Adult education in Vancouver began as community education initiative by the Vancouver School Board (VSB). Storefront schools with small classes, flexible schedules, and varied delivery of relevant content were earmarks of Adult Education (AE) programming. This original identity is increasingly elusive as class size minimums grow and course cancellations become more frequent. Currently, accountability measures threaten further funding reductions. If AE centres are to maintain their current status as community educators, they must find a way to increase student enrolment and success. This paper will articulate the problems and gaps in communication at Hastings Education Centre (Hastings), one of six AE centres run by the VSB, and make achievable recommendations for improved stability and student success.
MA ELM 550, April 2013
Meeting minimum enrollment quotas is a constant and growing struggle at Hastings. Chronic underfunding has seen these minimums more than double in the last 15 years. As a result, last year VSB/AE experienced its first decrease in program offerings since its inception in 1985. This year, 73 contemplation letters warning of potential layoffs were issued. According to the AE union president, this is a significant threat to a teaching population of approximately 250, or 105 F.T.E (Sasha Wiley-Shaw, personal communication, April 28, 2013). With jobs and classes at risk, it is more important than ever to showcase the successes of AE programs. The challenge will be achieving this goal without additional support from the school board.
The staff at Hastings is skilled at responding to real and individualized needs of a diverse student population. However, the preponderance of informal, reciprocal, one-to-one communication denies the school a coherent, identifiable public face. Furthermore, negligible discretionary funding means that there is no public relations campaign. If Hastings is to increase its presence in the community, it must depend on grassroots efforts.
In a cultural context that is deeply embedded in student advocacy, a successful communications plan will be one that serves the students as well as the school. To that end, the plan will need to focus on developing public relations through school improvement initiatives that diversify communication and improve the student experience without diminishing the current individualized practices. It will also need to strengthen formal, symmetrical communication practices in order to ensure controlled and even distribution of communication.
In general, all opinions are welcomed and responded to at committee meetings. Although occasionally data is compiled it is rarely formally communicated. As a result, decisions are often informed by hunches. Although these hunches are often correct, they are typified by inefficient, circular discussions and overly reliant on the many years of experience of Hastings’ long-term staff. The introduction of SMART goals would be an effective inroad to focusing discussions and making more informed decisions.
There are only two days in the school year that offer organized professional development. One of those days includes all staff from each of the six VSB/AE centres. This day would be an excellent opportunity for the centres to communicate, analyze, and possibly harmonize specific school goals but the focus is invariably diversified in attempt to attend to individual needs and interests of participants. Both the district and centre professional days are generally considered a success; however, their one day format does not support ongoing reflection or change and therefore do not result in significant school improvement. By appealing to individual contexts, professional development days do not take advantage of the benefits offered by effective formal communication as defined by Kowalski et.al. (2007).
There is an additional day that teachers can take for self-guided professional development. This third day is often not taken advantage of because of the additional work of planning for an on-call replacement, and adult students are often demotivated by teacher absence. Better use of this opportunity for improved expertise could be encouraged by increased formal and informal communication about professional development opportunities offered outside of VSB/AE.
Currently, there is no organized support for student culture at Hastings. If students want to strengthen their relationships outside of class time, they must make their own plans. This can be a daunting prospect in a multi-age and multicultural environment typified by language learners from a diversity of socio-economic realities. Furthermore, the cramped quarter of the school do not encourage casual loitering. Given that “word of mouth (from a friend of family) is the most common way students find out about VSB Adult Education programs” (Sorensen-Lawrence, 2011, p.25), the strength of student culture is paramount to the success of the school.
After initial registration, there is little to no formal communication between the school and students. This leaves the school with an identity that is defined through individual staff members, leaving the students no clearly defined concept to refer to when describing the school to the community. This problem is connected to the previously mentioned need to diversify the school’s communication practices and offers partial explanation of why the school has a low profile in the community.
Goal #1: To increase student success and registration by diversifying staff communication in order to improve teaching practices and accountability.
Goal #2: To improve student satisfaction and increase the value of word of mouth endorsement by building and reinforcing informal communication between students.
Goal #3: To build the school’s identity and community presence by strengthening formal communication with students.
Goal #4: To build community awareness of school by strengthening student and staff relationships with community
(Charts of Recommendations, Actions, and Measures of Success available directly from author)
Hastings must increase enrolment in or face continued class cancellations. By diversifying their communication networks, teachers can improve their practice and attract and retain students. By developing informal communication network opportunities, students will increase their sense of ownership and pride in the school. By increasing formal and informal communication with the public, the school will become a more prominent member of its community. Finally, by increasing formal communication of the school’s purpose, Hastings will be more identifiable. All of these communication initiatives will work together in a grassroots effort to augment the word of mouth endorsements that AE relies on to attract students.
Kowalski, T.J., Petersen, G., & Fusarelli, L.D., (2007). Effective Communication for School
Administrators: A Necessity in an Information Age. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Education.
Sorensen-Lawrence, Liddie. (December 15, 2011). Adult Education Study. Retrieved April 28, 2013 from: https://myvsb.vsb.bc.ca/Collaboration/Workgroups/dc889aa3-00bb-4fbd-95d288f5dd58b813/Shared%20Documents/Adult%20Education%20Staff%20and%20Student%20Survey/VSB%20Adult%20Education%20Survey.pdf