Engagement Matters

HWDSB’s engagement initiatives build positive relationships with our students, parents, community members and staff in a variety of ways.

Student engagement isn’t about an activity or event – it is the sum of all of the decisions, processes and structures that educators put in place so our students develop a sense of belonging, express their student voice and embrace opportunities for leadership, instruction and extra-curricular activities. In 2010/11, we focused on aligning system initiatives, as well as engaging and re-engaging students.

Using student survey feedback, we developed a strategy for student engagement and student voice with three core features: (1) Social engagement: when a student feels a sense of belonging and participates in school life. (2) Institutional engagement: when a student participates in the requirements of school for success. (3) Intellectual engagement, when a student learns with a deep psychological and cognitive investment, showing extra effort and higher-order thinking skills.

We supported each feature with activities and learning opportunities such as the Holocaust-awareness project Hana’s Suitcase, the environmental awareness of the Ontario EcoSchools Program, the student-driven initiatives funded through Speak Up Grants, the HWDSB Social Justice Fair and more.

We know how important parental involvement is to student success, so we augmented these efforts with work to engage our parents as partners. Our Parent Engagement Plan has provided context and next steps for Board- and school-level initiatives and tools.

This has seen us embrace feedback and reinterpret our Strategic Directions in a format parents embraced; we have streamlined the regular consultations we do with our parents’ groups; we built a Focus 4 Family series of events into an ongoing collection of resources for parents; and we have encouraged our schools to use creative means to engage parents who would not otherwise be as involved in their students’ learning. Parents are telling us that they appreciate the support we provide them in reference to learning in the early years, training for School Council members, supporting student learning at home, among other topics.

Community engagement also helps our students to achieve. We have demonstrated the importance we place on community engagement by including it in our Strategic Directions, Annual Operating Plan, Director’s Performance Appraisal, and the creation of the Partnership and Community Engagement Department. Highlights of our progress include the creation of an inventory of partnerships, developing a guide for these partnerships, and determining how HWDSB can best participate as a community partner on collaboratives outside our walls.

In addition, HWDSB strives to be an employer of choice that will attract, retain and enhance an effective, positive and collaborative workforce. We are strengthening our learning organization through collaborative inquiry and performance appraisals, by enhancing our employee and labour relations through training and networking, by developing leadership and skills for succession, and much more. We remain committed to building a workplace culture where staff feel they are supported, they are trusted and where we all share high expectations for our students and our abilities to help them meet their full potential.

Inclusion, Goal-setting Energize HWDSB Student Leadership Conference

Student learned many lessons at the third HWDSB Student Leadership Conference: that they have tools to help people, that bullying prevention needs help from the media, and that one can make change by applying one’s gift to an issue of concern.

Those were just a few of the lessons learned by about 500 students at the third HWDSB Student Leadership Conference held at Hamilton Convention Centre. Drawing students from grades 7 to 12, the daylong event was packed with workshops on relationship building, Me to We goal setting, management skills, Eco Schools and more.

“Everything students learn here, we want them to take back to their schools and communities,” said conference chair Chuck Balazs. With a planning team drawing from elementary and secondary schools, the event drew students who have shown leadership potential in their school. Some are formal leaders, like student council presidents. Others have shown a spark that needs to be encouraged.

Touring the conference, you could see students in the Me to We workshop learning how to create a personalized, goal-setting plan to guide social justice initiatives. The steps included: find your gift, select your issue, and bring it together in a plan that details the timeline, allies and resources, roles and responsibilities, and problems and solutions.

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Forums Capture, Analyze Student Voice

HWDSB is taking big strides in listening to its students after 500 secondary school students attended a series of Student Voice Forums hosted by Director of Education John Malloy this year. With one forum per cluster, students arrived for a day of dialogue that was dynamic, fluid and assisted by the latest technology.

Malloy opened each day with a greeting, and set the context for the day of conversation. He explained the birth of the idea. “It was about creating a differentiated classroom, with three groups of about 150-180 students, focused on a question: How would you make our learning spaces and learning experiences more effective, and what are multiple ways to do that?” Malloy said.

During the brainstorming, students moved to various media stations to weigh in using several methods: iPad video testimonials, audio recordings using a headset, the trusty index card in the comment box, blogging and more. One student per group presented at the end of the brainstorming, sparking a healthy, back-and-forth discussion with Malloy.

Student suggestions included: focus anti-bullying on Grade 8 students, reconsider the ban on bottled water, allow cellphones to be used for learning, add more air conditioning to schools, get rid of second-hand smoke, add natural light in schools, make marking of student work more consistent, and much more. See more submissions here.

HWDSB’s Evidence-Based Education and Services Team (E-BEST), the Board’s research service, will compile and analyze results so that the Board can respond to what students are saying. The goal is to align the Board Budget and Annual Operating Plan with insights from the Student Voice Forums, Malloy explained.

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Parents Engage with Prince of Wales Pilot

Prince of Wales Elementary School is attracting provincial attention thanks to an innovative parental engagement project that builds onto support for its students. The school beside Ivor Wynne Stadium was already hosting an After-school Scholars program that was able to support struggling readers with extra, evening help from a tutor who was also a qualified teacher from the school.

But last year, school staff built onto this by adding a component that invited the parents of these supported students to adult-oriented learning sessions with themes that included parenting, safety, health and community.

Parents identified their own learning needs, including how to help their children with homework, tips for home fire safety, understanding ADHD, stress management and more. The meetings provided childcare, which made participating easier, and the series involved both attendance at a parenting conference and a ‘home-style’ dinner with their children at the end of each session. Parents participated and shaped the content of sessions that invited guest speakers such as a public health nurse, a school police liaison, a social worker and teachers.

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Volunteers ‘More Than the Sum of Their Parts’

They bring the extra hands that help run programs to re-engage at-risk students with literacy, provide healthy snacks for hundreds of students a day, or staff the longest-running elementary swim meet in North America. Moreover, it is mind-boggling to hear that the volunteers recognized at the Profiling Excellence Volunteer awards have contributed about 2,000 years of collective volunteering at HWDSB.

Presented by HWDSB and its Parental Involvement Committee (PIC), the evening at Michelangelo’s Banquet Centre represented the fifth annual thank you to the dedicated parents, community members and organized groups that enhance the school experience, student engagement and achievement at HWDSB.

“Each and every day you make a difference in classrooms and schools, on committees and on playgrounds, during school trips, serving on Board committees and during special events,” Sharon Stephanian, Superintendent of Leadership and Learning (Equity, Engagement, System Programs) said at the event. “Your dedication and caring has a profound impact on the students, staff and community, whose lives you touch each and every day. We appreciate your dedication and commitment.”

Often, when we think of volunteers, we think of individuals, and there certainly were some amazing individuals celebrated this year at Profiling Volunteer Excellence (see below). There were also programs that rely heavily on volunteers – programs that point to what is possible when some committed people work together for the benefit of students.

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HWDSB Staff and Students Win Home and School Awards

Every year, the Ontario Federation of Home and School Associations (OFHSA) acknowledges community members who show a commitment to bettering the educational experience of others.

This year, three HWDSB students will be awarded Citizenship Awards for demonstrating qualities of leadership, congeniality and a willingness to serve the community. In addition, Superintendent of Leadership and Learning Sharon Stephanian will receive this year’s Educator Award.

“Sharon was chosen because of her outstanding contributions to the enrichment of parent involvement in education within HWDSB, through the Home and School organization,” says Sandra Binns, president of the Hamilton-Wentworth Council of Home and Schools.

“Her promotion and inclusion of Home and School allows us to be barrier-free in our pursuit of our motto, The Best for Every Student. She is engaged in all aspects of education, with a particular focus on the engagement of our students, their parents and the community. Home and School has advanced tremendously within our Board, due to her dedicated and unwavering support.”

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HWDSB Celebrates Excellence, Involves Community

Launched in 2005 to celebrate programs, the Profiling Excellence Awards for programs are judged by Board and non-Board judges on five ‘foundations of excellence’: performance, community, specialization, teaching and innovation. Individuals are recognized for contributions outside of HWDSB. Community connection was a common theme in this year’s recipients, as HWDSB celebrated outstanding extra-curricular supporters as well as some of the Board’s inspiring departments and programs.

For example, the Walk-In Closet Program provides students and their families access to clothing and personal care items in a supportive and dignified manner so they can concentrate on academic achievement. It has grown from programs run by volunteers at individual schools that targeted small groups of students, to a series of school-based programs that are supported by Board-level initiatives that support all students within the board.

Formal community partnerships exist with the Eva Rothwell Centre, which hosts a clothing centre, and with First Student Transportation, whose volunteer bus drivers transport donations. Two major successes include Board-wide clothing/toiletry drives and the creation of the Glamour Closet at Parkview to provide graduation and formal attire for students.

Another example of community engagement is Shop and Chop, an after-school nutrition program that engages at-risk students to plan and prepare healthy meals on a limited budget. This grew from a partnership between Public Health Services and Sir Winston Churchill secondary.

Under the guidance of staff, students shop at a local grocery store and farmer’s market for ingredients to prepare meals at the school. Students receive information on safe food handling practices, Canada’s Food Guide and cost-efficient recipes. At a final session, students prepare a meal and invite a guest to join the festivities. Students leave the program with principal’s certificates, pride in their accomplishments and skills to last a lifetime.

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Knowing our Staff

We strive to know our staff so that we can engage employees, enhance staff capacity and, ultimately, be more effective as we meet the needs of our students. Staff engagement may begin in human resources, but extends far beyond. Other staff, departments and structures also help enhance staff engagement and our organization’s performance.

We are strengthening our learning organization with programs and supports that encourage collaborative inquiry, so that all staff examine how to improve individually and collectively. Tools such as the Teaching Learning Critical Pathway (TLCP) and the Service Department Critical Pathway (SDCP) will allow staff opportunities to engage in collaborative inquiry.

To support this, we know that positive employee and labour relations can ensure collective agreements are honoured and differences are effectively resolved. We are also conscious of the need to develop our existing leaders and plan for their succession so that school and service leaders can accept new challenges and continued success.

We must also insist on a healthy environment for all employees and continually examine workplace safety. We must recruit staff using transparent processes, and build a workforce that reflects our community. We must continue to implement professional development that supports and engages all employees and leads to the realization of our Strategic Directions.


Student Voice Forums

Speak Up

25 Year and Retiree Celebration

Profiling Excellence Awards