Transcript: The Leadership Journey of School Captains (EP38)
Brendan Rogers: Hello, everybody. I'm Brendan Rogers, the host of The Culture of Things podcast. And this is Episode 38.
Today, I'm talking with Robert Bacon and Taylem Barnard. Robert and Taylem were the 2020 School Captains at Central Coast Grammar School.
I've had the privilege of working with both Robert and Taylem over this past year. We've talked about so many things related to their leadership journey and their experiences as School Captains of one of the most prestigious schools on the Central Coast.
We wanted to bring this journey to life in a podcast episode to help other current and aspiring young school leaders, but also people working with young leaders to reflect on how we can work together to achieve great outcomes.
In saying that, I know through firsthand experience of working with Robert and Taylem how much our young people can open up our minds and help us, older generations, to view the world through a different lens.
The focus of our conversation today is learning from Robert and Taylem about their school leadership experience.
Robert, Taylem, welcome to The Culture of Things podcast.
Taylem Barnard: Thank you for having us, Brendan.
Robert Bacon: Yeah, thank you for having us today, yeah.
Brendan Rogers: Absolute pleasure. And you guys have recovered from some sense of schoolies?
Robert Bacon: Not yet.
Taylem Barnard: Not yet. We're actually just about to go on schoolies.
Brendan Rogers: Oh, wow.
Robert Bacon: That's next week.
Brendan Rogers: Oh, I'm so glad I got you beforehand. (Laughing)
Taylem, let's start with you. Just tell us a little bit about yourself - hobbies, interests, background.
Taylem Barnard: Of course. I love swimming. I swim quite a lot as a competitive swimmer. My entire family is from South Africa besides myself. I am the only Aussie in my entire family. I've got two dogs at home. They're long-haired Chihuahuas. I love them to bits. They're getting a bit old now. And I play three musical instruments. I quite enjoy music.
Brendan Rogers: Thank you for sharing. Robert, how about yourself, mate?
Robert Bacon: Unlike Taylem, I'm an Aussie with Aussie heritage. But my Mum is from England so I do have some other heritage as well; I'm not just Australian. For a long time in my life, been into building and that kind of stuff. And I work as a handyman and done that throughout school, and mowing lawns, and all that kind of stuff. So, I enjoy that a lot. I am also a keen cricketer, so I'm very into my cricket. So, that's about the much sport as I do, but that's a bit about me.
Brendan Rogers: Excellent. Well, I guess this time of year is a good time of year. Taylem loves her swimming and he's doing very well. You love your cricket. Summer’s fantastic, right?
Robert Bacon: Yeah. Cricket starts on Friday, so that's always good.
Brendan Rogers: Absolutely. Let's get into the topic. Really, just you guys sharing your experiences around this school leadership, the School Captain journey that you guys had just been on. How about you first tell us this? Robert, I'll throw it to you. Why did you even want to take on and put yourself in the ring for a school leadership opportunity?
Robert Bacon: I think I've always been involved with leadership activities from a young age, stuff through junior school, and that kind of stuff. And I've always enjoyed doing that, having that responsibility, and taking on that role of leadership. And I think, over the years, I feel as if I'm a good leader and I've always enjoyed doing that kind of stuff. So that's mainly why I went forward for the role of School Captain. And I've enjoyed every minute of it.
Brendan Rogers: Taylem, what's your perspective on that? Why did you want to take up something like this opportunity?
Taylem Barnard: Well, similar to Rob, I had previous leadership roles within and within the school community and outside. I believe that I've got the drive and determination to become a good leader and I'm comfortable with taking on the challenging situations and taking on the responsibility of a challenging situation. And I also believe I lead by example. I'm a strong believer that your behaviour outside should mirror your behaviour behind doors at home. That's how you kind of establish respect. So if you respect someone, they would respect you. So, I guess I just follow a few moral traits and I think that's gotten me along as a truthful, honest person.
Brendan Rogers: Robert, I'm going to go back to you. What do you think had prepared you quite well for the role of School Captain through this, you know, stuff that maybe happened in your journey in Year 11 or even prior to that in your schooling journey, but even in your personal journey?
Robert Bacon: I definitely think that I had a strong role in the school productions, especially like backstage and all that kind of stuff. And I took on a leadership role there at quite a young age compared to everyone else. And leading some of your cohort, especially at a younger age, especially in Year 10 is quite difficult. And you definitely learn a lot from that. And I think that over those few experiences I've had there, I've had the opportunity to make a lot of the mistakes that you make early on. And that sort of, I think that gave me a good grounding to be able to work with them, lead my peers especially, which is not always easy. So, I think that was the main thing. I've also, I've had various incidental other roles at school working with my peers in leadership roles. And I think that's, it's all been very beneficial to help me with the role of School Captain.
Brendan Rogers: Was there anything outside your school environment that you felt may have contributed to what you think was a successful year in leadership for you?
Robert Bacon: Yes. I attended RYPEN the Rotary Youth Program of Enrichment. I think that is in Year 10 which is a leadership weekend kind of thing. And I think that definitely, on a subconscious level, was very beneficial in developing my leadership skills definitely.
Brendan Rogers: Taylem, what about you, in your experience at school and otherwise outside of school? What do you think has helped you be the leader you've been through this year?
Taylem Barnard: Well, my previous experiences had been in Year 11, I got Captain of the first netball team at school and it was unheard of for a Year 11 student to get a captaincy role in the school netball team, any team. So I was the first Year 11 to get that role which was a great confidence boost because that had been the first captaincy role I had gotten within Central Coast Grammar School. And then, I went, then, followed on to get the same role again this year, but unfortunately, COVID kind of cut us short a little bit. But we got a few games in here and there. I’m also Captain of the swim team at school. Outside of school, I had not a captaincy or like a titled role, but within our, the swim club that I represent full swimming, there's a lot of little kids coming up throughout the levels of squad. And during competitions or training or anything like that, I would help out if I don't have an event. You know, they would, ‘cause they're so young and those carnivals can get very crazy, you know. I’d help them out. And I'll just be a little bit of a guide, or if they're stressed or anxious or anything, give them a bit of a pep talk, you know, “Just get in the water. Swim your best. You'll do fine.”
And I also think the upbringing I've had at home, I think it's a little bit different to most households. But because I was very independent growing up, so I kind of learned my own strengths and weaknesses myself and at an early age. So, I've just carried that through and strengthened it.
Brendan Rogers: Let's go into a bit of those strengths and weaknesses because some time ago, early in our talks and involvement through the year, we put you guys through a profiling tool and you guys are very different people. So how about Taylem, your profile was S - steadiness. Now, how do you see that playing out your strengths first of all?
Taylem Barnard: I can't quite remember what this S stood for, but I know that I still got the sheets of paper and all that at home. It was really a helpful exercise. I need to look over that actually.
Brendan Rogers: It stands for steadiness.
Taylem Barnard: Yeah, steadiness, which I think is a hundred percent correct, because I feel I'm more of an approachable person, very open-minded, accepting of anything of what anyone wants to say. I kind of always think before I say, to think of the best possible answer. And I'm quite confident in what I would do. I would never shy away from a challenge or anything like that. Like I said before, I'm very driven and determined.
Brendan Rogers: And Robert, let's talk about what you see as some of your strengths, ‘cause your profile was the D style, which is more dominant. And again, I have to remind our listeners that there's no style that's better or worse than the other. They're just a different style that we have.
Tell us a bit about your strengths and what you learned through that process of this understanding the dominant in you.
Robert Bacon: I think I've always known for a while that I was very much a dominant leader, to characterise it that way. And I think that kind of, it really helped me to understand how to utilise that the best. Because just going in, and ‘cause you can be a dominant leader and you can be bossy and you can be overbearing and everything, or you can be a dominant leader and be very driven and focused and you know, get the best out of everyone. So, I think that really helped me to understand how to use my leadership personality the best, which I think was extremely helpful, and also working with Taylem, we both knew what our strengths and our weaknesses were. And we’re able to work together I think better as a team because we knew that how to complete certain tasks together, or certain things that had to be done, or it was better if her or I approached them or we work together or whatever. It really helped us to understand how to work together, but also how to best for me to utilise my personality, to get the best out of what you were trying to achieve.
Taylem Barnard: We complemented each other really well.
Brendan Rogers: When you learned that about yourself, now you maybe knew some of it already, but I guess there was a bit of paper to justify or support some of your thinkings and feelings. Taylem how did this team of yourself, this duo of School Captains. How did you find that corresponding strengths and weaknesses work for you, guys? And even if you've got an example where it worked.
Taylem Barnard: Yeah, of course. Well, Rob is more so the, you-get-the-job-done kind of guy, which is really good because there's no if’s or but’s. There's no like fluff here and there, “Maybe, we do this. Maybe we do that.” We kind of discuss it, lay all the options out on the table. And we'll try to make a decision. And if there's a bit of grey area, Rob would kind of be like, “No. We've got to get rid of that. This is what’s happening.” And I thought that was really, really good because that complimented me really well because I think of every possible situation that could go and kind of suss out what could be the best option, but sometimes, it takes too long and we don't have that time. So, I think we compliment each other really well in that situation. Whilst on the other hand, he's a bit more direct.
So when I say “direct” in approaching something, I think he doesn't so much think about the emotion behind it, whilst I'm more the empathetic one that is a bit more open-minded. People are more comfortable, I think, to talk about problems or anything to me. Yeah. So it kind of works hand-in-hand because we both get the job done well. But at the same time, we don't leave any open doors or any feelings hurt in the background because obviously, not everyone's going to agree to a situation or to an initiative or anything like that. You're going to always have that one or two odd people standing out saying, “I don't want to do this.” But instead of them turning on us, or even though they might have hard feelings towards us, I feel like we still get the job done, but at the same time, not burning any bridges. That's how I feel. We compliment each other and work hand-in-hand.
Brendan Rogers: How about you, Robert? How have you felt that the character traits of both of you have really complimented each other and worked well from your perspective?
Robert Bacon: Yeah, I think it was really beneficial to firstly learn about and do that profiling, ‘cause without being informed about how we work together and how, what motivates us and everything, you would see me as the bossy one, who's always taking control and Taylem’s the one who kind of fluffs around and worries about things that don't need to be worried about. But when you look at that further and you realise how you actually work, you can apply that to situations where you know that I will always try and get it done as quickly as possible and just get-the-job-done kind of thing, which in some cases, organising some menial tasks for school things, rosters, all that kind of stuff.
It's really beneficial for me to be doing it. Whereas, Taylem might want to consider every way of doing the roster or whatever. And maybe, that's not the best option, but when we're looking at larger group projects or whatever, it's sometimes better to stop and think. And I think it was really beneficial for us to know, right this is actually how we work, and it's not actually our flaws. It's actually our strengths. And that way, we could work really well as a team together and get the best out of all situations.
Brendan Rogers: I know we didn't do any profiling with anybody else in your leadership team so your House Captains or anything like that. Given some of that knowledge, how did you, Taylem, see people within that team and that House Captains group that you guys were leading specifically? How did that change your approach with any of them or learn a little bit more about them or take a different view on how they may have reacted in a certain way?
Taylem Barnard: Yeah, so we had four houses and each house had two Captains - one male, one female. In all honesty, I think Rob and I predicted who was going to get those positions and we were pretty close with the end result. So, it's not up to us to get them to work together because they have their role and we have our role. But in saying that, we can notice from the outside, like we can watch from the outside in as to how they worked together. And we could clearly notice that by the end, who was working well together as a team, who was overly dominant whilst the other one would just kind of say, “Yes. Okay.” Or they would just kind of step over them. They had no say whilst others just could never agree on something. They would always have different perspectives.
And then, we had one group that there would be one person doing all the work in the role whilst the other one wouldn't be pulling their weight. But the one wasn't strong enough or confident enough to approach that or to bring up that inconvenience in the team relationship. So yeah, we kind of observed it all. And you suggested to us, we do a feedback session, which Rob and I did to each other. And we found that very beneficial. And I think they did as well because we got great feedback from that afterwards, saying they kind of cleared the air between that team cohesion saying, “Okay, you need to pick this up. They'll be really helpful.” Now, sometimes, they understood. They said, “Yeah, I agree.” Other times, they would be like, “Oh, okay. I actually didn't notice but thank you for telling me.” Whilst other times, I would say, “You know what, you've been doing this really well. Like you've done a great job on this.” And it's a great confidence boost for them and it makes them want to work harder. So, we've seen it all.
Brendan Rogers: Robert, how was feedback, looking at yourself first and foremost? How did that feedback process help you become a better leader, do you think?
Robert Bacon: I think that, yeah, the feedback that Taylem and I did between each other, I think, was really beneficial. There were no major things, you know, that we were, either I was being overly dominant or Taylem was bossing me around or, there was nothing like that. It was more, some things we did more on a subconscious level that was really beneficial for us to realise what we were doing. Because sometimes, you don't realise some of the things you're doing, you're not doing it on purpose. And especially for me, it's A; a learning opportunity to learn more about yourself and B; for me and for us together to both work better together and be a better leader, which I think it's really important and was beneficial.
Brendan Rogers: I want to ask you this, Robert, first of all. Based on the year that you've had in the reflection, what would you say is Taylem's single biggest leadership strength?
Robert Bacon: I think her biggest leadership strength is probably the way she works with the cohort. She doesn't, not clean up after me, but there's a lot of instances where, especially from learning more about ourselves, we'd know, right, “Well, this situation, you know, it's probably better if Taylem goes off and deals with it, or I'd go and do it or whatever,” but I think Taylem's yeah, biggest strength is working with everyone. And I think compassion is not the best word, but showing a bit more compassion and some instances where the more direct approach isn't the best approach. So I think that's probably her biggest strength.
Brendan Rogers: Taylem, how about you? What would you say is Robert's biggest leadership strength that you saw through the year?
Taylem Barnard: I would say, assertiveness. Why I would say that is, like I said before, he makes sure the job will be done. Even if that sometimes means a corner needs to be cut or a hard decision needs to be made, it will be made to get the job done. And like you said, sometimes, it's not always the best decisions made. It could be approached in a better way, but definitely, getting the job done and his assertiveness in his role.
Brendan Rogers: So let's look at the flip side of this. Again, we always love to do that. So Taylem, putting you on the spot, Robert's going to have a little bit of time to think about it, I suppose. What would you say, over the course of this year, is an area where Robert could make some improvements that would really help his leadership?
Taylem Barnard: I don't want to make him sound like he doesn't have a heart or anything. (Laughing) I think, just considering our cohort as people, you know, I think some emotion could be put into his role if that makes sense. Because like we've been saying, I'm a bit more of the compassion side. I feel like he can consider people's emotions and also hear their perspective a bit more. So, be a little bit more open-minded in the way we approach things in the role.
Brendan Rogers: Robert, now’s your chance, mate. What would you say to Taylem? What sort of feedback would you give her around an area that you feel that could help enhance her leadership approach?
Robert Bacon: I think, sometimes, over stressing, overcomplicating some situations which I think we already know anyway from our leadership profiles and the work we've done together, but sometimes, some stress over things that don't need to be stressed over. Sometimes, you know, the little things that in some cases don't matter, some that are more focused on and in some instances, it's just better to move on and keep going rather than keep stopping to worry about the very small things, which from my point of view, don't matter sometimes.
Brendan Rogers: Well done, guys. It's very pleasing for me to sit here because I know how uncomfortable that was the first time. And I'm not saying it wasn't uncomfortable just then, but you guys did it so much more easily and the relaxed approach you guys take. And they're just fist bumping here at the moment. So well done. (Laughing) Great teamwork. Great teamwork.
Taylem, what did you guys do well this year? What do you think you guys did well as a unit?
Taylem Barnard: Oh, I could name quite a few things, Brendan. I think we did a really good job in all honesty. We had received also a lot of feedback from teachers, parents and students, and obviously, the higher ranking staff at school that we had been doing a really good job. And that's obviously good to hear ‘cause then, we know we can keep doing what we're doing. I don't think we received any complaints, which is great. We really utilised our cohort. We built a relationship with our cohort, you know. And also, I found that our roles, when we found out, we got our positions, it didn't change our attitude. We didn't have the mindset of, “Look, I'm Captain. You have to do what I say. Like I'm higher ranking than you. You've got nothing on me.” You know what I mean? We did not have that attitude at all. We kept modest the way that we should approach any situation, thinking the same way that any other person in our grade would. That further allowed us to reach out to other grades in the school because every year, I know in the interviews, and I know both Rob and I in our head prefect interviews, we were asked, “What is something you want to change within the school community?”
And we both said, “cohesion” and I kid you not, every person this year said, “cohesion”. And they just want a wider spread of connection within each level of school. And the levels of school is you have your Junior School, Middle School and Senior School. So, we achieved that this year. So, we achieved a goal that everyone has been trying to do year after year. And I think that was definitely through our relationship, like building the relationship between the cohort first and then working our way throughout the school. Because we had that relationship, people were comfortable to reach out to us. So, if they had an opinion or if they had something they thought could change in the school, an initiative that could improve the school, they would be happy to let us know. And then, we could action that. So, we could get a lot done because it's better to work as a team. More brains are better than one. So it works. You've got all these different perspectives, all these different minds that can work together to build one big, awesome solution.
Brendan Rogers: And Robert, what do you think you guys could have done better?
Robert Bacon: I think where we could have improved throughout our journey, I think it was definitely in the beginning. We made, I think, a lot of mistakes. I mean, you always make mistakes throughout a journey. So, building on from what Taylem said is that we built a lot of relationships, but in the beginning, we spent a lot of time making the mistakes, building those relationships. And I think, as well, we'd never worked with a group, such a large group, like Taylem had worked with the netball team and whatever and swimming. And I'd worked with my crew of production people and that kind of stuff, but we never have been the Captains of a whole school and had our whole cohort to manage. And, you know, we had the House Captains to work with and, you know, give them responsibilities within their own houses.
And we'd sort of been the sole leader of, you know, a team of 10 or 20. And it was now, we were the leader of a hundred, if not 1300 students, plus we had the house captains, you know, to help us out and work with our respective houses. So, we sort of had a chain of command sort of thing that we weren't used to working with and leading like that. And I think that early on, we kind of did some things, how looking back on it, we'd say probably wasn't the best idea to work that way. But at the same point, we learnt from that very quickly. And I think that there were some areas where we could have originally done a bit better, but quite quickly, we were going from stride to stride, making, doing really good things.
Taylem Barnard: Yeah. We very quickly learned from our mistakes in the beginning ‘cause obviously, that's when we were learning each other, like that's how we were learning how each other work together. So, once we established our relationship, then, we could move on. Because we had such a high ranking set of authority that we weren't used to. And we just had to get used to it. We had to speak to the whole student body and then the whole school. So, it got a bit of taking used to.
Brendan Rogers: Give us a little bit of detail around the errors that you felt you made.
Robert Bacon: So, I think, originally, between the two of us, it's definitely an error more on my part, but I think…
Brendan Rogers: It’s always the guys.
Taylem Barnard: (Laughing)
Robert Bacon: Yeah, I know.
Brendan Rogers: You’ve already learned that. (Laughing)
Robert Bacon: Yup. And even if you didn't, it's still your fault.
Brendan Rogers: Absolutely.
Robert Bacon: Yeah. So, I think, once again, we'd always been in positions where we were the leader, you know, it was sort of leading a small group and whatever, and you'd always just work on your own and you'd go and make decisions. And you were always doing small things, but it was your show kind of thing. And I think very early on, I know I made the mistake of even the small things, it was still worth, “We needed to work as a team.”
Taylem Barnard: We learnt that very quickly.
Robert Bacon: Me being direct and wanting to get the job done, organising a group chat with a small roster and it needed a consultation apparently.
Taylem Barnard: No, no, no. Hear me out. So we had to obviously get the roster going for the duties. That was the very first task we had as head prefects.
Robert Bacon: Which I was getting done nice and quickly.
Taylem Barnard: Yes. But there was a big gap in this very quickly laid-out plan in Rob's plan because usually, like I said, two brains are better than one. And Rob kind of took it upon himself to get it all done. And I had no problem with that. If he wants to get it done, you can get it done. But it's just always good to let the other person know what you're doing, when you're going to post it, when are we going to make it public. Remember the due dates, like now all this and that, to always have that constant communication, because it could almost definitely, always will be one thing that you're missing that the other person will remind you about. So, like in this instant, I saw the roster that Rob had posted onto the chat and I had looked at it, and it was all these tiny little errors here and there that sparked such confusion within the cohort.
So it just was just chaos. It was utter chaos within the chat. And I got so furious at Rob because it just, it could have been avoided very easily if he just had consulted me or just flick me through an email that I could read within 10 minutes. I could get back to him. He could have posted it and problem averted.
Robert Bacon: Yes, she was not happy.
Taylem Barnard: (Laughing) But we learned it quickly. So, I had a little crack at Rob, had my spiel at him, let it all out. He was like, “Okay. I understand where you're coming from. Let's not do this again.” We fixed it and we've moved on. No hard feelings.
Brendan Rogers: So in that great example, what is it that you wish you had prior to you guys being school leaders and head prefects that potentially may have been able to help you not have to make that sort of mistake?
Taylem Barnard: Well, for myself, if I had more experience with working with such a mass group of people, to lead them, it would be a lot more helpful. Rob mentioned before we both have only worked with like my netball would be 10 girls. I've got my swimming club, which is quite large, but I mean, you still have your coaches, your parents and everything. Like you're not solely there yourself. So I had never had such a large group of people that were answering to me. So I had to always be on the ball. I had to know what's happening all the time, know the details as well, because the questions that are asked, you can't be like, “I don't know.” Then, who else are they going to ask the questions not answered? You are their go-to, and then, once you say, “I don't know”, then they kind of lose that trust within you.
And they won't come to us often because they're like, “Oh Tay wouldn't know. Rob wouldn't know. Don't ask them.” We picked it up later on. Like we said, we made those hiccups at the beginning and we learned from our mistakes very quickly because you have to. It's not that one mistake and you've got ages to figure it out or fix it. Like you're going to have something coming up the next week. So, I would definitely say working with a really, with a large group of people like we are now earlier on, so we could get used to the habits and the way of dealing with the different situations.
Brendan Rogers: What about for you, Robert? Is there anything different that you felt that could have aided your better handling of a situation like that?
Robert Bacon: I think, having leadership opportunities, you know, we've all, you've always worked in a leadership. You've had leadership teams and whatever, but you know, working with a partner who's on like the same level as you to lead a group, having a partner to learn to lead with was something that we had to do.
Brendan Rogers: Our interview will continue after this.
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Brendan Rogers: What about the speaking opportunities that have come from your role talking to large groups of people? Taylem, I know you were quite anxious about that sort of stuff in the early days. It's not something you'd done a lot of. Tell us a little bit about your feelings around that from in the early days to how you feel about that now.
Taylem Barnard: Of course. So I've never had a problem with speaking in front of a large crowd, or like if you've got a class assessment, you know, you have to do a speech or presentation. I've never had a problem with that because I would know I'm always prepared. And also, on the sporting field, I always have to perform in front of a crowd. You know, it's not something that's new. I have dealt with it my entire life. So it's not, I'm used to it. I'm fine with that. But the thing that I really struggled with is being put on the spot, because obviously, in our role, it wasn't anything to do with sport or a presentation, you would say. It was more so you're doing a speech, you're doing an introduction. You're going to be introducing like you're introducing a speaker. You have to give a blurb. You could be MC-ing. You have to be reading off a run sheet. Things like that. That was, that got to me because I'm not a very strong reader.
I've mentioned before that I've got dyslexia, and it's been something I've struggled with for a long time. It's, and especially in English in school, obviously. So reading is actually quite a big difficulty for me and I have glasses, but I wouldn't wear them on stage. So that makes it a little bit harder, you know. (Laughing) I have improved immensely in that field and Rob's nodding his head because he can tell. Because at the very beginning, we would have to speak in front of the entire school for assembly. And that would be either on the fortnightly and also on the weekly. But I remember I would always, before we, and we used to still do it, before we ever do a presentation, a speech, anything, we'd both read through our scripts to each other, because I would go through it, read, read, read, and I'll get to Rob like, “Rob, can you pronounce this for me? How do I say this name properly?” Or this and that, then, I'll kind of write it down on the sheet the way that I can understand, then I just have that sigh of relief that, “I'm okay. I know what I'm doing. I know how to read. Like I can pronounce these words properly. Now, just reading through it once, get it in my head.” And then, “off you go”. Whilst before, I would be very nervous.
Brendan Rogers: And Rob, how about yourself? I know you've been involved in debating over the years, but how has the experiences of talking regularly, sometimes prepared, sometimes unprepared in front of large groups? How has that improved your own communication and your speaking skills?
Robert Bacon: Yeah. So as you said, you know, I've always been involved and I've done a lot of debating and public speaking. So, and especially with debating with the past few years was impromptu, so thinking on the spot and not having a lot of time to prepare and all that kind of stuff I was kind of used to. But in the same sense, it was a different kind of speaking that you do as School Captain. It wasn't a persuasive speech, or, you know, a funky topic for public speaking. It was the impromptu of welcoming someone or inviting someone up to talk or reading through a run sheet or MC-ing an event or whatever that you don't really get a lot of experience to practice with. So it was definitely a learning opportunity for me to further be able to hone my skills and think on the spot and be able to just get up and talk on your feet, which was, I think really beneficial.
Brendan Rogers: I want to talk about your teachers. I know that through the conversation I've had with you guys, that they've helped you a lot through the year, and that's obviously really important. I don't want to go into that. I just want to ask you guys each, if there was something that you wish the teacher or teachers could have helped you with prior to coming into this role, or even during the year, what would that have been for you, Robert?
Robert Bacon: I think, ‘cause we'd always, in the preparation to becoming prefects and all that kind of stuff at school, there's all, we had a few like leadership training days and public speaking, training, workshops and everything. But the public speaking that we kind of did was different to anything you've ever been trained to. And the leadership skills was something you'd always was not what we really got trained to do. So, I think something a bit more based on head prefect, experiences, training, something like that. I think even working with a head prefect for a couple of days or something like that to, I think A; know what you're in for to be able to give you opportunities to prepare for that, you know, prepare for the speeches, the MC-ing in front of the whole school and that kind of stuff, you know, just before someone gets up on stage the change of the name of the musical item, that kind of stuff that you really don't get to prepare for and really any other opportunities. I think that's probably something that would be beneficial.
Brendan Rogers: Taylem, how about yourself? Is there anything that you wish that the teachers really could have helped you with either previously or through the year that really would've been advantageous to your leadership?
Taylem Barnard: I don't have anything that I wish they would have done because a lot of the things that I hope they had of, they did, I found. Because that's just in my personal opinion because I thought the teachers were very supportive. Obviously, certain teachers here and there, like obviously, not everyone. We had reached out to teachers quite often or staff, especially the media department and they were always ready to help us. They were ready to take anything on board. They would be giving us the advice back saying, “Oh, I don't think we can do that within our school.” Like there could be regulations and all this and that. Or I know that if we had a question or you had a query about something that we had an idea about initiative, we would go ask one of the teachers that we're close to, or we've got a good relationship or are happy to help, and they'll point us in the right direction. So we knew where to go. We go approach the next person. They would be happy to help. If not, pass us on to the next person. It was never really a dead end. I feel like they always wanted to provide us with the resources that we required because they wanted just to help us be our best.
Robert Bacon: I think, another thing in terms of support from the teachers and the staff at the school, I think we found we got a lot more support from where we didn't expect it, you know, from your classroom teachers, the media department, that kind of the admin staff, that kind of stuff that you didn't expect it from. And we got less support from the higher ups of the school who we were technically reporting to. And they were technically supposed to work with us the most. I think we found, we got a lot of our help from our classroom teachers or whatever, who we got to develop close personal relationships over the years. And I think from the higher ups of the school, not in all cases, but in a lot of cases is where that we could have gotten more support some of the time, especially some people at the very top, we could have, we would've thought we would have liked to have more interaction with and more support from them. Yeah.
Taylem Barnard: I hundred percent agree with Rob because, like he said, we're reporting to them. Technically speaking, they're our boss. So, they would give us a task or anything like that. And we would have questions about it, but they would more be like, “Oh, very grey area, very up in the air.” So we would kind of just take what they say, take it and run with it, make it into our own or get the job done, hand it back. And they'll be like, “Yeah, that's fine.” There's no guidance. They gave us no guidance at all. Whilst I think what we were used to is obviously the classroom environment where you're given a task and a set of rules, it's like an assessment task. You have a marking criteria. You're going to hit all the points to get all of the marks. If you want to get good marks, you've got to hit them all and do them to the best of your ability.
On the other hand, when we were talking to the heads of school with people who were above us, they were more, “So look, this is the end goal. We don't care how you get to it, just get to it,” you know? So, I think a bit more guidance from them because also, they know what we can and can't do whilst we actually don't. We don’t know what we can control within the school. Because again, then again, we're only students, you know what I mean? Whilst we're talking to teachers and staff and everyone, not everyone can access certain things within the school community. Like there was one situation we wanted to, we were talking about finance and ‘cause we were raising funds for a charity. And we didn't know who to talk to because we obviously don't have any rights to be going through any finance within such CCGS like our school.
Robert Bacon: And we can't just go like saying, “Oh, we'll just allocate money from this budget or something.” You know, we can't do that.
Taylem Barnard: Yeah. It's not, we're not allowed to do that. Like we don't have the authority to do that. So, that guidance, I liked how they gave us leniency. So, don't get me wrong on that. Leniency was great, but a little bit more guidance to have a bit more of a clearer path would have been awesome, which is what we received from the staff, the ones that we had built our relationship with because they had a bit more pathways that could open up for us in giving us the ideas. They had a bit more knowledge for the questions that we would have, like, “Who do we need to speak to for the finance? Who are the finance team?” We'll have a word with them saying what we can and can't do. “What are we allowed to do?”
Brendan Rogers: And how has that experience or that desire to have that guidance? How do you think that's impacted or going to impact your future leadership?
Taylem Barnard: Well, I've taken a mental note that it's always important. The experiences that we've had to communicate to such a large group is it's always important to have clear communication from the very beginning. The mistake that we made was we had gaps within our communication the first time, the first task that we had, and that just caused utter chaos. And it's just an absolute pain to kind of reset it because the confusion just expands, honestly, like you won't believe. But if you have everything laid out like dot point, clear as day, everything in one place, one spot or one, as simple as one text message. But it doesn't mean if it looks like an essay, you've gotten it out there. People need to know the important key information, no waffle, no waffling in that. I think that clear communication is so, so important.
Brendan Rogers: Robert, it sounds like your no-waffling approach is rubbing off on Taylem. What are your thoughts around what we've just spoken about?
Robert Bacon: So I think that one thing we learned is that as Taylem said, it was nice to be really flexible and have the opportunity to do what we wanted to in other cases. But there were some times, I know there was one instance, where we approached for some help from the higher up. And we kind of got told, “You go sort that out for yourself” kind of stuff. But the whole point of us going to ask was to ask about what we were getting told to go and find out about. You could see, they were trying to say, “Well, you know, you take this upon yourself and you go and sort it out.” But there are some cases where you actually wanted to look for the answers but we'd kind of come up and said, “Well, we don't really want to know what's going on here ‘cause that's really not, we haven't had experience in this. What would your advice be for us to do this?”
And I think one key takeaway I think is to know what your role is as someone who's leading and someone who's seeking some advice from you and to kind of get into their shoes or sort of know the situation that they're in so you can be able to guide them and help them out more without doing it all for them, or be, you know, not being a bit dismissive in where they're coming for advice. It's just important to know the situation matters to where, you know, you're trying to give out advice and give feedback and be supportive. There are other cases where we'd kind of disasters and guidance somewhere and things would get done for us. And we think, “Well, that's not really what we wanted.” And in other cases, you know, what we wanted was some answers. And we were kind of just got told to, “Find the answers and come back.”
Taylem Barnard: In the end, all we want to do is deliver the best possible outcome for the person that we're working with who's given us the job. And the way you do that is asking questions, is finding out certain characteristics as to what they want to be achieved. And then, we can take that base product and then expand on that. So, if we have those base products, we can then use our brains and all the relationships that we've built within the school community to expand that, make it better, get a different opinion, take a different perspective and then make it into what we believe could be the best end goal to then present to them obviously. But sometimes, when that base product is a bit muffled, it's not really set in stone. It's too lenient to really be given to someone. That's where I think we would struggle. Sometimes, I actually don't think that people that were taught like the hierarchy, like the people above us who were talking to, didn't even know the end product themselves.
So they didn't even have it set in stone. They didn't have their base rules before they were given to us. So, we were just kind of thrown under the bus a few times, but you know, you make it work. And I guess if you're put in that situation, what they get sometimes is either going to be better than their expectations. A lot of the time it was for us, we did do more than we should have. Whilst other times it would be set in stone, you've got clear instructions or you've got a clear guidance as to what they would like. We can then expand on that. And if we do expand on it, they acknowledge and say, “That was actually a good job,” like, “I like what you did with this,” or it's kind of like, “Oh, I think we might take that out actually. It wouldn't quite work with what I'm going with.” And we don't take offense to it, you know. That's not what they asked. We just thought this could be a good addition. So, we always just work around it. But it's so much easier and better when we have basis rules as to what the end goal should be because that's all we want. We want it to be the best it can be.
Brendan Rogers: With that experience and these experiences that you've had, shared today, what advice have you given the next leaders of Central Coast Grammar School? What advice would you give them, and any young leader out there for that matter that will, you think will really help them be the best leader, the best school leader that they can be? Robert?
Robert Bacon: I think the number one is communication. We mentioned that quite a lot to the next head prefects when we met with them a few weeks ago. And that was the one thing that we constantly wanted to talk about was communication. I think that's really, whenever things didn't go quite to plan in things we were trying to achieve throughout the year, it will always came back to most of the time, communication. A communication breakdown, or maybe not the best method of communication. Something to do with communication, I think, is the most important thing for, I think, any leader, but especially, you know, a school leader in a school environment with your peers to be very clear and concise in how you communicate and what you're communicating.
Brendan Rogers: What about from your side, Taylem?
Taylem Barnard: Yeah. Well, we actually had a little dinner date with the 2021 head prefects just to give them a rundown of what you should expect. And I think it was very beneficial because it kind of made us reflect as well. And also, they were learning. They could ask us questions, but a hundred percent communication is sitting very well on that list. And number one, and then, I would definitely say teamwork. Between us two, Rob and I, the teamwork that we've built, we couldn't have done it on our own, honestly. So you need to work well with your partner because like in that job, they're literally your other half. It's not an individual job in everything that we did. I know like if it's emails, if we're trying to get initiative done, it doesn't matter whose individual initiative it was.
We communicate it as we, so it's always a combined job or a combined initiative, a combined task even though one individual could be doing it. One of us could own it. Like only one of us could be doing it. It's always we. Also, I would say trust, building trust between each other and the cohort, because if you have trust that builds the relationship, so having an, “Oh well.” Then fourth, the relationship that you built within your leadership team, because if you have a strong relationship with your team, then they have trust in you. If they have trust in you, they will communicate with you. And that's how you build your teamwork. Like your team environment. They all work hand-in-hand. I would say those four. Those are the very, I think on my list at least top four.
Brendan Rogers: Robert, what are you most proud of that you guys have achieved together in with the cohort this year?
Robert Bacon: I think it wasn't necessarily an initiative we did or anything, but I think the way we connected and developed our cohorts cohesion, and their strengths together, I think was something. And I know it's been commented on a lot that we did good at, and I think that's something. I think that's the best thing. It's quite easy to, you know, install something in the school or, you know, get something up and running like an initiative or whatever, but making a whole load of 17 and 18-year-olds, communicate, and work well together is not easy. But I think we managed to do a pretty good job of that. It was definitely made easier by us having a good cohort. But I think a lot of that was down to us and how we developed our cohort.
Brendan Rogers: So Taylem, what are you most proud of?
Taylem Barnard: Okay. I've got three things that I'm most proud of. One, is how far we have come. Us two working as a team. It blew my mind. I never thought it would be, we would work so well together. I definitely know I could never have done the job as well without Rob. Two, is working through COVID because they are unprecedented times that we did not predict. So, in all of our meetings and all that, well, halfway through the year when it hit, instead of, kind of going with the first plan, you know, like, “Yep. Set in stone done.” It's more so, “Okay. Wait, wait, wait, what if these regulations change? We've got to think of plan A, plan B, plan C. Yeah, you know. A to Z.” (Laughing) Seriously. So that was really challenging.
And because things had changed, that it would changed on the daily. That means our plans would change on the daily. So the meeting that we had yesterday, completely changed. We got to have a new one. So, it takes up a lot of our time. Also, the morale within the cohort dropped during COVID like it would for anyone. I feel like we made the best out of a bad situation. So, we still kept up with our assemblies. We still kept up with consistently building the relationship with our cohort even though we weren't physically there to see them. Just little things here and there, like posting something on a messenger group chat or posting something on Facebook or in MyCCGS, or it could be an activity that we do. I feel like we just kept that engagement going so we didn't lose that relationship. We didn't come back and we didn't have to reset. We kept it going.
So, I felt like that was a great achievement because it’s never been done before. We were making that up on the spot. Like we didn't have any guidance in that, you know. So we were experiencing it firsthand and just dealing with it there and then. And then the third thing was, I've mentioned before, every year, Rob and I both said it in our interviews is cohesion across the whole school. Right? There's been cohesion within our cohort and Year 11s, obviously, because we're pretty close within the grades, but there's never been a group, a club or a community, a small community within the school that involves students from the Junior, Middle and Senior College. It's either one or two, never three. So Rob and I have been the first head prefects to actually engage this. So, we came up with this initiative, which is a 10, you know, the 10-cent bottle returns to reduce the school's environmental footprint, become more eco-friendly.
So this was also a very big challenge for us, obviously, because we had to get all three schools involved. It was a huge task. I understand why it hasn't been done before. Initially, we thought, “Oh, it's not going to be too bad, but we can get this done. It should be like anything else, you know,” we thought of it. We can get it going like anything else, but no, no, no. We were wrong. That was a lot of hard work. And we've now passed the baton on to the Year 11s because we've picked out two Year 11s, who are now Year 12s, to take this initiative from us. So, they're now, they're the leaders of that initiative. And we have assigned teachers that control the environmental committee. They have actually named it now. It's a thing. It's an environmental committee at school.
We've gotten blue bins put around, we've got notices put up to get awareness saying, “If, you've got a 10-cent bottle from the canteen or from home. If you've got any from home, bring it in. Chuck it in the blue bin and we will put it towards a charity.” We put a poll out to have three different charities. And people chose, everyone from the school could choose so they could have their input. They felt like they have had their say within this initiative. So everyone felt included. And we had a lot of junior school kids very, very excited about the whole initiative. And they come up with all these crazy ideas, which obviously not, are not all suitable, like putting CCTV cameras at every single bin, making sure people are putting the right stuff in, not like a banana peel, but putting their bottles in.
But they're very eager, which is what we want. So we've created a small community of all different ages that each person can be used as a role model to grow off because they all have the same interest. It's all about making an environmental impact within our school community. And it's honestly, it has just blossomed. We've handed it over now. But when it first started, it took a while to get up and running. Like people weren't putting the right things in the bin. People didn't know what it was, you know, et cetera, et cetera. We didn't have people willing to join the group that we're trying to get. But after a while, it's just grown so quickly. And I think that's something that I'm very proud of it, at least, because I'm also passionate about that. And the fact that how many years the school has been going for that almost every year, cohesion has been brought up. We've been the first ones to actually action it.
Brendan Rogers: Taylem, you mentioned COVID. I wasn't going to make COVID a big issue and I'm still not because it is just what it is. But Robert, if I can ask you one question around COVID-19, and I will ask Taylem as well. What has been the biggest challenge for you this year given the COVID situation?
Robert Bacon: I think, and Taylem has already touched on this a bit, but the constant changing of things, it's constantly changing. I think that's been probably the biggest challenge in the sense that every time we'd go and you know, we'd make plans, we'd try and organise things and, “Oh, no. We can't do that because,” or, you know, we organise something that's probably not as great with some people. And then, it's, “Oh, we can actually do this now.” And you know, “Let's re-look at this.” And suddenly, we have to make some plans for the future and we don't know what to do. So we use, you know, the regulations right now and then, you know, new regulations come out and everyone is disappointed because, you know, we can't do what we can technically do anymore and all that kind of stuff. I think that's the constant changing nature of COVID and all the changing regulations constantly. I think that's been the biggest challenge.
Brendan Rogers: Is there anything else from you, Taylem, around the COVID situation and a different challenge?
Taylem Barnard: Yeah, there was just absolutely no stability. Everything that we had planned has just been thrown up in the air, and the things that we had planned, a lot of hard work and time had gone into that. So it was really hard to keep motivated even in class too. My, I had no motivation. I was in my room with my laptop on my desk, like 24/7, seven days a week. It was just, I wanted to get out. I was like, you know, I wasn't in a good mindset. I'm sure people were in the same boat because it's just, everything's changing. And a lot of people don't like change. It's because it's hard to adapt to, to keep people engaged in the activities that we had planned to lift their spirits, you know, to keep them involved within the cohort was very challenging. So yeah, the three things I would say is the engagement, the no stability around it, and the motivation.
Brendan Rogers: I want to ask you guys around Mum and Dad. I know you got different Mum and Dads so I'll ask you separately. (Laughing) How has Mum and Dad been supportive for you? What's been important for that, Robert, for you?
Robert Bacon: I think it's been immensely important. I think, especially, you know, they've always been there to vent, which has been good. We've needed to do that a lot. You know, they've always just been there to support. I can't think of anything like specific that they've done, but I think they've always just been there, and they've always been really supportive, and they've always, you know, if I've, if we're struggling to come up with ideas for things or whatever, they're always there, you know, to discuss things with. And I think it would have been very difficult to survive this year without them. Yeah. I think they've always just been there for support and for guidance and whatever that's been really crucial to the past year.
Brendan Rogers: And, Taylem, how about you? I know you're a bit of a talker with Mum and Dad. I know that I haven't had the honour of actually meeting your parents, but I do appreciate the trust that your parents are putting in me in having conversations with you. So how important has that support been for you?
Taylem Barnard: Look, Mum and Dad's support, I've got no words for it because I honestly could not have made it through this job without them, because I had never thought that I would actually get it. I never thought I'd hold such a high role because it's such an honour. It was a big shock in all honesty. And my Mum was actually a head prefect of her school in South Africa. She was really, really proud. And so was Dad because he's actually a teacher at Grammar. And that was really helpful because Rob and I could use like, we could call upon him a lot. Yeah. So their support at home was amazing, but my family had a bit of a hiccup throughout the year and it's still ongoing. So it did make it a bit more challenging. It placed a lot more pressure on myself because I didn't want to place any more pressure on my family because they were already facing enough.
At the beginning of the year, it was great that full support throughout the whole year. But at the beginning, it was really strong, you know, getting kicked up, started and going. But I think once I kind of got used to the role, I started knowing what I needed to be, what needs to be done, you know, and growing in myself, my confidence as well, that's when the hiccup kind of hit and everything just kinda changed.
Brendan Rogers: What's next for you, guys? So you've finished school, you've got this think further than schoolies, only next week away, as you said. But what's after schoolies for you, Robert?
Robert Bacon: So I'm hoping to go to the defence force next year and go to ADFA there and become an airfield engineer in the air force. So I've got through all the defence interviews and everything and I’m in on the defence force side, so now, I’ve got to wait for the ATAR to come out on the 18th of December to find out if I get into the uni part and then, I'll hopefully be off there on the 15th of January.
Brendan Rogers: Taylem, how about you? After school, what's your next journey hold?
Taylem Barnard: Unlike Rob, I am going to take a gap year. And the reason being, my thought behind it is I've had 13 years of schooling. (Laughing) I can take a year off because the degree that I'm hoping to get is a four-year degree. So, I just don't have the motivation. I don't have the mindset to go straight back into school. And I've got a lot of things that I want to do, which I can not do on top of school. So, during the gap year, well, obviously I'll be training for swimming, see where I can really do, where that can take me. So, I'll be doing that full time, but I've always wanted to learn sign language, right. And because I won't be in school, I won't be learning anything new within that gap year. I was looking at maybe taking a TAFE course in sign language for Auslan.
And I looked into it too for me to get my Cert III. I think it was something like a year. So, that works out perfectly. And it's a really, really good skill to have for the job that I'm looking for. And I also am hoping to get into the Firies if I can make the cut. If not, I'll try again next year. But I'm going to do that this year and obviously, just work like anyone else. Then, in 2022, I will be, hopefully, if I get the ATAR, I would just defer if I do, ‘cause I've got early entry, I'm hoping to go to ACU in Canberra and I'll train at the AIS for swimming there and do a Bachelor of Paramedicine and Nursing. So, my ultimate goal in life that I've always wanted to do since a little girl was be a paramedic, but not just a generalised paramedic. I've always wanted to be a special operations paramedic. I'm just thinking, if I've got the, and then, I've got nursing under my belt too, if I can, maybe I can work in the ER, who knows, but I mean, if I've got sign language down pat, if I have some experience as a Firey, very strong swimmer, hopefully, I'm able to get a job as a paramedic and then work my way up to the special operations.
Brendan Rogers: Fantastic. Well, I have to say, it's not surprising to me that both of you are destined for service. It's really been a foundation of what I've had the privilege to learn about you guys over this year and obviously serving your school community and then going on to greater things in the service of country and people and helping other people. So, certainly, a good foundation of your own leadership development and skills. So, well done.
I want to thank you very much. This is your first podcast interview ever, isn't it?
Robert Bacon: Yes, it is.
Taylem Barnard: Yeah.
Brendan Rogers: Well, thank you for honouring me with your presence and…
Robert Bacon: Thank you for having us.
Taylem Barnard: Thank you, Brendan.
Brendan Rogers: Absolute pleasure.
Look, I just want to say it has been a real honour and a privilege to spend some time with you, guys, this year. I've learned a lot. I hope you guys have learned a lot. You guys are impressive young people. Well done to Central Coast Grammar School and your parents respectively and the people that they have helped you become whatever you put your minds to. And you've shared that you guys will excel and do a fantastic job so well done. And thank you very much for being the first student guests on The Culture of Things podcast.
Taylem Barnard: Thank you.
Robert Bacon: Yeh, thank you.
Taylem Barnard: It's been an awesome experience.
Robert Bacon: Yeah.
Brendan Rogers: I want to thank Robert and Taylem's parents, David and Samantha Bacon and Robbie and Tanya Barnard for supporting this project. It was such an exciting experience being able to work with young leaders like Robert and Taylem. They've had a crazy school year, but they never avoided their responsibilities. They showed up, took it all in their stride and achieved something that had never been achieved before - cohesion across the Junior, Middle and Senior School with their environmental project. They achieved this whilst many businesses struggled with cohesion with people working remotely. Perhaps, we can learn a thing or two about resilience and adaptability from these young leaders.
Robert and Taylem shared some valuable lessons during this interview, which they learned from experience during the year as School Captains of Central Coast Grammar School.
These were my three key takeaways from my conversation with Robert and Taylem.
My first key takeaway. Self-awareness is a basis for leadership development. To support increased self-awareness, we use the DiSC profiling tool. There was also the opportunity for Robert and Taylem to give each other regular feedback. Both of these assisted with a greater level of self-awareness. This was a basis for their leadership development.
My second key takeaway. Teams must be aligned. Otherwise, confusion reigns. Robert and Taylem shared their experience about their first task of arranging a roster. I should say there were approximately 70 students they needed to coordinate with. So no small feat. They learnt quickly that if they weren't aligned and working as a team, then, it can create mass confusion, which needed a lot of cleaning up. As a team, take the time to get aligned. It is time well spent.
My third key takeaway. Great leaders leave a great legacy. The environmental project is something that Robert and Taylem are very proud of. The project alone isn't their legacy. Their legacy is the fact that they created the succession plan and handed on the baton to the 2021 leaders. The example and precedent set is that the 2021 leaders will hand over to the 2022 leaders and so forth. The sign of great leaders is the great legacy they leave behind.
So in summary, my three key takeaways were: self-awareness is a basis for leadership development; teams must be aligned; otherwise, confusion reigns; great leaders leave a great legacy.
Congratulations to Sonia Cavanough for winning last week's Jangler competition. She chose the Jangler $30 gift card to event cinemas, that she and her husband Greg are looking forward to using it during the Christmas holiday period. I believe they're going to see the new Wonder Woman movie. Have fun, guys!
This week's question is:
What was the type of environmental project that Robert and Taylem led across the school?
To win this week’s $30-Jangler gift card of your choice, be the first to send the correct answer to firstname.lastname@example.org. Good luck!
Thank you for listening. Stay safe. Until next time.
Outtro (music): Thank you for listening to The Culture of Things podcast with Brendan Rogers. Please visit brendanrogers.com.au to access the show notes. If you love The Culture of Things podcast, please subscribe, rate and give a review on Apple podcasts and remember a healthy culture is your competitive advantage.