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.

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