Co-Creating Solutions: An Example From My Teaching Days

Co-Creating Solutions In Education – And Health Care!

My teaching experiences have been very valuable to working in the Health Care space, because co-creating solutions was the key to engaging students.

Like our education system, our Health Care system is experiencing crisis. These institutions are being asked to perform tasks that are very different than the ones they were initially designed to do. As a result the people working in these systems are stressed as are the people the systems are supposed to be helping.

When I left formal teaching in 2008, in no small part due to my husband’s declining health, I was working with at-risk youth and learning about how co-creating solutions with students was necessary to empower and engage them in their educations.

This is now becoming the focus of the Health Care system.

And I’m quite excited about this because it can really help alleviate a lot of the stress for the people who work and benefit from the system.

Co-Creating Solutions Starts With Identifying A Problem: No-Shows

In Saskatoon, Nutana Collegiate had a long history of being a highly academic school. Until shifting student demographics lead to a new issue: Excessive absenteeism.

On the surface, the solution to the problem seemed pretty straight-forward: Crack down on students who were not attending school.

When that didn’t work, the next step was to assume that the new student demographic just wasn’t interested in graduating and their lack of attendance clearly showed that they weren’t interested in high school or post-secondary education.

At some point, the question will become: If people aren't willing to help themselves why should we keep trying? We need to get off this path. Fast. Click To Tweet

Blaming Doesn’t Help Find Solutions

Consider: We don’t have a people problem, we have a systems problem.

What would happen if we:

  1. Take the time we don’t think we have to ask the students/patients/clients what they really want?
  2. Listen to understand the needs of all interested parties?
  3. Work to co-create solutions that meet the needs of all parties?

That’s what they did at Nutana. The teachers and administrators sat down with the students and asked them what they wanted.

  1. Did they want to graduate high school with a ‘proper’ diploma that would allow them to move into post-secondary? If so, what was standing in the way of attendance?
  2. If not, the school could provide programs that weren’t as academic and would allow students to graduate high school more easily.

The overwhelming majority of students wanted to graduate high school with the ability to go onto a post-secondary education.

So why were they not attending school? Why were they dropping out? Did they not understand that failing to attend high school classes would create a more difficult pathway to post-secondary education?

Nutana’s students were missing school for a variety of reasons that put them into what educators call ‘at-risk’ categories. They were capable of completing very rigorous academic programs, but there were some common socio-economic barriers:

  • Many were required to do seasonal work for themselves and their families. This meant they weren’t able to start school until late September or early October, thereby missing an entire semester.
  • There was a higher than ‘normal’ population of new parents in the school’s demographics. Having a baby meant missing entire semesters.
  • A high percentage of students had legal and/or mental health and addictions issues.
  • There were a significant number of adolescent students who effectively had no parental involvement and/or were young caregivers.

There were very real socio-economic issues keeping these students from attending and performing well at school. Enforcing existing attendance rules wasn’t going to help. In fact, ignoring these issues further alienated students already struggling.

Co-Creating Solutions Takes The Proverbial Village

The solutions had to be ‘outside the box’ and had to involve not just the school division, but also the Health Region, Social Services, Police, Mental Health and Addictions and the wider community.

  • The school year was structured in Quarters instead of Semesters. This allowed seasonal workers to miss only 1 quarter of the year, not an entire semester. With 2 classes per day, the students started at 9:30 am. It was also helpful for new parents.
  • A day-care centre was opened for the sole use of students. The day-care took infants.
  • A ‘Students and Kids’ Centre was available for student parents to help with parenting.
  • A Nurse-Practitioner was posted to the school.
  • A Social worker was posted to the school.
  • The Salvation Army hot food van arrived in the morning before school to serve breakfast.
  • Community partners were involved with job placements and special lessons and programs.

These students needed support getting to, and staying in school. The barriers that were keeping them away were not inconsequential. Solutions didn’t come solely from the school division, but in breaking down the siloes across agencies. It took a number of Champions to get a Social Worker and Nurse Practitioner into the building, but it was done.

Co-Creating Solutions Focusses On Us All

The real benefit of the ‘co-creation’ process is that it includes all stakeholders. This doesn’t just include patients and families, it also includes health care workers, administrators, policy-workers and outside agencies. It acknowledges that we’re all on the same team. Our institutional systems need to be able to support all of our needs more fully, and we need to make this shift together.