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January 27, 2020 3:31 PM

Conestoga workshop shares best practices for implementation of Living Classrooms

College administrators and faculty from across the province recently attended a full-day best practices workshop delivered by Conestoga’s Schlegel Centre for Advancing Seniors Care to discuss the key features of implementing a successful living classroom — an innovative interprofessional approach to preparing students for successful careers working with seniors in long-term care and retirement living.

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Conestoga's Dr. Veronique Boscart discussed the key features of implementing a successful Living Classroom during a full-day workshop held at the Doon campus.

Conestoga’s first Living Classroom opened in 2009 in partnership with Schlegel Villages at the Village of Riverside Glen in Guelph, and the Schlegel-UW Research Institute for Aging (RIA). In 2015, a second Living Classroom opened at the Village of University Gates in Waterloo.

The experiences of Conestoga, Schlegel Villages and RIA in developing these Living Classrooms has been compiled in an implementation guidebook for other institutions interested in launching similar models.

“Seniors deserve the health care they need and it’s our responsibility to develop a workforce that can serve them,” said Dr. Veronique Boscart, director of Conestoga's Schlegel Centre for Advancing Seniors Care, as she welcomed participants at the Doon campus. “Today we want to focus on the Living Classroom and share our experiences, including what works well and what doesn’t.”

The motivation behind the first Living Classroom was to increase the number of personal support worker (PSW) and practical nursing graduates to meet workforce demands in Guelph. PSWs comprise more than 70 per cent of the staff in long-term care, but there aren’t enough of them to support the care needs of the growing older adult population. The situation is only expected to worsen over coming years as the population of seniors continues to grow.

Boscart stressed that the solution goes beyond just placing a classroom within a long-term care setting.

The Living Classroom is an interprofessional approach where a post-secondary program is delivered within the context of a long-term care home, with team members consisting of faculty, students, long-term care teams, residents and families who engage with each other within a culture of learning. Students bridge the gap between theoretical learning and clinical practice in the actual setting where they will eventually practice.

During the interactive workshop, Boscart introduced participants to the 10 building blocks for the Living Classroom, which are grouped under four stages of implementation: exploring the potential of a Living Classroom, developing the foundations, implementation, and promotion and sustainability.

The approach has proven successful with a variety of stakeholders, including residents and families, who report they have been positively impacted by the Living Classroom.

“I really do believe that we can change things,” said Boscart when discussing the current challenges of seniors’ care and the role colleges play in building a workforce that will contribute to the continual improvement of long-term care. “Together we are a lot stronger than we think we are.”

The Living Classroom at Riverside Glen delivers PSW programming, and both PSW and practical nursing students attend classes at The Village of University Gates. To date, more than 800 Conestoga graduates have trained at a Living Classroom and approximately 90 per cent of them continue to work with seniors.

The Schlegel Centre for Advancing Seniors Care at Conestoga College works in collaboration with Schlegel Villages and the Schlegel-UW Research Institute for Aging to develop innovative education, improve workforce development and strengthen care practices to support care for seniors and their families across Canada. It provides a hub for collaboration with partners to advance training and practice approaches and share best practices and resources to enhance seniors care and living.

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