Unicorns and Vacuum Cleaners

Unicorns and Vaccum Cleaners
Part two of Epsom Girls Grammar School's transition journey for 
their students. To find out how they got started, take a look here.

Jonathan:   After reflecting on our tertiary prep journey of 2016, I presented the concept for a full one-day Tertiary Prep conference to Tric Milner, the Deputy Principal in charge of Auckland Central Community of Schools (ACCOS) at EGGS. The Tertiary Prep Professional Learning Group (PLG) decided it was important for our programme to reach a larger number of Year 13 students as, whilst we had a good number of students attend our 2016 workshops, we didn’t necessarily reach all the students who could have benefitted most.

Our proposal to the senior leadership team was based around the idea that a one-day conference was a more realistic commitment for students, taking one full day instead of an hour a week for six weeks. Running a conference for over 400 students also enabled us to justify creating new workshops and presentations and to take a broader, more holistic look at student transition from secondary school. Our proposal featured the concept that part of the day would be made up of compulsory workshops and presentations and part would be made up of workshops that students could select from, enabling them to tailor their day to what they felt was most relevant and meaningful to them.

SLT was very open to this idea and particularly liked the fact that we had broadened our focus from solely tertiary preparation to a more comprehensive transition from EGGS, otherwise known as life after high school. A date was subsequently booked on the calendar, Week 3 of Term 2, and Tric Milner arranged for me to explain and present the conference day to wider staff.


The Unicorns and Vacuum Cleaners Learning Summit

The name of the conference day, ‘The Unicorns and Vacuum Cleaners Learning Summit’, came about during an informal brainstorming session with fellow teachers in the Art department. I wanted the conference day to have a name that was both memorable and meaningful to the students. ‘Unicorns and Vacuum Cleaners’ (UVC) began as a slightly silly suggestion but one that stuck with me. The more I thought about it the more powerful I realised it was.

Unicorns represent the idea of dreaming big and pursuing your dreams

Vacuum Cleaning represents the reality that in order to reach our dreams, which we are all capable of doing, we usually need to balance this with practical, hard work.

Students responded well to this name. It was something unexpected which made them listen and become curious about the conference day.


Tric:   When Jonathan first came to me with the proposal for a Year 13 learning summit I was impressed by how the work of his PLG, around strengthening transition pathways and building student agency, had been transformed into a tangible and meaningful learning experience for students. Throughout the PLG process, I had also been in discussion with Michele about her work promoting information literacies and her conversations with Senga White about tertiary preparedness. This event seemed like a natural collaboration of ideas and an ideal way to share expertise from across the school. The fact the proposal also included aspects of critical literacies, philosophy, mindfulness, relationship building, vocational pathways- drawing from the work of other PLGs – meant it was relatively easy to persuade the Senior Leadership team that this conference day was a great means of ‘research in action’ as well as a way of acknowledging our senior students transition to adulthood beyond EGGS.

The discussion around the name ‘Unicorns and Vacuum Cleaners’ took a little more persuading, but once the symbolism had been explained the SLT were quickly on board. Interestingly the students seemed to readily embrace the name and so any immediate hesitations we might have had were quickly dispelled.   

Michele:   In our first meetings of 2017 Jonathan shared the vision for the next steps in our inquiry and his plan to create a full day dedicated to presenting our workshops. While talking us through the new plan Jonathan discussed the need to broaden the programme to include all things ‘life after high school’. I have to admit that on hearing of this larger focus, I felt worried. My concern was for a loss of emphasis on all the literacies and learning gaps that we had identified the year before. I saw the opportunity to address these potentially disappearing and transforming into another vision entirely.

I did, however, LOVE the name Unicorns & Vacuum Cleaners. I was so pleased that the SLT had accepted this little bit of whimsy in the name chosen for the learning summit. I could really relate to the fact that it takes a lot of hard work and dedication to get creative ideas off the ground.


Jonathan:   The first UVC conference day was planned and ready for action. Our day began with talks from EGGS Principal, Lorraine Pound and now-Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern who both spoke about their own transitions from High School with passion and very much from the heart. Students then participated in a range of workshops facilitated by various EGGS staff members covering topics around managing finances; philosophical thinking; academic referencing, researching and notetaking; public speaking skills; employability skills; managing stress and emotions; being an adult and knowing how you function best as a learner. Our day finished with a Q&A session where we had the privilege of hearing from six inspiring women, Avigail Allan, Lee Belk, Jess Bluck, Aimee Cable, Tessa Donnovan and Amelia Spiers. These women, many being EGGS Alumnae, all spoke to their individual experiences and differing choices post High School.

The First Unicorns and Vaccum Cleaners Summit


After the conference, we sought feedback from students and staff in order to look at the best way to refine and run the next conference in 2018. This is a summary of the findings presented to staff at the end of 2017.


Michele:   The conference day was a real success. Our original framework of ideas remained significant workshops in the programme and student interest was balanced across all of them. There was a great sense of achievement in having cast our net wider to cater to a much larger group than the year before.

My involvement running workshops under the Managing Research and Managing Resources bands have had the unexpected, but most welcome, flow-on effect of opening up opportunities for library involvement with several different learning areas at EGGS. Teachers more readily began to invite me to present research skills in their classrooms and discuss the research needs of their assessments.

As a result of the U&VC Learning Summit, my own confidence in what librarians can contribute to teaching and learning has been boosted, reassuring me that the information literacy skills and research techniques I use and teach remain as relevant and necessary in the curriculum of this current digital age as they have ever been.

It was an exciting moment when we learned that the U&VC Learning Summit was approved to run again in 2018, and our final blog post will reflect on Unicorns & Vacuum Cleaners 2018.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s