Living Classroom Think Tank: Strengthening partnerships to improve PSW education

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.

Successful Living Classroom funding applicants | March 2024

LTC Home PSW Education Provider
Algoma Manor Sault College
Belvedere Heights Near North District School Board
Eastholme (East District Parry Sound Home for the Aged) Canadore College
Extendicare Kirkland Lake Medix College
Extendicare Timmins Medix College
Fairmount Home (Corporation of Frontenac) St. Lawrence College
Fairview Mennonite Waterloo Catholic DSB (St. Louis)
H.J. McFarland (Corporation of County of Prince Edward) Loyalist College
Iroquois Lodge Six Nations Polytechnic
Kensington Gardens (Kensington Health Centre) Toronto DSB (City Adult Learning Centre)
Maple View Lodge (United Counties of Leeds and Grenville) St. Lawrence College
Mennonite Brethren Senior Citizens Home
Niagara Ina Grafton Gage Village triOS College
Orchard Villa HCTP College of Health, Business and Technology
Parkview Home Trillium Vocational Institute
Parkwood Mennonite Home Waterloo Catholic DSB (St. Louis)
Perley Health Algonquin College
Residence Prescott et Russell (Corporation of United Counties of Prescott and Russell) CEPEO (Le Carrefour)
Bruyere Continuing Care (Residence St. Louis) College La Cite
St. Gabriel’s Villa of Sudbury (SJHC Sudbury) Conseil scolaire catholique du Nouvel-Ontario
St. Joseph’s at Fleming Fleming College
St. Joseph’s Health Centre Guelph Upper Grand District School Board
St. Joseph’s Lifecare Centre Grand Erie DSB (GELA)
Southbridge Pinewood HCTP College of Health, Business and Technology
Spruce Lodge Avon Maitland District School Board
Sunnyside Home (Regional Municipality of Waterloo) Waterloo Catholic DSB
Temiskaming Lodge District School Board Ontario North East
The Glebe Centre Algonquin Careers Academy
Arnprior Regional Health (The Grove, Arnprior Nursing Home) Willis College
The John M. Parrott Centre Limestone District DSB
The Village at University Gates Conestoga College
The Village of Erin Meadows Sheridan College
The Village of Humber Heights Conestoga College
The Village of Riverside Glen Conestoga College
The Village of Wentworth Heights Mohawk College
The West Nipissing General Hospital Canadore College
Durham College
Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board
Au Chateau College Boreal
Banwell Gardens Care Centre College Boreal
Foyer Richelieu Welland College Boreal
North Centennial Manor College Boreal

Innovative partnership for the CEPEO and the UCPR

On February 7, 2024, the Conseil des écoles publiques de l’Est de l’Ontario (the “CEPEO”) and the United Counties of Prescott and Russell (the “UCPR”) announced an innovative partnership between the école des adultes Le Carrefour and the Prescott and Russell Residence. This collaboration marks an important step in both organizations’ commitment to education and community well-being…. Continue reading

This article was originally published on the Prescott and Russell website.

On February 7, 2024, the Conseil des écoles publiques de l’Est de l’Ontario (the “CEPEO”) and the United Counties of Prescott and Russell (the “UCPR”) announced an innovative partnership between the école des adultes Le Carrefour and the Prescott and Russell Residence. This collaboration marks an important step in both organizations’ commitment to education and community well-being.

This partnership is a unique learning opportunity. It enables 21 learners enrolled at the école des adultes Le Carrefour to receive training as personal support workers in a living classroom setting, on the premises of the Prescott and Russell Residence in Hawkesbury.

“The Prescott and Russell Residence is an important resource in our community. This partnership will not only improve the quality of life of residents, but it will also provide learners with a unique perspective on community service. I would also like to thank the Government of Ontario for its financial support, which is essential to the realization of this project,” said Gilles Fournier, school board trustee.

“This partnership marks a new era in our commitment to education and the well-being of our learners. We are delighted to collaborate with the United Counties of Prescott and Russell to offer an enriching and innovative educational experience,” declared Christian-Charle Bouchard, Director of Education of the CEPEO.

The press conference unveiled the details of this unique collaboration. The école des adultes Le Carrefour and the Prescott and Russell Residence are joining forces to offer learners a unique educational experience, right in the heart of a long-term care home.

“The école des adultes Le Carrefour’s program is rooted in a long-term vision of the healthcare services in the region. By investing in applied learning and field studies, we ensure that the next generation of caregivers is committed and trained to provide high-quality long-term care,” shared Pierre Leroux, Warden of the UCPR.

“We are already seeing the results of the program: learners are confident and caring, while our residents receive highly professional, personalized care and services. When the new Prescott and Russell Residence opens its doors later this year, the program’s learners will have the opportunity to work in a modern long-term care facility that has the potential to become a model in Ontario,” said Eric Larocque, Administrator of the Prescott and Russell Residence.

The CEPEO and the UCPR eagerly anticipate the positive results of this collaboration and the impact it will have on education in our community.

Bridging the gap in senior care: Nearly $11M Living Classroom investment targets urgent workforce needs

Waterloo, Ont. – To address the critical shortage of skilled personal support workers (PSWs) and the pressing demands of Canada’s rapidly aging population, the Schlegel-UW Research Institute for Aging (RIA), in collaboration with the Ontario Association of Adult and Continuing Education School Board Administrators (CESBA), is excited to announce the launch of an expanded Living Classroom Program with a nearly $11M investment over three years from the Ministry of Long-Term Care. 

“Our government is fixing long-term care by training, hiring and retaining thousands of health care workers to provide high-quality care for residents,” said Stan Cho, Minister of Long-Term Care. “We’re investing in programs that are building a pipeline of talent for the future and giving them more hands-on clinical training so our long-term care residents get the high-quality care they deserve.

By integrating academic excellence with real-world experience in a long-term care setting, the Living Classroom sets a new standard for personal support worker education, ensuring graduates are not just highly qualified, but also deeply connected to the mission and values of compassionate care.

“The Living Classroom is an innovative evidence-informed learning program that will provide students with an enriched educational opportunity where book-learning is coupled with learning alongside long term care staff and residents,” says Tina Mah, executive director at the RIA. “This funding to double the number of Living Classrooms will provide greater access to an Ontario-made education model to meet the unique needs of long-term care home residents.”  

The Living Classroom is an innovative education partnership model that combines theoretical learning with practical, hands-on experience, by placing the classrooms directly into long-term care (LTC) homes. The many benefits of the Living Classroom model include improved PSW recruitment and retention rates, a strengthened senior care workforce with both academic knowledge and practical expertise, and improved quality of care for older adults.

“CESBA and our school board partners are thrilled to work alongside RIA to develop the dedicated, compassionate and work-ready PSWs we need to care for seniors for many years to come,” states Paul Cox, executive director at CESBA. “This collaboration not only leverages our combined expertise but is also a demonstration of our shared commitment to fostering innovative learning environments.”

With this investment, the Living Classroom program will:

  • Provide funding opportunities to support 20 new Living Classrooms, as well as the 20 existing locations, to enhance learning experiences and retention of PSWs. This will support the training of up to 1,300 new personal support workers by 2026.
  • Enhance and sustain collaborations, both locally and provincially, between LTC homes and education providers (colleges and adult education school boards) to integrate education into long-term care to support workforce development, with a focus on rural and northern communities.
  • Provide educational resources, training, and coaching support to LTC homes and educational institutions to enhance and develop Living Classrooms.
  • Evaluate different models of Living Classrooms and their impact on recruitment and retention of PSWs in Ontario LTC homes.

The Living Classroom model was first implemented in Ontario through a partnership with Conestoga College, the RIA and Schlegel Villages. In September 2009, the first Living Classroom opened at the Village of Riverside Glen in Guelph, followed in 2015 by a second Living Classroom at the Village at University Gates in Waterloo. Through the Ontario Centres for Learning, Research and Innovation in Long-Term Care, the RIA has provided resources to promote the spread of the Living Classroom model across the province. Since then, 20 new Living Classrooms have opened in LTC homes in collaboration with public colleges and adult and continuing education school boards that offer PSW certificate programs. Many of these LTC homes report that they have experienced a positive impact on their ability to hire new team members.

This initiative is a testament to the RIA and CESBA’s commitment to enhancing care for older adults and innovation in education.

For more information, visit livingclassroom.ca/fund.


About the Schlegel-UW Research Institute for Aging
The Schlegel-UW Research Institute for Aging (RIA) is a charitable, non-profit organization dedicated to enhancing the quality of life and care of older adults. The RIA tackles some of the biggest issues facing an aging population by driving research and innovation to improve education and practice. The RIA develops and shares solutions that make a difference to benefit older adults everywhere. Learn more at www.the-ria.ca.

About the Ontario CLRI
The Ontario Centres for Learning, Research and Innovation in Long-Term Care (Ontario CLRI) strengthen the quality of life and care for residents across the province. The Ontario CLRI is hosted at Baycrest Academy for Research and Education, Bruyère Research Institute, and the Schlegel-UW Research Institute for Aging, and is funded by the Ministry of Long-Term Care with a mandate to be a resource for the sector by providing education and sharing research and innovations to enhance the health and well-being of people who live and work in long-term care.

About CESBA
CESBA is a provincial, non-profit professional association that represents, advocates for and supports adult and continuing education program staff working in more than 60 school boards across Ontario. CESBA’s mission is to provide adult, alternative and continuing education program staff working in Ontario’s school boards with the knowledge, skills and abilities to assist learners in achieving their education and employment goals.

Media contact
Noel Gruber
Director, Communications and Public Relations
Schlegel-UW Research Institute for Aging
noel.gruber@the-ria.ca