number of new chapters, and our workshops are designed to highlight the critical issues which affect the boarding schools of today. Topics such as Dealing with Modern Technology and Developing a Life Skills Course for Boarders are addressed in depth and the National Boarding Standard is not only discussed but the Student Welfare section is debated in depth, as well as getting staff to analyse which areas of the Standard they are addressing well and which areas will need work.

We believe ABSA’s Duty of Care Workshops provide the opportunity to complete the workbooks in an engaging way. Many staff who are quite experienced in boarding produce ‘to do’ lists of the ideas raised by others attending, broadening their view on how they can achieve good practice in their Boarding House. By bringing a number of people working in different boarding roles to learn together, sharing stories and questions, the workbooks are brought to life and give those attending a much richer learning experience.

To quote some of the feedback received from our Duty of Care workshops:
  • “I simply thought the content was so relevant, practical and useful. The delivery was excellent and not "dry" at all.”
  • “It was refreshing to hear Richard refer to real examples and discuss methods that have worked for him (or not) in the past, rather than simply stating theoretical principals that may not have much relevance in an actual boarding school. Very worthwhile and relevant”
  • “I really enjoyed the unit where we discussed the different learning styles and how we could alter our normal ways of life in the dorm to cater for the different students"
  • “The opportunity to hear about different experiences and how these were handled by boarding staff was really useful. I gained a lot of practical knowledge from anecdotes and examples given. I also found Richard's presenting style to be conducive to completing the book”
  • “Loved hearing the boarding stories, which can then make the words on the paper come alive”
  • “I got a lot from hearing the stories from when you worked in boarding schools. It was also helpful to hear stories from the other participants. There was lots of practical advice and tips drawn from personal experience which we wouldn't get if we were doing the books by ourselves.”

The National Standard expects all boarding staff to attend on-going specific boarding professional learning, and there is no better way to keep up-to-date than completing the new workbooks. ABSA offers the workshops either in house, aimed at a group of staff who want to learn professionally together, or in groups.

When was the last time you spent two full days thinking about the important role you play in your boarding house? Isn’t it time?

Richard Stokes

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

How to Nurture the Growth of Boarding House Students

How to Nurture the Growth of Boarding House Students

Boarding house staff are required to tirelessly provide individualised support and attention to all boarding house students. This includes being a stand-in parent for hundreds of students all at once who all have their own individual issues, needs and wants. It is the duty of boarding house staff to care for the future of tomorrow; to nurture the young minds of today, but how it is possible when a house parent has only two hands?
Here at A Team Tuition, we have been working closely with over 300 young boarding house students throughout 2012-2015, tutoring them one on one to find that our role and responsibilities extend beyond checking student’s homework and assignments. As influential role models, it is vital to provide pillars of support from a home environment to nurture the growth of students within a boarding house setting.
 So, what are the pillars of support that comes from a child’s home? Each student requires personalised attention that allows them to nurture the two most important areas of their growth: their education and their physical, mental and social wellbeing. Therefore, the pillars of support include academic mentoring and life guidance, whereby the focus of these vital areas will allow any child to flourish in their development.
Academic mentoring involves providing students with tools on how to successfully complete their school tasks and teaching them how to apply these skills and resources across all of their subjects. Under the care of A Team Tuition, the Creating A Student’s program allows students to approach their academic studies with a holistic outlook on success. This is done by examining features such as their behaviour inside their classroom, their attitude towards their individual subjects and how they effectively integrate their knowledge outside the classroom.
For example, take the traditional study method of writing out lines after lines of black and white notes, transferring the words of a whiteboard into another book. Does this really test whether the child will remember their work? How do they know whether they are really engaging with their subject’s content? Does this give them the opportunity to understand what those teacher’s notes really mean? By using this mind numbing study technique and after working with over 1000 students, the evidence points towards “No”. 
Therefore, at A Team Tuition we have integrated neurological and psychological theories on how to maximise the usefulness of well presented, effectively crafted study notes that will allow students to take pride in their work. By following our step by step study framework, we encourage boarding students to focus on the quality of their study habits rather than the quantity of their workload. Ensuring to continuously promote effort over results.
Having developed a strong partnership between two boarding houses on the Gold Coast, the most rewarding experience is derived from the positive impact that the tutoring has on the student’s wellbeing and their overall school experience. Being able to provide life guidance and steer students in the right direction is what defines the difference between an authority figure and distinguished adult role model. 
It is important to address that the school experience of boarding students is distinguishably different to the experience of a day-school student. If a student experiences a challenging day at school, it makes it easier for them to deal with their struggles, when they know they are returning home to family and loved ones who can discuss and debrief on the issue, calm the student and remind them that tomorrow is a new day. 
On the other hand, a boarding student may have the burden of carrying those issues without being able to escape the environment; as they may surrounded by the same stimuli that may be aggravating their personal challenges at school. 
Despite the lines of support boarding students have with onsite house parents, nurses and counsellors; important adult figures who carry a sense of authority can give off an intimidating aura to young students. In the presence of intense, emotional situations, this daunting impression of older adults can become exaggerated and leave students to dwell on their emotional states rather than focusing on resolving the problem.
Therefore, A Team Tuition focuses on hiring boarding house tutors that are relatable to young adults. All of A Team Tuition’s teaching staff are current tertiary students and graduates who specialise their teaching around their current field of study. Our recruitment data reveals that only 2-5% of applicants are hired based on their teaching ability, mentorship and resilience. 
By combining their current university knowledge and experience, as well as their recent schooling experiences and our accredited Academic Personal Training program, our tutors are equipped to build strong connections with their boarding house students. By relating to their own past school experiences, Academic Personal Trainers can converse and empathise with boarders who might have endured a challenging experience on the very same day.
So, what is the outcome of combining academic guidance with life mentoring? Having both pillars of support allows the student to grow and mature to a level which extends beyond their daily homework tasks and social dynamics.
Combining the nurturing of academic success through educational strategy, along with the mentoring of social and life events allows for a healthy advancement in one’s character development and career direction. By developing these two areas of growth, boarders will be able to cultivate their sense of identity and the role they will play as adults in society. 
Career direction will involve assisting children in their areas of interest inside the school curriculum, monitoring why students succeed in certain subjects rather than others, why students enjoy these subjects and how they can apply their aptitude and skill towards a fulfilling and purposeful career path. 
Character development involves assisting students to problem solve and reason with situations that will appear in their schooling, social cliques and general life events. Our role as Academic Personal Trainer’s is to help students find their own answers, by providing advice on what factors they need to consider to achieve the best outcome for themselves and other people involved. 
In the eyes of a boarding student, these young adults find a great interest and friendship in someone such as an Academic Personal Trainer who provides continuous support and insight on how to succeed in major aspects of their lives. Not only providing guidance on how to enjoy their studies but also through their social dynamics and interests, which may appear unimportant to a general audience. By taking a professional interest in the student’s academic success and their wellbeing, we create a foundational support system that is away from their family home; therefore creating a home away from home! 
For more details on Boarding Private Tutoring, visit

Written by Libbie Rowley-James, A Team Tuition

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.