June 13, 2024 | Events

Think Tank participants engage in group discussion at round tables

The Living Classroom program aims to address the increasing need for personal support workers (PSWs) in long-term care (LTC) homes. This initiative thrives on the synergy between LTC homes and educational institutions, creating a robust environment for shared learning and practical experience. 

The Living Classroom Think Tank, held on June 7 at Parkwood Mennonite Home in Waterloo, aimed to strengthen these partnerships and provide a forum for knowledge exchange to enhance Living Classrooms. The event brought together 61 LTC administrators, PSW program coordinators and representatives from the Schlegel-UW Research Institute for Aging (RIA), Ontario Centres for Learning, Research and Innovation (CLRI), CESBA and the Ministry of Long-Term Care. The event fostered an exchange of best practices and innovative ideas to improve the quality and sustainability of Living Classrooms.


Research and Evaluation

The Think Tank kicked off with a research and evaluation presentation from Aysha Basharat, evaluation manager at the RIA. Aysha highlighted the importance of evaluation to enhance the Living Classroom model, sharing the following desired outcomes.

Short-term:

  • Increased awareness and satisfaction with resources among Living Classroom staff and students.
  • Enhanced access to Living Classroom education for students.

Long-term:

  • Improved quality of education for PSW students.
  • Increased number of student graduates.
  • Enhanced recruitment and retention of PSWs in the LTC sector.

Sustained outcomes:

  • Increased retention of PSWs in the LTC sector

Integration of Learning and Models of Delivery

Tammy Cantin, Living Classroom coordinator at CESBA, presented on how to integrate learning into Living Classrooms and deliver programs with various models. She emphasized the collaborative effort required for the program’s success and the importance of intentional learning and experiential activities, such as bed-making practice on resident beds or hosting a vital signs booth in the main lobby. These activities not only enhance students’ practical skills but also benefit LTC team members, residents and families by fostering a culture of mutual learning and support.

The presentation showcased three distinct models of delivery. Erin Jones from Avon-Maitland District School Board presented her Living Classroom’s model which supports three smaller rural communities with online theory classes and local sessions for lab practice and supervised placement. Sibylle Ugirase from Boréal College discussed their hybrid model to serve the Francophone and bilingual populations, in which students learn the theoretical part of the curriculum from the comfort of their own homes. Finally, Tammy talked about a three-party collaboration model where a school board offers a dual credit program and a college provides the PSW program at the LTC home.


Living Classroom Collaboration 

Readiness involves both partners expressing an openness and desire to work together to achieve a common goal. Carolyn Triemstra, interim manager and education engagement lead for PREP LTC at the Ontario CLRI at the RIA, delved into the barriers, facilitators and important considerations for collaborative partnerships.

Barriers to collaborative partnerships Facilitators to collaborative partnerships
  • Disconnect between home and education partner
  • Students or staff not feeling welcome
  • Lack of direction
  • Inconsistent practices 
  • Segregated learning
  • Lack of preparation for clinical/inclusion within the home
  • Understanding and appreciating each others’ roles
  • Regular communication 
  • Process to address concerns and celebrate successes
  • Importance of protocols 
  • Inclusion of students and education partner staff into the home
  • Fast-track hiring and recruitment processes; combined orientation

Considerations for collaboration include formal agreements; financial conversations; meetings; orientation processes; documentation; support services for students; procedures; and evaluation and feedback opportunities.

Collaboration Panels

New partnership: Medix College and ExtendiCare

  • Blake Faulkner, Executive Advisor, Medix College
  • Maoreen Orbon, Assistant Director of Care, Extendicare Timmins

Medix College and ExtendiCare partnered to give students first-hand experience in LTC, enhancing retention and providing a pathway for a higher impact in rural areas. Their model combines asynchronous theory learning with weekly synchronous sessions and an intensive bootcamp before placements. They are preparing for their first cohort, focusing on recruiting leadership familiar with the region, public relations and curriculum enhancement. Funding has enabled intentional expansion and support for rural students.

Existing partnership: Conestoga College and Schlegel Villages

  • Heather Cross, Dean of Nursing, Conestoga College
  • Michael Schmidt, Director, Strategic Partnerships, Schlegel Villages

Conestoga College and Schlegel Villages emphasized the importance of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to build the relationship and establish common goals as well as the continuous quality improvement and connecting with one another on a regular basis. They learned to build flexible spaces and considered zoning and logistics early. Funding has helped strategically build more Living Classrooms with a focus on long-term planning.


Living Classroom Sustainability 

Anita Plunkett, CESBA’s PSW Lead and QA Coordinator, discussed what is required to make a Living Classroom sustainable and provided an overview of the six pillars of sustainability: 

Pillars of Sustainability

  • Planning and Development
  • Promotion
  • Collaborations/Connections
  • Fiscally Responsible
  • Monitoring/Evaluation
  • Growth and Expansion

Attendees participated in an interactive Post-It session with their table and shared their ideas, thoughts, questions, resources, challenges and needs onto discussion boards around the room.


The Think Tank highlighted the critical roles of partnerships, evaluation and sustainability for the Living Classroom model to thrive. Through presentations, partnership panels and discussions amongst various stakeholders, participants came away with ideas, resources, tools and contacts to ensure success of their own Living Classrooms to enhance PSW education.