Preparing sessional staff

Hiring staff   Clarifying the role of sessional staff    Tutor handbook and guides
Timesheets and budgets       Tutor development programs
Practical organisation       Other support methods

Hiring sessional staff

In your role as coordinator, you may be organising and managing tutors, lab technicians, demonstrators, and other sessional staff. Check to see if your Faculty has administration staff who can help with Human Resources (HR) related issues.

If you don’t have administrative support for this, the University’s Human Resources website describes the step-by-step process for hiring sessional or casual staff, including a useful flowchart of procedures. You will need to log in with your unikey.

HR also has a database of the forms required to employ sessional casual academic staff. We suggest that you start with the pre-employment checklist, which can be found under the heading “2. Casual staff employment (academic staff)”.

Timesheets and budgets

Many faculties now have automated payments to sessional staff and these follow the semester schedule the coordinator submits when employing casual staff. See the HR database of forms.

In some faculties, sessional staff are still required to fill in timesheets, which are approved by their supervisor (usually the unit of study coordinator), before being manually submitted to HR (usually by admin staff).

Contact your faculty administration to find out which procedure is operating in your faculty. Make sure your tutors are aware of timesheet procedures.

You will need to check with your departmental head what budget has been allocated for employing sessional staff for your unit of study (UoS). If you have to compile a budget yourself, see Budgeting.

You will also need to consider:

  • at what level the tutor is employed (HR has a list of casual rates of pay for academics)
  • payment for tutors if they are involved in marking
  • whether the department’s budget covers the time tutors may spend in tutor development programs or staff meetings.

Managing sessional staff

Sessional staff

Good relationships between coordinators and sessional staff can have a positive impact on the educational experience of the students.

For an article that examines the importance of tutors in the teaching process, see Synergy Issue 25: The role of the casual tutor in design & delivery of courses: Experiences from teaching Geopolitics in 2006.

Clarifying the role of sessional staff

Give sessional staff a clear sense of their role in the teaching team. This will help them to understand the relevance of their contribution to creating a coherent learning experience for students.

  • Organise regular team meetings. Use these to update information, clarify questions, and provide sense of cohesiveness and shared purpose.
  • Clarify the aims and learning objectives of the unit of study, including the ways in which generic foundation skills are embedded in the learning activities.
  • Explain how your unit of study aligns with the overall curriculum.
  • Describe the way in which components of the unit of study are constructively aligned.
  • Indicate how the components that sessional staff teach fit with other components in the course:
    (a) What’s the point of each tutorial or demonstration? What are the expected outcomes?
    (b) How are learning activities aligned with assessment?
    (c) What are the links between lectures, tutorials, demonstrations and so on? Discuss the ways in which different components create different learning environments and diversify students’ opportunities to learn.
  • Clarify sessional staff/coordinator/student responsibilities.
    (a) What are the tutor’s or demonstrator’s duties? For example, will they assist in course preparation? Are they involved in review sessions? Will they be attending any lectures? Will they assist in preparing assessments or exams?
    (b) Let them know what your responsibilities are, and what they are ultimately responsible for and have the authority to undertake/organise.
    (c) What latitude do they have in their teaching sessions and what issues should be referred to the coordinator?
    (d) How can they support you in informing students of their obligations in the course? See Staff/student responsibilities.
  • Present the tutors to the students as part of the teaching team.

Practical organisation of sessional staff

It is important that tutors have the following information:

  • a copy of the unit of study outline
  • access to the unit website
  • times and locations of classes, as well as the number of students in each class
  • a list of students in each class which includes their email addresses
  • how to get a staff/library card
  • how to complete timesheets if necessary
  • what text books and recommended reading materials are in use
  • how to access teaching resources
  • how to complete records of attendance
  • how to use assessment sheets, mark sheets or student feedback forms
  • who the other members of the department are, including their fellow tutors
  • proposed team meeting times
  • if appropriate, where to find the pigeonholes or message area
  • how to access buildings or labs outside normal hours
  • how to access stationery and expectations about using it
  • occupational health and safety information relevant to their discipline and the location of the classes
  • University policy on supporting students with disabilities
  • University policy on equal opportunity
  • information on student support and assistance offered by the University.

Tutors' handbook and guide

If you are managing a large tutorial team you may find it useful to produce a tutors' handbook for their easy reference.

A good example of a handbook for first year tutors is produced by Catriona Elder, from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

Tutor training and development programs

As the coordinator of the unit of study you are responsible for ensuring that sessional staff are adequately trained for their role.

  • Many faculties offer tutor development courses and programs. Information on induction and development courses can be found on the Institute of Teaching and Learning (ITL) website.
  • The Faculty of Engineering and Information Technology (FEIT) has produced a comprehensive tutor training handbook that, although tailored towards tutors in that Faculty, contains some excellent resources and tips that can be applied in tutoring scenarios in other disciplines. It includes teaching pointers, reflective learning sheets, hypothetical scenarios to prepare tutors for class issues, and useful resources for tutors.
  • The FEIT handbook was developed from materials in the Faculty of Science Tutor training program.
  • The Business School has developed an online tutor training program in collaboration with The University of Melbourne, which is designed with economics and business tutors in mind, but would also be helpful for those outside these disciplines. It includes some extremely helpful videos and interviews.

Other methods and resources for supporting sessional staff

Sessional staff

Encourage collaboration between tutors.
New tutors may benefit from learning about the methods and insights of more experienced tutors. This collaboration also helps to develop consistent learning across tutorial groups. Team teaching can also be useful on occasions. It does not necessarily increase costs (if you double the size of the class), provides mutual support to teachers and opportunities to learn from one another. Students often like it as well.

Prepare tutorial guidance notes
Ensure tutors have these a few weeks in advance and encourage them to get together the week before classes begin to compare notes and tutorial plans. Organising the first few meetings will help form good habits for tutors. This Tutor’s Guide to Motivating Students, by Rick Benitez from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, is an example of how to use guidance notes to support your tutors’ teaching practice.

Set up the ways that you will communicate regularly with your sessional staff.
This may involve face-to-face meetings, emails, or a ‘group’ in your unit website. Let them know when you are available for consultations.

Ensure tutors know how to access help for technical issues.
See Technical support for more information.

Issues and challenges

If you are new to coordinating a UoS, it is useful for you to know about some common challenges which may arise when managing tutors, and which will impact on your teaching team. These include:

  • getting full recognition in workload calculations for the time involved in first year coordination
  • creating a teaching team if sessional staff are not paid for team meetings, assessment moderation and professional development. This varies from faculty to faculty, so check with your department to see if meetings, tutor development programs, and so on are covered by the department’s budget.
  • managing large numbers of tutorial classes and ensuring standardised marking, especially when tutors come from diverse backgrounds and have different levels of experience. For some tips on this see Organising large classes.
  • handling tutorial groups larger than 25 or 30 students. This is not only problematic for the students, but for the teachers, too. It increases the challenge of teaching significantly, and will make it difficult for tutors to get to know their students. When you are dealing with a large cohort as coordinator, this can present a problem for you as well, since your tutors’ contact with students will be your main source of feedback on students’ progress. If budgetary constraints permit, ensure that tutorial groups are kept as small as possible.