The first words I recall Peter Linnehan saying was how he was “blown away” by the 2018 Symposium in Canberra. We were standing in front of the lectern at the end of the Symposium exchanging business cards and promising to catch up (which we did).

This was when I heard the idea of the importance of the First 100 Days of boarding, particularly for Indigenous students. Peter talked with a passion of his ‘Grand Design’ to drive positive improvement to Indigenous boarding and has written about it in the following story.

In a way, the bold steps Queensland Education are taking to do ‘whatever it takes’ are setting the scene for the 2019 National Indigenous Education and Boarding Symposium. I encourage you to read on and join the discussion by being at the Symposium at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre from 11-14 March.

Greg Franks

Chief Executive Officer

Boarding Australia

The Grand Design of the First 100 Days of Boarding

Grand Designsis one of my favourite television programs. It captures individuals’ journeys as they construct their own homes, turn their dreams into reality and create unique buildings for future generations. By taking this journey these individuals are making an indelible statement, honouring their expectation for the future. They aren’t just building a home, they are building a monument. Building a monument is driven by a deeper set of moral imperatives, eliciting a different sense of commitment and execution, and usually resulting in a warm, inviting space of growth. 

We know how critical the first 100 days of students’ experience in boarding is. If we recognise that students and their families choose boarding because they seek to build their monument, it seems right that boarding provides a space of warmth, an inviting space, a space that invokes growth and sets high expectations for the future. The grand design of the first 100 days of boarding for remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, speaks to the importance of how we create a sense of belonging for students in their new environment while remaining connected to where they come from. 

Examining the foundations

Regardless of individual design, construction always starts at the same point – laying the foundations. Foundations need to be tailored to suit the end-product and determine the long-term integrity of the monument. Simply put, acute knowledge and understanding of the foundations required, determines whether the building stands or falls in the years ahead. 

In the boarding space, laying strong foundations tailored to the individual, determines whether a student stands or falls in the years ahead.  In applying this principle to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students’ transition to boarding,some interesting questions arise. 

To understand what foundations are required in boarding, we need to somehow gain acute knowledge and understanding of the remote families we serve. In my experience, the necessary ingredient for this to meaningfully occur is organisational humility. Only with organisational humility can we view, with empathy, the early difficulties students experience in transitioning from their known way of doing things to an unknown way of doing things – we must seek to understand. Most significantly, students tell of difficulties in coping with the social and interpersonal differences, particularly in managing perceived conflict. 

Designing best practice

To succeed in this area there are three important questions which challenge us to examine our moral purpose and practices in boarding. 

  1. Where do we think we are on the continuum of seeking to understand students before seeking to be understood? 
  2. Do our practices reflect our position on the continuum? 
  3. Does this reflect what students are telling us about our practices?  

The best stories we hear, are when schools are seeking to understand before asking to be understood. Organisational humility looks different from school to school.  After listening to the experiences of over 400 boarding students, it is clear that each school succeeding in this space is characterised by connections across the following: 

  1. How students are talked about (metalanguage)
  2. How students think they are talked about
  3. Consistent articulation of the school’s purpose in boarding
  4. Actions resulting from the articulated purpose
  5. Strong, visible (to students) connectedness across boarding and school lives

Across Australia we are starting from a good place! I am confident in the sure and honest voices of students about their boarding experience, should the question be asked.  I am equally confident that boarding providers want to provide the best possible experience for students. Successful schools have made plenty of mistakes in seeking to understand before they start to build achievement. The fact that schools are making the effort to understand, is understood and embraced by the students and families they serve.  

Of course, with all construction, there are factors beyond control such as weather and budget overruns interrupting the build. The powerful story of Grand Design participants, however, is that they always seem to find a way through, doing whatever it takes. In designing monuments, we won’t inspire anyone by being perfect – we Designs is by how we deal with our imperfections and challenge ourselves to succeed – those are the grandest designs.

Written by Peter Linnehan, Principal Coach, State Schools Indigenous Education