Easing the transition to boarding with Michael Valentine

With over 40 years of educational knowledge in the junior and middle years and boarding, our coordinator of Remote Learning Projects Michael Valentine joins us to discuss the latest milestone of his career, launching the Taigh programme. Designed to ease the challenging transition to boarding over six months, Michael reflects on the online programme's compelling benefits and meeting boys and their families across Western Australia in its first year.

Tell us about your teaching journey.

I began my career at Loreto Primary School, teaching there for six years. I still have contact with kids from those years, which is quite amazing. In the 30 years following, I was a Deputy Headmaster of the Preparatory School at Christ Church Grammar School and Head of the Junior and Middle Schools at Hale School. During this time, I never stopped teaching in the classroom.

In 2013, I transitioned into the online learning space as the Director of Online Learning at Hale School. At the time, online learning was a job we'd never heard of before, but I had an idea to create an online programme to ease the transition to boarding. I'm known for my quirky, hands-on projects and rich online learning experiences.


Michael Valentine, coordinator of Remote Learning Projects and creator of the Taigh programme

You've worked extensively with boys in junior and middle schools and boarding. What do you know about the needs of boys in these stages?

With boys, teaching requires colour, noise and theatre. It's a two-way street, and you must attend to them. Connecting lessons and incorporating hands-on tasks allows for greater understandings, experiences and outcomes. If you're doing it right, you get confidence, engagement and communication. For boys at this age, developing intellect is more than academics. It's about connecting ideas, communicating, being creative and working collaboratively. These are skills we now know underpin success in the classroom and beyond.

With boarders transitioning to middle school, it's essential to recognise the barriers that their geographic isolation creates. They're often nervous about the transition, too. To overcome these challenges, we must build optimism about what's ahead. It's not about showing them who we are; it's about us learning about them and their life at home. Online programmes, like the Taigh programme, help them form connections with the school community before they step foot on campus.

What's the Taigh programme all about?

The Taigh programme is an 18-week online programme featuring incoming Year 7 and 8 boarders.

The journey starts with a camp at Scotch in July, where they meet each other and collect their devices. We continue with weekly one-hour online sessions until the end of November. Each session carries an investigation where they can showcase their work creatively. Our boarders have produced photography, videos, charts, tables, drawings and more!

There are no set criteria. The only requirement is for them to try something new and embrace when things go wrong or right. They are encouraged to share meaningful stories about themselves, their community and family. By doing this, they grow in confidence and learn new things about each other and themselves.

The transition to boarding can be challenging. How does the Taigh programme ease it?

The transition to boarding is undoubtedly significant. Many parents remember their days in boarding and fear for their sons going through those tough early days. No programme will take that away completely. Leaving their family, pets and home is still challenging, but eliminating other barriers means they have one less thing to worry about. We can remedy things like not knowing anyone and inexperience with technology before they start at Scotch.

I have loved being involved in the Taigh programme because it makes me feel like I'm already part of the Scotch community.

– Hamish (Kojonup)

During the programme, they get to know each other and me, learn how to use our technology and produce a portfolio of work to look back on with pride. Their capacity to confidently present their work grows exponentially and these feelings of accomplishment spark anticipation for their journey at Scotch. They know the group of boys they're coming with, and their first day of school is essentially a reunion.

The most critical thing is that it's not an academic programme or about setting some bar to reach. It's all about building critical foundations – optimism, confidence and communication skills. These qualities make the transition to boarding much easier.

How do you foresee the future of technology in schools?

Schools are all about community. The problem we face is translating the sense of community we experience on campus into the online world. Simply sharing content online is not the future of teaching. We must bring noise, colour and richness. It's all about the simple things; you've got to stand up when you teach, be animated and allow rich interactions to take place.

Technology will generate greater opportunities for students in remote schools. It will allow better connections between schools that are distances apart. It will enable us to invite teachers and students from all over the world to our classes.

COVID-19 highlighted the gaps in technology and education faced by remote schools and presented an opportunity for metropolitan schools to reach out. Technology makes this simple and invites schools to connect and share knowledge.

Technology isn't about making teaching easier. It's a different way to teach and must be treated as such. We need to consider how we deliver content differently. School by school, teacher by teacher, classroom by classroom, our use of technology will grow. My role at Scotch College is to showcase how we can implement rich technologies in our classrooms.


What's next for the Taigh programme and remote learning at Scotch?

Our new boarders will present at our Middle School Assembly, introducing themselves, their homes and some of the work they've created. This is an important step towards connecting with our school community. Last term, our day students joined a session and later, we're inviting next year's PLC boarders to a session.

What I'm looking forward to at Scotch is learning new things, having opportunities to grow, meeting a very diverse group of people and making mates for life.

– Tom (Broomehill)

The future of remote learning is about building online communities and empowering teachers to use technology creatively. We have big plans for remote technology at Scotch. It's an exciting time to be working in this space!

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