Wednesday 13 December 2023

The Role of a Boarding Supervisor

In the intricately woven fabric of boarding school life, the role of a boarding school supervisor stands out as a crucial thread. These individuals are more than mere overseers; they act as guardians, mentors, and sometimes even as surrogate parents. For many students, they become the pillars of support during the transitionary period of boarding school life. It is thus essential to address an emerging concern in some schools - the need for boarding school supervisors to remain active and engaged during their duty hours, rather than diverting their attention to personal tasks.

The Responsibility of a Supervisor

At its core, the responsibility of a boarding school supervisor is the well-being, safety, and development of the students under their care. From ensuring that boarders follow their schedules and maintain discipline to being there as a confidante during moments of homesickness or academic pressure, a supervisor’s role is multifaceted.

However, when supervisors engage in personal tasks during their duty hours, it can lead to lapses in oversight. Whether it’s completing personal assignments, indulging in entertainment, or even something seemingly harmless like scrolling through social media, such distractions can compromise the primary duty at hand.

Potential Implications of Divided Attention

  • Safety Concerns: Active supervision ensures that potential hazards, whether they be physical, emotional, or psychological, are addressed promptly. A distracted supervisor might overlook signs of distress, bullying, or any other issue that could escalate if not addressed in time.
  • Discipline Lapses: Consistency is crucial in maintaining discipline. When supervisors are not fully present, students might take liberties with rules, leading to a gradual erosion of the established order and potentially fostering an environment where rules are seen as flexible.
  • Missed Teachable Moments: Boarding school life is full of teachable moments - instances where life lessons can be imparted. A supervisor engrossed in personal tasks may miss out on these spontaneous opportunities to guide and mentor.
  • Relationship Building: Active engagement with students fosters trust. When supervisors remain present, both physically and mentally, they can build stronger relationships with students. These relationships often act as the bedrock for effective mentorship.

Changing the Paradigm: Shifting Priorities

It is understandable that everyone, including supervisors, need personal time. The rigours of overseeing a group of energetic young minds can be taxing. However, the key is to distinguish personal time from duty hours. Here are a few strategies that can assist in ensuring supervisors remain active and engaged:

  • Scheduled Breaks: Just as there are designated times for meals, study, and recreation for students, supervisors too should have clear, scheduled breaks. This not only gives them a designated period for personal tasks but also ensures they return refreshed.
  • Professional Development: Continuous training programs that emphasise the importance of active supervision and its implications can be beneficial. Role-playing scenarios can help supervisors understand the potential risks of inattention. The free ABSA ‘Active Duty’ Course is a clear reminder of the things to remember in this area.
  • Technological Aids: The use of technology, such as walkie-talkies or surveillance cameras, can be a boon. They can serve as additional eyes and ears, but they should supplement human oversight, not replace it.
  • Feedback Mechanism: Encourage students to voice their concerns. If they feel neglected or believe that their supervisors aren’t as active as they should be, there should be a safe and anonymous avenue for them to communicate this.
  • Personal Workspace: If possible, boarding schools can designate a specific area for supervisors to complete personal tasks during their breaks. This physical demarcation can serve as a reminder of their primary responsibilities when they are in the students’ space.

In Conclusion

Boarding schools are much more than institutions of academic learning. They mould characters, build resilience, and foster community values. At the heart of this transformative experience are the supervisors, whose guidance can leave a lasting impact on a student's life.

Being present, in every sense of the word, is not just an obligation; it's a privilege. Every interaction, every nod of approval, every word of advice, and even every disciplinary action plays a part in shaping young lives. Let's honour this responsibility by ensuring that when the lights are on in our boarding schools, our attention is undivided and unwavering.

Friday 14 July 2023

What Makes Boarding Staff Training Different?

During the last six months I have been in discussion with a number of professional learning providers about what they are offering and, without fail, they are intrigued when I talk about the incredible role our boarding staff play looking after other people’s children for that other 18 hours a day - when they are not in class.

Most recently we have been working with a provider to put together some online Child Protection training which is aimed at the specific needs of boarding staff - concentrating on areas such as grooming, careful supervision around bedroom and bathroom spaces and developing protocols which ensure both the boarders themselves and the staff working with them are comfortable and safe. This was highlighted even more to me recently when I met up with one of my ex-boarders from the early 1990s and he talked about how when training to become a counsellor it brought back to him his experience as a Year Eight boarder when one of the staff clearly was grooming him - thankfully for him nothing more happened, whilst

for others this was not the case.

Our Duty of Care Level Two - Essential Knowledge workshop highlights these issues specifically, but it is clear to me that one training in this area is nowhere near enough - it must be re-visited annually and mention the specific situation that boarding is, so that it is completely relevant and the perfect reminder of our need to take care and watch. So we are looking forward to being able to provide this for our members later this year.

However, child safety is not the only issue in which our staff need continual training - it is every aspect of their boarding journey. This term we have provided Certificate Courses in both Risk and Academic Performance Improvement, the Online Boarding Conference had some great speakers once again, and the ongoing webinars provide deep learning in specific topics relevant to the work of the boarding house staff member. However sometimes I wonder why these online activities are not oversubscribed - especially

given we have over 3,900 boarding staff in Australia. I have heard all sorts of excuses - we don’t have a budget for that, our teachers do heaps of professional development, we don’t have enough time in the day, just to name a few but I challenge you to consider it with your legal glasses on - what will that day in court be like if the only training boarding staff have undertaken was a Duty of Care workbook

completed six years ago?

For too long the boarding section of the school has been treated like the poor cousin, the one who gets the spoils of PD money once all the important people in the school have spent theirs. For too long those boarding staff who work part-time in boarding and also work elsewhere have used the excuse that they don’t have time.

For too long those who are also teachers in the school treat boarding as an add-on and therefore not one which requires any level of training. And for too long those running our boarding houses have thought they have all the answers and there is nothing more they can learn. As the lucky one who gets to see most of our training options as part of my work I can’t believe how much better I would have been at my job running a boarding school if I had had the opportunity to up-skill like we do today. 

So here are ten quick ways you might consider expanding yours and your boarding team’s learning:

1. if you have subscribed to the webinar bundle (and for those of you who haven’t this is by far the cheapest online training available for your staff) structure your staff meetings around getting

staff to report back on a webinar they found useful and/or interesting over the last term.

2. closely follow your PD certificates (your Head of Boarding gets a listing each term and every staff member can request one from our office) to ensure you undertake at least 15 hours

of training each year.

3. if you are new to boarding, complete the Duty of Care Level 1 - Induction course online which is free for all members

4. complete the free online courses ‘Active Duty’ and ‘Top Tips for Boarding Staff’

5. check the range of Certificate Courses offered each term and subscribe to at least one every year

6. send in a request to our office if you have a topic which is pressing in your work and you would like us to teach out learning on

7. if your work includes handing out medication to boarders, complete the online 'Administer Medications’ course

8. spend time watching the free online boarding house tours - they are a fantastic way to pick up new ideas and learn how others have solved the same problems you face

9. whilst you will have missed the 2023 Online Boarding Conference, make this a priority for future years. Where else can you get access to fabulous international keynote speakers for such a reasonable price and without leaving your staffroom or office?

10. Register for the International Boarding Conference in September to be held in Hobart - the program entitled ‘Keeping Boarders’ Lives Safer’ is quite exciting.

Good luck on your professional journey in this wonderful profession and don’t forget that ABSA is here to help you at every step along the way.

Richard Stokes

Chief Executive Officer

Wednesday 5 April 2023

Are We Doing Our Job?

Imagine you are a new boarding parent and the idea of sending your child to boarding had never crossed you mind until your circumstances changed a few months before the school year started. Where would you start? How do you know what boarding school can best serve your needs? What thoughts might go through your mind?

My first thoughts would be - how do I know they will look after my child properly? How can they prove this to me? Do they measure themselves against anything? How can they get help when something goes wrong?

Now, I do know I’m a little biased when I look at these ideas - but I would be very confident that many of your new parents would have been thinking the same thing. So how do you know

you’ve got it right for the moment and kept up with all the rapid changes occurring in our industry? Do you measure yourself? Is there anything you can do to ensure you can answer their questions with real confidence? Of course there is......

Many boarding schools over the last few years have reached out to see if we could help them by reviewing their boarding operation and sharing ideas garnered over many hundreds of visits to schools and a deep understanding of the one thing we have to measure our success: AS5725:2015 Boarding Standard for Australian Schools and Residences. I must admit this is one of the great joys of my work, getting the chance to talk with all boarding and many key school staff, parents and the boarders themselves about how things are operating, and then producing a detailed report on the strengths and weaknesses of the program being reviewed. 

These are not only asked for by schools who feel they are struggling - quite the opposite in fact, as strong boarding programs are often very keen to become even stronger, and ‘outside eyes’, especially those with a good deal of boarding experience, provide this opportunity.

Other schools are very keen to get detailed responses from well designed surveys of boarders and boarding parents, and use these questionnaires to gauge how well their boarding programs are working. Parents need to be asked regularly about how they view a school’s boarding program, and requested to provide responses which can guide the development and expansion of key programs to assist the boarders. Those within our care, too, need to be able to voice their opinion on how boarding is going, and be respected for their opinions and advice. Surveys such as this satisfy a number of the sections of the Boarding Standard which expects regular feedback from parents and boarders.

And the exciting development is the completion of our Certification Scheme. With the lockdowns and border closures of Covid behind us we have been able to finalise the scheme we began putting together back in 2017 which includes two levels of self-assessment to ensure all items within the Standard are covered, and now a Certification inspection and the ability to happily be a Certified Boarding School. Two trial schools have helped us ensure the program is robust and workable, and given us an understanding of the work involved and the time it takes, and we will roll out the option to all schools in the next few weeks.

But why would you do any of these - as they all cost money, and we all know money is tight in our schools? The simple answer is because they satisfy the one and only Standard which exists to ensure our boarding schools and their programs are up-to-scratch. The longer answer is because if we don’t continually appraise ourselves, measure ourselves and ensure we are providing an appropriate standard of care for our boarders we will start to fall behind and struggle for enrolments as the boarders will be going elsewhere - where the School is meeting the Standard.

Food for thought - I’m more than happy to chat in greater depth if you are interested.