Meeting Notes - November 7, 2017

What a great night! We ended the 2017 year of the Education Committee on a very high note with presentations about student voice. 

As Chair of the Education Committee this year, I have been working with Trustee Alan Halberstadt (Vice Chair) and Superintendent Dr. Clara Howitt on the theme we established, Educating the Whole Child. To my knowledge, this is the first time the committee has had a specific focus. This year, Education Committee presentations have included some areas that do not normally get a lot of specific attention at board meetings such as Health and Physical Education, Arts programming, Mental Health, and the On Track to Success program with United Way, among the standard items like EQAO.

The first presentation indicated that student voices cannot just be acknowledged, rather, they need to be seen as "vital to school improvement and improved student achievement." Superintendent Clara Howitt noted that the big change for student voice at GECDSB came during the Math Task Force when we received feedback from about 2200 students in grades 4 to 12 through questionnaires and focus groups about what does and does not help them learn math. This strategy was so successful in helping us develop the MTF recommendations that we now leverage student voice across the board. Of course, students have always had "a voice" in learning, however, the strategy is more intentional now with a view to listening, learning, and planning board-wide. 

We watched some very impactful videos tonight of students sharing their experiences, including elementary students feeling shocked and surprised when they were first asked for their thoughts and opinions about how they learn best, but then realizing we genuinely wanted to know what we could do better for them. Many students thanked their teachers for their personal attention and believing in them when they were struggling. In fact, we heard that teachers often become quite emotional over some of the feedback from students describing how they had made a difference in the student's ability and desire to succeed. We also saw a video from an adult learner who dropped out of high school, tried some college courses but struggled to succeed, until he attended our Adult Education program. He received all of his high school credits and is now taking a modern languages German program at the University of Windsor. We heard from another student who had a difficult home life, "fell in with the wrong crowd" in high school, and eventually dropped out. Through our School Within a College through GECDSB and St Clair College, staff were able to re-engage him and he saw an opportunity to turn his life around. He is now in the automotive program at St Clair! These success stories would not have been possible if we had not listened to what was really going on and what they really needed.

Many trustees became emotional during the presentation. Student voice helps us know whether we are on the right track and gives educators that positive feedback they need when they are unsure or overwhelmed. I experience this sometimes in my own work at CAS and it's uplifting and motivating to have someone tell me I am making a difference.

Self-advocacy is a big part of student voice involving speaking up, self-esteem, persistence, problem-solving, creativity, and taking responsibility among other things. This is important for all students, and students with special needs in particular sometimes struggle in this area. We therefore have programming specifically so these students can learn how to communicate what they need and that it is ok to do so. It is important that no one is left out of the student voices.

Next we received a presentation about leveraging technology for student voice. We are working on a 21st century learning initiative in order to ensure we are preparing students with the global competencies needed to succeed after high school. These competencies include:

  • Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving,
  • Collaboration,
  • Innovation, Creativity, and Entrepreneurship,
  • Communication,
  • Learning to Learn and Self-Aware / Self-Directed Learning,
  • and Global Citizenship.

More information about each of these areas can be found in this link to the 2016 Ministry of Education foundation document. Clearly, having the ability to use your voice is an essential part of each of these areas. As well, the ability to use technology is a global competency not just for the purpose of using it to produce your work, but also to learn and communicate. We are using applications such as Knowledge Hook, Mathies, Lexia, and many others to help students practice their skills individually and in groups. Many of these applications are also available at home on accessible websites. We had an excellent demonstration from teachers from Glenwood in the use of these skills in the classroom. Their passion was contagious!

I have greatly enjoyed helping to set the agenda for the Education Committee this past year. I hope we have made a difference with our theme of "Educating the Whole Child" in demonstrating that learning at GECDSB is not about authoritative administrators telling passive teachers what and how to teach, and then teachers handing down knowledge to passive students. That would not be respectful of anyone's autonomy, expertise, or personal experience. 21st century learning is a collaborative process at GECDSB and I am very proud of that! The next meeting is on November 21st at the board office. All are welcome!




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Jessica Sartori