Engagement Matters

At HWDSB, we work hard to strengthen the positive relationships with and among our students, parents, community members and staff. We do this in a variety of ways because we know engagement expresses who we are as a Board. Engagement matters because fostering a shared sense of belonging fosters student achievement.

Related reports: Student Achievement and Engagement ReportParent and Community Engagement Report; Mental Health Strategy; Professional Learning Plan Report; Staff Engagement Report; HWDSB Secondary Program Strategy Report

Goal: Achieve high levels of student engagement in our schools.

EcoFair Highlights and Inspires Environmental Actions

EcoFair Highlights and Inspires Environmental Actions

In 2011-12, we reviewed system-level events to ensure these aligned with our Strategic Directions and Annual Operating Plan, while providing opportunities for students to develop their voice, leadership and character.

Our engagement strategies vary: We invite students to share information, ideas and thoughts (student voice); students turns their ideas into action (student leadership); our Arts and 21st Century Learning strategies support the development of critical and creative thinking, collaboration, and problem solving, increasingly integrating and using technology to respond to the needs of students; and we are aligning our approach to day school with that offered through CCE.

The Mental Health Strategy is focusing on promotion, prevention and intervention strategies to support student mental health and well-being. We are doing extensive work to clarify the link between positive school climate and student engagement. In addition, engagement entails experiential learning programs for students to explore the workplace before graduation, as well as support for newcomer students with limited  formal schooling through the Accelerated Literacy Programs for Hamilton Program.

Our student engagement and student voice strategy focuses on social engagement in school life, institutional engagement when a student participates and intellectual engagement when a student shows extra effort and skill while learning. We must listen to our students, then deliver high-interest resources based on this individual feedback.

We must use a variety of platforms, because engagement is not a one-size-fits-all endeavour. We will connect with students in person, and by using technology such as social media. We will also consider the logistics of program delivery, as we did when Turning Point students told us that attending at the King William Learning Centre made them feel like they were ‘still in high school.’ Moving the program to Mohawk College made the return to school feel like a step forward, full of new resources, experiences and classes.

Forums Capture, Analyze Student Voice

Forums Capture, Analyze Student Voice

In October 2011, we held the first Director’s Student Voice Forums, which drew 500 students to share their voices using the latest technology. Many more students contributed to a related blog. We offered students many ways to express themselves: conversation, blogs, podcasts, graffiti walls and more. Schools generated the forum’s topics, which included bullying, safe schools, ideal learning environments and more.

Choirfest is a growing opportunity for authentic musical performance that now includes 2,000 students from 38 elementary and secondary schools. Students receive positive and immediate feedback from an expert adjudicator. Students develop motivation, dedication and commitment. Other arts-related opportunities include Dancefest, Bandfest and more.

Turning Point is a continuous intake program within our system alternative education for students who have left school and are generally within a year of graduation. Teachers ‘cold call’ students and invite them to return to school; this teacher acts as a life coach for the student, supporting their attendance, creating individualized learning plan and fostering job readiness.

Director's Student Voice Forums.

Director’s Student Voice Forums.

We will continue to welcome the student view on what constitutes a great school and what types of course choices students need in secondary schools. We will reach out to students via face-to-face forums, surveys, focus groups and interactive technologies.

We will develop an e-Learning strategy so each student can experience blended learning in high school, by which we mean online and face-to-face instruction. This will help prepare students for postsecondary work or education.

Through out Mental Health Strategy, we will help staff have the right supports at the right time for the right students. We will train staff in mental health promotion (e.g. social skills programming), prevention (e.g. coping skills) and intervention (e.g. Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training). We will clarify work regarding peer mentoring/peer-to-peer supports, school-based teams, system supports and our relationship with community partners in support of mental health and well-being.

We continue to develop a student engagement plan to ensure we are fostering student engagement with a clear understanding of: the goal of each initiative, the target audience and data to collect and analyze. All staff need a shared understanding of effective student engagement so we can align engagement with student achievement.

We need engagement at all levels, with the goal being a caring and safe school culture. We will support schools to understand and implement activities that align safe schools, mental health, equity and inclusion. We want each effort to be built using a collaborative process involving system and school leaders, system and school staff, students, parents/guardians and community partners.

Goal: Achieve high levels of parent engagement in our school communities.

Parents Engage with Prince of Wales Pilot

Parents Engage with Prince of Wales Pilot

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.

We have also used targeted parent engagement strategies with small groups of parents at our schools to involve them in the life of our schools and in the education of their students.

With research suggesting a need to rethink effective parent engagement, we are also moving away from “counting the number of people who attend” or one-way communication between the home and the school. We want schools to reach out to parents, to ask how we can support their child’s learning. It is a shift from thinking about what parents do in school to what families are doing with children in the home with the help of the school.

For our instructional leaders, this role means helping families improve the instructional they provide at home, and the expectations they have for their child’s work at school.



Our parent engagement work has been informed by successful engagement initiatives such as Focus 4 Family, among others. Some of our supporting initiatives for parent engagement include:

Tiered Engagement
In 2011-12, our schools focused on Tier 3 engagement, intended for a few parents at a time. Inspired by the Scholars Community Program, each HWDSB school engaging a select group of parents in a deep and meaningful way to support student achievement and well-being. Schools identified 15 to 20 parents who would benefit from focused engagement that reflected three benchmarks of quality parent engagement: (1) Parents learning/knowledge of the language of schooling, (2) Parents participating in interactive work and (3) Parents holding high expectations and aspirations for their child.

Parenting and Family Literacy Centres
Our PFLCs help children build essential literacy skills through stories, music, reading and play-based learning. PFLC facilitators took part in collaborative inquiry using the Early Learning for Every Child Today (ELECT) document, to increase its use in program planning and delivery. A focus was put on communication, early language development and early literacy activities. With guidance, parents reviewed the ELECT document for enhance their understanding. Parents observed and practiced a literacy activity, increasing their comfort and their participation at the PFLC. Parents repeated the activity at home with their child, with an understanding of what ELECT expectation they were working on and what would follow. Parents gained an understanding of skill progression, as well as the language of education, as partners in their child’s healthy growth, development and education.

Parents as Partners Program
Parents and guardians of students with special education needs often encounter stress during the transition to school, especially when it comes to students identified early in life. This occurs despite the supports provided by the Hamilton community, as well as HWDSB and Hamilton-Wentworth Catholic District School Board. In spring 2012, a committee composed of staff and parents launched a workshop series for parents of students with identified special needs. Forty parents attended Prince of Wales elementary for an information night about kindergarten and how it includes students with special needs. Parents liked the chance to attend the workshop before their child started school, and appreciated the child minding.

Our next steps for parent engagement include:

Parents as Partners Program
For the 2012-13 school year, the series of workshops for parents will continue. Topics will include: Strategies for Effective Communication; Special Education: Understanding the Process and the Parent Role; Introduction to the Individual Education Plan (IEP) and the Parent Role; and the Kindergarten Program and Students with Special Needs (offered in the spring for parents registering their child for September 2013).

Parent Voice
We continue to seek parent voice, as we introduce our Parent Voice Survey and continue to learn from our Parent Involvement Committee (PIC), Special Education Advisory Committee (SEAC) as well as our public consultations. We have updated our websites with parent input, while also supporting School Councils as they face challenges.

We will create a Parent Engagement Policy and a Community Engagement Policy as a subset of the Engagement Pillar Policy.

Tiered Approach to Engagement
We will support schools as they offer parent engagement initiatives, engage a select group of parents in effective ways, and engage in collaborative inquiry to ask: ‘How do we teach parents what they want to learn as co-producers of student learning?’ We will also review our findings from our work with engaging diverse populations, and continue to use the Parent Engagement Toolkit to support effective parental engagement.

After School Scholars
With data showing greater engagement by students whose parents were in the program, we hope to expand the number of parents involved. Grade 8 and returning students are providing food preparation and child care. Still, some parents find it challenging to attend. We will keep working with parents in the interests of student achievement.

Goal: Maintain and strengthen collaborative relationships with employee groups.

HWDSB Celebrates Excellence

HWDSB Celebrates Excellence

HWDSB is committed to being an effective organization that attracts and retains an effective and highly functioning workforce, ensures excellence in leadership and promotes a collaborative culture that celebrates our strength as a learning organization.

Building and nurturing positive, respectful and responsive relationships underlies what will ultimately result in the engagement of all employees as we realize our commitments to our students, staff and community.


Celebration of 25-years' Service and Retirement

Celebration of 25-years’ Service and Retirement

In 2011-12 we remained committed to strengthening our learning organization by implementing programs and supports that challenged us to examine our processes and to use collaborative inquiry to identify how we can improve our practice both individually and collectively.

Highlights from our work include:

Strengthening our Learning Organization
Focused on collaborative inquiry as a key strategy for professional learning. Continued to align the key areas of the draft Human Resources Pillar Policy– strategic focus of Human Resources, employee and labour relations, staffing and operations – with the Board’s Strategic Directions.

Leadership Development and Succession Planning
Used the Ontario Leadership Framework to develop and implement the board’s leadership strategy and supporting tools for aspiring leaders, Principals and Vice-Principals. Finalized the Self-Assessment Tools for Aspiring Service Leaders and for Managers.

Employee Voice
Conducted a Staff Voice Survey and Leadership Survey to gather input from staff on the key priorities in the board’s Annual Operating Plan.

Recruitment and Retention
Changed some of our hiring practices to support with attracting and selecting a workforce that reflects the diversity of our community. Provided orientation, training and learning programs to support employee morale, leadership development and individual achievement and to build system capacity. These programs assist employees with maintaining job currency, allow for career development and support employee growth and achievement.

Employee and Labour Relations
The HR Department continued to work toward building strong relationships with staff from all of employee groups. Focused on working collaboratively with employee groups to meet the board’s bargaining mandates and to implement terms and conditions of all employment groups consistently. Human Resources provided up-to-date labour relations information and learning at all system leaders’ meetings to increase awareness and enhance their knowledge about management principles within mandated legislation, policies and terms of employment.

Culture – Healthy Workplace
Health and Safety continued to promote a healthy workplace culture and support the safety of all employees by working collaboratively with the Central Joint Health and Safety Committee to develop prevention resources and supports for all staff. Promoting Positive Behaviour learning modules and Phase 1 of legislated Compliance Training modules were developed and implemented.

Employee Recognition
Continued to recognize the contributions of employees via the Profiling Excellence program.

Our next steps for employee engagement include:

  • Embrace the Teaching-Learning Critical Pathway (TLCP) and Service Delivery Critical Pathway(SDCP), which help staff engage in collaborative inquiry that enhances professional learning.
  • Support leadership development and succession planning for school and service leaders.
  • Continue to gather staff voice through our Staff Voice and Leadership surveys.
  • Recruit employees to build a diverse workforce that represents our community.
  • Maintain positive relationships with employee groups, honouring collective agreements and resolving differences.
  • Build and support a healthy environment for all staff by studying and responding to workplace safety.
  • Continue to implement professional development aligned with HWDSB’s Professional Learning Plan. This will engage all staff with a focus on student achievement and exemplary service, so we can achieve our Strategic Directions.
  • Continue to recognize staff contributions through our Profiling Excellence recognition, aligning this with our directions.
  • Implement the system leadership program Organizational Learning: A System Perspective, to build capacity and develop talent in staff interested in understanding leadership from a system perspective.
  • Evaluate our staff engagement initiatives using measurements such as the school self-assessment process as well as a tool for measuring service standards across departments.
  • We will also gather feedback from: program participants to understand program impact and the need for future improvements; system leaders regarding the application of Annual Operating Plan strategies in schools and departments; employee group leaders regarding the effectiveness of our personal interactions and communication processes; staff through our Staff Voice survey regarding strategies for Recruitment and Retention, Healthy Workplace, Strategic Directions and Communication.

Goal: Maintain and strengthen collaborative relationships with community partners.

Help us engage students, parents and community for learning

Help us engage students, parents and community for learning

Community engagement helps our students achieve. We demonstrated the importance of community engagement by including it in our Strategic Directions, Annual Operating Plan, Director’s Performance Appraisal and in the creation of the Partnership and Community Engagement Department.

The connections we establish through community engagement create opportunities that extend the classroom into the community, as in the Focus on Youth initiatives. These links also bring the community into the classroom, as in our connections with Mohawk College. At HWDSB, we consider parent and community engagement integrated aspects of our work.

Some of our community engagement work has included:

Partnership Database
We are developing an interactive Partnership Database to house HWDSB partnership information and donations, so that we can focus on equity of access and opportunity, eliminate duplication and celebrate our partners.

Extending the Classroom into the Community: Focus on Youth
In summer 2011, Focus on Youth in HWDSB employed 100 students, partnered with 16 community agencies and provided free use of space in 12 elementary and give secondary schools. We put a focus on agencies that work with marginalized populations (street involved and homeless youth, visible minorities, women and girls, and newcomer children youth and families) and that provide programming in targeted neighbourhoods.

Priority Schools
Ministry funding allowed HWDSB to make 25 Priority Schools available to not-for-profit community groups that support student achievement and well-being. Programs focused on: physical activity, sportsmanship/teamwork skills, nutrition activities, healthy snack preparation, cooking, homework help, and arts and recreation activities.

Community Mobilization around Literacy
HWDSB benefits from individual volunteers, as well as in-kind contributions by community partners who want to support student achievement. We developed for 2012-13 a Read With a Child in which trained volunteers give 1-2 hours a week to “read with a child and change a life forever.”

Focused Engagement – Scholars Community Program
As parents generate relevant ideas, they are becoming co-learners in our Scholars Community Program, enhancing their ability to support student achievement with help from community partners such as police, social workers, public health nurses and others.

Early Years Initiative to Close Gaps
HWDSB, the City of Hamilton, Affiliated Services for Children and Youth (ASCY), McMaster Children’s Hospital and Early Words developed three initiatives together.

  • Because students with moderate needs face long waits in the community, we are providing occupational/physiotherapy services to more than 30 children. Joint motor development PD strategies will also be designed for preschool staff, parents and Full-day Kindergarten staff.
  • “Check It Outs” (developmental drop-ins) will be held in partnership with six schools, with sites and professional support informed by local child development data. Locations will focus on schools where parents rarely use “Check It Out”.
  • Early Words (EW) will provide speech and language services to small groups of JK/SK students with identified speech needs in select schools. Intentional transition planning and cross visits by EW and HWDSB Speech and Language Pathologists will occur between Dr J E Davey School and First Class Children’s Centre. More than 20 parents of young students (K- grade 2) with Autism were referred by HWDSB Speech and Language Pathologists into Early Words’ funded parent intervention groups called “More Than Words and Talkability”. The courses take place on eight evenings and at three video-feedback sessions. Collaboration between preschool and school board staff is required.

Some of our next steps on community engagement include:

  • Continue to develop the Community Engagement Plan
  • Investigate the potential of a Community Engagement Report Card to gather partner feedback
  • Engage with early learning partners to learn more about early years learning, to support seamless transitions, seamless day and evidence-based developmental programming
  • Build capacity among administrators on how the Partnership Database can support their school improvement plan
  • Review the staff sitting on collaborative committees, to support community achievement and our strategic directions
  • Enhance collaboration between staff at HWDSB and at the City Hamilton