School Assembly S2E2: All things planning

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Hello and welcome to Series 2, Episode 2 of the School Assembly podcast. Now, if you’re not familiar with this one, it’s the podcast that explores what it takes to build a school from the ground up, and in this series, we’re following Jo Camozzato and the lovely team out there at Bemin Secondary College, which is a dual-campus college (that’s 7-12) out in Truganina, which is just north of Melbourne. So, the focus for today’s episode is planning – we’ll be talking about short- and long-term planning, and also how Jo breaks down those difficult planning tasks in what’s an incredibly complex period, the startup of the new school. And, as I say, it’s a dual campus, so she’s actually got 2 schools really to think about. So, there’s a lot to talk about today, we best get started.

Jo Earp: Okay Jo, now, before we dive into today's topic (which will be planning), I've seen you posting on LinkedIn about employment opportunities at the new school – Bemin Secondary College. How is the recruitment drive going?

Jo Camozzato: That’s correct about LinkedIn, the recruitment drive I would say is going slowly, but I’m trying to remain upbeat and positive and proactive in that space.

JE: And we mentioned last time that you can only employ certain people at the start.

JC: Yes, so at the moment working with me, I suppose, if you like, the finances allow us for a Business Manager and one Assistant Principal, which I’ve both got, they joined me at the beginning of this term in July. But that’s all the finances allow for, for this financial year.

JE: So, you have to wait then, so when will you be able to recruit in earnest then? When’s the next tranche of people?

JC: I’m recruiting in earnest now, but they can’t start until Term 1 next year. So, I’ve accrued another 2 Assistant Principals and a couple of leaders, and about 4 teachers – I need another 11 full-time teachers – but all of them do not start in earnest until the beginning of Term 1 in 2024. I do have the opportunity I suppose later in Term 4 when some of the senior students finish across the state to ask some of the leaders to be released from their schools (I’d actually have to seek permission from their principals) and join me for a couple of planning days, and ask all the teachers that I have in early December to be released to join me for an induction day. But that’s kind of it. That’s all I’ve got to work with. And look, that’s helpful as well. It’s more about their levels of anxiety and excitement (which can often look the same) about starting in new roles and being ready for the academic year next year.

JE: But that’s good! Your leadership team is starting to take shape, so that’s good. So, the focus for this episode, as I say, that’s all things planning really. When I came to meet you for the first time last month, the first thing that I noticed in the office was this big whiteboard, there were lots of different tasks on there and targets on there. So, that's more of a visual representation of things – you know, where are we at? – is that the main way that you prefer to plan, that kind of visual thing? Or are you like me, I don’t know, do you have like different types of planning for different tasks?

JC: I do have different kinds of planning for different tasks. That visual, that whiteboard, has about 20 drawn up square grids on it with 20 headings, if you like, 20 areas that we’re working on. And that came about because I had a really bad night’s sleep, bordering on a nightmare but not quite, where I realised that I just had too many things in my head and, also, I wasn’t probably communicating them effectively to my Business Manager and Assistant Principal about all the different things we have to juggle. So, I came in one morning and I drew it all up on the board. There are some dot points under the headings, and some headings it’s just blank; they’re just there to remind me when I look up on the board of what we need to do next. So, it’s like a prompt; but it’s a prompt for the small team, because sometimes in a moment the Business Manager might look up and say, ‘do we need to do anything in this space right now?’ and I’ll go ‘no, not yet we just need to remember that it’s there’.

So that was definitely a strategy for me to get it out of my head onto paper – but then onto paper or online doesn’t really help, I actually have to see it so we can remember every day what we need to do. Sometimes I make lists, sometimes I draw pictures, sometimes I just put things on sticky labels and stick them everywhere, because I think new schools are evolving all the time and I do have one school, but I have 2 sites and 2 year levels. So, there is a lot of complexity going on and I can’t hold it all in my head, but like I said I really need to make sure that I continue to communicate to my staff because even though I’ve only got 2 staff members they can’t see what’s inside my head – otherwise it becomes a bit shambolic, I think.

JE: And it’s that thing of, just, there are so many things aren’t there. But there's a lot of satisfaction in ticking things off I think as they are achieved, and that feeling that you’re making progress and moving forward. You’ve mentioned about how complex it is – you’re starting the dual-campus school from scratch – how do you then strike that balance between breaking it down into achievable steps, but not having so much stuff … you know, if you were to write down every single small task you’d be like ‘whoa, that’s overwhelming’, how do you achieve that balance then?

JC: I don’t think I achieve it very well; I think it’s a work in progress. Because, I was thinking, my brain is a bit like a firework display where there’s all these fireworks going off at different times and different colours and different things happening all the time, because sometimes by working on one task it triggers the thought process of another one. It’s probably not a good answer to the question, I’d like to say it’s really simple, but it just isn’t.

So, it’s really just keeping on track things that we know need to happen before other things. I’m trying to wrack my brains for a good example. Like, for example, at the moment we’ve been planning – What will the curriculum program look like for year 10? And we know that we’ve timelines for that; we’ve got timelines that we have to have things created by; timelines for when we met the students at year 9 to feed into our ideas; timelines for when we need to produce some kind of online booklet or tangible booklet for students to choose some choices you know, things that they want to do next year; timelines for when that’s going to have to go into a software program to help us work out how many classes we’ll be running along those lines in year 10. So that has to be driven by a timeline, because otherwise we won’t get there.

But then there are other things that just sort of occur, and you have to have the flexibility of mind to respond to those things and think ‘that’s a really great idea, I’m going to now go with this …’ An example of that is I’ve had 2 meetings now with the Wyndham Tech School, with the Director there, Sam, and we’re working on what our innovation program at year 7 will look like, which is sort of a high school version of a primary inquiry model (I don’t even like to use the word primary inquiry model, because middle school does that really well, but just for, I suppose, people to understand). And I am working with him because it’s not just about tapping into the Tech School resources, it's about how do I build the capacity of our staff that are going to start (really suddenly) next year to deliver a program around design thinking at year 7, that will capture their imaginations and tap into various tools – digital tools, and other tools and technology, that will inspire them so that it doesn’t fall flat. And how will they be scaffolded, as staff, to create good, strong lesson structures and delivery that, again, will engage the students. So, that’s come about because of my first visit to Sam, where I went ‘This is great, what you’re doing here’. And I’ve been into other tech schools before, but I just felt a really strong connection there, and then I sort of directly knew what questions to ask him: How can you help me with this? How could I help this be successful, because I’ve tried it in the past and it wasn’t successful. So, I’ve made space for that, you just have to. And we’ll go back again next term, and I might try and bring some of my leaders across, if they’re allowed to come out of their current schools, so that we can keep that thinking going. I can’t wait until end of January to go ‘Now what am I going to do?’ It’s too late.

JE: It’s like that thing I often say where you’ve got all these plates spinning, haven’t you; it’s like the old circus trick of trying to keep everything moving because if one crashes down, it’s really easy then to just get distracted by that and lose focus on everything else, isn’t it?

JC: Yes, it is. And I think what people need to understand, the work’s not finished. So, you know when you were saying it’s great to tick things off – some things you can tick off, you can say ‘Okay, we’ve got the school logo – done; we’ve chosen what kind of uniform design and what that’s going to look like – done.’ But other things are forever developing, they don’t finish. You have to be comfortable with the fact that some things are not finished – and won’t be finished when you open, and will not be finished for ever, really – are just always evolving and developing, and you’re incorporating new ideas and reviewing and evaluating based on the new staff that you have, but most importantly based on the student cohorts you’re getting and what the kids actually need. So, you never tick those things off.

JE: That’s an interesting point, yeah that’s a really good point because you’re adapting to student need and staff expertise and all those other external and internal factors that go into a school. What role do the Business Manager and Assistant Principal play in the planning at the moment? I suppose, again, you’ve got to delegate a fair bit. At the beginning, is it just like sheer amount of workload and you’re delegating tasks, or is it like expertise, or a bit of both really, a bit of a mix?

JC: Yeah, it’s kind of a bit of both. Look, they have an enormous role. I mean, Samantha is my Business Manager and obviously she’s all things finance, but that’s also about her informing me and me sort of going to her and checking in ‘can we afford to do this next year?’. Working out sub-program budgets: How much does The Arts need, how much does English need? How much can we afford to spend on the 2 libraries? How much can we afford to spend on the 6 laboratories we’ve got to set up? So, it’s not just 2 science labs, it’s 6 science labs. But she’s also looking at things like: Who are our photocopier providers? Who are our partners in terms of what community partnerships do we have around that can help us and support us in the future, like real estate companies? Recruitment – what is happening in the recruitment space? How can we tap into that? She’s also managing all the enrolments.

So, I’m not doing all of that, but we all sit together and we’re very collaborative. Because I think you can be doing your own work and you can hear what’s going on in that space and I always try to sort of invite people to whatever I’m doing, if it’s appropriate, or I might say ‘you don’t need to do this, you’re wasting your time listening to this’ and they’ll go ‘yeah, I’m not interested in that’.

The Assistant Principal also plays a massive role because this is the teaching and learning person that I have and what we’ve been working on in the last few weeks, this term in particular, is drafting up: What is our instructional model going to look like? What are our influences? Taking the good out of schools we’ve been to before and reviewing that and saying, ‘we need to be more explicit’ or ‘let’s create a draft anyway to share with the leaders so they have input as well’. But, along with that, Sandy (Sandale), she’s been going to all our local prep to 9 schools and the first thing she’s done is met all the year 9s. I have as well, but I’ve done it more on a different level where I’ve had a sort of assembly – some have been more formal than others and I’ve presented on the new school and shown them the logo, and talked about the meaning behind all that – and then she’s been there with me, but then she’s sat down with groups of students and filled in learning profiles about them. And we’re trying to find out: What are they interested in? What do they enjoy doing? How can we take some of that, and are there themes there?

So the themes are definitely there, you know, and different students I suppose across different parts of the city have different things they’re interested in, but there’s no doubt that this crowd are interested very much in a lot of hands-on learning at year 10 So, some are keen to try those sort of subjects that lead them to more apprentice-based pathways, you know, being an electrician – actually naming things like this, wanting to do building construction. Others are more interested in more Sports Science things, and we have a big belt of kids who are interested in The Arts, and Visual Arts in particular. So, we’re trying to collect that and put it together and have it reflect in our year 10 curriculum program. Then Sandy will also start to work with me on the year 6s going into year 7s next term; that’s more about finding out who they are and what kind of transitional supports also we need to put in place. Less so about the curriculum, because they are going to get a taste of a lot of different things at year 7.

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JE: I was just interested, on a personal level then, in short-term planning do you go for quick wins at the start of the day or the week? Do you like to cycle between the tasks? Do you like to sort of get into a task for a full day? What's your approach?

JC: Yeah, full days are gone – that’s a luxury no longer available to me! That was sort of more how I worked in Term 2 when I was on my own; I was able to spend a whole day working on a policy, or a whole day where I just contacted people to find out information about different programs. Nowadays it’s not like that at all; nowadays it’s a mixture of quick wins but you never know when they are coming (they’re just unexpected most of the times) and really, yeah, cycling from one task to another. But in saying that, I am very disciplined. So, we will always have a strategic planning meeting once a week, that’s for 2 hours, all 3 of us together, and we have an agenda and we minute things, and we’re going through key aspects of school operations or anything that will feed into what we need to have the 2 campuses ready. So, an agenda item will be recruitment, an agenda item will be the actual finance budget – you know: How are we going? What will we be putting against sub-programs? Then we also have a curriculum planning meeting, which is separate, that I have with Sandy, and that [has an agenda] as well, and we’ll go through clear things and go back. They’re rolling agendas, because often it’s the same thing and you’ve just worked on it a bit more, but you have to have that going on in the background in order to track what’s going on. So, I might sound like I’ve got fireworks going off everywhere but at the same time there are very clear, linear, meetings where we follow through on our agenda items and go back and see what we’re going to action for the next meeting. And that keeps us on track, and it keeps everyone talking, and hearing about what we need to do next.

JE: Because time goes incredibly quickly doesn’t it.

JC: Too fast, too fast, Jo.

JE: There are short-term things, which are perhaps a quick turnaround (although as you say there are those things that are ongoing, that are short-term but also ongoing if you see what I mean) then you've got your longer-term plans. How much of that longer term, really sort of strategic thinking, have you been able to do, or is that really going to come at a later date? Is that almost like the first thing in there? I was trying to sort of organise it in my own head.

JC: Look, it’s actually in my head all the time and it’s probably on that whiteboard. Because, for example, I know that next year we have to dedicate time and energy to do a lot of policy work on registering the senior campus to deliver year 11 and 12 here in Victoria. We can’t do that now, we have to wait ‘til we’re opened, and that’s always at the back of my mind, even now: How are we going to plan our meeting schedules? Our professional learning community cycles? Which teachers will I find to enable to support that work? What time allotment will leaders have? How can they be released to do that work? And what will that look like? And at the same time, on the junior campus (or the middle school if you like), I’m conscious that I need to think about already: What will year 9 look like? What will year 8 look like? What type of staff and what type of teaching and learning will engage our students now in this post-pandemic era, that maybe have been trialled before, or have the opportunity to trial something different, or change it up, or look at the structures?

So, strategic planning is always there, it’s not always necessarily something that I’m [adding to the agenda] at the moment but it’s on a board somewhere, because you can’t not think about it, it’s really important. The same way, strategically, we’re already talking about, in a small team: What signposts will we have with students? Like, with the year 10s, what camps will they have? What type of camps will they have? Are they having a Formal? Yes. What will happen then at year 11 and what will happen at year 12 in that social skills space? If we have these certain speakers now at year 7 or year 10, or opportunities, what will that look like in the future? If I introduce House … you know, do we put kids in Houses? What will that look like as we get to [year] 10, 11 and 12?

So, yeah, it’s always there. It’s always in the background, all the time.

JE: Yeah, because it’s got to be way ahead of time hasn’t it and then you can fill it in as you go. Okay, you’ve mentioned this about being flexible and adapting, but how do you keep on top of everything? I mean, I guess there are weeks when you don’t keep on top of everything (like everybody else), but how do you get that flexibility? I don’t know.

JC: I don’t know either, because I don’t know if I’m always that good at that. I mean, I know that if I don’t sleep well, I have sit down and actually put it on paper, or type it up, or draw it up, or I maybe need to hold some kind of meeting and reach out and communicate to people that I need to put something down. Like, I’m concerned about this, or I need to set aside time to think that through, because that means I’m getting too overloaded. I definitely need to consider that, because you can feel overloaded in this space. It does help that I’ve kind of done it before, it definitely does help, because I know what to invest energy in and what to let go, and I can come around with that – I don’t need to fixate on not knowing whether the school has got fobs or keys.

And, also, I have built, I suppose, some really good contacts over the last 5 or 6 years. So, you know, I still probably haven’t articulated a literacy model, or a way of teaching writing, that I think will be important at year 7 and year 10. I’m very aware that there are a lot of reading models and writing models in primary schools, but what can I take into the secondary space? And I definitely had this at my previous school. And what will a numeracy model, what will maths look like? They’re 2 different things, but in secondary they overlap. But I know some excellent people that can help me with that. So that, I suppose, reduces my concern in that space, it’s about when I do tap into them. Because you’re not doing this on your own. You have to remember there’s a whole community of educators out there and if you’ve had good rapport with people there’s always people that can put you in the right direction and help you build what you need to do without feeling overwhelmed.

But there’s no doubt, I’m not going to kid anyone, there’s no doubt there are times when you’re going to get overwhelmed. It’s a very big responsibility and I take it very seriously, because the families want to feel that you know what you’re doing and that they’re sending their children who are precious to them, along to a new space with new staff, and that things will be okay – and better than okay, they have to be better than okay. That’s very important and I try to keep that at the forefront of my thinking all the time.

JE: Again, a great point that it’s not just you doing it, so call on those resources and support networks. There was one question actually, before we move onto the reflections for this month. You mentioned about that there are regular meetings that you have with the other new principals, the new founding principals in Victoria – is that another kind of planning … what happens there, calling on that network? Because you’re not the only new school next year.

JC: We have different ways, I suppose. There are the new principals – generally that’s about new schools, and when I say new principals most of them are all experienced principals, but they are having regular meetings for us twice a term, and there’s also other briefings that we go to. Like, recently we just did an Emergency Management Plan briefing, and people were online in that meeting. Most of our meetings are face to face. That allows, I suppose, us all to share some of the challenges and also to allow people that can affect change, or at least find out the answers to some of our questions, in the department of education to hear us all together, rather than I think get individual emails on the same themes. And it doesn’t mean they’re going to come back with an answer that resolves whatever challenge we have but I think it is important to have that roundtable discussion. And in those meetings, you can also pick up on what someone else is doing and think ‘oh yeah, that sounds interesting, maybe I’m looking at this in the wrong lens, or I can switch my perspective’.

On top of that, I’ve returned now to the Wyndham Network, which is the network that I belong to as a principal, and I’ve been going to the Wyndham Network meetings and the area forums of this particular part of Melbourne. And there you get to see and hear from all principals in the area about what they’re doing in their schools – they don’t have to be new schools. You can have informal conversations, and then of course there’s also formal presentations from principals or leadership teams. And that’s important too, because what might not have been working or might have worked really well in other contexts, you might sort of think about in the context of the new school and how can that help you; or, ‘I’d like to know about that so I’m going to find that principal over morning tea and introduce myself (or reconnect with that person).’ I find that is a great source of support, I really do, because all knowledge is … a lot of knowledge can be shared, that’s probably the better way of saying it, and then you can sort of ponder, or reflect what you might want to do with that.

JE: If you can hear some noise outside, I think somebody just scored a goal, so they’re really excited! It’s lovely to be actually recording in a school. Before we go, then, the usual 3 reflections – since we last met, it’s been about 4 weeks I think, proudest achievement, key learning and biggest hurdle.

JC: Yeah, look, proudest achievement I think definitely to have got around to the 3 main prep to 9 schools that will feed into the senior school campus, and I really enjoyed presenting or meeting the students myself, that was terrific. And I always love the Q&As – that’s the best part, when I say, ‘what questions have you got’ and everyone is usually really quiet, and they’re a bit embarrassed, and they usually start with ‘do we have lockers?’. So, they always start with lockers! But you get a feel for the kids’ personalities, and that’s been great. And I was really proud of the way that Sandy has gone in multiple times into these schools to do the learning profiles and collect that information so that’s useful for us, and will inform our practice; that’s great, that was the intention, and meanwhile we’re also building relationships. And like I said, I’m excited to start doing that with our year 7 students. And of course, not all our year 9s go to these schools, there are other phone calls and Webexs that we can have to connect with those other students, and you know we’ll try to do that as well.

What was the next one? Biggest hurdle. I know we’re not going to talk about this today, but I will say the slow, slow recruiting is the biggest hurdle. Because our curriculum programs, the success of some of our curriculum programs and offerings at both year 7 and year 10, are relying on us finding teachers who can deliver them. And that’s hard, because you don’t want to start saying ‘oh, we’re not going to offer that semester unit to students because I haven’t got a teacher yet’. You just have to stay calm and keep using your resources and hope that it will work out, but it is a hurdle because it can stop the positive thinking. It really can, you can start to go into ‘what’s plan B and C?’ and you think ‘no, just relax, there probably needs to be a plan B and C soon, but right now, relax, and just keep deep breathing and keep doing what you’re doing…’. And hopefully that will continue to sort itself out, but it is a hurdle.

What was the last one?

JE: Key learning.

JC: Key learning. Okay, the key learning for me is more about the fact that, it connects to the theme that there’s a lot of support out there. It’s been really exciting for me, or enjoyable for me, to see that, you know, the relationships I’ve built over the last few years, that those people are really happy to help me. And I think it is a key learning. Every interaction you should try to make positive – it’s not always the case, but for most time if you can treat people with respect and a positive energy, listen to what they have to offer to you, in different ways or to the school, you never know when you tap into them again or that they come forward and remember who you are and offer you support in different ways. Whether it’s ideas around programs, whether it’s ideas around curriculum, whether it’s like ‘we can do this for you, for our company’.

And so, that’s been really important for me, because I do try to do that with people that I meet – I’m not saying I’m perfect at it, but I do try to sort of be authentic, and I’ve found that a lot of that has been given back to me this time around, and I’ve gone ‘okay, that’s good, it’s good to know there are good people out there’. And if we treat each other with respect they’ll continue to support and do the right thing by new schools, and just schools in general really.

JE: That’s great to hear, lovely. Okay then, that’s it for this episode but we’ll catch up again next month. We will be talking about recruitment, I think, next month, so let’s keep our fingers crossed for good progress in the next few weeks and I’ll catch up with you then.

JC: Thanks Jo.

That’s all for this episode, thanks for listening. If you want to keep listening now, then you can access the podcasts in our archive – you just head to to access those, or wherever you get your podcasts from. If you could do me a massive favour as well, if you could leave a review on the podcast channel that would be awesome – it helps people like you to find the podcast and it’s also a great support for the team, so thank you for that.

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