For the Wolf Creek Public Schools Board of Trustees, engagement is serious business. For many years they were tasked by two governing bodies with trying to increase engagement with students and communities. Though they were given a variety of tools to use and worked hard, their efforts consistently came up short.
“Up until this past year, they were unsuccessful and rather disheartened,” says Jayson Lovell, Superintendent of the rural school district in Alberta, Canada. “They spent a lot of time and no matter what they did, they just couldn’t get people to engage. When I became superintendent, they challenged and tasked me with finding a different way to broaden our engagement. That really did lead me to Thoughtexchange®.”
Despite being in the midst of a school year filled with funding cuts, the school board saw the potential for engagement and decided to invest in a three-year partnership with Thoughtexchange.
Their first priority was gaining feedback on a three-year strategic plan that, despite their best efforts, had thus far been put together with little-to-no input from the community, staff or other stakeholders.
Setting priorities collectively
The Wolf Creek team ran a broad-based exchange that asked parents, staff and other stakeholders in the district open-ended questions, which let participants share in their own words what they felt the district was doing well and what could be improved.
“We opened up that opportunity to understand what’s important from a variety of stakeholders,” Lovell says. “What are their hopes and dreams? What are they seeing in our system that’s strong and is building resonance? What’s showing promise and what’s maybe not working so well?”
Because people had the chance to see all the thoughts shared and rate them by assigning stars in the Thoughtexchange Star step, the participants collectively decided that maintaining small and reasonable class sizes was their top priority for the district.
Lovell and the trustees were able take the priorities established in the exchange and apply them to a list of broad goals set out by the provincial government.
“For example, goal one is “Promote success for all learners,” Lovell explains. “You can clearly see that maintaining small and reasonable class sizes does promote success for all learners.
“We were able to triangulate the data from Thoughtexchange with the three-year education plan goals and develop strategies that linked them together.”
“Thoughtexchange has allowed us to broaden our audience and really create a much deeper and richer level of feedback.”Jayson Lovell, Superintendent
Hearing the Student Voice
When it comes to engagement, students can sometimes be overlooked or discounted as having nothing to contribute. Wolf Creek clearly saw the value their students could add to the conversation, and had tried repeatedly to get them involved in the past.
But in a rural school district with schools spread across nearly 6,000 square kilometres, it wasn’t an easy thing to do. Bringing in one student as a representative from each junior and senior high school just didn’t quite cut it.
“We had good facilitation and the board did get feedback,” Lovell says. “But that feedback only represented that one student and their experience.”
So Lovell and the trustees partnered with Thoughtexchange for a Student Voice exchange in the spring and reached out to graduating Grade 9 and 12 students to learn what they appreciated about their schools and what could be better.
That exchange engaged 734 students, and through it the Wolf Creek team saw a clear connection between program options available for students and the viability of schools—particularly smaller ones in rural areas.
That information helped the board allocate funds in areas it knew students were interested, and in turn helped show the communities and students the district was committed to their schools.
“Thoughtexchange has allowed us to broaden our audience and really create a much deeper and richer level of feedback,” Lovell explains. “That has allowed us to be precise in our focus when we’re talking about resource allocation or looking at areas we may need to look at in a way we haven’t before.”
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- Broaden community engagement in a geographically spread-out school district
- Learn what was most important to the community in their schools
- Discover student needs and enhance programming opportunities
- A broad-based exchange that let adult stakeholders share what’s important in their own words
- A Student Voice exchange that asked students what mattered most to them in their schools
- Aligned community priorities with government objectives and strategic planning
- Developed new programming opportunities based on student needs
- Increased viability of small rural schools