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