CEWA turns to Teams to democratise principals’ access to legal insights

teacher and children

Catholic Education Western Australia (CEWA) is the governing body for 163 schools spread across the State. For almost a decade, Bernard Hill has provided legal counsel to the organisation and the school principals about the 66 Federal and State laws that govern what they can and cannot do.

As one of WA’s largest employers, CEWA employs 12,000 staff, around half of whom are teachers. It works with 78,000 students and 54,000 families. Hill says that each of those teachers makes 1200-1500 decisions a day – it’s important to get them right based on a proper understanding of the frameworks that govern education.

He’s a good lawyer – but he doesn’t scale as well as he’d like. He can run training events (or could before COVID-19 struck) and get all 163 principals in a room for a day to explain different issues – but Hill wanted to be able to support the principals effectively on a day-by-day basis.

After CEWA deployed Office 365 across its network of schools and administrative offices, Hill recognised that the technology could become a force-multiplier, allowing him to create a community online where he could share legal insights and information as well as engage with principals and school leaders across the CEWA network. They could ask the questions they needed answering and hence shape the content and the community.

With that in mind he used Microsoft Teams to create The Law Channel.

The Law Channel – which Hill says takes up about 20 per cent of his time – features different channels devoted to specific areas of interest, hosts Law in Four – a series of four-minute videos around areas of law such as duty of care and parent consent, and also Law at Lunchtime – a ten-minute discussion of a particular topic with the opportunity for participants to ask or send questions to Hill.

It democratises access to information, he says, so that; “A 20-person school in the Kimberley can have access to the same information as someone in a metropolitan school who can drive here.”

Hill stresses that; “The Law Channel members are both its producers and stars. They drive the content by generously posting questions arising from their work in schools. Their active participation allows me to address their practical legal issues by harnessing the collective wisdom of other members to resolve classroom concerns for the benefit of our students.”

Microsoft caught up with Hill to learn more about The Law Channel.

Microsoft (MS): Where did the idea for this come from?

Bernard Hill (BH): I used to get emails from principals with these legal problems – but every principal has or will have the same problems. The question was ‘how do I get all the principals to know this is an issue you all have and how to be pre-emptive? How do I demystify the law for principals?’

A colleague sent me the video of Dr David Kellermann from the UNSW at Microsoft Inspire in 2019. He showed how he was using Teams to teach 7,000 engineering students.

I decided to use Teams to start The Law Channel for content I had been putting in emails and phone calls.

MS: What has the reaction been from users?

BH:  Membership is now around 550 – these are principals, assistant principals and business managers. The analytics show that over 18 months there have been 14,000 visits to The Law Channel.

I have in the past delivered training to every single principal in a room at once – all 163. I can stand there for an hour and a half and ask if there are any questions and there are none. There is the illusion I have trained then – but I have no evidence to support that.

The reverse is the case in Teams – I can do a post in Teams and no one will comment on it – or two people do a thumbs up. But then I can go into the analytics and see that 200 people of their own choice initiated to visit and read that post.

MS: Teams also empowers people to search The Law Channel?

BH: The analytics allows me to see that – 80 or so people each day will go and search. When I post something – that principal might not have an issue around a 17-year-old child being alienated from parents. But six months later they may have that issue and can go back and search it.

MS: How is this affecting the way you work?

BH: Prior to Teams I was still giving advice albeit one-to-one. When you post it on Teams it prompts me to be more considered, careful and accountable as I have 550 people looking at it.

Users are incorporating that into their decision making and it is demystifying and normalising law because I post regularly and up to 200 people a day will visit. I put up legal decisions of interest for people to read and contextualise it.

Teams also allows me to go ‘upstream’. Teachers are regularly asked ‘look Mary-Anne is very good at ballet, can I take her out on Wednesday from 1pm to do ballet’. Principals ask ‘what can I do?’ I have now put up a post supported by templates and other materials and made a process where a principal can follow the process – they don’t know the law but they know Mary-Anne. Teams gives them the information in narratives or templates.

MS: What’s next?

 BH: I’d like to explore the use of bots next but my ultimate aim is to have the students involved. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 12 says that every child must be involved in decisions affecting them and their involvement given due weight.

As a lawyer I can ask ‘where is the evidence that we have consulted with a Year 5 child about that policy that is going to affect them?’

Australia has been audited with regard to that by the UN and failed. I think that the technologies of Teams – the full democratisation could get students involved – that’s the excitement at the next level.


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