School Assembly Episode 4: Connecting with community

Thanks for downloading Episode 4 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 all things ‘planning’. In this episode, we speak with Ray and Rachael about how they have connected with the community throughout the process of building up a new school. Let’s jump in.

Zoe Kaskamanidis: Hi Rachael and Ray!

Ray Boyd: Hey Zoe!

ZK: How are you both?

Rachael Lehr: Going well!

RB: We are doing well.

ZK: So you’re both in an office today, or on the move?

RL: Yeah, we’re in our office at Brabham.

ZK: Lovely.

RL: So not on the road today.

RB: We’ve just come off a PD with Peter DeWitt around collective leadership efficacy, so …

RL: Which meant an early start for us – so that started at 6:30am Perth time, so we had to get up at the crack of dawn to get into work to do that as a team.

ZK: Well, it’s great to speak to you both! I thought I’d start us off today by recapping a few things we talked about last episode, because it’s been a huge month for you both. I’ve seen, you know, a lot going on through your social media accounts and you’ve chosen an Out of School Hours Care provider which is super exciting. And that the school uniforms are underway, so, I know we talked about that last time. And I saw you had your first family visiting the uniform concept store last month. So, congratulations on 2 pretty huge milestones!

RL: It has been a big month, like you said we’ve got lots going on and our timelines are starting to spiral out of control a bit – they’re shortening for us, so. Only a few months ‘til school opens.

ZK: Yeah, and the other thing I wanted to mention too, is that you’ve had your fourth staff member join the team, so congratulations! And I’ve noticed you’ve been announcing a number of new staff for 2023 as well, so that’s pretty huge.

RB: Yeah, I put Lucinda on. She’s doing an awesome job getting our early childhood structures in place. She’s in the middle of Kindergarten interviews where her and Rachael are speaking to families at the moment, which is fantastic.

And we’ve sort of got all our staff sorted now for next year. Our starting 5 as we call them! And we’re introducing them through the rest of this week and next week, just letting the community know who they are and a bit about them.

ZK: And so we’ve got another big topic for this episode, and it feels like every month we do. But this episode we’re going to look at connecting with community. And so this is something that has really stood out to me in everything you do from the very beginning. But we finally find ourselves with a whole podcast to unpack it, which is great!

And I want to begin by casting your minds back to when you first started promoting the school. So, you were both printing out flyers and walking around Dayton knocking on doors and handing them out yourselves. So why did you decide to do this in person, and what was it like meeting some of the families in Dayton for the first time?

RB: I guess there were 4 reasons for that. The first one was what you’ve already touched on – it was a chance to actually get out in the community and get a feel for the demographic and get an understanding of the development that’s going on and the potential for future development.

And as a result of that, Rachael and I worked out that there’s actually going to be a big growth later on next year, as the land gets cleared and further developed. The second reason is to provide an opportunity for us to actually speak with people, and we met a few. I think Rachael actually spoke to more families than I did. And also to promote the school and what was coming and to get them involved in it.

It allowed us to really get a better understanding of our intake area. So, we could see when someone spoke to us on the phone, we had a rough schematic in our head of where they were based anyway. So, it gave us a general feel for it.

And probably the biggest reason is we didn’t have any money.

RL: Exactly, we’re broke, so using our own leg power rather than getting it delivered was a lot cheaper of an option. Plus, we got some exercise in there as well so that was always an added bonus.

ZK: I remember that video looked very nice and sunny, so lucky you weren’t walking around in a thunderstorm or anything. But yeah, so when you met the families, what was that like? Can you tell me a little bit more about that experience?

RL: Well I found that people were really excited that there was a school coming to Dayton. The suburb had been established for- I don’t know it was probably 8 years or so.

RB: 8 years ago, yeah.

RL: And not a lot has come to Dayton. Some of the families that have been coming in for Kindy interviews have even said, you know, surrounding suburbs have got supermarkets and schools and they’ve just had nothing. They have a BWS – so a bottle shop, a Hungry Jacks and a service station in the whole suburb.

So, they were just really excited to know that there was a school coming and that they had a chance to be part of something new. So, I think overall there was just a really positive feeling when we introduced ourselves and said that there was an opportunity for them to join our school.

ZK: And so back in April you held 3 Community Conversation cafes for families to meet and have a voice in the planning for a new school. So how did you organise and promote these meetings and what kinds of topics were open to discussion?

RB: So I’d already spoken to the Principal here at Brabham [Primary School], Zoe – Anika Blackmore – and she said she’d used a company called Creating Communities, and they basically facilitate conversations within communities and for shires around specific topics.

So I used them initially to get the message out that we were running a consultation process that would enable families, community members, people abroad who may like to have some input into what the school would look like, what would deliver the sorts of things they were expecting.

And then we promoted it through Facebook, through LinkedIn, through Twitter. So we used our normal conduits that were the easy ones. The biggest method for us, and it did cost us a bit but was probably worthwhile, was Creating Communities – contracted a company to work out our intake area, and then they developed and delivered brochures to every household within that area.

So we knew … it was essentially what we did with our enrolment process but it was prior to the enrolment, so we knew all our intake areas, we knew that posters had gone out, and we knew that there was a really broad- I used emails too to notify people in the community organisations who wanted to have a bit of a say and see what we were about.

In terms of the topics, there were no topics off the table. Parents, families could ask anything that they wanted. It was an opportunity for us, and I brought Rachael along to that as a- I think that was your first-

RL: I wasn’t actually employed quite yet, I’d won the position but I hadn’t started working so I just came along so that I had an idea of what was going to be happening at school. One of the big things through that came out of that was work around the name of the school. So that was a key strategy, to find out what the preference for the school name was. So, we used input from those as well as online surveys to find out what the families wanted.

RB: Yeah, and independent public school was a topic we had to discuss – we wanted to open as an independent public school, so that was something we floated with the community at those cafes. We had 100-odd people. Rachael then later on went and developed a survey built on what we presented to community and put it out again so we’d even get more feedback.

And it gave us a chance also to articulate what it was that families were buying into around our instructional framework. So they knew exactly where we stood as a leadership team and what their children would be getting from the community, or from the school within the community, I should say.

RL: And Zoe, another thing we discussed there was the colours and possibilities for logos. And a really good thing for us what that we developed a prospectus – or Ray had done most of the work – but I had some input around colours, and everyone that came along really liked that colour theme. And that’s something that’s threaded through now to our current logo and all of the things that we’ve done with our uniform.

So, it was really good that the community came on board and loved what we’d proposed for that. So that was some of the really early work we did with the community then.

ZK: It really stands out to me the way that from conception to finalising these things, there’s been so many different modes of communication that you’ve really included in that process. Like you were saying, obviously the Community Conversation Cafes, the survey, social media – it’s nice to have that quite broad way to reach out to people I think, where you might be catching different people in different stages.

And so let’s look now to the Steering Committee, which Rachael, you’ve mentioned in a past episode is comprised of some really great diverse voices from the community. Can you tell me a bit more about the role of the Committee not only in terms of decision making and planning, as we’ve talked about in the past, but also in terms of informing engagement strategies at each stage?

RL: Yeah, so I think I mentioned this in the last episode, but we got expressions of interest from those Community Cafes from families. And then I matched that list of interested family members with who had actually enrolled in the school, because we obviously wanted to have parents on that that were going to be part of Dayton Primary School.

And then I just invited them along. And so everyone was interested, which was a bonus. And we kept it really small. Ray always talks about, ‘if you want to slow something down, create a committee,’ so the smaller the committee, in a way … but a small diverse committee is a good way to get things progressing.

So we have quite a mixed little group of parents. But the things that we’ve taken to them – the very first thing – was around the logo design, and that was … we spent a couple of hours together and we had Mark from Razoreye come in and present all of the different options and then we looked at each one in detail and ‘what did they like, what don’t they like?’ And then we actually sent Mark away with ‘this is all of our thoughts’, and then he came together with what was the final logo design that we then presented to them again. So that was a really big thing that they had input into.

And then the next thing was the uniform. It’s something that, you know, their children have to wear it, we wanted them to be happy with it, we want them to be on board with it buying for their kids and we want every child in our school to feel a sense of belonging by being in the uniform. So, another thing they had a lot of input in terms of the colours and what would be easy for washing, and all of that kind of stuff was another big conversation.

And the next conversations that have yet to happen- oh no sorry, I missed one, we had the out-of-hours school care conversation which ended up being more of an email and online communication. It’s hard to get everyone in the room. But, they were really happy with the choice we’d already made around Big Childcare, and supported us in that. And they were really pleased with that as a choice.

So, they were the 3 big things, and we’ve got some more things coming up.

RB: And that Steering Committee comes out of essentially a 3-tiered process too, Zoe. Initially I presented the prospectus that went to the Community Cafes, and plus the surveys that went out through Facebook via Google Forms. So, we had 150-200 people contribute to that.

The steering group of 5 people then already had that 200-odd input, so we had an idea of what the community wanted. And then we were able to present that to Mark, who then brought that conceptual understanding back to the Steering Committee. And now we’ve only got 5 people working on making a final decision – but they’re using all of that information that’s already been given to us by everyone else.

And the hardest bit about anything in this is that we’ll never reach consensus. So there’s no way we’d reach a happy consensus with 200 people, but 5 people are going to be able to reach a consensus a lot better. So that Steering Committee has enabled us to really channel down and grab everyone’s thoughts and focus on one particular area, and get some decisions made.

I was challenged by another principal on, you know, ‘you’ve only got 5 people in your Steering Committee.’ But hang on, they’re working with information that’s come from 200 people. So, it’s not like there’s 5 people making a decision or 6 people making a decision – there’s 5 people acting on behalf of 200 people.

RL: And also having that smaller group, it gives everyone a bit more of an opportunity to have their voice and maybe feel more comfortable with being honest. But, overall, that group of 5 have been very in agreeance with each other and with us, so it’s been a very cohesive group. But I do feel that they would be comfortable enough to speak out if they didn’t agree. So, it’s been a really great opportunity to work with this group of family members.

ZK: Yeah it sounds like they’ve been, you know, a really important part of a lot of the decision making, which is great. Have you found out through communicating with the Steering Committee that there’s certain forms of communication that work better for community in terms of emails or social media, seeing people in person – whether there’s some forms of communication that are kind of easier for people to connect with you?

RL: We had a question about that in the original Community Cafes, and what we found from that was that the parents like a range of different communication methods and for different reasons.

You know, something like Seesaw for sharing things around what kids are doing at the school, but maybe emails for more formal things, Facebook or similar social media platforms for sharing community things that are happening in the school, and calendar invites.

So they had a different preference for different communications. And I mean even text message for more urgent things like, ‘pick your kids up from school now’ kind of thing or making phone calls. So, they did give us feedback, but the Steering Committee we’ve worked with in a range of communication methods too.

In person is preferred for making those decisions but you can imagine it’s hard to get everyone available, so we’ve been using Zoom meetings or email chains and different things. So, it’s a really contextual thing. And no one thing is preferred above the other, if that makes sense.

ZK: Yeah it does, that’s great. I think, you know, it sounds very responsive to what works for people which is always a good thing. And I did want to ask you both about the thought processes behind establishing an online presence through the website and on various social media platforms.

You’ve both got such great humour, and I love all the memes that you share – it feels very relaxed and welcoming to visit your pages. So, I wondered what your thought process has been in that regard for connecting with community through humour and social media.

RB: Well look, I’m really fortunate, Zoe, to have worked with Rachael before. We did a lot of work at West Beechboro [Primary School] in developing communication platforms and working out what does and doesn’t work. We don’t actually have a formal plan, as such, other than me making sure Rachael has edited my [messages] before they go out. Because my spelling’s atrocious at times. And Rachael argued that she actually sends me a message after I’ve sent it out to say ‘you need to fix this up’.

RL: Yeah, usually he’s posted it and I’m going, ‘quick! Go and edit.’ So that’s our social media strategy. But I think it’s a little bit like what you said about making people feel comfortable. We’re a new school, we want people to be interested in coming along to our school, we need enrolments, we need students, we wanted really high quality teachers, education assistants, all of our staff.

So we want them to feel like they can connect with us. So through Facebook, Twitter, Ray does a lot more on LinkedIn. Just putting the message out there about what our school’s going to be like, what’s happening in the school. I think it just helps people feel connected to our vision. And just keeping people up to date with what’s happening and I think that parents have really valued that.

RB: And understanding what … Rachael discovered by – I don’t know whether mistake or serendipity or another – when you attach a picture or an image to something, it gets more engagement, parents are more likely to look at it. So, imagery’s a really important one for us. But it’s also utilising the various platforms.

So, I use LinkedIn a lot – it’s a more professional network. And I will then to do a link with that to Twitter, because Twitter doesn’t give me the same capacity for putting information, so it channels people back to that. And then Rachael will take the LinkedIn information and then break that down again and make it suitable for going on Facebook. So, it’s more of a partnership without any lang- it just happens, it’s organic, for want of a better – I hate that word, but for want of a better word.

RL: And I then share the posts again in Seesaw, and that’s a closed community and only our enrolled students and their families are within that. And that’s something we’ll be using into next year when we open. So I’ll share those similar posts, if we have a new staff member I’ll put them in there. And that way the families know exactly what’s happening.

Some people aren’t on Facebook, some people don’t use social media, so I know that they know that we’ve got uniforms available now and they can go and order them. So, we’ve been using Seesaw which is a digital portfolio tool mainly, but it’s got a great communication section. So we’ve been using that to communicate with any families that have enrolled in the school as well.

ZK: Mm yeah, so I did want to ask a little bit more about that. So, you’ve given me a good understanding of what it is as an app, and why you’ve decided to go with it. So is it- does it allow you to then sort of distil all of that information?

RL: Yeah, Seesaw’s an app that I’ve used for many years. I used it in the classroom as a Science teacher and I became what was called a Seesaw Ambassador and then a Seesaw Certified Educator – I did a lot of professional learning for other teachers around it. And I just found it wonderful for a number of reasons.

The first one was primarily to share the students’ work, any digital items that they’d created, videos, things they’d created in other apps – they share it, and it’d go home to other families. You can photos of what’s happening in the school, videos, links to other things, so there’s lots of ways to share the learning that’s taking place.

But behind that, as I mentioned, there’s that communication direct messaging as well as announcements. So, we used it in 2 ways in our previous school and that’s how we’ll use it again at Dayton. And one is to send out whole-school announcements about events, things that the parents need to know that’s happening in the school.

But it also, you can have private communication messages with families or groups of families. And so it’s just been really valuable, because another thing is that it translates into 55 languages. So, it translates into the home language of the device that the families are using. So, with a lot of families speaking English as an additional language, you know that it’s being translated into something that they can understand – so we love using Seesaw and I’m excited about going forward with it next year.

RB: And from an administrator’s perspective, it allows me to engage in the kids’ work as well. As an administrator I get to see the work, so parents can see that I’m actually participating and playing an active part in the kids in the school as well, which makes, it just, again adds to that sense of belonging and those relationships that we want to establish in the school.

But, for me, the primary thing that I love about Seesaw is the ease with which both the kids and the parents can connect with it. There’s no clunky log-ins, it’s a QR code, once you’re in, you’re in. So, there’s other applications that we have used – they’re just too clunky, it’s too hard for the kids to access, and the parents have trouble with it. Whereas this one, it’s on their phones. 99% of parents we know have a phone, they don’t have the same level with computers, so they’ve got their kids in their pocket essentially.

ZK: Mm, I was going to say it sounds like it’s kind of better matched to how people do receive a lot of forms of communication these days, on their phone, you know, so I think it really seems like it’s moving forward with those technological changes that we’re seeing happening pretty rapidly.

RB: Yeah and it’s a hard one, Zoe, there’s some platforms work really well on a computer but they don’t translate to a mobile phone and vice versa. We found this particular application – and I’m sure there’s others out there as well, but this one works across both platforms really, really well.

ZK: And so moving now to our monthly check-in, what has been your key learning, your biggest hurdle, and proudest achievement over the past month?

RL: Well, we were just talking about this before we met with you, Zoe, about our biggest learning – or our key leaning – we’ve been participating in some webinar series with Peter DeWitt (Ray mentioned that earlier around collective leader efficacy) and he’s given us food for thought and homework around our adaptive challenge. Something that we want to focus on over the coming months.

So, we looked at this in terms of our adaptive challenge in setting up a new school, and getting all of our staff in alignment around our vision and our purpose, and for want of a better word, on the same page.

So, I guess our key learning is that we have a lot of work to do. But it’s important that we all are on the same page as a leadership team, and then as our staff come on board as well, so we’re all rowing in the same direction if that makes sense.

RB: Probably some of our biggest achievements is that we’ve got the recruitment pools underway for our education assistants and special needs, so we’ll be establishing that in a few weeks. We’ve got a knowledge society visit from the Catholic education – they’re coming through to chat with Rachael and I about how we’ve used our understandings from West Beechboro to create a new school, so. And we’ve got more family interviews, that’s been quite joyful.

RL: Yeah, we’ve been doing Kindy interviews and it’s been so nice to have kids around again. It’s been months since I’ve stepped out of a school and so having these little 3- and 4-year-olds come in with such joy has been really lovely. So, we’ve been meeting with the families and the children for our Kindy classes for next year, so it’s been wonderful.

RB: And one of the things we have to do very shortly is finalise our booklists – booklists and charges. Because again, bringing back our Steering Committee, that’s got to go through our Steering Committee who are essentially operating as a School Board for us – a School Council. And then we’ve got to get that out to families next year … or this year, for next year.

RL: And in line with that, our biggest hurdle – this is something we keep coming back to again and again – is around resourcing and the restrictive nature of finances in a new school. So, you can probably speak to that more, Ray.

RB: Oh that’s just, I mean all schools are the same but it’s just trying to work- and I think I’ve mentioned this before, there’s lots of things we need and want but it’s prioritising within those needs and wants, and that’s the hardest bit for us.

That’s my MCS’s [Manager of Corporate Services] biggest challenge. She knows what we want but she keeps saying, ‘you can’t have both, you need to prioritise.’ So, we’ve got discussions going on in that space at the moment.

ZK: Yeah. And so besides finalising the booklists then, and a few other things, what’s next for you both in the coming weeks?

RL: Well excitingly, we have another Lego Serious Play session coming up on the 12th of November with our education assistants that have been shortlisted, so we’re excited to work with Joel Birch again on that. So, that’s just a replication of the teacher process with slightly different questions. But we loved doing that last session, so we’re looking forward to that one.

We’ve got, as Ray’s already mentioned about, some more Kindy interviews coming along. And really just busy now, we’ve realised we’ve got a really shortened timeline in terms of getting resources on board, buying all the things we need for all the programs – Literacy, Numeracy, books, you know – everything, play equipment, Sports equipment, Art equipment, Science equipment we could go on all day.

So we’ve suddenly realised that there’s a lot of things we need to get in. And we’ve only just started with that because we don’t have anywhere to put things as you can imagine. We aren’t in our school yet, so we’ve held off on it but now it feels urgent.

RB: We’re meeting up with the [Education] Department’s, Project Manager Peter Robinson next week on the site again, just to have a look at the buildings and work through what’s actually going to be available on the day for next year and do some contingencies around – if timelines get pushed out, how we’re going to manage that? So, there’s just a few things. We always knew the timeline was going to get short, but we probably didn’t realise the speed at which it would get shortened.

RL: It’s looking like now when we get into the school that we’ll only have about half of our buildings at the best case scenario, so. Which is fine with our enrolment numbers, but if we don’t get the 4 buildings we need then it’s going to be trying to accommodate classes in libraries and staffrooms and all sorts of things that will add to our stress levels if that’s the case.

So it’s quite a- it’s an unknown and it’s out of our control, so you sort of have to try to stop losing sleep over things that you have no control over.

ZK: Yeah, I hope it all comes together. And I know next episode we were looking at talking about the physical build and location, so it sounds like that’s pretty good timing then.

RL: It will be.

RB: Oh, it’ll be perfect timing. Rachael’s said it a couple of times – we know it’s out of our control, but what we have to do is work out how we will manage what we do if things do go pear-shaped. What we can do to make sure we’re ready for that should it happen. Juggling elephants, that’s what we’re good at!

ZK: Well it has been fantastic, as always, to talk to you.

RB: Lovely chatting to you again, Zoe.

That’s all for this episode of School Assembly, thanks for listening. Next time, we’ll be chatting with Ray and Rachael about the physical build and location of the school site, and the thinking that has gone into the design of the indoor and outdoor learning spaces. 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,

Before you go, it would be great if you could take just a few moments to give a rating of our podcast if you’re listening to this audio on Apple podcasts or Spotify. If you’re listening on the Spotify app, just click the three dots, then ‘rate show’, and if you’re on the Apple podcasts app you’ll find the rating section by scrolling to the bottom of our podcast channel page. On Apple podcasts, you’re also able to leave a short review for us. Leaving us a rating or a review helps more people like you to find our podcast, and is a really big support for our team.