A Reflection on the PlayJouer Onboarding Sessions

During late September and throughout the month of October, the playjouer network held 60-90 minute onboarding sessions with each school team. I, Trista, had the great honour to connect with each one of the 30 English language CPSN school teams. As the facilitator of these sessions, I would leave each discussion inspired, rejuvenated and incredibly hopeful. It was truly awe-inspiring to hear about all the innovative and impactful work CPSN members were already leading, the powerful ideas they had for this year, and to witness their deep care and commitment for their students, school and community. It was abundantly clear that students and community are at the heart of all CPSN learning through play projects.  

During each onboarding session, I was accompanied by either Gladys Ayson or Sajani Karunaweera, two of our incredible CPSN Research Assistants who provided each school team with a summary of their onboarding conversation. The onboarding conversation and summary helped each school team prepare their school profile submission, which can be found here: Participating Schools

For the CPSN virtual launch held October 26, 2022, Sajani and Gladys presented an analysis of these summaries for network members. The presentation can be found here: Highlights from the CPSN Virtual Launch. Gladys also wrote about her reflections on being part of the onboarding process here: ‘Nothing short of a miracle’ : A Strong First Impression of What’s to Come.

One of the aims for us as the CPSN research team is to highlight key CPSN tools, resources and learnings from our experience in designing, building and coordinating a national network. In this blog post, I will share my reflections on these conversations and describe the onboarding protocol and process that we developed and used. As the facilitator, I adopted a coaching stance during these meetings. My objective was for school teams to reflect together, and as a coach, my role was to ask powerful questions, listen attentively, paraphrase and summarize responses, and provoke further thinking. Ultimately, we hoped these onboarding sessions would support school teams to think together and plan their way forward.

The Onboarding Protocol

The first part of the onboarding conversation (see image below) focused on each school team’s learning through play ethos. The questions we chose were designed to help CPSN members unpack what learning through play means in their context, why it is important for them and their school community, and to consider what positive impact they had previously observed with their students engaged in learning through play and what future impact they hope their project will have. During this part of the conversation, we also wanted school teams to articulate what they hoped to gain from being part of the playjouer network and, perhaps more importantly, what their team can contribute to the CPSN. As I stated in each meeting, the network will only be as effective as its members make it. What is truly unique about the playjouer network is that school teams not only have funding to support their project, but they also have release time each month to meet as a group, connect with other school teams in playdates or consult with national and international experts in the field.  

For the second half of our onboarding conversations (see image below), I drew heavily on my twenty-year experience with coaching in education as a practitioner and researcher. In this coaching phase, we wanted to help CPSN school teams set realistic and manageable goals for their learning through play projects and develop indicators that would help them evaluate their progress over the year. The questions we selected prompted teams to reflect on their collective strengths, and how to build on previous educational successes and future obstacles they may face. We also adapted one of my favourite and what I have found to be a most effective coaching strategy called ‘scaling’ from solutions focused coaching (Jackson & McKergow, 2007). Once again, I was not disappointed because these questions led to powerful and meaningful discussions between members of each school team.  

One of the best parts of the playjouer network is the generosity of spirit that each member brings and the free and open sharing of resources and ideas. We hope this onboarding protocol is not only useful for our CPSN members but also for others interested in exploring coaching approaches to further develop a learning through play ethos in their schools and systems.

You can download an adapted version of the onboarding protocol that is ready to use by clicking the download button below :

Reference : Jackson P. Z. & McKergow M. (2007). The solutions focus : making coaching and change simple (2nd ed.). London: Nicholas Brealey.

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.