Monday, 9 November 2020

Who would have predicted.......

 As I write this we should have just concluded our 2020 International Boarding Conference in Fremantle, and, as for so many of us, we are actually stuck in our home States thanks to border closures and quarantine requirements. So I thought it would be useful to ponder what ABSA has had to do, and where it might end up in the next few years.

Who would have predicted that we would have transformed every ABSA event into an online offering, ranging over more than 100 different topics?

The ABSA Strategic Plan under B: Learning, number 7, states: Online professional learning – Review the current approaches to professional development offered by ABSA and where feasible set up online formats to improve efficiencies and accessibility of programs. What was expected to be a second semester project for us became a task for one week in March, and we are very proud of how far we have come. 

Who would have predicted that we would produce the first of our online training courses and that over 400 people would have completed it?

We always knew that online training would be a worthwhile addition to our offerings, but the original lockdown faced by us all in Australia gave us time to research worthwhile platforms and develop our first course in Active Duty. Work is already underway to develop two additional courses - one a generic induction course for boarding school staff joining the profession, and the second a course aimed at more established boarding staff entitled ‘Ten Tips to be a Successful Boarding House Supervisor’.

Who would have predicted that 3557 people would have been online for our events?

It is so exciting to see just how many people have joined in to one of our webinars, the online boarding conference and/or courses. Our Strategic Plan challenges us to have the critical outcome of having the status among boarding schools as the number one provider of knowledge and information relevant to their needs - and we are getting there!

Who would have predicted that we could provide such great service to our remote and rural members?

The professional learning opportunities we have now opened up to every boarding staff member in Australia, from Broome in Northern Western Australia to Hobart in Tasmania, from Weipa in Far North Queensland to St Joseph’s School in Port Lincoln, South Australia, and everywhere in between, have been not only exciting to do, but really well received.

Who would have predicted that so many International Schools would reach out and take part in our webinar series?

Our New Zealand and Singapore members have continued to be well connected and attended many of our meetings and events. However, we have had many schools from China, Malaysia, India and more recently Armenia and Bosnia take part in our webinar series - again a key part of our Strategic Plan Under A: Engagement, number 2: International membership – To add a global perspective to the Association, explore opportunities to gain overseas membership of ABSA, expand professional learning for boarding staff, and provide cross-cultural networking for ABSA members.

Who would have predicted that our relationships with the media and Government Ministers would grow so strong?

One learning for me has been that it takes an issue to find out who needs information and who needs support.  The issues surrounding COVID have really highlighted this, and so Section C: Influence, Numbers 2 and 3 from the Strategic Plan - 2. Government and corporate relationships – Establish an authority position such that ABSA is recognised as the peak body regarding all matters relating to boarding and, as a result, to ensure support and access to government funding options and a voice at the table on policy and related matters and 3. Media relationships – Develop stronger relationships across all elements of the media to ensure ABSA is the number one recognised authority in the sector and to communicate all positive aspects of boarding have both been outcomes of this challenging six months. The issue at hand is how to keep this going, as the positive relationships both with government and the media are ones we are keen to continue and strengthen.

Who would have predicted that we could run Virtual Duty of Care Workshops?

What more can I say - those who have attended one of our workshops have really enjoyed the chance to share stories, learn from and complete the workbooks, and all for a fraction of the cost of having to run these workshops face-to-face. We will endeavour to offer both options in the future, depending on Government regulation.

Who would have predicted that up to 90 of our Heads of Boarding would come together, firstly weekly, and more recently fortnightly, and that each of our State groups of Heads of Boarding has also grabbed the virtual world to share stories, successes and challenges so often?

This speaks for itself - the opportunity to discuss current and relevant topics across a broad range of different schools from all State is something we had never worked out how to do - but were forced to and have really enjoyed. These virtual gatherings will continue for Head of Boarding, and will expand to cater for our boarding school nurses, general boarding staff, and other if a need arises.

And who would have predicted that we could do all that without getting on a plane - something I did 137 times last year!

So, overall, there have been so many good things to come out of the COVID-19 situation which we have all faced. Let’s all look forward, enjoy the wonderful opportunities offered through our online webinars, virtual Duty of Care workshops and get togethers, until we can (hopefully) come together in Fremantle, or possibly somewhere else this time next year.

Monday, 14 September 2020

The Value of Appraisal


I now turn my thoughts to helping our staff to be more professional in their approach to the important role of looking after the boarders.  Boarding schools generally appear to struggle with the idea of effective Appraisal for all levels of boarding staff. As those of you who have attended a Duty of Care workshop in recent years have heard, we believe this is quite likely due to the historical understanding that teachers didn’t like anyone watching them teach - and this has translated to the boarding house.

However, how are we going to raise the bar when it comes to boarding staff?

The first step in this area is to prioritise developing an effective appraisal system - which includes all levels of staff in the boarding house. As Tim Hawkes in Book 1 of Duty of Care - A Certificate Course in Student Residential Care states:

“Staff appraisal needs to be a feature of a boarding institution and should encompass all staff. The appraisal should focus more on professional development than on accountability. In other words, the process should not just be a ‘policing initiative’ but a constructive and continuous process of feedback, review and reflection.”

He continues:

“An appraisal system is generally more effective when:

• it is undertaken regularly; for example, every year or on a biannual basis.

• the process is understood and accepted by staff.

• it is not too cumbersome or time consuming.

• it is positive and empowering.

• it employs feedback from a variety of sources including supervisors and colleagues.

• it is based on the staff member’s job description.”

My question is this - if the above is part of the basic training for all boarding staff, why haven’t more schools and specifically more Heads of Boarding made this a priority? I suggest the answer usually offered to me is that they are too busy and don’t have time to put together an effective appraisal system. My thought is quite the opposite - if you are a boarding leader you don’t have time not to! 

The impacts of an effective and trustworthy appraisal system are nothing short of amazing - staff working toward a common goal, staff understanding their Position Description at a completely new level and above all, much better care for our boarders. Is this not the main reason we are in this industry - to provide outstanding care for our boarders?

So, let’s all band together - Principals can expect to see an effective appraisal system in place, Heads of Boarding share thoughts across their network, ask questions of ABSA and put together a great system, and boarding staff expect to develop in their role because they are provided with an appraisal which supports them in their work.

Tuesday, 14 July 2020

Why We Need to Celebrate Our Profession

Boarding staff are a special breed! For so much of your time your focus is on other people, and you play such a critical role looking after other people’s children. You walk the floor in the boarding house, stop to chat, help with homework, encourage the boarders to give things a go, teach them about sensible technology use, help with tough decisions, ensure you know where they are, eat your meals with them and hopefully get them enough sleep - just to name a few of the daily chores.

But isn’t it a challenge to explain to those not in our industry just what you do? No-one really understands the demands you actually face, the time pressures you are under, and the challenges you come across. Imagine describing to a stranger the extra workload the coronavirus has meant to so many of our schools. One Head of Boarding recently said to me - “I thought I was pretty good at handling stress, but this coronavirus nearly broke me”. And all of this happened on top of the induction of new students, the homesickness, the new staff, and all the other administrative tasks which can dominate the work day.

So this year, we in ABSA are working extra hard to help others understand just how important your work is for our society. We are working to get our profession recognised, not only by those who are doing the work, but by all those who are affected by it - and those who aren’t. The focus of all our media contacts for the year will be about the professionalisation of the industry - no longer is the boarding staff member just a teacher who wanted a free house to live in, or a person who thought it might be a good job for a while - the boarding staff member of today is a professional, trained in their important work, continually looking for professional learning opportunities, and who is working toward not only having an excellent standard of boarding provision in the school but also becoming accredited themselves.

ABSA will launch the Certification Scheme for Boarding Schools, using AS5725-2015, the Boarding Standard for Australian Schools and Residences, in coming months and believe it will be critical to see all of our schools become certified against this standard. The Accredited Boarding Practitioner Scheme, jointly developed with the UK Boarding Schools Association, is growing steadily, giving staff a real opportunity to celebrate their professional standing within the industry. National Boarding Week from 17 to 23 May will help schools to focus on what makes their boarding school programs special. The ABSA Training Academy will soon launch, offering base level training (as we do at present), and further options including on-line courses and specified workshops, right up to a Masters in conjunction with Buckingham University in the UK - again sharing in the good work of our sister organisation in the UK. And we are working on a complete re-write and re-design of the Duty of Care Certificate Course to launch in 2021.

So how can you be involved? Get along to the many and varied activities ABSA is running across Australia, New Zealand, Singapore and shortly in Malaysia. Our aim is to provide a wide range of activities to suit every level of staff - from ‘A Look Inside’ where you get to see how others run their boarding program, to ‘nuts-and-bolts’ sessions for those at the coalface, from user workshops in boarding software to boarding-specialised Youth Mental Health First Aid qualifications, from First-Aid training which is targeted to boarding schools to personalised workshops run by ABSA personnel to address those issues faced in your specific school. And of course if you haven’t undertaken the Duty of Care Certificate Course during the last four years your qualification is out-of-date - time to come along again!

Let’s all work together to get our professional recognised, not only in our schools but by the wider community as a whole. The work everyone in this sector does is exceptional - keep it up!

Until next time - Signing Out

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!