Tuesday 14 September 2021

Do We Really Know It All?

The last twelve months have given everyone a chance to ponder - to ponder the landscape of boarding staff in Australia, to ponder how we might all do a better job of looking after our boarders, to ponder just how demanding the Head of Boarding position really is, to ponder what support we need to do our job to the best of our ability, and to ponder what our vision is overall.

At ABSA we have been doing the same - we have looked carefully at how we were doing things, and worked hard to find better ways. We have used our Strategic Plan to focus on the key visions of our members, and looked at how we might fulfil the key areas of this plan before it is re-envisaged for the next three years. We have worked to plug holes, to expand horizons and provide better data for schools. And I’ve even started my Masters’ in Residential Education - and will be researching how sustainable the Head of Boarding Role actually is in today’s boarding schools.

But where is this leading?

My greatest concern in our boarding schools at present is complacency - and I’m not talking about how we deal with the Covid epidemic. What we at ABSA have discovered is how important our role is to provide targeted, specific boarding staff training. So many people have been reaching out for it. So many people have been keen to give us ideas for topics. So many people have registered for something we have run.

However, so many haven’t. We have heard comments such as “we don’t have time”, “our staff aren’t interested” or even “as a teacher I already have to do lots of PD”.

I must admit I believe this is a cop out. Getting suitable Professional Learning opportunities for my own boarding staff over 30 years of running boarding houses was close to impossible - so I did it myself. I made sure every member of staff, from uni students who were paid in ‘board and keep’ to Heads of House with many years of experience, we all approached the idea of getting better at our boarding duties with a passion. Whilst a number of us enjoyed many PD activities as teachers, only a few really translated easily into our boarding work. However, almost all of the boarding learning opportunities translated really well into our teaching - especially those around developing positive relationships.

So where is my rant going?

I believe every boarding house in Australia has a key responsibility - to provide at least 15 hours of professional learning opportunities for every staff member working there every year. Of course some of this will be Government regulated and critically important Child Protection training, updating to CPR or First Aid training and the like. But some of it needs to be specifically about boarding - how to be better at the important role we play looking after the teenagers in our care. Some of our Boarding Schools are already doing this really well - and that is just awesome. But to be honest, many aren’t. Those boarding leaders make excuses and don’t end up leading their boarding staff to be future focused and the best they can be. They take the easy way out. They get so bogged down with managing their boarding house that they forget the important role they have as a leader - to move their boarding house forward, to improve their staff and to develop their boarding program to best face the 21st Century.

Where does ABSA fit in?

Firstly, we don’t profess to offer everything for every person. There are lots of good things available all over the country. But we do profess to offer affordable, easy to access, high quality training which any level of staff could relate to. The online Active Duty course is available free to anyone and only takes around 40 minutes to complete - I struggle to see why every single boarding staff member in this region of the world has not completed it.  The webinars are targeted at different boarding roles, but over the year everyone will get plenty of chances to watch and learn and get better at their role. The certificate courses help everyone to ‘deep dive’ into a topic which is relevant to their work. And those of us undertaking the Masters in Residential Education through Buckingham University - we are well on the way to our research projects.

Please don’t be shy. Reach out if you have a topic you want us to look into. Reach out if you think we are heading in the wrong direction. Reach out if you want something researched. And reach out if you need help in accessing the PD - we are here to help.

So we don’t know it all - in fact there is so much to learn. How can the boarding leaders in Australia play a critical part in continuing to make this country the best in the world when it comes to boarding practice? We can make sure our staff continue to develop, to learn, and above all to really do well at looking after those wonderful teenagers in our communities.

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