Support staff often work in isolation. A lone lab technician or food tech assistant, maintenance worker or bursar for instance, may not have anyone else in the school to discuss their role. At rural and regional schools, this sense of remoteness or isolation may be exacerbated, IE Journalist Sue Osborne writes.
The biennial IEUA Support Staff Conference is one step to provide support staff members in NSW and the ACT with a sense of belonging.
Indeed, the title of this year’s conference in August was Community, Connection and Belonging.
Support staff attending the conference said they loved being given a voice, and having a day that was dedicated just to their needs.
“Coming from a regional area, it was great to have access to PD, especially for support staff,” St John’s Catholic High School Nowra Senior School Officer Loreena Doumbos said.
Conference Convenor and IEUA NSW/ACT Branch Industrial Officer Carolyn Moore said the conference theme was part of “who we are as a Union”.
“People coming together supporting each other to reach common, shared goals for the betterment of the individual and the collective,” Carolyn said.
“We as a Union are a network made up of our members – we are a community,” she said.
“Being part of a community is an essential component of being a human being – it provides a shared sense of purpose and connection. It allows individuals to feel they belong, that they matter to others and to the group.
“Our communities are not just found in the places we live. They are formed where we work, where we play, where we socialise, where we worship – anywhere we seek connection and interaction with others. Let’s face it we are all members of many, many different communities.
“A sense of belonging is as important as food and shelter – it provides value to our lives.
“Having a connection, being part of a community, is fundamental to our health and wellbeing. And not just of the individuals but as a society. We truly are better together.
“How we engage, participate and connect with each of our many communities, with all our different tribes, determines how we feel, manage and cope in life.
“It is by connecting with and supporting others in our communities that we come to recognise and celebrate them.”
Keynote speaker Yassmin Abdel-Magied (pictured above) is no stranger to these themes, having founded Youth Without Borders at age 16, a group which empowers young people to work together towards positive change in their communities.
The first female mechanical engineer in Australia to work on offshore oil rigs at age 21, Yassmin said she’s used to “always being different” and yet she believes in being “authentic to yourself”.
“When I started on oil rigs I thought I had to act like one of the boys, but I soon realised you need to understand your intrinsic value as a person and always be yourself.”
In one of the conference workshops Anita Tang, advocacy advisor and campaign coach, showed support staff how to build their self confidence, increase their relationships and improve their connections by being active members of their community. She looked at how individuals can develop leadership and connections through shared interests.
Similarly, IEU Organiser Karen Forbes helped support staff build community by ‘finding their tribe’.
“By connecting and sharing stories we can inspire each other,” Karen said.
IEUA NSW/ACT Branch Secretary John Quessy argues that who we are now is the sum of our life experiences.
“It is our stories that make us and define us for the things that matter.”
He encourages support staff to explore how their story connects them to their Union and the wider union movement, and how it can be used to build a sense of belonging.