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Your thoughts, our inspiration: What we learned from you

Students representatives from our middle schools and high school gathered this month for the district’s first ever student symposium.  They shared their ideas on what is most important for student learning – part of an in-depth process of discussion that will chart the course for learning at New Westminster Schools for the next year and beyond.

How we can support learning opportunities for students…

February 15, 2019 – At the beginning of the year, we asked for your ideas about the most important things we can do to meaningfully support learning opportunities for all of our students.

Thanks to your participation in our online survey platform called Thoughtexchange, we heard more than 1,560 thoughts from 1,332 parents, teachers, students, staff and community members.

Together, you took the time between January 7 and 14 to offer 85,925 ratings of the thoughts that were important to you – and those that were not.

It was a broad conversation.

See related: Thank you for Joining the Conversation!

From technology to classroom support: Here’s what we learned…

We’ve gone through the findings –  and now, we want to share some of what we found.

  • Participation:  639 participants shared thoughts, 818 participants rated thoughts, 946 participants explored thoughts. There were a total of 85,925 ratings.
  • Demographics : Our participants were 42% parents; 25% staff, 27% students, 4% community members and 2% others.
  • Schools: We heard from staff and students at all of our schools and most of our programs – with higher percentages of participation coming from École Lord Tweedsmuir elementary school, École Glenbrook Middle School, New Westminster Secondary School,  École Herbert Spencer elementary and Queensborough Middle Schools.
  • Themes: The majority of thoughts could be grouped into 14 themes, with top-rated thoughts emerging in each of the following topics, in descending order of priority:
    • Support – this topic garnered 112 thoughts, twice as many as the next highest theme 
    • Teaching and Learning
    • Communication
    • Curriculum
    • Learning Resources
    • Culture
    • Facilities and Maintenance
    • Technology (Chromebooks, computers)
    • Other: Art/Music; Field Trips;  Sports/Gym/Activities; Class; Transportation;

A rich, surprising, and invaluable conversation…

In each theme, we were able to see what was important to our students, and what was important to parents, teachers and staff as well as community members.

That helped shed light on where ideas differed – and where there was agreement.

Take technology, for instance. There may be no surprise that students love it – and that some parents are more cautious.

Yet, it was also clear that students felt strongly about a need for more books in their libraries –  with high student support for ‘bigger libraries, more books,’ new books, more librarians, and extended library hours.

We also heard calls for more homework, and less homework, for less emphasis on grades and, from others, more emphasis on ‘measurable and systematic’ approaches to academic progress.

In many ways, our shared conversation was rich, surprising, dynamic – and invaluable.

Have a look!


When it comes to support for learning at New Westminster Schools, a shared top thought for all participants was the call to “adequately fund special needs assessments.” (Ranked #14 of 1,514 thoughts).

  • Students rated these thoughts (many of which were generated by adults) as among the most important to them when it comes to support for learning:
    • Social emotional learning is critical for middle school students; kids need support.
    • If teachers were to teach every student the same way, then some students might not understand every lesson. Give more individual support to students who need it.
    • Have resources available to meet the needs of all our students.
  • Parents rated these thoughts as among the most important to them:
    • Have adequate staffing to ensure that all kids –  those requiring extra support and those needing a challenge – get their needs met
    • Provide early assessment for all students to identify learning challenges before grade 3.
    • We need to provide thorough supports for students with unique learning needs in order for inclusion to be successful for all students.
  • Staff rated these thoughts as among the most important to them:
    • Like our students, teachers need to feel supported by administration/Board.  They need resources to help teach the new curriculum.
    • EA support: Our classrooms are very diverse and students have many needs. Having an extra adult in the room helps to meet their needs.
    • Added support at the early primary level with literacy and numeracy.

Teaching and Learning

A shared top thought on the theme of teaching and learning for all participants was a parent’s comment about the positive role at the high school level of “teachers who are creative and flexible in their teaching styles.” (Ranked #15 of 1,514 thoughts.).

In addition, the importance of teachers being able to “meaningfully connect with each student and meet individual and diverse needs” ranked #21.

  • Students
    • A free block/work block to work on projects/homework
    • I think we should have a free block in the day where you got to the library and work on homework or projects.  I think it’s very important because some kids have lots of extra-curricular activities and are exhausted after and don’t get to finish their homework.
    • Support on how to mentally prepare before an exam. There’s a lot on the line for most senior exams so some practice in mindfulness would give students tools to refer to when they’re feeling overwhelmed.
  • Parents
    • Continue to provide flexible classrooms and flexible seating options for students – it increases student engagement, collaboration and perseverance.
    • All senior admin and trustees should spend a significant amount of time in classrooms.
    • Recognize that all students learn differently and are individuals.  We tend to treat all students the same in terms of desired learning outcomes.
  • Staff
    • Provide as many opportunities as possible for students to be exposed to different forms of learning.
    • During my family’s four years at NWSS I have encountered a number of teachers who are creative and flexible in their teaching styles. I’ve seen first-hand how this approach has allowed my daughter to thrive.
    • Use the knowledge that immigrant and international students bring with them rather than viewing them through a deficit model. This validates these students’ knowledge and identities and offers a more global perspective that appreciates differences.


The key shared thoughts in relation to facilities and maintenance included future planning to address growth, calls for bus services for ‘the kids that live far from school,’ improved school equipment, and sustainability initiatives – such as water bottle filling stations in school.

  • Parents 
    • Consider the probable future population when building and expanding schools. Too many of our schools use portables for classrooms. It is especially frustrating to see newer schools with portables after only a few years.
    • Queensborough desperately needs to increase infrastructure and the learning opportunities for its children
    • Provide innovative, modern spaces for our children to learn, because your environment impacts your energy, your enthusiasm and your ability to learn.
  • Staff
    • More attention should be paid to retaining experienced and new staff. Staff are voting with their feet either to new school districts or new positions….This makes long-term planning and continuity of service impossible, and hurts the neediest most.
    • Provide more funding for staffing and provide it in a timely manner.  We are in the middle of a teacher shortage.  This year several classes went without a consistent contract teacher for months.
    • Consider the probably future population when building and expanding schools (also supported by parents – see above).
  • Students
    • We should have better school equipment (gym, desks, chairs, etc.) because most of the equipment is either broken or we don’t have enough – that’s mainly for gym. But the desks are also shaky and broken; chairs too.
    • Better bathrooms: they look bad and there is a lot of drawings on the walls
    • After-school activities – important for the parents so the kids won’t need to go to a day care and will be in a learning environment.


Among the top 40 of 1,514 thoughts  were ideas for improving curriculum by bringing a focus to critical thinking skills, teaching for empathy, supporting the district’s ‘robust’ music program as well as physical literacy programs, and math workshops that teach understanding and competencies for life.

  • Parents
    • Critical thinking: advertising and persuasion are a constant in peoples’ lives today. Critical thinking helps people learn how to make their own decisions instead.
    • Having the latest technology is cool, but for younger kids it’s really important to learn the basics like literacy and math. Kids are so reliant on visuals – videos and graphic novels – that they can’t read text and ‘imagine’ for themselves.
    • Math workshops/learning that teaches understanding. Math is essential throughout life and feeling comfortable and competent with it will help people be successful.
  • Staff
    • Support early literacy in kindergarten and grade 1 so that vulnerable students will gain the literacy and numeracy foundations early on in school. The  learning gaps get larger as students move through the system.
    • Critical thinking: Advertising and persuasion are a constant in peoples’ lives today. Critical thinking helps people learn how to make their own decisions instead.
    • Life skills such as financial planning, self-awareness, mindfulness, critical thinking and dealing with ambiguity/uncertainty.  These are all skills that will help kids become better planners, more disciplined, more focused, more attuned to their emotions, better decision makers.
  • Students
    • Give more opportunities to students to explore and find their passions and interests
    • More programs and opportunities to show our talents or any extra curricular activity that we are interested in.  I see a lot of kids who are very talented who may have just kept it to themselves or may have wanted to improve.
    • Provide multiple learning opportunities, For example, outdoor day learning, field trips, hands on experiences that incorporate academic learning.  Kids will benefit more by learning in multiple ways and through different experiences.
    • Learn more about mental health and bullying.  We do have some classes but we need more to give people a reality check…


Concerns about the need for a better response to bullying, notably at middle school, struck a chord and rated high amongst all participants when it came to ideas for improving school culture. A call for teaching empathy and humanitarian qualities also rated high (among the top 20 of 1,514 thoughts).

  • Students
    • Provide safe environments for students to prosper.  It is hard to learn and grow when you don’t feel safe.
    • More school events. It’s important because school should teach us how to socialize with all types of people.
    • Get rid of May Day.  Waste of money. No educational value. Boys and Girls get stuck in popularity contests for May Queen, etc. Those that lose feel bad about losing.
  • Parents
    • Ensure an inclusive and positive learning environment for all kids. Kids don’t learn as well when they don’t feel included and valued.
    • Bullying continues to be a problem at the high school. Embed coaching and training in the curriculum
    • Prioritize creating communities within classrooms, including frequent community meetings at which all teachers and students do check-ins. Groups of kids can too easily degenerate into mob mentalities, especially in middle school. Talking, listening and sharing as a group can help.
  • Staff
    • Get rid of May Day.  Waste of money. No educational value. Boys and girls get stuck in popularity contest for May Queen, etc. Those that lose feel bad about losing.
    • Support and value individuals who work harder and are more productive.  People that feel valued and supported will run the distance; undervalued and unsupported peoples’ work output is lower and work not as effective.
    • Build genuine relationships with the students. If they feel connected they will feel more inclined to learn, listen and care about the school community.


  • Parents
    • Keep parents informed of classroom changes, student behaviours, missing classes. Parents are often left in the dark if their student is having difficulties. It should be a community effort.
    • Better communication between the teachers and parents can help keep the students on pace and access home support.  Kids need help both in the class and at home.
    • Staff be available and responsive to parents and children. I have emailed a few times and either not gotten any response or response takes weeks.
  • Staff
    • School cash online to be used for Breakfast Program and others.  It will make it easer for parents to pay for the program online.
    • Listen to staff and students in a meaningful way. This means valuing their perspectives and reflecting upon the feedback thoughtfully.
    • Supporting parents with teaching them how to respect the school and all staff.
  • Students
    • Communication with parents, so everyone is on the same page
    • Ensure that teacher and student voices are heard when designing learning programs and learning spaces. These are the stakeholders in the classroom (and hopefully other settings) that work together to achieve ‘education.’
    • Better inform parents and students. Without knowing what is happening in our district, it’s hard to feel supported.

The next steps in our conversation…

Karim Hachlaf, Superintendent of New Westminster Schools, noted this is the first time the school district has embarked on such a broad and inclusive conversation. Our findings through the Thoughtexchange survey will guide further discussions as we work together to allocate 2019-2020 budget resources this spring in support of student learning.

On February 7, for instance, we held our first student symposium with more than 60 representatives from each of our middle and high schools. They explored issues and shared their ideas with district educators and administrators about the most important things to help them be successful at school

Later this month a highlight will be an evening featuring ‘Talking Tables’ – with students, parents, teachers, support staff, union representatives, trustees and administrators exchanging ideas.

“It’s a very powerful process,” Secretary-Treasurer Kim Morris noted.

“The more diverse the decision-making teams are, the better the decision-making will be for our students.”