The Guiding Principles, Design and Implementation of the CPSN

In the design and implementation of the CPSN, the UOttawa research team built on our extensive experience researching, organizing and leading networks at the provincial, national and international levels. As a network, we try to embed the four elements of play (joy, whimsy, playing with new people and surprise) highlighted by our international advisor AnnMarie Thomas in her playful address at our virtual launch.

Network Principles

A professional learning network is described by Brown and Poortman (2018) as “any group who engage in collaborative learning with others outside of their everyday community of practice in order to improve teaching and learning in their school(s) and/or the school system more widely” (2018, p. 1). The CPSN is guided by the following network principles shared by international advisor Danette Parsley.

CPSN Research & Development

The CPSN is a bilingual network comprised of 41 school teams from across seven provinces in Canada. Our guiding research question is: What does learning through play mean for students in the middle grades (4-8) in Canada?

Each school team is made up of 2-4 educators (including one school leader) who have demonstrated engagement with play-based learning. Since the needs and contexts of the 30 Anglophone and 11 Francophone school teams differ, the playjouer network has two streams: The Canadian Playful Schools Network (CPSN) and the Réseau canadien des écoles ludiques (RCÉL). As a bilingual research team working with and between both French and English-language schools, our research also explores the important relationship between culture, language, identity and play. 

Through network activities, members have an opportunity to engage and collaborate educators, researchers and thought leaders from across Canada and the globe as they inquire into common issues of practice related to learning through play. The network’s shared purpose is to improve the engagement and wellbeing of students who are traditionally underserved by systems of schooling.  

Each school team is provided with $5000 for their self-directed learning through play projects ($5000), and funds to support their participation in monthly network activities, such as playgroups, playdates, collaborative planning, consultations, workshops, webinars and the CPSN Showcase Conference.  

CPSN members are expected to: 

  • Advocate for their own network experience  
  • Learn with and from one another, as well as CPSN researchers, thought leaders and partners 
  • Deepen their understanding and practice of play-based learning 
  • Share resources, challenges and successes 
  • Be self-critical about the limits and risks of play in schools and society 
  • Reflect on their learning through play experience and the impact of play on students and school community in a monthly report 
  • Play! 

The UOttawa research team will analyze all network data collected in the monthly reports, onboarding sessions, playgroups, school visits and collaborative documents to determine how network interactions and understanding of learning through play develops and changes over time. 

Network Activities

CPSN members choose network activities based on their own interests, areas of focus or context. This timeline of key network events was shared with school teams during their onboarding session.

Onboarding & coaching sessions (September/October)
Each school team participated in virtual onboarding and coaching sessions to discuss their initial thinking about what learning through play is important for their school community and their aspirations and plans for their play-based projects. These meetings were also an opportunity for school teams to learn more about the network’s purpose, design and structure. See this link for more on the onboarding sessions.

Playgroups (October-June)
Each school team is placed with another 5 or 6 teams into playgroups based on shared areas of interest, focus or context (e.g. learning on the land, play in a minority language context, play for students with special needs). Each playgroup is facilitated by a member of the UOttawa research team and structured to provide time for members to build relationships, share resources and ideas, discuss successes and challenges, as well as inspire and challenge one another to go deeper into what learning through play means in the Canadian context. There are three virtual playgroup gatherings planned for October (Virtual Launch), December, March and one in-person meeting in June (Showcase Conference).

Choose Your Own Adventure (November-May)
Another guiding design feature of the network is our ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ approach to collaborative-based professional learning. Members are encouraged to direct their own professional learning based on their team’s specific needs and context. Each month, members can use their funded release time to work together, set up playdates with other school teams, attend virtual webinars or workshops, or consult with one of the CPSN experts.   

Showcase Conference (June 9 & 10)
The CPSN Showcase Conference will be held on June 9 and 10, 2023 in Ottawa, Ontario.  Network members will be able to meet in person, showcase their learning through play experience, learn more about other school team’s projects, engage with CPSN thought leaders and partners, explore the city and  UOttawa campus and play in our new EdInnovation lab launching soon. We can’t wait! 

Reference : Brown, C. and Poortman, C. L. (2018). Networks for learning: effective collaboration for teacher, school and system improvement. Routledge.

Trista Hollweck is a Research Fellow at the University of Ottawa and the co-principal investigator of the CPSN. The perfect blend of research, policy and practice, Trista is a former teacher, vice-principal and school district consultant and has designed and led educational networks at the school, province and international levels. Trista is a passionate advocate for innovative practice and supporting teachers and leaders in this work. Her PhD research focused on teacher induction, mentoring and coaching programs and their systemic change implications.