A Professional Development Activity Day for 600 secondary school teachers, educational assistants and administrators on “Building Pathways to Believing, Achieving, Serving,” focused on the integral role of teachers in post-secondary pathways planning and transitioning.
Held at Bishop Ryan Catholic Secondary School on May 12th, the conference-styled P.D. day began with a liturgy that included a surprise video appearance by His Holiness Pope Francis, who enlisted educators and business professionals to take up “a revolution of tenderness” – the path that Jesus took. The video was from a recent TED talk on “The Future You” in which the Pope urged today’s leaders not to let technological innovation blind them to others’ suffering.
“The future is achievable if we stick together,” he encouraged.
The message was central to the day as guest and keynote speakers focused on collaboration as foundational to a good school system, a thriving community, and future-ready world.
“The day will provide some of the learning that is essential for you, as Catholic educators who educate our students so that they move on in the end to live out the Ontario Catholic graduate expectations in their chosen pathway, and who will reach the fullness of potential of which our Lord Jesus is the model because of your instruction, because of your example, because of your caring,” said Superintendent of Education Sandie Pizzuti in words of welcome.
That potential was evident in a Voice Performance by members of Cardinal Newman’s Slam Poetry Club that explored the questions, “Who Am I?” and “Who Am I Called To Be?”
“I don’t know how you follow Pope Francis and those amazing students, but it’s my real pleasure to be with you,” said Chairperson Patrick Daly, who welcomed staff to their special day and took the opportunity to thank Mayor Fred Eisenberger and keynote speaker Sean Conway for their steadfast support of Catholic education.
Indicating that Conway would be introduced more formally later in the program, Daly squeezed in a personal thank you to the former Minister of Education for his considerable role in extending funding for Catholic schools.
“All of you will know that former premier of Ontario Bill Davis has rightly been recognized for announcing and introducing extended funding to grade 11, 12 and 13 for Catholic secondary schools in the 1980’s and he deserves that recognition, but what maybe doesn’t get recognized enough is that it was people like Sean Conway, as Minister of Education and as a brilliant and good politician, who shepherded Bill 30 into legislation into law in this province.”
He noted that individuals like Davis and Conway may have ensured the future viability of Catholic schools, but it is the teachers, Educational Assistants and support staff who, through their dedication, professionalism and Christian witness, make a very real difference to the students in the schools.
“The theme of your day is so important in the lives of our students and indeed, the future of the community and province,” Daly welcomed secondary staffers. He added that pathways, from a Catholic vision, is about discerning a vocation.
Quoting theologian Frederick Buechner who said, “Vocation is where our greatest joy meets the world’s greatest needs,” Daly said for the first half of his life, he saw that in his father; in the last half, in the dedicated teachers in our Catholic schools.
“I commend and thank you for your willingness to explore and learn more about the important role you play in supporting our students as they plan their pathways, and discern their calling in life and what God calls them to be.”
One of those key pathways is graduation, a pathway whose end port is measured by the graduation rate, said Director of Education in opening remarks.
“Of students that enter our buildings in Grade 9 and stay with us through to Grade 12 or Grade 12+, 89% of them get there,” he said. “That is a phenomenal graduation rate. That is your work.”
But he suggested there is another stat that warrants attention. This year, 1,600 students started school for the first time to begin their pathway to education. One hundred percent of those children expect they will graduate, and 100 % of their parents expect that the school will get them to graduation, Hansen indicated.
Conversely, 2,300 students entered Grade 9 in September. Unfortunately, 100% of those students do not see themselves as graduates, nor do their parents see them as graduates.
“And today we’re going to talk about finding pathways to hit as many as we can because a 100% graduation rate is a reach-for goal,” said Hansen.
He shared a quote from Mark Twain: “The two best days of your life are the days you were born and the day you find out why. “
“There’s no doubt that teachers are an essential part of students finding out the ‘why’ of their life because if we get it right collectively, we deliver on something way more essential than a graduation rate,” said Hansen. “We deliver on the mission of this board – to enable all learners to realize the fullness of their humanity of which our Lord Jesus Christ is the model.”
“And isn’t that a great why for your life and for my life?”
Calling schools “the foundation of our community,” Mayor Fred Eisenberger, in a brief talk on the Hamilton labour market, said one of the testaments to what makes a great city is how well the different partners collaborate.
“Ultimately what you do on a daily basis matters so greatly in terms of how we bring students to a place where they can not only be good people, but also contributors to our diversity and our opportunity, and take an entrepreneurial approach, if they so choose.”
Suggesting that Hamilton is to Toronto what Brooklyn was to New York City, Eisenberger said Hamilton is not only the city of future ambition, but “that cool place to be.”
He cited strategic investments in housing, research, transportation and digital connectivity as key to Hamilton’s economic growth.
Extending his thanks to secondary staff for their work in “shaping the young minds that are going to be the new leaders of our community in the future,” the mayor shared his own guiding philosophy, “whatever you dream you can do, begin it because action has power and magic to it, and that’s the ambitious city that we’re going to continue to grow on.”
Joking about what he called the city’s “imperial ambitions,” Sean Conway, Chair of the Premier’s Highly Skilled Workforce Strategy Expert Panel, said that Hamilton’s collaborative mindset is critical in preparing workers for the jobs of today and tomorrow.
Conway was invited to share recommendations from the panel’s report, Building the Workforce of Tomorrow: A Shared Responsibility, that focused on partnerships, increased access to job market information, experiential learning, promotion of tradition and non-traditional career paths, investments in human capital, and closing the skills gap.
Outlining some of the challenges – attracting and retaining talent from abroad, the “exiting” of the baby boomer cohort, and the skills gap – Conway noted, “There is what we used to say in the parliamentary world, an element of urgent and pressing necessity about this.”
“One of the things you have to be concerned about if you’re in education is that health care now takes about 46.5% of program spending.” He added that as the population grows older, it is going to place further pressure on those health budgets.
“So if you think it’s been a struggle in recent days, if you look over the next five or ten or fifteen years, we are going to have in the public interest a very real challenge in making sure that we allocate public resources fairly across the various spending envelopes, and that is going to be a very real challenge.”
Conway also spoke about the need for community leadership, engagement and commitment. That’s not happening everywhere, he stated. Nor is current labour market information good enough.
And while EQAO test scores have improved in the past decade, he added those trend lines are nowhere near where they need to be.
“Let me be clear, there is a new standard of scientific and mathematical literacy in the economy of the 21st century and we simply, as a society, have to do a better job of preparing young people for that reality.”
But, where science and math are lagging, Conway had high praise for the Specialist High Skills Major program, which the Ministry has agreed to enhance and expand in the coming years. He recommended tapping into the base of boomers exiting the system to provide mentorship opportunities for today’s youth.
Lastly, he talked about the “so-called skills gap,” which he said is a lot about the soft skills.
“We got it down to three and I want to end with this because it makes a really good point, not just for educators but for parents, particularly middle class parents who tend to decide an awful lot of the debate.”
Number one was working collaboratively with difficult and creative people. “Think if you’re a young person, particularly a female, what it must have been like to work collaboratively with Steve Jobs, who was a genius, but a very difficult person and apparently really difficult with young women, middle-aged women for that matter.”
Next was communication skills … “and again, not in some antiseptic way.”
“And my favourite, resilience.” He used the example of a play he was forced to do in Grade 12.
“Little did I know that within five years, I was then going to spend the next thirty years of my life in a kind of down market theatre called politics,” he laughed. Nothing in twenty years of schooling better prepared him for life than that one experience.
Calling it a really important life skill, Conway harkened back to the Cardinal Newman voice performers. “You know where that’s going to show up? In a job interview,” he said.
“So my point to you, as teachers, is there is in the classical classroom curriculum, theatre, music, poetry, sports … everything you need to drill home things that address what business is saying about the skills gap.”
He also talked about the ‘three’ prongs of education: college, university and apprenticeship.
“You know what is the fastest track to Canadian business? I hate to say it, it’s not DeGroote School of Business, or Rotman, or Ivey; it’s actually through the skilled trades.”
“All different pathways matter,” Conway concluded.
Different pathways not only matter, but are an important part of who students are called to be, said Colleen McPhee, lead organizer of the P.D. event. She talked about the growth of the Specialist High Skills Major program over the past ten years and its impact on the 4-year graduation rate.
Pointing to data which showed that more girls than boys go to university, while more boys than girls go into apprenticeship and work, she indicated that girls and boys choose programs that align with traditional pathways – boys to engineering, computer sciences, trades and business, and girls to social sciences, natural sciences, and health & wellness.
“The meaning of work, the value placed on it, and the expectations about who should perform what types of work reflect the society in which the work is organized along gender role expectations,” said McPhee.
“Preparing our students for a rapidly changing global economy is our task.”
She added that through the plenary sessions and workshops, it is intended that schools will build stronger partnerships between educators and local employers, increase teacher understanding of labour market information and opportunities for experiential learning in Hamilton, and promote both traditional and non-traditional career paths by exposing teachers to employers, and college and university representatives from the science, engineering, technology, entrepreneurship, the skilled trades and the arts.
“The Pathways P.D. seeks to link synergies with various subject areas as well as recognize the challenges and important work of mental health initiatives to foster successful outcomes,” said McPhee.
In addition to a keynote, teachers and Educational Assistants were invited to participate in two workshops and/or panel discussions on a wide range of topics in five distinct areas in secondary pathways planning: the legal environment in the education sector; mental health initiatives and spiritual wellness; post-secondary education preparation; classroom best practices and partnership development; and Hamilton labour market. More than 60 workshop presenters, panelists, facilitators and exhibitors were solicited for the event.
Some of these workshops included:
• The Issue of Drugs
• Digital Responsibility & Accountability
• Literacy Skills for Successful Post-Secondary Transition Panel
• STEM Engagement between Universities and High School Presenters
• Fighting entitlement by fostering creativity
• Privacy Legislation
• Intersection between mental health and violence
• Who can be the voice for the voiceless student?
• Talking about mental illness
• Supporting refugee students who have experienced trauma
• At Risk Youth Panel
• Using Lenovo Winbooks
• Equity through Digital Competency
• Jobs People Do and Magnets – Online Career & Employment Resources
“The intent of this day is to provide all participants with an opportunity to focus on topics of particular interest and relevancy to their role in education,” said OYAP Coordinator and organizing committee member, Maria Calabrese.
Rekindling the words of Pope Francis earlier in the program, Colleen McPhee noted that all it takes is for one person to start “the revolution of tenderness.”
“All it takes is for one person to recognize the talents in a student and encourage them to reflect on the all-important question, ‘Who am I called to be?’”