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!!