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Guest Blog: Spreading the Good Word Down Under

Guest Blog from Vicki Fowler from Westlake Boys High School

Vicki is the Community Manager of Westlake Boys in Auckland, New Zealand. She is a long-time friend of FFG and sat on our advisory board since January 2016. Over the last ten years she has developed one of the most impressive alumni communities that Future First Global has seen in the public sector, and is a committed advocate for developing this in state schools nationwide.

Thirty Headmasters, Board of Trustee members and staff representing 18 state schools throughout New Zealand gathered at Westlake Boys High School in Auckland earlier this month with the intention of gaining a better understanding of how to develop alumni communities in their schools – the first time so many schools had been represented at Westlake Boys at one time, and the first step many of them were making to build alumni communities.

At Westlake Boys we have been developing our alumni community bit by bit over the last ten years. It has been a hugely meaningful operation to invest in, as a means of futureproofing our school, it’s culture and its physical presence but we had little idea of the steps we would need to take along the path ahead, or indeed how long that path would be!

The workshop was hosted by Abi Nokes (Programme Manager at Future First Global), in partnership with Educate Plus, (the leading provider of training and resources to alumni and development throughout Australia and New Zealand). The workshop was designed to bring together best practice and ideas from around the world to help state schools to take the next step, and to provide support to each other. Alumni community building is definitely more of a marathon (or actually an ultramarathon!) than a sprint – the track littered with the ups and downs of constant rewards and fresh challenges, and so building a collaborative environment to develop this across the sector will be very valuable – you do need that support in a sometimes isolating role.

Across the afternoon were a series of presentations and break-out sessions. Attendees found the breakout session particularly helpful as it was a chance to tackle some of the specific challenges they were facing.

Neil McWhannell, CEO of Educate Plus, said: “Many schools appear interested in establishing alumni networks in their school communities, yet need a hand-up to enable them to achieve this” and the workshop was designed to be the first step towards this.

Throughout the afternoon it quickly became apparent that there was an abundance of knowledge and expertise in the room, a very captive audience all keen to learn and not enough time to respond to all needs and questions. Attendees departed with clarity, conviction and felt reassured that support and guidance was available from Future First Global and Educate Plus, as they embarked or continued their alumni journeys, but there is still much work to be done. Feedback since the workshop has shown that all schools felt they had gone away with new ideas they can implement, and that alumni engagement is higher on the agenda for their schools.

The afternoon was a very exciting initiative that Westlake Boys was honoured to be a part of. It was exciting to see so many state school leaders showing such enthusiasm to develop alumni programmes for the long-term benefit of their schools and communities. During the months and years ahead, we look forward to walking alongside our colleagues and supporting their committed efforts!

Future First Global would like to say a huge thank you to Vicki, without whom this seminar would not have been possible. We would also like to thank Neil McWhannell (Educate Plus), Amanda Stanes (Auckland Grammar), Jay Allnutt (Teach First NZ), Cathy Roughan (Westlake Girls) and Gretchen Dobson (Academic Assembly, and FFG Advisor) for their ongoing support both in putting this event together, and planning next steps.

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