Vocational Pathways in Boarding Schools: A Study into the Distinct Roles of Boarding Staff and Teachers

Posted: 12th October 2023

In the educational sphere, the role of boarding staff has often been seen through a lens of functional necessity rather than vocational calling. Traditionally, boarding schools have operated with a dual-role model, where teachers not only take up the mantle of educating students but also share responsibilities in the boarding houses. This approach, while rooted in tradition, has been brought into question, and some advocate for a specialised role for boarding staff, distinct from the teaching personnel.

Traditionally, teaching has been perceived as a vocation, a career path that naturally attracts individuals with a similar set of personality traits. Extending this perspective to the realm of boarding schools, I recently conducted a study for my MA Residential Education through the University of Buckingham. It proposes that the role of boarding staff should also be viewed as a vocation, one that draws individuals with a distinct alignment of personality traits.

Venturing into this relatively unexplored territory, the research sought to ascertain whether there are inherent personality traits common among individuals who choose these distinct yet interconnected paths. Leveraging the Big Five personality traits framework, the study embarked on a journey to analyse the personality summaries of a cohort of boarding staff versus teachers. The objective was clear: to demonstrate that individuals in boarding and teaching roles are drawn to these vocations due to inherent personality traits, and therefore, a difference in the summarised personalities of these two groups should be observable.

The study unveiled significant differences in extraversion, agreeableness, and conscientiousness between the two groups. These findings underscore the hypothesis that boarding, like teaching, is a vocation that attracts individuals with specific personality characteristics.

As we delve deeper into the implications of this study, it becomes evident that there is a compelling argument for boarding schools to consider the vocational nature of boarding roles. Recognising boarding as a distinct vocation could pave the way for specialised care where boarding staff, chosen for their natural inclination towards caregiving roles, can foster a nurturing environment that caters to the students’ emotional and physical well-being. Moreover, acknowledging the distinct differences in the pathways of teaching versus boarding allows for a focused approach in both academic and residential settings, ensuring a balanced growth trajectory for the students.

I think it is a call for a paradigm shift, a move towards embracing the diversity of personality traits to foster environments where students can thrive, nurtured by individuals who are naturally aligned with the demands of the role.

As we reflect on this research, it is evident that the high success of well-being in boarding schools hinges on a deeper understanding and appreciation of the vocational pathways that define the roles of teachers and boarding staff. It is a call to action, urging schools to steer towards a staffing model that prioritises the well-being of students through specialised care and support of individuals hired exclusively for that role, paving the way for a future where every student is nurtured to their fullest potential.

Categories: Blog

Gordon Wilson

Senior Houseparent at the College du Léman
BSc Psychology, MSc Counselling and Therapeutic Communication, MSc Health Psychology, MA Residential Education and BSA Accredited Boarding Practitioner Level 3