Sassaoa conference 5/7 – 7/7/10

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Robyn and I travelled together and arrived to a balmy 15 in Adelaide, flying in over Glenelg and our accommodation. We took a taxi to the Grand Stamford and as soon as we had booked in and unpacked we walked the full length of the Glenelg promenade. We dined at a local restaurant that evening and had an early night ready for the conference.
On Monday morning we had breakfast in the dining room and then headed upstairs to the registration desk and conference venue. We were handed our name tags and had our photos taken before moving into the conference room. Quite a few delegates were seated already and we met up with a lovely lady by the name of Julie Allen. Julie came from a very small country primary school with about 42 students. The size of schools varied greatly from very small to the larger high schools combined with year 11 & 12 and some schools which catered for kinder through to Year 12. We had members of the executive come up and introduce themselves to us and they looked after us during the whole of the conference.
The theme of the conference was ”Cirque de SASSAOA” – a showcase of the talents and skills of SSOs. We learned that in SA an SSO can be anyone from a teacher aide to a finance or HR manager in a school, the only difference being the level you were employed at. We were told that they hold their conferences during the school holidays so more people can attend as often principals would not let staff go during the busy school terms. Of the 4000 something schools in SA there were about 150 delegates.
Day 1. Anne Stewart the president welcomed all delegates and DECS Chief Executive, Chris Robinson opened the conference and discussed the future direction of education in SA and the part ancillary staff leaders would play.

Andrew Klein the MC for the conference spoke to the delegates on the topic of “Are you smarter than a fifth grader?” This was a bit of fun as well as informative.

Morning tea was followed by a forum with DECS personnel answering questions prepared and supplied earlier by delegates and then there were some time left to ask questions from the floor.

After lunch I chose to go to the finance workshop and Robyn went to the HR workshop. Obviously their systems are a bit different than ours but we managed to understand the topics and issues.

Pre-dinner drinks were provided from 6.30 that evening and this was followed by an informal dinner were delegates were addressed by a principal, David Lawton, from Campbelltown Primary School. He spoke about the role of SSOs in schools and the importance of their roles but also the importance of making sure they had breaks and looked after themselves.

Day 2. Andrew Klein started off the day by speaking on topic “How to awe them, not bore them”. Andrew was originally a lawyer and started working in his current field several years ago. We found him to be very informative as well as a great motivator and speaker with a great sense of humour.

Morning tea was followed by a Zumba team building exercise. While this was a great activity, I think perhaps a whole hour was probably a bit too long, especially those who were not fit or not used to doing some sort of exercise. There were quite a few who sat out after a while and then jumped back in when they had recovered and of course some who retired early and did not participate again.

After lunch Alli Taylor of Oz Train spoke about “Walking the tightrope – conflict who me?” She ran through the peculiarities of Baby Boomers to the Z generation and explained how each group relates to different issues, people and jobs and then she lead into the rest of her talk.

Pre-dinner drinks were again at 6.30 followed by the formal conference dinner. During and after dinner we were entertained by a sole entertainer with music and songs and lots of dancing.

Day 3. Started with their AGM and was followed by Nathan Verco speaking about self care. He gave us some great tips on how to still exercise while sitting at our desk.

The final item of the conference was the prize draws and then delegates left to return to their respective homes.
This was a great experience to see and hear what other states do and how they have dealt with or are dealing with issues similar to what we face in our schools. I would urge everyone to try to attend at least one of these conferences during their employment as an SEO. Great friendships are made and lots of information is shared. We had two of the SA executive, Alison Leery and Leanne Hembrow, attend our recent conference and it was really nice to catch up with them again and return the hospitality that we were given at their conference.
Teresa Newman


  1. Have a budget line called ‘Staff Well-Being’ and put it under the OHSW area. Allocate a couple of hundred dollars per staff member.

  2. Provide nibbles and drinks at meetings that are scheduled to happen after school finishes.

  3. Cancel one staff or SSO meeting every term and all go out for a coffee together. School pays for the coffee, staff pay for their cake and biscuits.

  4. Have a budget line for TimTams for your office for your visitors. Always good to find out what the auditors favourite ones are.

  5. Make a little note to stick on your toilet mirror that says, “Smile, You’re looking at a winner”.

  6. Put your finger in your mouth and suck it. Now pull your finger out. Your jaws and cheeks move upward and this stimulates Seratonin in the brain, the chemical that triggers happy thoughts or optimism.

  7. Smile ….. If you don’t like your teeth get them fixed, but smile.


  1. Make sure you get the training and professional development that you need for your role and for the development of your skills, yourself. Be a learner and manage your learning. Enjoy it, share it and grow in confidence and ability from it. Be careful not to become a know-it-all. A know-it-all is a person who has stopped learning.

  2. When you make mistakes and we all do, make sure they are related to your ability, not your character. They’re easier to recover from and easier for others to forgive.

  3. When you’re absent, your in-tray still accumulates work. You still do 2 days work on your return. You need a second in-tray to put the work in when you’re absent and ask for Time Bank or extra hours to cover this work. Balance your workload.

  4. You can’t always work with the door open. You need to close it for timetabled periods each week. Multi-tasking is something you tend to do well, but don’t juggle too much at once.

  5. A lot of people at school don’t know what you really do on a daily basis. Don’t expect them to. You’ve been doing this job for up to 30 years. If they haven’t got it yet, they never will. Rather than worrying too much about sharing your role with others, focus on your ability and your influence as a leader within the school site. Separate your working role from your leadership role.

  6. You are underpaid. Finance managers in private businesses often earn more than you for doing exactly the same thing. But I’m not sure they have the ability to demonstrate as much leadership, or enjoy the job as much as you do. Remember, you can go for a walk or close your door for an hour or so if you really wanted to.

  7. DECS has a shortage of supply in people in your roles, especially Finance. Recognise how unique, valuable and irreplaceable you are to the state’s largest government department. If you haven’t trained a young upcoming administration officer to be capable of doing your role within the next decade, then there’s probably going to be an even bigger shortage of people in your role.

  8. You are one of the few people in the school that needs to be there for the school to be able to operate effectively. The school can’t operate without you. You are instrumental to the activities and operations of everybody else in the school. You are the most missed staff member, when you’re absent. Your skills are unique.

  9. You are in control of your role and your daily work tasks. You own your workload and the management of it. You are also in control of how much you choose to do or not to do beyond your role statement – your leadership. The principal might be the boss, but you have real power in your role. Use it wisely to support the leadership and directions of the school, and to take control of your chosen daily work.

  10. Make sure you write down one thing that you are going to do differently as a result of this conference. Put it in your diary on a page two weeks from today. When you get to that date, see if you are doing what you said you’d do. If not, move forward another 2 weeks and write it in again.

Best wishes, David Lawton
Principal, Campbelltown Primary School .

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