Friday 18 November 2022

What could you improve?

Many of you reading this will have noticed that I often challenge people in my piece in Lights Out - and this edition is no different. Do you know how your boarding school is faring when compared with others? If not (and this is the case with many of our member schools), what are you doing about it? I get concerned from time to time when schools report that their enrolments have a waiting list - do they then rest on their laurels and sit back and accept that they are in a greta situation? Whilst it is wonderful to see a school with a boarding waiting list, those who don’t then reach out to consolidate this to ensure their parents are the best advocates possible for their boarding service are putting themselves at risk. Boarding numbers are influenced by so many wide and varied aspects - and acknowledging these and ensuring a well developed and thought through marketing plan is in place is critical for boarding success. During 2022 we have conducted ten reviews of boarding programs to assist them in their development, and in each case we have been able to assist the schools to raise the profile of their boarding house, to assist them with their marketing, and to ensure they are providing a boarding service which is of excellent quality. Each of them needs to be commended for putting their school on the line and asking the hard questions - and my challenge to everyone reading this is to do the same - ask just how your boarding program is going, and what will it look like in five years time? What is excellent practice around Australia, and the world, and how close are you? What could you improve?

Friday 15 July 2022

The Great Professional Learning Debate

In many a conversation I have with Principals and Heads of Boarding Schools I am reminded of the importance of effective Induction Training for boarding staff, and how difficult it is to provide this effectively before staff begin their important work with our boarders.  It is the reason we here at ABSA are writing an online Boarding Induction course which will be available before the year ends - to assist every one of our boarding schools with getting the critical information across to those about to take on the formidable role of looking after boarders.

However, it is the ongoing Professional Learning for boarding schools which is the great debate. 

How much learning should boarding staff do? 

What do we do about all our casual staff?

How targeted must it be?

What are the key topics?

How do we handle people’s busy schedules?

What needs to be re-visited regularly?

All of these are great questions, and ones which we at ABSA are trying to make easy for you all. Some people tell me we offer too many webinars, and my answer is always the same - they are not aimed at all staff - it is different topics, and different levels of role, which make some but not all relevant for every staff member. We are trying to cover all needs.

However, there are some which are relevant to all - the free online Active Duty Course was written for every staff member to undertake - from Heads of Boarding right down to the casual junior supervisor - and this course is a reminder which everyone should do regularly - maybe even every year. It concerns me that FREE training such as Active Duty and our Top Tips courses have not bee taken up by every one of our boarding schools, and every member of staff.

But the question which doesn’t ring true to me is:

Doesn’t teaching PD cover my boarding needs?

My simple answer is - probably not. Whilst I believe boarding staff are the most important teachers our boarders have, their roles are much more complex and cover so many more topics. And they work the other 18 hours each day, and all weekend. If you work in boarding you need to learn about boarding, you need to put aside time to learn more about your role and the critical support work you do. Do you feel confident that if your school ends up in court you can easily answer the question “and what boarding professional learning have your staff done”? Youth Mental Health, Understanding their Technological Needs and Uses, developing Cultural Competence with those groups you have in your boarding house, understanding the Behaviour Management Pillars, learning more about the multitude of risks associated in boarding - these are just of few of the specific topics which relate to our boarding houses and which would only be effectively covered by boarding specific training. After all, you wouldn’t put a teach in front of a class without specific teaching training - what about a boarding staff member in a dormitory?

So what can you do in your boarding houses to better look after the Professional learning needs of your staff? My first suggestion is a skills and interest audit - what do people already know and what would they like to learn more about? Where are the gaps? Ask what they would like to learn more about? Then I would look at what is available, and would do some matching. Get staff to watch one or two webinars a term and report back to the whole staff at your next staff meeting. Get one or two staff to undertake a certificate course and then share their critical learnings with other staff. Above all, don’t let staff avoid this important part of their work. As the Boarding Standard for Australian Schools and Residences requires in Section 4.3(c) “Provision of annual professional learning relevant to the role and context”.

As Craig d’cruz said in his recent article in Lights Out entitled Boarding Staff Training: An Essential Risk Control which also appeared in the weekly email School Governance published by CompliSpace during National Boarding Week said

“ If training is going to be impactful, schools need to better understand what their boarding staff really need to know, and they need to allocate a suitable budget to allow for this training to take place.”

So let’s not be the school which told ABSA they didn’t want to watch any webinars as “we are over this online stuff”, or the schools which did’t have any budget to purchase boarding professional learning - be the boarding house which leads from the front and is confident that all boarding staff meet the requirements of the standard and undergo relevant, up-to-date and on topic professional learning for their boarding role.

Wednesday 13 April 2022

How Important Can this Be?

One of the challenges in all our busy lives is the huge amounts of information we receive daily - in fact at times is can be quite overwhelming.

However, the risk in dealing with this overload is to ignore it, think it won’t be important, or think that you’ll get to it later.  One of the great skills I learnt from our Leaders Conference in Adelaide in 2019 (doesn’t that feel so long ago) was how to manage my email inbox.  Interestingly, at the time this was the second time I had undergone the ‘Email ninja’ course, but it was the one that made the difference.  Tim and Daniel taught all those in the room just how to overcome that swamping of information, and how not to miss the stuff that is important. (Interestingly they are offering the Email Ninja course to all ABSA members for free at present - send us an email if you are interested). However, it is not the course that I am promoting here, it is the fact that so many people just don’t read things properly any more, if at all.

As many of you know we produce a weekly eNEWS which highlights a few critical bits of information relevant to that week - and in tracking the opening rates we are continually distressed that our average ‘open’ rate is just over 30%, and the open rate by Heads of Boarding is still under 50%. It makes us wonder how people know what is going on if the emails aren’t even opened.

Another observation is the number of people who call to ask a simple question - one which was actually answered in the email we had sent them which prompted the call, but they hadn’t read the whole email.

Anyway - enough whinging - we are keen to hear more about how we can make our communications better - don’t be frightened - let us know!

Richard Stokes

Chief Executive Officer

Australian Boarding Schools Association

Friday 25 March 2022

The nonsense of declaring one in a thousand year events

Food for thought in this blog post.......

Fellow Risk Watchers,

My name is Mike Dunn. I'm the Managing Director of risk management consultancy Intelligent Outcomes Group. You can find my details on LinkedIn or by visiting our web site

The Premier of Queensland declared the recent rain and flood event initially as one in 500 years event and then improved on that to a one in 1,000 years event. No doubt this frequency was used to indicate how unusual the event was and therefore why no one (including her and her government) was prepared for it to occur, and therefore was to blame. I think this example is a great teaching point for us risk watchers and anyone else looking to credibly identify an event’s likelihood.

The first teaching point is what exactly was the event that occurred and how might it be conceptualised? Was the event unusually large quantities of rain falling on the Wivenhoe Dam catchment area that quickly filled the dam and threatened uncontrolled releases of water from

the dam? Was the event unusually large quantities of rain falling on the Brisbane CBD that caused the creeks and stormwater levels to rise and flood low lying areas? Was the event unusually large quantities of water falling in South East Queensland that caused widespread flooding? SEQWater (the dam operator) was no doubt thinking of the 2011 releases of water that broke the banks of the Brisbane River and flooded large parts of Brisbane, actions that are still subject to ongoing litigation. I suspect the government was thinking of this possibility as well.

The second teaching point is who really thinks an event that is assessed at these frequencies is credible or likely to be taken seriously by anyone including government? Some of the best companies in the world have come to grief relying on this approach to likelihood. And I am sure we all know how difficult it is to gain management buy in for likelihood frequencies much more likely than this one. How do you convince managers to adopt any likelihood controls or consequence mitigations for events that statistically shouldn’t occur in theirs, their children’s, their grandchildren’s, their great grandchildren’s lifetimes? As risk professionals, if we are going to be of relevance to decision makers, we need to conceptualise likelihood very differently to just straight frequency projections.

So, two problems to work our way through. The answer to the first problem is to work in scenarios, and not only scenarios based on actual past occurrence, but ‘outside the box’ scenarios as well. If you are a government concerned with managing the capture of drinking water for the city and to engage in flood mitigation in southeast Queensland, you require a robust scenario planning regime that identifies all events that are possible, all indicators that point towards any scenario’s occurrence, and controls that can reduce that possibility of occurrence. This process will lead to the identification of realistic levels of likelihood. The answer to the problem is to associate levels of likelihood with realistic timeframes. I have spoken to many middle-aged people who have experienced four ‘one in 100-years’ flood events in their life

to date. Either they have been exceptionally unlucky, or the likelihood descriptors have been unrealistic. My contention is that it’s the second reason. Timeframes associated with likelihood are evaluated best by looking at the full range of indicators and controls identified for each


My point is made with this scenario: unusually large quantities of rain fall on the Wivenhoe Dam catchment area, quickly fill the dam, and require uncontrolled releases of water from the dam. This last happened in 2011 when the uncontrolled releases caused massive flooding in Brisbane. Reporting by journalist Headley Thomas indicates we came within hours of being placed in the same position with this year’s floods. Reporting quoting SEQWater officials indicates they had no idea that such large quantities of water would fall on the dam catchment. The Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) did not forecast such heavy rain in the dam catchment, but SEQWater would surely have had this scenario on its risk register. And the Premier’s statement on being surprised by the scale of the rainfall, indicates that no one in authority thought what occurred was possible.

To risk practitioners this means that relevant indicators for this scenario were not sighted in the catchment area for the Wivenhoe Dam, and therefore relevant controls were not implemented. What might have been the indicators for this scenario: the confluence of the La Nina weather pattern, the Indian Ocean Dipole, the Southern Annular Mode, and the Maddern-Julian Oscillation, all indicated significant rain was going to fall in eastern Australia. Prior to this rain deluge, the Wivenhoe Dam held approximately 59% of its total capacity. Because of the inquiry that investigated Brisbane’s flooding in 2011, SEQWater was restricted from releasing water based on weather forecast. It had to wait until rain was falling on the dam catchment. The first water releases tied to the heavy rainfall at that time occurred on the Friday in the late afternoon. These releases were criticised as too little too late, but SEQWater considered them adequate as they did not cause the river banks to burst and add to the flooding caused by creek rises and stormwater flowing into the creeks and streets. Within three days (Friday, Saturday, and Sunday) of heavy falls (approximately 220mm per day) the dam’s capacity rose to approximately 160%. Luckily, the heavy rain ended on Sunday and Wivenhoe Dam was able to continue to release much of its excess water safely in the following days. Disaster from uncontrolled releases was averted this time unlike in 2011. But SEQWater came close again to having to make uncontrolled releases.

Imagine the furore and consequences if 2011 had been repeated within 11 years? No doubt SEQWater will count their strategy a success but I think this analysis indicates the risk methodology and thinking was flawed. I would think from SEQWater’s perspective, the principal

likelihood control for this scenario was water releases. If water had been released in the week before the heavy rains, then the Wivenhoe Dam would not have come as close to causing catastrophic flooding as it did. As risk managers contemplated that coming week and the prospect of rising creeks and stormwater backup, and the dam quickly filling, this scenario would have filled them with dread: a repeat occurrence within 11 years. If it did, then they should have modified the above scenario to the following: unusually large quantities of rain are likely to fall on the Wivenhoe Dam catchment area in the short term and fill the dam to approximately 160% of capacity. Therefore, the current mandated practice of only releasing water from the dam once rain is falling on the catchment area, must be stopped. This approach would have warned government for the possibility of significant flooding caused by uncontrolled water releases within 11 years of the last occurrence, and assisted risk managers to obtain a change of policy on when water should be released.


 hope this is food for thought.

Friday 14 January 2022

Post-Covid - some thoughts

Thanks to one of ABSA's good friends (and a personal friend of mine) Chris Croft for these great thoughts to start of 2022!

I wonder if this omicron variant will finally be the end of this stupid and frustrating virus epidemic? I guess it will always be with us now, but perhaps in a minor role that we manage and live with. So the question is whether we learnt anything about happiness, and what can we be doing as we enter this post-Covid world in order to maximise our happiness?  Here’s a little list, hopefully one or two will strike a chord and give you some ideas or some inspiration:

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Present: it’s tempting to look back to the old days before Covid, or to worry about what it holds in the future, but happiness can only be found in the present, doing things which bring us into a state of flow where we are totally absorbed. So forget the past and don’t worry about the future, (a bit of planning of course but not too much fretting), and make sure you’re living every day in the present.

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Other people: 80% of our happiness comes from relationships with other people, spending as much time as we can with friends (and focusing on our good friends, and getting rid of the ones that have stagnated or become toxic, perhaps should never of been friends in the first place). And also helping other people, whether they are friends or relatives or strangers: so take every chance you get to help people.  We get a lot of happiness from relationships with other people, and I think we have all realised since we’ve been locked down that we have really missed these relationships. 

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Small stuff. Both during lockdown and now that it has finished you’ll probably have realised that small things count for a lot. The small things that we were not able to do, and the small things that got us through being locked down. Savour the small stuff, take time to smell the roses, because the big ambitious achievements take ages to arrive and are often disappointing - there’s lots of happiness to be got from the small stuff. 

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Thankful.  Many of us are just happy we are alive, and happy that most of our relatives are still alive after what we’ve been through. We’re thankful that we can go back to the life we had before, …maybe a slightly better version of the life we had before. A daily gratitude diary where you think of three things you’re grateful for at the end of every day and write them down is a great way to get a second bite of happiness from the good things that have happened, and to make sure that we don’t take our lives for granted. If you’re reading this on a computer you’re probably in the top 5% in the world when it comes to wealth; you may not feel wealthy but you ARE compared to most people, and we should never take this for granted. 

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Courage to come out of our comfort zone. It feels quite radical even leaving to come out of the house and go to a crowded pub or a football match, but once you’re used to those things again you could maybe keep pushing your envelope, keep doing things that require a bit of courage, because that’s where learning and achievement come from - and happiness follows from those. 

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Overcome procrastination. It’s so easy to put things off, and having lost a couple of years I think you would agree but now that we’re free again we should really get on and do all the things that we have missed during this period of inactivity. Now that you CAN do them again, don’t put them off. Visit India! Learn kite surfing!  Get married!  Do that parachute jump!  Spend time with your parents!

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Variety. Dabbling in lots of things brings more total than being an expert in one thing, more than being great at one thing and be able to beat other people at that one thing. So now is the time to take up new hobbies and try new things, maybe writing poetry or swimming or learning the saxophone - don’t worry about being bad at it just give it a go. What have you always wanted to try but not got around to doing?

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Ideal job. A lot of people have been reevaluating their employment, particularly as working from home has felt very different to going into an office, and some people have preferred it (at least for some of the week), enjoying a break from relentless daily commuting, which is known to reduce our happiness substantially. What’s your ideal job? How are you going to get it? And if you’re a manager, make sure you really look after your people well as they start to come back to the office. Communicate with them, involve them, delegate interesting work to them, and thank them, otherwise they might well leave - and that is expensive!

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Do and Be, - not Have. When you’re thinking about your goals for the coming year, think about what you would like to DO, and what you would like to BE, not the things that you would you would like to HAVE. Having things doesn’t make you happy, it’s what you do with them. That flashy car will not make you happy, but going driving or racing with your friends in any car probably will, assuming you like that kind of thing! That expensive new guitar will not make you happy after the initial glow of ownership wears off rapidly, but playing music with friends on any old guitar WILL make you happy.   What do you want to be spending your time doing in 2022?

onwards and upwards!