School Assembly S2E6: The big launch … and one year on

Hello and thanks for downloading this podcast from Teacher, I’m Jo Earp.

Welcome to the School Assembly podcast series, where we explore what it takes to build a school from the ground up. In Series 2 we’re following Jo Camozzato and the team at Bemin Secondary College – that’s a new dual campus school in the Melbourne suburb of Truganina. And, after months of planning and hard work, it’s the start of a new school year and the big opening has finally arrived. So, what have the first days been like? And, what about 12 months down the line from a new school launch? Well, you’ll actually find out the answer to both questions in this episode, because as well as catching up with Jo, I also made a call to Dr Ray Boyd and Rachael Lehr, over at Dayton Primary School in Perth, Western Australia, who we followed in Series 1. I hope you enjoy this bumper Episode 6.

Jo Earp: Jo, first of all Happy New Year and also congratulations! Obviously, the school’s now open.

Jo Camozzato: Yes, Happy New Year back to you, Jo. It seems like a long time ago that it was even the 1st of January and we have actually opened the school to our students just on Wednesday this week, on the 31st of January – so this is actually our third day.

JE: And here I am bugging you for time, so it's very, very nice that you've made the time today, I really appreciate that. When we caught up at the end of last year, you were still thinking about the logistics actually of the first day – about where you were going to be because it's a dual campus. Did you end up splitting your time between the 2 then?

JC: Yes, I did. I knew that there'd be more parents who would come to this Junior Campus, probably a bit nervous about their children starting year 7 and also, you know, what does the new campus look like. So, I decided I would spend the morning here, which was great – I'm actually at the Junior Campus at the moment, so I’m sorry that everyone can’t see – and that was the right thing to do because all our parents did turn up to drop off children. And I invited them onto the grounds, so they could just have a little look around really, to see, you know, the gardens, see where their children would be sitting. So they could imagine, imagine what it looks like. Everyone came into the big Community Hub gym, which was wonderful. We had speeches, the parents were there … thanked them all for organising their children, because I think we all forget that it's a big effort – you have to buy uniform, even bits of uniform, even though we're not asking for a lot, books, make sure everyone's had their hair cut. And then I sent all the parents home.

So, that was really exciting and then I took myself off to the Senior Campus, where they were already sort of in class, and I just walked around and, you know, I said hello to the students and made myself known a little bit. And then I saw them all at assembly, all the year 10s, on Thursday morning.

JE: So, it's been a nice time to settle in. Seeing all the parents and students there and knowing that you are starting this new, exciting thing together, that must be special because they'll always be the first students, won’t they?

JC: Yeah, they will be the foundation students. One of my Assistant Principals, you know, said ‘can we get some balloons?’ and you know, part of me goes, ‘what do we need balloons for?’ And I thought, oh, you know what, let's get some balloons, you know, decorate the gates. Of course! We often forget that secondary students enjoy a little bit of that as well. We sort of see it as a very primary thing, but it's not true. Everyone likes balloons (well, most people do) and they do make you feel happy, and it just gives a bit of a sense of occasion. And I think I could see from our students on both campuses that they were a little bit overwhelmed and in shock. Everything is super clean. It is like moving into a new house, and I have lived through this before, but it doesn't stay clean very long, sadly. But that's OK, we need to have people in these new buildings.

JE: And I was thinking, just seeing everybody in the uniform and things, that must be quite nice as well, because that's the first time it's had a proper run out.

JC: Yeah, I found it really interesting. I remember speaking, you know, ages ago in one of the episodes that more and more high schools are moving to sort of a collection of clothing – moving away from summer/winter uniform and just allowing students to choose from, you know, 5 or 6 pieces. And it was really great to see. I was speaking to some of our students who said to me that they just love the fact that they could choose. And I thought, they're really not choosing from much, but it's I suppose just by saying there's no winter/summer uniform, they feel quite empowered. So, it has been exciting to see what people have chosen to wear and what, I suppose, suits their body types and what they're comfortable [with], how they're comfortable presenting. So, the uniform’s been successful.

JE: That's really interesting, that's a really interesting point. Now, the other thing we talked about a lot before the holidays was the staffing situation, and it's just got worse across Australia really, it's in the news every day. How are things going with you, because you were kind of nearly there really, weren’t you?

JC: Yeah, I've sort of just remained nearly there. We're not fully staffed. I'm still down probably what's 1.5 maths/science teachers. I have got a maths/science teacher joining me in the middle of March from Queensland, but that teacher can't start any sooner and that's fair enough. But, even with that teacher joining us, we still have a maths/science load that I haven't been able to fill. I've just had to fill it with a permanent casual relief teacher who will be here for the term, and that's the best we can do.

But look, I do consider us very fortunate, Jo. Other than that, we are fully staffed, and I think there are some tremendous staff that have joined us in our first year. So, I am very grateful. It's been a lot of hard work and I do know there are other schools that are facing a lot greater challenges than us. So, we're open with close to 60 teaching and education support staff. So, I think we're going to give ourselves a pat on the back for that.

JE: Yeah, that's fantastic. Really, when you think about, I think back to those earlier episodes and we were starting to talk about it and how far off it seemed – because there's so many staff as well involved in secondary, particularly with the dual campus as well, and those specialist ones – I think that's a fantastic effort to get it up to that. So, the casual relief teaching, that's generally how principals will fill these shortages, is that how does that normally work? Do you have to just see what's around?

JC: You do have to see what's around. Look, I think principals are trying a range of creative sort of solutions. You know, where possible people who are maybe two-thirds of the way through their university degrees or qualifications can obtain permission to teach. Some principals have, you know, including myself, have got some teachers from overseas. My teaching staff, the people from overseas, are predominantly from New Zealand, so I haven't really gone into the Canadians or the Irish, or anyone else. I'm quite happy with just a handful of New Zealand teachers who are excellent and wanted to move to Australia and I think they fit in really well with the rest of our team.

Other principals have, you know, been able to procure people through agencies just for casual relief. There are very few contracts these days, which also makes it hard. Because, you know, in the past some people would be really happy to take a short-term contract. It's a lot more beneficial for those teachers to do casual relief and do that every day; financially it's actually very good for them.

JE: Yeah. So, we're going to talk about instructional approaches probably in the next episode, but is the priority for you with your staffing, just to have them all together and kind of on the same page and start developing that consistency; is that the priority for the next few weeks?

JC: Yes. And also, to sort of support more our senior students, kind of learning the routines of a new high school and a new senior campus, because they've come from a lot of prep to 9s. In terms of the staff, look, as you know, we put in a lot of days with some of the leaders before the Christmas break, and I'm thankful for the principals who released those leaders to me. And that has benefited in some ways in that the principal team, we’re quite a tight team already and we, again, we've got to know each other. So, we've broken through those barriers fairly early on. And also, with some of our leaders, our staff also came in, you know, before Australia Day, I was able to negotiate a time in lieu day for all of them and over 40 staff came in to get ahead of the game, really, and then we had another 2 days after that.

But it is now ‘how does this translate to on the ground, and how do we respond to our community?’. So, we have set up ready to learn routines. You know, what we would like students and the teachers to do at the beginning of every lesson, at the end of every lesson; we have set up our classrooms a certain way. We've discussed learning environments – like moving tables around, seating plans, if that's what's required – and we will start to now look at the instructional model, but they also need to continue to do curriculum planning.

So, the work is still, it is a place of a lot of hard work, new schools. We've got to this stage, but this is just the opening stage. Now we've got the next stage.

JE: I'm going to not keep you very long today. So, we're going to move on to the final 3 questions for reflection then. Biggest hurdle we’ll go first, key learning and proudest achievement?

JC: Oh look, you know I don't even know what a hurdle is; a hurdle is probably just more I'm trying to work out how to get from one campus to another quickly. I mean, it's a pretty quick drive. It's just like … sometimes I open my office door and I go the wrong direction and I find myself in the library at the Junior Campus. But then at the Senior Campus I go in the other direction, I'm in the staffroom, so the hurdle is trying to get a really strong grip on the landscape and in the environment, so that when people were talking to you – because, you know, principals are supposed to remember everything – I can actually remember what room, and what lock, and what they're talking about without getting a bit confused. That's a bit of a hurdle.

Look, the challenge still is to let go of the worry of not having a full staff. I think there's always a bit that sort of, you know, you sort of really wish things were different, but you just have to manage your own stress levels as well and go, well I've done the best I can in the current climate. I will keep trying, I'll keep looking and reaching out to my employment agencies who helped me out, reaching out to the Department of Education, but I just can't, you know, wave my magic wand and make teachers appear. So that's still a big, big challenge and I've already started to talk about, well, how am I going to recruit for next year, you know, because you have to. That will start in June.

And look, the proudest achievement is to actually open the gates and see the students come in to see that the parents have read our emails, they're turning up in uniform. That the staff are positive and upbeat at the moment, which is always great for the beginning of the year – that's what you want to see – and that things are going smoothly for the beginning. Like I said, there's a lot of work to continue to help things move smoothly along, but it is an achievement and I think across the 2 campuses at once, like I said, I'd really like to know if this happens normally, 2 campuses opening at once. I think we've done an awesome job.

You’re listening to a slightly different episode of School Assembly from Teacher magazine. You’ve just heard from Jo Camozzato on how the big opening went at Bemin Secondary College. Now we’re going to catch up with Dr Ray Boyd and Rachael Lehr at Dayton Primary School in Perth, over in Western Australia, who, if you remember, we followed in Series 1. I wanted to find out how things have been going and what the plan is for the second year of operation. So, here we go with part 2 ...

JE: Ray and Rachael, it's really lovely to catch up with you again after all this time! I've been following you on social media – it seems like the team there have had a really great first year, so I'm interested how it felt starting the new school year having that under your belts this time?

Ray Boyd: It was certainly a lot calmer. So, from my observations, calmer in that the staff seemed a lot more settled because they're familiar with the routines and the structures, and they weren't having to learn a whole new set of kids. So, there were so many things about starting this year that were so much smoother just simply because we knew what we were coming back into.

Rachael Lehr: And from an admin perspective, speaking even for myself, it's been a lot less stressful. At this time last year, we were deep into chaos around furniture and not having all of our buildings and, so, yeah, very much calmer, smoother and less stressful. So, it's been a really great start, really excited about the year.

JE: That's nice to hear. So, one thing that's come through in the social media updates certainly has been that word ‘consistency’.

RB: Yeah, look, it is a big one across the school. With our curriculum and our scope and sequence, that's probably where it first starts in terms of consistency, because the teachers are building on the content that the teachers last year worked on. So, we needed that across there. It's also the consistency of behaviours and consistency of expectations. So, we really spend a lot of time giving the message to the teachers ‘if you're not consistent with the expectations we hold, it actually has a flow-on effect to the teacher next year, but also has a flow-on effect to the kids then going “well, I'm going to try that with such and such, because I've got away with it last time”’ So, it's just about making sure everything across the school is done in such a way that it's the same today as it will be tomorrow, and as it was 3 weeks ago. It makes it an easier place for kids to come to when they know that everything they step into will be the same as it was yesterday, today.

RL: Yeah. And we started the year really strong with those messages around consistency, but also told the staff about the 2 most important things at Dayton. And so, we said, you know, in these first couple of weeks, you might not be starting your programs or even really getting deep into the curriculum but what you will be doing is being warm and demanding. And in that regard, it's positive relationships and high expectations matched with those clear routines and structures. So, that's our focus of the week for week one and 2, and will move into the terms. So, until we get that right and the consistency across the school with that, the kids can't learn. We're already seeing it, though.

RB: And again, that's something that Steve Dinham's very big on – I mentioned it last year when you were talking to us, Jo, that Steve talks about ‘it's not the inconsistencies between schools, it's actually the inconsistencies between classes that's the biggest difference in schools’. And it's certainly something that Tom Bennett talks about with behaviour and expectations in the UK, about being consistent with kids in your behaviour and your explanations and your standards and everything. So, we're building on that work that he's doing as well.

JE: Yeah, I mean, even as adults, as adults we don't respond well to inconsistency, but kids in particular, that's what they love, isn't it? Routine. They know what to expect. They know that people are going to be consistent. Like you say, the same today, same yesterday, the same in a week’s time.

RB: Yeah.

JE: So, of course there will need to be the odd tweak here and there though, in the running of any school. When you prepare for a new school year, then, I'm interested as leaders do you review all your policies and documents and so on, maybe review what's working and what's not?

RL: Definitely. We’ve been really busy over the holidays, going through our Instructional Playbook was one of the first big ones that we looked at, just reflecting on what was in there, what needed to change in relation to conversations we've had with staff. So, that's really a living document, we really want it to be not just a book that’s sitting on a shelf, that it's enacted. And we again, we've been consistent with checking that all the teachers are aligned in their practice.

Our Induction Handbook for our new staff – we didn't take on a lot of new staff, 4 we had in our induction meeting, but again going through that with a fine-tooth comb, editing it, fixing it up. Our Instructional Coaching booklet is another one I've been working on. So, we've already had a change in how that will look since last year; we're focusing at the start of the year on daily reviews, which we didn't do last year and we're starting a lot earlier, so, refining that. And Ray’s been busy in the background with assessment policies and all of our other policies for the Parent Communication Charter. So, everything is getting a tweak and a change, and that's something that we should continue to do throughout the year and over the years, is to just refine all of those things that are overarching our instruction.

RB: And to act as a prompt for us, on the cover, this year's … Playbook it says Playbook 2024, but there's a little sentence underneath that says ‘last updated January, 2024’ so, we can actually check when the last time it was that we reviewed the documents. And the Playbook that Rach spoke about – she's pulled a lot of stuff out and made posters now that make it a lot simpler to work with for the staff, and it gives us something that we can actually focus on, rather than a large book. So, there's been a lot of changes in terms of the way that teachers engage with the material and we present it to them.

JE: Hmm, that's a good idea with the with the posters. You mentioned staffing Rachael, just quickly, how's the recruitment situation there in WA?

RL: Well, I hear outside of Dayton that people have had troubles getting teachers, but we've been really fortunate. So, we started small, we've grown slowly, and we were able to get the teachers we needed actually, other than an AUSLAN teacher (so, we've just got a fixed-term teacher in that). But, as far as classroom teachers and EAs, we're doing OK, but I think there are schools that are struggling.

RB: The hard bit around the AUSLAN teacher is because it's not a full-time position, it's only 0.4. So, you've got teachers that are looking for permanent full-time positions, so it makes a little hard if you're doing 0.4 at one school and 0.4 at another school, and then 0.2 and travelling; there's a bit of complexity behind that. But we've actually, as Rachael said, we've done really well with our staffing. We haven't had huge problems with that.

RL: And the great thing about growing our team so slowly is we've been really able to keep that real team feel and that collaboration. Like, our new staff, have just slotted in so nicely and we've got a really great vibe in the school. So, really happy about that because I think if we had grown faster, it would have been hard to keep everyone on the same page, keep that alignment and consistency. So, we are in a blessed position. We opened to 200 students last year and 282 this year.

RB: Two more classes.

RL: So, just a nice slow growth which is great.

JE: Sounds good. So, it's been one year down the track then since you were opened, but you’re still obviously a very new school, what will be the focus then for the next 12 months for you?

RB: Pretty much what we had last year, it's still focusing on curriculum or instructional framework within the classroom, making sure we have that (here's this word again) consistency across the classes. For some of the teachers they're still in that space of being consciously unskilled – it hasn't become an automatic response in the way that they instruct in classroom. So, we're just giving them the prompts, giving them the support, letting them know they're on the right way. But again, the focus (from my perspective anyway) and Rach can speak to this in a sec, is making sure the instruction is consistent is on the ball from the day one and making sure those expectations around behaviour are being carried out across all the classes.

RL: Yeah, and I would agree with that. And like I said before, just keep the most important things the most important things. Like, just keep our eye on our ‘why?’ and the ‘how?’ and go forward with that. Because, we had a really great year last year in terms of our results, so we don't want to change anything, we just want to keep refining and improving. So, looking forward to it.

JE: Yeah, there's that saying everywhere, but in Yorkshire it's ‘if it ain't broke, don't fix it’. So finally, then you'll both be familiar with these 3 questions we end each episode on: So, biggest hurdle, proudest achievement and key learning?

RB: So, for me, the biggest hurdle will be and will continue to be getting our new staff in terms of fitting. For those that have followed the podcast last year, we did a very innovative way of selecting staff with the Lego. Now, when we're picking one staff member, the ability to do that’s a bit more restrictive, so it's about trying to find the processes that enable us to make sure we get that right fit again.

Probably the proudest achievement is the team that we've actually assembled, watching the way they worked last year and this year it makes me feel really happy, the fact that the group of people we got together are just awesome and they all understand the context of ‘sweeping the sheds’.

And the biggest learning for me is never assume be deliberate in your actions. As they say, ‘make an assumption, you make an ass out of you and me’. So, there's been a few times where I’ve sort of gone to do something and made an assumption and gone ‘oh, that's on me’, because the clarity wasn't provided around something that I just assumed people knew.

RL: And interestingly, I sat and thought, what was the biggest hurdle this year? – and compared to last year, I really couldn't think of one, because it's just like I said before, there's been such a smooth and calm and joyful start to the year. So, at this stage, there hasn't really been any big hurdles. And like Ray, I'm really proud of our team and how hard they've worked to get to where we are today and how they really embrace that notion of Ubuntu … ‘I am because we are’, and they really do exemplify that. And I'm also just really proud to see the students so happy to come back to school this year. It's been so joyful and they just, you know, they are so happy to be here.

And the key learning, I guess, is we had a great year last year, but not to rest on our laurels. So, just keep coming back to our ‘why?’ with our team and our ‘how?’ and just like I said earlier, refining what we do just to be better. So, that will be our goal for this year.

JE: Brilliant. Well, as I say, it's been excellent to catch it with both of you. You have an awesome 2024 and we might check in in 2025, you never know, huh?

RB: Sounds good, Jo. And you too, enjoy the year.

JE: Okay, take care, I'll catch up with you later.

RB: Take care, Jo.

RL: Thank you.

That’s all for this bumper episode. If you want to keep listening now, you can access the 300 podcast episodes already in the Teacher archives. If you could do me a massive favour as well – please leave a review on the podcast channel, that would be absolutely awesome, it helps people just like you to find the podcast and it’s also a really great support for team. Next time we’re back to our usual format, and we’ll be speaking to Jo about instructional models.

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