Podcast: School Assembly Episode 3: Planning

Thanks for downloading Episode 3 of School Assembly. I’m Zoe Kaskamanidis.

In this series, we follow Principal Ray Boyd and Associate Principal Rachael Lehr as they navigate the exciting and challenging journey of building a new school community from the ground up. Each month, we touch base for updates and reflections on their progress as their new school, Dayton Primary School, is built in the newly developing suburb of Dayton, located in the eastern metropolitan city of Swan in Perth, Western Australia.

Last month, we spoke to Ray and Rachael about setting short- and long-term goals. In this episode, we speak with Ray and Rachael about all things ‘planning’, including how they plan to budgets, how they use visual planning techniques, as well as questions of collaboration and delegation. Let’s jump in.

Zoe Kaskamanidis: Hi Ray and Rachael, how are you both?

Ray Boyd: Well, thanks.

Rachael Lehr: Good, thanks.

ZK: Are you on the way to the book club this morning?

RL: Yeah, we’ve got a book club for ACEL (Australian Council for Educational Leaders). So we’re heading there so we said we’d do it on the way. So we’ve just had to stop so we can focus.

ZK: Lovely. Oh, thank you. Yeah I’m always of course, really happy to connect with you wherever you are! So I hear your Manager of Corporate Services, Cathlin, is now on board, so I think a congratulations is definitely in order for your growing team. I saw on LinkedIn that you gave her a nice warm welcome too which was lovely to see.

RL: Yes, we’ve got Cathlin with us now, which is really exciting.

RB: So our finances can get sorted properly, which is good.

ZK: So, before we jump into the episode, I wanted to recap on a few things we chatted about in our last episode. So, I remember you were about to run the second stage of recruitment, gathering together a group of shortlisted teaching staff. So how did that go?

RB: Yeah, it went well. There was a number of processes we went through to get there. We had the normal process, and then we got Joel Birch involved with Lego Serious Play. That was essentially our interview. It enabled Rachael, myself and Cathlin – who was all the panel – to walk around and listen to the teachers interacting with each other and essentially answering questions that we would have asked in the interview.

But because everyone was talking to each other, it removed a bit of that nervousness and tension you tend to get in more of an interview situation. I mean it was still tough for them, but they were all on the same level, and they were all talking to each other rather than talking to us. So it changed the whole dynamic of the process.

RL: And then from that, they uploaded videos of them talking about the little Lego models they made and what everything represented which answered the questions, and then we had access to that after. So we were able to sit and watch their videos and reflect on their answers, so it was a really great way to do it.

ZK: Yeah, it sounds really interesting and really different from anything I’ve heard of. So yeah, it’s great that you can get that sort of deeper understanding. I know I saw on social media you were talking about how it brings out the ‘why’ of why they’re drawn to the roles as well, so very cool.

RB: I mean Joel was very excited to engage in the process – it’s something that he had been wanting to do for a while. I was mildly apprehensive, but Rachael’s enthusiasm – and this is why it’s good to have different people on your team – it was her enthusiasm that encouraged- alright, let’s give this a shot. And it was probably one of the best decisions I’ve made, or we’ve made, in terms of a recruitment process.

RL: And so now we’re doing to do that – we’ve got 2 education assistant pools being advertised currently. And so when those close, we’re going to go through the same process. We’ll bring the shortlisted education assistants in for the same session. So Joel’s really keen to be back on board with that.

So, I think it’s something we’ll probably use moving into the future for other various things like working with our board, and getting all of our staff together on the same page around our vision for the school. It can be used for lots of different things. So, we’re really looking forward to how we can use the Lego activities for that.

ZK: Yeah, that’s great. I think, you know, you’re both really great at thinking outside the box which I think is going to bring some really special talents and different people into your team which is fantastic.

And the other thing you mentioned last episode was sorting through tenders for Out of School Hours Care, which I remember you said was a big goal that came from the steering committee and is particularly important for your community which includes a lot of young families. So how has it been navigating that over the past month?

RL: Now, if I’m honest about this, it’s still sitting on my to-do list, Zoe – right at the top. It’s been on my mind. So, we know who we’re going to go with hopefully, in that regard. But we just still need to meet with our steering committee. So there’s a standout company that aligns with everything that we want for the school.

So now it’s really just that second stage of meeting with the families that’s been hard to get there. So, fingers crossed that they agree with us about this company being the best one for Dayton Primary School.

RB: We’ve done our homework around it, and come up with the company that we think, this is the one. But what we’ll do, is we’ll present that summary now to the steering committee, and go, ‘this is where we came to, where do you guys sit with this? Have we missed the mark?’ Just so we get that double back sounding board.

We’re also very cognisant of time. I mean these are parents, they’re flat out like everyone is. So it’s trying to condense the information without cutting any important stuff out. So they don’t have to scroll through pages and pages of documents like we went through. We’ve sort of condensed it down to make it a little easier for them.

ZK: Yeah, that’s great. I think with everyone being so busy, and you’ve got a lot going on, any progress – and it sounds like you know, it’s very thorough the way you go through these processes – and I think that is a lot of progress in itself. So, yeah we’ll stay tuned for that one!

So let’s jump in to the topic for this episode now, which is planning. And planning is really quite a broad concept, because of course it’s really at the crux of so much of the process of building up a school community from scratch.

But in this episode, I wanted to focus on the practical aspects of planning, particularly planning around budgets, who to involve in planning processes, how to delegate tasks to meet planning deadlines, and even things like visualising plans. And I think it’d be nice actually to jump in on that note.

So a while ago on Twitter I saw you were using a sticky note system to visually organise your plans – with to-do, blocked, progressing, complete and binned categories written on a whiteboard, with plans labelled on sticky notes to paste up and move around each section as your plans progressed. Can you tell me a bit about how and why you use tools like this to visualise your planning processes?

RB: Yep, I’ve saw it used a lot when I was working in the state health and emergency coordination centre during COVID. And I mean if you look at research too, visualisation and being able to see things is a really important part of planning.

Because this was a new space for me when I first came into the role, Zoe, I needed to be able to see exactly what had to be done and where I was. Because there were lots of things that were going on that were out of my control but were still happening.

Let’s just use the naming case in point. The getting the name for the school looked easy, but then we had uniforms hinging on that, letterheads… So, by putting up all the sticky charts and things to do, and then progressing along, I could see exactly what had been done, and where that was sitting.

When other people came onto the team, what it also did was then gave them a – this is my thinking here – gave them a visualisation of what has already been done, what still had to be done, and where things were.

And case in point, just before we finished up this term, Cathlin stood up and went, ‘I’ve done the banking, where are we with this?’ So she actually used – without me saying ‘look, there we are’, she actually used that and shifted stuff around. So that visualisation just helps you conceptualise the bigger scope of things – the grander scheme – and helps you put things into place.

And Rachael’s done a similar thing using that now with our staffing profiles and classroom structures.

RL: Yeah, so we actually, from that Lego Serious Play session, every staff- every teacher there put in a photograph into Padlet. So we’ve printed those and they’re laminated and up on the board. And then we’ve got our numbers of students in each year level and potential class structures.

And we’ve been moving around the faces on the board as to where we’d like – or potentially like – the teachers to be, and so we’re planning around our teaching structures across the school in a visual way like that as well. Which has been really great, because we don’t really know the teachers very well yet, so having a face to a name has been really helpful.

RB: Well, Cathlin came in one morning and she said, ‘I’m watching this series on Netflix or something – we need a Cluedo board.’ And I- what’s that? And basically it’s to teach us what Rach- so we had all the pictures up and then, ‘okay, has this person made it in? No, they haven’t – why not?’ And so we’re shifting the pictures around and moving the pictures, ticking…

So again, it gave us a very visual schematic of what we were trying to do with our staffing structures and our classrooms, and the actual process of cutting down teachers. So, here’s our shortlist, here’s the people who didn’t make it. And they kept moving around for a couple of days until we came up with our core group that actually got into the pool.

ZK: That’s interesting – I’m very much a board games person so I really connect with that.

RB: I’ve actually coded it – she actually said it’s a murder board is what they use. You know when you go into those crime scenes and they’ve got all the boards and how everything’s connected?

ZK: Yeah.

RB: So that’s the idea where it came from and it’s really worked really well, so I’m going to use this again because it’s absolutely awesome.

ZK: Yeah, so a bit like: person A in the art room with the whiteboard kind of situation?

RB: Yeah! That’s exactly it. That is exactly it, that’s right. The library with the candlestick but he needs the resources. That’s it!

ZK: That’s great. If only there was an easy answer to everything in a little pouch at the end like it is in Cluedo. Alright, so let’s jump straight to budgets now, which is always a fun topic. What role do budgets play in your planning? Do you plan according to budgets, or has it been kind of the other way around at times too?

RL: Well, there’s been a lot that’s been constrained by budgets in terms of planning for the school, obviously, building the school… Ray probably can speak to this easier but we had around $500,000 for furniture. So, we were very much working to a budget in that regard.

And then there’s ‘x’ amount for technology, and then this amount for other resources. So, in terms of purchasing all the things we need for the school, we don’t really have a choice. Ray was trying to find more money for playgrounds.

But then, in the background, there’s other things that aren’t reliant on budgets – the planning that we’re doing around curriculum or programs or pedagogy and policy. So, there’s a lot that can be done that isn’t reliant on budgets. But in starting a new school, there’s so much that is constrained by budgets.

RB: And there’s 2 elements to the budget – there’s the budget for the build which we have little control over, and I think the state government announced that this was a 36 million dollar build – and that has to encompass everything. And then we’ve got our budget that comes through from the department, and the funding we get for staff etcetera. And that’s the really hard bit, because again, because we’re a new school, there’s a lot of resources that we need. But we also then have to prioritise those resources.

So, obviously digital technology is going to be a big thing because we are a digital world at the moment. So, in a school like West Beechboro where I was it, that was an easy one; we moved that because we got the funds there. At Dayton it’s like well we need that, yeah but we also need reading books.

So it’s like where do you go with this? You can’t buy 2 computers and 4 books. You need to buy sets of books or sets of computers, so. It’s always- budgeting’s actually really hard. It’s a pain.

RL: And we have to make decisions, like- there’s an example: we could spend $8,000 on getting a website up and running, or we could buy $8,000 of toys for the pre-primary classes, for example. So it’s really about what’s most important right now, and we don’t have anything. So, there’s certain things that we have to put on the backburner in terms of their priority isn’t as high, because we need to develop, and get in all the resources we need to, to start running a school.

ZK: Yeah, it does sound like a challenge that’s particularly unique in terms of how much there is all at once when you’re building up a new school, so it must be tricky.

RB: Even the library, for instance. Now, we bought I think $20,000 worth of books. So those books now have to be accessioned. There has to be a library system, which we didn’t have in place. So we now need to allocate funds to get the library system in place. And what do we do about getting the books accessioned?

Well, Rachael and I aren’t going to do it because it’s going to kill us. We could purchase- or not purchase, but employ, so spend money on a staff member and then we’ve got that staff member for forever and a day. Or do we, which is what we’ve done, outsource that to someone who can spend 2 days on it, and so then we’ve only invested 2 days of funds in getting the books covered and accessioned, as opposed to putting on a staff member that we now have to carry for the rest of the year. It’s just a juggle, Zoe.

ZK: Yeah, it sounds like it. Well I think, you know, you’re doing a great job by the sounds of things – everything’s kind of coming together in some way, so.

RB: I think all the schools – David Andrews in the eastern states, the other principals in this state too – they’re all having the same fights and the same decisions. And it would be interesting to see, if you did a comparison, what some people are putting emphasis on and others weren’t, because everyone’s priorities are different depending on the environment that they currently find themselves in.

ZK: So let’s talk collaboration and delegation. Something that has always stood out to me is that you both really value community input, and have invited community into the planning for the school from the very beginning. So, what do you think are some key considerations for other school leaders who are wanting to engage community in key planning initiatives?

RB: Well the community- the consultation process was critical for us, and I’d encourage anyone to really consider that, to get some sort of consultation café or something, where you actually get the people together in the first place.

And I think, for us anyway, it’s worked well that we did that big consultation at the start and then from that got an idea of what the community wanted, and then created a little sub-group which we’ve got now – a little steering committee – that’s working with that information and taking that consolidation of all that information and synthesising it down into smaller chunks that are a bit more manageable for us.

RL: At those first community consultations we got a list of people who would be interested in being part of a steering committee, and so then I went through all of those names and actually invited people quite specifically to be on the steering committee – and tried to get a spread of different cultural backgrounds, gender, and then also the age of their children.

So we’ve actually really, it’s only a small group, but a really fantastic group that seems to be working really well together. And just bringing quite diverse perspectives, so that’s worked out really well.

RB: And the thing to be very aware of there is if you want a slow the process down, create a committee. So, it’s an idea of making a group big enough so that it’s functional, but small enough so that decisions can still be made relatively quickly.

ZK: And what about delegation, in terms of splitting planning between staff. So, has this been something you’ve organised based off individual strengths and experience, or do you more so delegate tasks based on workload?

RB: Anything to do with people, Rachael does.

RL: I obviously came on board after Ray so there was 2 of us for a long time. And Ray had already been working a lot in the project management around the build and all of that. So I kind of left him to that.

And then, when I came on board, took over a bit more in terms of dealing with the community and I took over more of the Facebook page and communications with the families, dealing with enrolments and, just by nature of the fact that I probably enjoy that more than Ray.

We were lucky that we’ve worked together in the past, so we were aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses and which tasks we’d be best to do if that makes sense.

ZK: Yep.

RB: And I’d been working a little bit with the money but now we’ve got Cathlin on, and she’s taken over, so obviously that’s her strength as the Manager of Corporate Services.

And Rachael and I have been doing a bit of work around curriculum, but we’ve just made our first appointment which we hope to announce soon. And that person will be supporting us with our curriculum. So again, we’ve drawn from the pool for a specific reason for a specific strength in this case.

So, coming back to, in this case, we’re delegating for a person’s strengths and capabilities. And that they will take over a particular role and work more closely with Rachael in terms of, ‘alright, what curriculum, what resources do we need in establishing this early childhood unit that we want to create in Dayton?’.

RL: And we’ve been quite innovative in this space because we were told for the rest of the year that we could put on a school officer and a half-time library officer. But rather than do that, we’re putting on a teacher- a senior teacher with experience in learning support.

So, because if I had a school officer and a library officer that I was telling, ‘I need all these resources for the pre-primary’, for example, I would actually have to then tell them what to order. Whereas, having someone with experience in teaching, in learning support – they can actually do that on their own without me needing to micromanage it. So I’m really excited about having someone else on board to bounce ideas off around pedagogy and curriculum, and programs for Dayton.

RB: And I think, Zoe, in that space too, the hardest part for me, and now obviously for Rachael that she’s on board with that, is trying to make that decision whether I select staff based around curriculum and developing what’s happening in the classrooms, or I employ staff around front office and more managerial-type roles.

And that’s been a hard one for me. Because I’ve leant to- besides from my MCS (Manager of Corporate Services), I’ve leant heavily towards the learning programs and the teaching framework side of things. So I’ve employed staff from the Education Act rather than the Ministerial Public Sector Act.

ZK: Okay so before we wrap up then, Ray and Rachael, what has been your key learning, biggest hurdle, and proudest achievement over the past month?

RL: The proudest achievement – that recruitment process and the way that worked out for us going with the Lego Serious Play, taking a chance on something different. I think that was just both a key learning and a proud achievement. Because it actually gave us such great insights.

And I think the teachers that came along on that day, even though some of them didn’t make it into the pool, they actually gave us lots feedback that they really enjoyed that experience. So I think they even just took something away from that for themselves. So, really proud of the fact that we took a chance on something different and that’s something, like I said before, that we’ll go forward with.

RB: And there’s another element to that – I hate doing interviews, for a couple of reasons. One is it’s very contrived. It doesn’t matter how much you tell a person to relax and that it’s a conversation between friends, it’s not.

So, when we had Joel, who was extremely passionate about what he did, that energy and passion was exuded out onto the rest of the participants. So it was just a completely different vibe. It entirely changed the way the process ran. So in terms of an energised, passionate type of process, because of Joel’s drive and passion, it just went so well. And it couldn’t be any more to the right of where it would have been if we’d done an interview process.

ZK: It’s so telling of taking that leap to think outside the box of processes that we would normally do in one certain way and what you can really get out of thinking creatively around it. So, it’s really great to hear.

RL: And in terms of a hurdle, it’s something that’s coming up – I don’t know if there really is a teacher shortage, but actually we’ve had people that we’ve put into our pool (we’ve shortlisted teachers) and now they’re being offered positions elsewhere.

And unfortunately, because we can’t give them a contract until next year, we’re actually losing some quality teachers from our pool. So, that’s going to be something that’s going to- I mean it’s narrowing our pool, which we needed to do anyway – we can’t employ everyone, our student numbers are still relatively low (we will probably have about 8 or 9 classes across the school) so that’s only 9 teachers and 3 or 4 specialist teachers. So we needed to narrow it down, but it’s been narrowed down for us.

ZK: So what’s next for both of you in the coming weeks then?

RL: Well those EA pools – Education Assistant pools – will be closing in 2 weeks, so that will mean going through that whole process again for the education assistants. And then we mentioned we’re getting another staff member coming on in Week 2, so that will be really looking at how that role looks and what their roles and responsibilities will be, and about creating a team that works really well together. I think playing to each of our strengths.

So, I think it’ll be really good to sit and actually discuss that when the new staff member comes on board, about like – what do they see their role being like? what would they like to do? what would they want to get out of it?, so we can all work together really well.

RB: We’ll also be spending a bit of time finalising what our curriculum will start to look like, and making some rock-hard decisions on what programs we’re actually bringing into the school, in terms of commercial programs.

So this Term, this next 10 weeks, we’ll be absolutely flat out. And then sitting on the back of that, there’ll be some of the works that’s actually happening in the build and the project that will be finalised and will have to be signed off on as well. So this term will be absolutely chaotic really, which we were very aware of.

It was slow at the start of the year and we had plenty of time but there were things that we couldn’t do, now it’s very fast and we’re going to run out of time but that’s just the nature of the beast.

RL: As far as for our community, they’re quite keen to get ordering their uniforms so that’s on top of my list for next week – to get all that information out to the families so that they can start going down and trying on uniforms and buying them.

So there’s a lot to do in terms of with our families as well. We would love to be able to do some orientation and getting to know the families, but until the school site’s ready, it’s pretty hard to do that.

RB: And just talking to you now, Zoe, I’ve just remembered we’ve got to get book lists finalised and given the nod by our steering committee too, so that’s good, we’ve got to get that out to parents as well.

ZK: So sounds like today’s a bit of a focus on books I guess if you’re going to the book club as well after the call with me - that’ll be a good reminder.

RB: On stolen focus-

RL: We’re reading about stolen focus which is about why we can’t pay attention so there’s a lot to take away in that book!

ZK: Well thank you both so much for joining me today. A pleasure as always to speak to you both and I better let you get to the book club, but thanks for taking the time out.

RL: Thank you, Zoe.

RB: You’re welcome, Zoe.

RL: Have a great day.

That’s all for this episode of School Assembly, thanks for listening. Next time, we’ll be chatting with Ray and Rachael about how they have connected with the community throughout the process of building up a new school. In the meantime, you can follow Ray and Rachael’s socials for updates in between episodes by following the links at the podcast transcript over on our website, teachermagazine.com.

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Other episodes in this series:

In this podcast, Ray and Rachael talk about delegating planning tasks based on individual strengths.

As a school leader, reflect on the different strengths of individual staff members. Are staff getting enough opportunities to pursue different tasks and projects that reflect their unique skills?