2018 Learners Summit at EGGS

This is the third posting chronicling the journey of a collaborative Professional Learning Group at Epsom Girls Grammar School. The focus of this Community of Schools (COS / COL) PLG inquiry has been tertiary preparedness in senior school students: strengthening transition pathways for students beyond the high school environment.  

These are the highlights of the third year of the PLG journey; the second year of running the Unicorns and Vacuum Cleaners: year 13 learning summit.


Jonathan:  Our PLG’s main focus this year was on revising the structure and content of the conference day, which we based on feedback gathered last year after running the very first UVC Summit in 2017.

The key changes include:

  • adjusting the timing of events throughout the day to allow workshops to run for 40 mins instead of 30 mins
  • adding in a third workshop option for students (replacing a Q+A session that we ran last year)
  • introducing new workshops that cater to our student’s acknowledgment (via the feedback we received last year) that workshops based around “bigger-picture” issues were of most benefit. Issues such as car management, surviving flatting, matching your career pathway with a world-issue you want to be a part of and unpacking the concept of being adaptive, are some of the key new workshops that speak closely to this point.

Other workshops that featured throughout the day covered:

  • academic research/libraries
  • employability skills
  • how to be a more confident speaker
  • philosophical thinking
  • surviving university lectures
  • managing your finances
  • “being adult”
  • academic referencing
  • mindfulness practice

This year’s summit also featured a greater connection with the Tertiary Sector.

  • AUT ran a workshop around the concept of being an adaptive learner
  • Massey University collaborated with Ben Jackson’s  workshop (another one of our amazing teachers at EGGS) titled ‘Surviving University Lectures 101’ by sending their student ambassador
  • University of Auckland library staff joined our librarians in presenting their workshops
  • Canterbury University collaborated with EGGS Deputy Principal, Kate Slattery on her presentation titled ‘Being Adult’.

Over the rest of this year, following on from the conference, the PLG focus has been on developing ways to present and measure the concept of student agency in our own teaching subjects and Year 12/13 classes. We believe that we need to look at our teaching practices to ensure that we are establishing teaching environments that facilitate student agency as a key skill for success outside of the secondary school environment.


Michele:  The changes we made to the 2018 Unicorns & Vacuum cleaners programme introduced many exciting new workshops, all with great student appeal. Even with these engaging workshops to choose from I knew there would be a core group of the studious who would opt for learning about academic life and the expectations of those first university assignments.

However, nothing could have surprised me more than the number of students who signed up for my first workshop – over 80!  This growth in numbers attending and the enthusiasm for learning demonstrated by the students gave me a great boost of encouragement for running the workshops in the third year.

My library team member Debbie Horrocks and I presented two workshops.

  1. Academic Research and Libraries: why I can’t Just Google it
  2. An Introduction to Referencing

Stats for Library Workshop One

Inspired by the student sign-up I invited Tricia Bingham from the University of Auckland Library to join us for our presentations. I had been in touch with Tricia through contact with the Education Campus at Epsom in 2017 when Tricia had created a fun tool for testing referencing expertise – The Zombie Interactive. Tricia was excited about working with our senior students in their transition to tertiary study and was very complimentary about the information literacy programming we currently offer.

Learning the complex basics of citing and referencing can be extremely dry for any student, but I found having Tricia involved in a collaborative presentation with myself and Debbie took our presentations to the ‘next level’. The students were attentive and engaged – many even taking notes!  Tricia’s experience brought our ‘how-to’ and’ how-not-to’ examples to life throughout the presentations.

Our tertiary prep PLG has taken three years and the efforts of many experts to evolve into what it is today. I think all who have come along for the journey are pretty proud of the fantastic end product. We are really excited about the Unicorns & Vacuum Cleaners summit and hope that this becomes a tradition that will continue to flourish at Epsom Girls Grammar School.


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.

Inklings of Transition at EGGS

Senga google hangout selfie

The EGGS PLG group in 2016

Here is the first in a series of three blog posts that chronicles the journey of a collaborative Professional Learning Group (PLG) at Epsom Girls Grammar School (EGGS) as they initiated a Tertiary Prep programme, beginning in 2016. Their programme has grown and morphed over the succeeding three year period, changing its name to the Year 13 Summit: Unicorns & Vacuum Cleaners, and delivering a programme that catered to all school leavers, not just those heading into tertiary study.  Librarian Michele Coombridge and teacher in charge of the PLG, Jonathan Cameron discuss the programme’s creation and stages of growth.

The early days – inception

Michele:      I was introduced to the concept of ACCOS – Auckland Central Community of Schools inquiry PLGs while meeting with our deputy principal, Tric Milner. I had recently had some good results collaborating in teaching and learning through Information Literacy workshops for the English 2.8 assessment, and by introducing a Year 10 programme using EPIC databases for research.

Noting my interest in the area of inquiry and research, Tric told me about the Tertiary Readiness inquiry Jonathan was about to undertake and suggested I might be interested in joining. I was quick to give mention to the work of Senga White, whose workshops I had recently attended and sent the links for her Tertiary Prep Programme website to both Jonathan and Tric.

Jonathan:      In 2016 I took on an ACCOS In-School Leader position as I wanted to look closer at our current systems around helping our students better equip themselves for success outside of our high school environment. When Michele shared Senga White’s Tertiary Prep programme with me I was extremely excited. I felt that this programme summarised a lot of what I imagined I would be addressing in this new role. The Tertiary Prep programme offered an instant structure and way forward to a role that was extremely new territory and came with a lot of “unknowns”.

We structured our programme around Senga’s and worked with her resources to create our own version. We felt this was important as each school has its own specific culture and “clientele”. An EduCafe was held for staff as an opportunity for us to communicate the goals of our PLG and gain their input into the formation of this programme at EGGS.

Our programme was based around Senga’s six workshops, listed below:


Michele:      Our PLGs are allocated time each week to meet together, which meant we had time to read up on some of the research around the learning gaps in tertiary transitions.  We discussed the impacts on our own school and spent time working out what skills we could collectively offer in running a programme.

Jonathan is super-organised and was always two steps ahead with the plan and direction the work was taking. He had a clear vision for the content and framework of the workshops and encouraged us all to contribute, drawing each member out and identifying the way their strengths could be used in the delivery of the workshops.

I was really happy to be able to use some the information literacy resources I had developed for younger classes and adapt them for Year 13. I had been looking for a platform to introduce this for a long time. The Tertiary Prep Programme allowed me a space to introduce the concepts of academic integrity, evaluating and citing sources and using APA referencing at the Year 13 level.  

In this first year of the programme, we ran the workshops for six weeks, presenting each workshop twice, at two different time slots. Student sign-up was voluntary and, while encouraging at first, numbers tended to dwindle as the weeks went on.

Jonathan:      When we first advertised the Tertiary Prep programme to the students in an assembly we received around 200 expressions of interest via a Google Form that followed. When the first workshop came around though, we found that only 45-50 students actually made the commitment to attend. As the workshops were not compulsory and were a six-week commitment, I think that for many students this was one “extra” too much to fit into lives/schedules that are already heavily involved in learning, leadership responsibility, and extracurricular activities.

Whilst the students who attended these workshops gave us great feedback and indicated that they found them really useful, we were quite mindful, at the end of that year, that the workshops only catered to a small portion of our large Year 13 cohort. On top of this, many of the students who did attend the workshops were also students who would likely thrive at University regardless.

All of this prompted us to think bigger, and in 2017 our Senior Leadership Team gave us permission to run the workshops with the entire Year 13 cohort via a one-day conference that was compulsory.

We are extremely grateful for Senga’s programme and the advice and guidance she provided us in 2016. This is an incredible resource that all schools should be making use of!!

Tertiary Prep – A Pilot Programme Part 2

In my previous post, I shared Dinah Warren’s reflection on setting up the Tertiary Prep Programme for Waimea College.  In this post, Alison McIntyre shares the University of Canterbury’s perspective on our collaboration.

University of Canterbury (UC) librarians were delighted to be involved in a 3-way partnership with Dinah Warren and Senga White to pilot a Tertiary Preparation programme for year 13 Waimea College students. In line with our UC vision “people prepared to make a difference -Tangata tū, Tangata ora” we were keen to learn about students’ experience at high school so that we could be better prepared to support their transition to our university. In return, we committed to providing content and a university perspective for the Waimea College programme.

UC Library visited the school to meet with staff and for face to face workshops with students. We also contributed a video and, lesson plans and teaching resources for specific components of the programme. Dinah, with support from Senga, designed the programme and delivered all except the workshops on the day of our visit, and the first session, which Senga delivered during her visit to Nelson.

We were interested in exploring how UC Library information literacy programmes might be scaled to provide such services to high schools. This pilot was an opportunity to work together with Waimea College to better understand the information literacy problem we were trying to solve and to experiment with content and methods for delivery. Dinah’s vision and leadership of the project were critical to the collaboration. It took open and honest communication to ensure that the students’ interests were kept at the core of the work.

My impression is that the Waimea College Library and Information service has a lot in common with the UC library service. When we visited the school it was clear that the library was a popular place for students to meet, that the librarians were friendly and knowledgeable and that library instruction was embedded in the academic programme. Two things stood out as obvious differences that require navigation by students in transition from high school to university, one was simply the scale, and two the types of information resources available to students specifically access to scholarly journals.

UC Library will continue to collaborate with Senga as a means for supporting school librarians in their work with students intending to enrol in tertiary education. We have also committed to working with Dinah on a follow-up project to incorporate learning from this year’s pilot to further develop the Waimea College tertiary transition programme. We’re convinced that librarians working together across sectors can make a difference to ease the transition from high school to university.

Tertiary Prep – A Pilot Programme

Things have been very busy on the Tertiary Prep front this year, and over the next few weeks, I will highlight some of the collaborations that have been created and developed during 2016.

The first is one that came out of the attendance at two workshops during the SLANZA Conference last year. Dinah Warren, the Director of Library and Information Services at Waimea College, attended both the workshop I presented on the Tertiary Prep Programme and Alison McIntyre from the University of Canterbury’s workshop on the transition to tertiary education.  What follows is Dinah’s description of the pilot programme she established between Waimea College, the University of Canterbury and myself.


A lot of literature has been written and now studies have also been done around the failure and drop-out rate of first-year students at our tertiary institutions. These statistics are of concern for all educators, and one of the key factors identified is the transition process, where our students go from an intensely supported learning environment to one where they are expected to be independent learners. In other words, for transitioning year 13 students, schools are from Mars and universities are from Venus. Of course, there are other contributing factors including social adjustment and financial problems that are already addressed by other organisations, but no one seemed to be looking at the learning processes and environments so this sparked my interest in Senga’s Tertiary Prep Programme.

With this in mind, I was keen to initiate a programme at Waimea College and focused on workshops at the SLANZA conference in Christchurch in 2015 which could potentially give me more information, tips, ideas and structure of how to begin. From the relevant workshops I attended I made two key contacts; Senga White, Research & Learning Coordinator from Southland Boys’ High School and Alison McIntyre, Academic Liaison Manger at the University of Canterbury. As a result of this, Senga and I flew to Christchurch to meet with Alison and other key staff at Canterbury University where planning for the programme began.

As Senga had been running the programme successfully for many years, she was key to developing the programme’s direction and structure, and also had a massive input into the content. Canterbury University staff also contributed content, expertise and advice while providing us with the crucial tertiary perspective. This added kudos to the programme and their library staff were involved in a hands-on workshop during a visit to Waimea College. Both parties were integral to this pilot programme.

Every secondary school is different and will face their own unique difficulties and dilemmas. For our school, it was important to get key senior management and teaching staff to support me through my two biggest challenges: timetabling and student engagement. Our principal, HOD Careers and Transition and a small cross-section of Year 13 subject teachers were included in all areas of planning and content for the course and were vital to its success.

Together we identified five main topic areas and timetabled each module to be delivered fortnightly on a day where most of our year 13 students had a study period. At the end of each module, students were required to anonymously fill in a sticky note which included rating the lesson from 1-5, stating something they learnt from the lesson and an option to write any other comments. This information was collated and will be used to adapt the programme for 2017. Canterbury University provided a certificate for all students who completed the course.

Ascertaining the level of success with our programme will take several years as our first students’ progress through their tertiary studies.  We will seek their feedback on our content and its relevance to their transition. Our sticky note feedback was generally good with positive comments on content and provided suggestions for improvements. Our students have very busy lives so it is important that they see the significance of the content and are able to use it during their last year at school.  They are not interested in extra work to do outside of the Tertiary Prep Programme so all content needs to be short, sharp and relevant to their learning.

Beginning the programme was the hardest part and I could not have done this on my own. I am indebted to Senga, Canterbury University and our own staff for their support. This programme was definitely a team effort at our school and this will be key to embedding the programme into our school curriculum in years to come.