Engagement Matters

Engagement is important at HWDSB because it reflects the relationships we have as a Board. 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, always aware that engagement has the potential to foster a shared sense of belonging which, in turn, fosters student achievement.

Related reports: Staff Engagement ReportParent and Community Engagement ReportSecondary Program StrategyDistrict Mental Health Strategy.

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

Studen Voice Forum

Our student engagement and student voice strategy focuses on every student’s social engagement in school life, academic engagement when a student participates through regular attendance and is moving successfully through each grade and intellectual engagement when a student shows their best effort and skill while learning. We must listen to our students, and then deliver high-interest resources based on this individual feedback within an inclusive learning environment. We strive to engage students in a positive school climate through a self-assessment process.

We are creating a system of inclusion that responds to individual student needs (social, academic and intellectual and helps form a foundation for a more welcoming and supportive society). Our engagement strategies vary and we invite students to share information, ideas and thoughts (student voice) and allow students to turn their ideas into action through 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.

We need engagement at all levels, with the goal being a caring and safe school culture. We 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.

Through Student Senate we continue to support the Raising the Roof Toque Campaign, an annual national charity dedicated to finding long-term solutions to homelessness. In October 2012, 500 secondary school students attended the second annual Director’s Student Voice Forums, which invite students to discuss desired programs and delivery models in secondary schools. Specifically, we asked students what makes a great school and how we can enhance student choice at local schools. We will incorporate what we learn from students as we implement our program strategy; this will ensure every HWDSB secondary school is a great school with engaging programs for a diverse group of learners heading to pathways such as apprenticeship, college, the community, university or the workplace.


Our supports in this area include:

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. We align student engagement with student achievement, use a variety of platforms and examine program delivery, as we did in 2012-13 to ensure system events align with our Strategic Directions and Annual Operating Plan.

Positive School Climate
We are combining our work on equity, inclusion, mental health and well-being and safe schools under the umbrella of Positive School Climate. This is a proactive Tier 1 response to ensure that every school has a socially healthy environment with socially healthy relationships. With direction from a system-level committee, each school is working on Positive School Climate, gaining from the collaboration across what had been separate areas of responsibility. The overall goal is to improve student achievement and well-being; we believe that the combined efforts of staff from across departments and schools will help make that happen.

Program Strategy
Our Program Strategy reflects the way we want to offer programs and design facilities, so that we can best meet the needs of each of our students in the 21st century. We want all of our secondary schools to be great schools, where students have choice, support and success within their local school communities. We are piloting the opportunity for students in three secondary schools to tell us what courses they are most interested in taking. In September 2014, these schools will create and timetable a varied course offering based on this input.

Student Voice
The 2nd Annual Student Voice Forum, held at Sherwood, Highland, and Sir Winston Churchill Secondary Schools for more than 500 students in October 2012, maintained the spirit of “Your Voice, Your Way!” established at the first forum in 2011 and enhanced the environment by encouraging students to use their personal devices (phones, iPod Touches, iPads, Netbooks, etc.). These forums were hosted by Dr. John Malloy and organized by Student Engagement, 21st Century Learning and E-Best. Students could use whatever was in their pocket to live blog responses and to tweet using the hashtag #HWDSBvoices. Topics, as selected by the students, were structured within the framework of the Secondary Program Strategy and the Strategic Directions. Students told us: Respectful and caring relationships play a central role in engaging students, making schools great and giving all students a chance to succeed; students want a wide variety of courses at all schools, for students of different abilities; they want a sense of school spirit and pride. This is informing the implementation of our secondary program strategy.

Mental Health Strategy
We help staff have the right supports at the right time for the right students, in addition to our support of mental health promotion, prevention and intervention. This includes peer, system and community partnership supports, so we can respond to mental health issues, decrease fragmentation in service delivery, and increase community collaboration. We are the provincial lead board for School Mental Health ASSIST (Awareness, Strategy Selection & Implementation Support Team), and recognize that our strategies to improve the student mental health and well-being also enhance positive school climate.

Free the Children
Schools continue to partner with Free the Children so students focus on global citizenship, local initiatives and supporting others in need. Eleven HWDSB recently attended We Day and two high schools hosted The Kenyan Boys Choir. Me to We, part of Free the Children, will lead leadership workshops at our Junior Empowerment Conference and the my.Leadership Conference. Free the Children is connected to 60 of our schools.

Our partnership with Ontario EcoSchools, which promotes environmental practices is schools by students, saw eight schools certified in the 2012-13 school year. This brings to 20 our total number of certified schools. HWDSB established an environment committee in support of its Environment Policy, with members including the superintendent of student engagement, Board plant and facilities personnel, consultants, and two school administrators representing the elementary and secondary panels. Moving forward, the EcoSchools program will partner with outdoor education initiatives to provide students experiential learning opportunities related to the environment and in support of the conservation and awareness work in schools.

Studen Voice Forum

Click here to read, Director’s Student Voice Forums Approach.

Our next steps in this area include:

HWDSB 2019 – Digital Learning Project
HWDSB is committed to creating a personalized, collaborative, inquiry-based learning environment for each student as the world continues to change rapidly. We want classrooms that encourage creativity, critical thinking, invite students to ask questions, search for answers, apply their learning and communicate what they have learned. Teachers have a vital role in this, and we are augmenting this by putting one-to-one technology such as tablet computers into the hands of students and teachers. This will engage students, give them tools to collaborate with classmates and teachers, and expand our classrooms beyond their walls. Seven schools associated with the New North Secondary School are implementing one-to-one technology. Similarly, the New South Secondary School will open at the Barton site and will be the pilot for board-wide change, as staff and students receive 1:1 technology, and the infrastructures will be in place to support this technologically-integrated innovative delivery model. In addition, the advancement of tablet technology also makes available new and engaging apps that assist students with learning difficulties. This technology – which can support students with cognitive delays, difficulties with language and more – will be deployed to support students from Parkview and Delta Secondary Schools with this learning profile, as they come together for 2014-15.

Director’s Forum
The theme of the 2013-14 Director’s Forum is, Unleashing Creativity and Innovation. We will invite students to express themselves, their way – words, arts, music and more – and show us how they want to learn. Hosted by Director Dr. John Malloy in February, the event will see school events and one off-site location at Sir John A. Macdonald secondary, where the Director will interact with students in grades 7 to 12. This dynamic, fluid experience will focus our ability to strengthen and respond to student voice, and create effective learning conditions.

School forums
To accompany this Director’s event, schools will hold their own student voice forums the same; in fact, students at the school events can interact with students at the Director’s forum. All students can access the forum blog.

Social Justice Fair
We are about to hold our sixth Social Justice Fair, a successful event that brings non-governmental organizations (NGOs), elementary and secondary teachers and students together to learn about local and global issues and to share their passion for social and environmental change. Exploring key issues – social justice, the environment, inclusivity, diversity, equity and human rights – will enable students from all grades to become engaged and empowered.

Junior Empowerment Conference
Now in its third year, the Junior Empowerment Conference offers many students in grades 3 to 6 from all elementary schools a chance to hear keynote speaker and author Kathy Kacer, learn about social justice and much more.

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


Click here to read, Strategies for Parents to Prevent Underage Drinking.

HWDSB continues to make parent and community engagement a priority. “Knowing our parents and community” is a clear expectation in our 2012-13 Annual Operating Plan, and we believe are words are shifting to action.

In spring, 2012, administrators who completed a District Effectiveness Leadership Survey told us they feel HWDSB had made significant gains from 2011 in its relationships with parents.

The positive effects of engaging parents in student learning include improved student achievement and well-being. This is one reason we are:

  • Thinking about varieties of engagement;
  • Encouraging proven strategies to enhance parent engagement;
  • Identifying and addressing barriers to parent engagement;
  • Asking parents what they need;
  • Providing tools and resources to support parent engagement in their children’s learning at home and school.

Our work is focused on policy development, a tiered approach to engagement, use of parent voice and development of a community engagement plan.


Our supports in this area, by tier, include:

Tier 1 – Parent engagement for all
Our K-12 educators can use the HWDSB Commons, our award-winning blogging platform, to post learning goals, success criteria, classroom information as well as materials and resources to support students and their parents at home. This gives parents a window on their child’s learning and, as such, continually provides parents with conversation starters around student achievement. In 2013 the HWDSB Commons received a Canadian Education Association honourable mention of the Ken Spencer Award for Innovation in Teaching and Learning.

Tier 2 – Parent engagement for a selected audience
To ease the major transition from elementary to secondary school Ancaster Senior elementary and Ancaster High worked on a unique student and parent engagement initiative, What’s Your Grade 9 Voice? Before starting Grade 9, students can express their thoughts about the move; schools can learn more and address learning styles and preferences. Parents can also share ideas about the move and visit the blog collecting student input.

Tier 3 – Parent engagement for a few
We continued to ask all schools to find ways to deeply engage a small group of parents. This focus grows out of the model of the Scholar’s Program and the Scholar’s Community Program at Prince of Wales and W. H. Ballard, which has provided after-school literacy and numeracy support for several years. Families share and shape learning experiences that are important to them with support from school administration. Key elements include: personal invitations; surveying parents needs; removing barriers to participation; being open to input; and ending the evening with a family meal. Sessions may include community guest speakers, a focus on how students learn, how families can support learning at home and much more. Meeting the needs of families is key to the program’s success. Our Tier 3 parent engagement work in all schools led to an invitation to become part of a provincial project led by Dr. Ken Leithwood around the impact of parent engagement on student achievement and well-being.

In 2011-12, staff collaborated with the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion (HCCI) on a Parent Reaching Out Grant funded project entitled Building Capacity and Creating Dialogue. The goal of this project was to provide parents from diverse ethnic, socio-economic, and multi-linguistic backgrounds with information and skills to better understand and make more effective use of the school system. Conversations with schools identified Somali, Karen and Roma as focus groups; talking to these groups built relationships and assessed their needs. Using personal invitations, pre-existing relationships and translated materials, we asked parents what they needed, how we can help and held HCCI workshops in response.


Click here to read, Expanded Services in Beasley Neighbourhood for Parents, Families.

Our next steps in this area, by tier, include:

For all parents
Because HWDSB Commons blogs help parents engage their children about school, we will continue to help educators integrate digital tools into their practice. Research indicates home conversation about what happens in school can positively impact student achievement.

For some parents
We will continue joint and complimentary activities that gather student and parent voices. One of the highest yield strategies in terms of parent engagement in support for student achievement is talking about learning and their school. Staff will continue to support the planning and implementation of this type of outreach. Some student contributions can be seen in this blog.

For few parents
We were pleased with the creation of a satellite Community and Continuing Education site at Prince of Wales to support parents in earning their diploma. This grew from parent interest in high school completion, and is of interest to other communities and is something that staff is exploring with our city partners.

We plan to study the effectiveness of the Scholars research project regarding parent engagement, and this knowledge will inform our next steps. This will add to broader provincial findings on this project, and will help us find ways to maintain parent engagement beyond the spring sessions.

Parents in the Building Capacity Creating Dialogue project told us that translated materials help but that small group dialogue, with a translator, is more effective. Invitations should be personal, through a trusted or long-standing contact in the community.

In 2013-14, we will work with six elementary schools to build on the Scholars program with a Scholars Community parent component. Parents will be part of the research and data collection as we work with partner boards to determine components of effective parent engagement.

Goal: Maintain and strengthen collaborative relationships with employee groups.

Staff Reading to student

We remained committed to strong collaborative relationships but Bill 115 impacted our ability to implement some planned strategies. Human Resources is in regular contact with employee groups about legislative changes, which helped maintain and build good relationships with staff.

Our self-assessment tool for aspiring leaders aligns with competencies in the Ontario Leadership Framework and gives staff clear expectations about the knowledge, skills and abilities needed for leadership positions. We have promoted candidates with past experience, leadership competencies and who support system direction. We plan to develop more ways for aspiring leaders to build these competencies.

Managers are engaging in collaborative inquiry activities together – specifically to develop HWDSB Service Standards – and will support the same practice in their departments. Service Standards will impact how departments gather data to support the exemplary service across the district. About 70 per cent of the approximately 2,000 completed Staff Voice surveys noted that their school or department used collaborative inquiry to achieve its goals.

Collaborative inquiry is used to support continuous improvement at a system level increases system alignment through common understanding and a commitment that advances our AOP.

Watch Staff Engagement video

Click here to view, Profiling Excellence Program Awards.

Our supports in this area include:

Clarity of direction
Our staff processes are strengthened by having clear policy directives aligned with the HR Pillar Policy and a collaborative working relationship with stakeholders; clarity also let’s school staff focus on student achievement.

Staff learning needs
After School Direction Teams used data to determine emerging student needs, this helped identify potential teacher learning needs to provide support. We focused on math instruction in grades 3 and 6 with three half-day sessions for teachers and administrators. Surveys determined that the sessions had a positive impact, and guided the next sessions.

Data also shows that support would be useful for giving students feedback in math, as well as digital resources. The System Implementation Monitoring (SIM) Team has helped design and guide the HWDSB Mathematics Project, which had a significant impact on teacher practice. We will continue to focus on mathematics instruction.

Watch See Yourself in AOP video

Click here to view, See Yourself in the AOP.

Our next steps in this area include:

Measuring impact
For staff to be effectively engaged in their work and committed to the realization of our goals, we must measure and continue to support a culture of collective efficacy, trust and high expectations. Measurement of our strategies will inform our next steps in the process.

In 2013-14, we will implement human resources processes and procedures to align with the Human Resources Pillar Policy and related policies. We will ensure that regular communication occurs with employee groups to discuss issues, concerns and identify next steps.

Leadership development
We will sustain and expand leadership development and mentoring opportunities using collaborative inquiry at the school and system level. We will continue to provide professional development opportunities for experienced principals and managers through a wide diversity of system meetings, learning teams, operations meetings, coaching clinics, online training and more.

Staff engagement
At the school level, we will sustain and expand opportunities to promote staff engagement through networking, based on collaborative inquiry. Self-assessment will identify the learning needs of school staff, with a focus on math. Instructional coaches will help promote, facilitate and coach professional learning teams and networking teams.

Goal: Maintain and strengthen collaborative relationships with community partners.

Students walking

Many of us at HWDSB work on community engagement to support student achievement and well-being, and we also work with partners to extend the classroom into the community.


  • Nu DealThe downtown youth program Nu Deal at Centre 3 Art Studios gives students interested in the arts and business a community placement outside of their secondary school. The not-for-profit artist-run centre gives in-risk youth a way to develop creativity, entrepreneurial and pathways for their future.
  • School health: HWDSB joined HWCDSB, McMaster University School of Nursing and Refuge Newcomer Health in a collaborative called School Based Health Network, based on the shared belief that all youth have the right to maximal well-being so they can achieve their full potential. This secured funding to pilot a program that places a Nurse Practitioner in Sir John A Macdonald secondary, with the goal of improving student health and increasing achievement and well-being.
  • Literacy 4 Life: Staff supported our K-2 literacy work by collaborating on the Literacy 4 Life initiative to highlight the importance of reading. We are committed to developing and delivering a training program for student, parent and community volunteers who read with our students. This would support a broader strategy of engaging the community to make Hamilton the “city that reads.”


  • Arts and Trails: In partnership with the Hamilton Conservatory for the Arts, many students were involved in Supercrawl, an annual artistic and cultural festival along Hamilton’s James Street North arts district. HWDSB also partnered with The Bruce Trail Trek for kids, a 900 km journey in support of student nutrition that also let students learn about social justice and student nutrition.
  • Rentals report card: Measuring the effectiveness and community engagement became a focus in 2012-13. This is leading to a report card on Community Use of Schools regarding facilities, access to facilities and customer service in booking rentals; a second report card will look at customer service and partnerships.
  • Collaboratives: We have begun to summarize the staff involved in collaborative community work. We have also determined that interviewing managers and system principals will help us advise and learn about expectations from collaboratives.


  • Vision Screening: HWDSB, McMaster University, McMaster Hospital and Public Health are collaborating to identify and address the needs of five Board identified high-need schools in a pilot project to address vision problems of students aged 7-12 years as part of a Vision Screening Project. This will identify students with vision problems and possible signs of amblyopia, an eye disorder characterized by an impaired vision in an eye that otherwise appear normal, which can lead to blindness if untreated. Initial screening can lead to more intensive screening at the McMaster University Hospital Vision Clinic.
  • FNMI committee: In 2012-13 we established our First Nation, Metis, Inuit Advisory (FNMI) Committee to advise staff on FNMI student success and well-being. Committee membership includes a variety of FNMI community groups, Mohawk College and McMaster University. The group gave insight into our introduction of Voluntary, Confidential Self Identification for FNMI students. Community plays a critical role in the FNMI student achievement.
  • Database: Staff are fine tuning a partnership/engagement database to use in equitable decision-making, with opportunities classified into areas including: Literacy/Numeracy; Recreation; Health and Wellness; Arts; Mentoring; Curriculum; Mental Health; Newcomer Services; Nutrition; Public Health; Volunteers and Donations. We have interviewed about 80 school administrators; administrators, managers and superintendents will receive usernames and passwords to view their profiles and help inform partnership development and tracking.

Our supports in this area include:

Students walking

Click here to read, Kidscrawl Puts 800 Students in Hamilton’s Creative Core.


  • Nu Deal: The Nu Deal placement has provided students with an opportunity to experience success and to re-engage. Building upon this success, HWDSB has been successful in receiving funding to place a teacher onsite at Nu Deal, beginning in September, 2013. This will allow us to formally include Nu Deal as an alternative placement for our students. A dedicated HWDSB teacher will work with students at the Centre 3 site to offer a contextualized learning experience with an arts focus. The teacher will deliver, assess and evaluate learning so that students will earn a package of three credits (tailored to the grade and pathway of the individual student).
  • School health: The School-Based Health Network Nurse Practitioner service is being well utilized by students and their families. In a two month period 81 visits were made with 9 clinics being offered. The gender ratio for visits is approximately 2:1 for females. One very positive outcome the network has experienced over the two years is that there is an increasing interest from the medical community to become more involved in the network and support in facilitating the development of the program from a staffing and funding perspective. The School-Based Health Network will focus on partnership agreements which further define the scope of activities at the school level. We will also look at potentially expanding service in 2012/13.
  • Literacy 4 Life: Developing the Literacy 4 Life plan highlighted the need to begin small and work with existing volunteers. This ensured that, as we move forward with a larger audience, we have been able to plan, act, assess and reflect with an engaged school audience. Working with volunteers from service clubs, community agencies and post-secondary institutions taught us that they have a strong desire to training in reading with students and help them develop a love of reading.


  • Arts and Trails: Supercrawl gave many of our students a chance to visit an art gallery or Hamilton’s downtown for the first time. It provided an authentic and real world exposure to the arts that many had not considered before. In addition, student nutrition programs have been significantly improved with the non-perishable food drive allowing programs to purchase more expensive items such as dairy and fruits and vegetables. This has helped schools with snack programs introduce nutrition programs. In addition, students had the opportunity to learn first-hand about the Bruce Trail as a result of the interdisciplinary team that worked to create learning experiences across the curriculum, for teachers to access. Students were also exposed to elements of social justice and giving back within their community. October will continue to be Nutrition Program month in HWDSB with a focus on related food drives and fundraising for schools in our community.
  • Supporting Equity: Initial results show that, while about 1 to 5 per cent of the population is affected by amblyopia, the rate in some schools is 20 to 30 per cent. Assessing the need for glasses and possible amblyopia means that students will presumably perform better in school.
  • FNMI committee: We are seeing how the FNMI Advisory Committee can give staff great insight on how to best reach out to the FNMI community in a respectful, inclusive way. We have also seen a great willingness from Aboriginal organizations to reach out and support student achievement and well-being.

Our next steps in this area include:

Community members in a picture

  • Redefining engagement: Our 2013-14 action plan for community engagement will see us continue to re-define the work of the Partnership and Community Engagement Department, given shift in ownership of engagement and evolution of the Foundation.
  • Report cards: We will pilot a Community Engagement Report Card and Community Use of Schools Report Card to seek feedback from partners. We will analyze and review a list of staff represented on collaborative tables throughout the community to support community achievement and ensure information from these tables informs and supports the strategic directions of HWDSB.
  • Literacy 4 Life: We will continue to engage our community in our K-2 Literacy Strategy through our Literacy 4 Life initiative.