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May 26, 2023

Planning and Resiliency for Next Generation Community Schools

It is often suggested, by adults and young people alike, that we are leaving a bleak future for our children. Despite increasingly shortened timelines to address the scientifically developed recommendations of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the need for community adaptation and mitigation has not yet reached the apex of public awareness necessary to engage substantive action.
On March 20, 2023 the IPCC released the final part of its Sixth Assessment Report. The eight years of scientific work it represents can be summarized with one key message: act now, or it will be too late.

With adaptation now being fundamental to community development comes the need for a new interpretation of community schools. The last post was specific to grey adaptation; how a reinterpretation of school infrastructure and operations can assist adaptive community development. This post is about soft adaptation* and how a reinterpretation of school and school district policies and systems, involving people, can assist adaptive community development.

Coping and Adapting Are Not the Same

Planning must extend beyond infrastructure and land use adaptation alone by assisting a continuous process oriented to longer term community livelihood and security.

Planning also needs to help bridge the gap between traditional and new interpretations about the role of community schools in moving from coping to true resilience.
Planners need to become more connected with community educators to support grassroots dialogue about climate change, public space, and the importance of community action.

The role of community schools, and opportunity for planners to engage with them in soft adaptation, begins with acknowledging the scope of work necessary for adaptive community development.

SPM (Summary for Policy Makers) D.2 of the 2022 IPCC report on the impacts, adaptation and vulnerability of climate change states the following:

“Climate resilient development is facilitated by international cooperation and by governments at all levels working with communities, civil society, educational bodies, scientific and other institutions, media investors and businesses and by developing partnerships with traditionally marginalised groups, including women, youth, Indigenous Peoples, local communities and ethnic minorities (high confidence). These partnerships are most effective when supported by enabling political leadership, institutions, resources, including finance, as well as climate services, information and decision support tools”. IPCC Working Group II, 2022

Schools can play a leading role in soft adaption by acting as conduits for communication, community awareness and services, health and wellbeing and an educated society that is connected with local development and global sustainability at large.

Education vs Schools

In keeping with the Education Act of Ontario, school districts in Ontario are responsible for, among other things, “providing education programs that meet the needs of the school community, including needs for special education.” Now is the time for planners to more actively engage with educators in formative processes to clarify what the needs of school communities are and what/how educational programs should be provided to align with community soft adaptation.  

The research informed need for educational system change to address climate change is well established. One example of many resources on the topic is the November 2021 UNESCO report  Reimagining Our Futures Together: A New Social Contract for Education that states “as we face grave risks to the future of humanity and the living planet itself, we must urgently reinvent education to address common challenges.” Furthermore, a new social contract for education “must unite us around collective endeavours and provide the knowledge and innovation needed to shape sustainable and peaceful futures for all anchored in social, economic and environmental justice.” p.2

Ontario’s current educational system structures limit schools to a peripheral role in soft adaptation via community access to available space per funding calculations and curriculum updates specific to climate change and related contexts.  

A new interpretation of community schools will enable a more seamless connection with soft adaptation whereby educators work collaboratively with community partners and students based upon their interests, learning needs and real-time data. Climate change adaptation is an opportunity for Ontario’s education system to create an equitable range of learning experiences at school, online and in the community; a shared commitment to the social infrastructure and educational approaches necessary to address a rapidly changing future.

A Path Forward

The social planning professionals** that assist Ontario communities through the Ministry of Children, Community, and Social Services, NGOs and charities, work interdependently with the formal structures of municipal planning departments and school districts. Integrally connected with youth and community services, they are experienced with data driven processes and change management with a view to equity. They are also burdened, as are school districts, with increasing demand for social services, particularly mental health. These demands will continue to increase with the impact of climate change. 

The challenge to be addressed is largely about procedure and practice; enabling the necessary conditions for schools, community services and business to work together in response to individual student and family needs. Social planning can assist a deeper connection with schools through innovative policy development, communication strategies, data applications, digital transformation, and the application of informed processes framed by equity and student/youth voice.
Social planners, empowered by the need for community adaptation, have the skill and capacity to assist school districts and schools in creating, promoting and facilitating:
  • a community vision for student success,
  • collaborative leadership,
  • equitable supports for historically underserved students,
  • a culture of innovation,
  • responsive funding systems, and
  • measurements of success.
Adapted From State Policy Framework for Personalized Learning: KnowledgeWorks, 2019

The Indigenous Connection

The opportunity for community adaptation through a stronger connection with schools is further enhanced by the value proposition of a deeper connection with Indigenous culture and peoples.  

In 2007, the Ontario Ministry of Education released the Ontario First Nation, Métis, and Inuit (FNMI) Education Policy Framework; the strategic policy context for the ministry, school boards, and schools to work together to improve the academic achievement of FNMI students in Ontario. Based upon a holistic and integrated approach to improving FNMI student outcomes, the framework includes strategic goals for Ontario school districts and schools to:
  • facilitate intercultural dialogue throughout school communities (strategy 3.2, p.19),
  • foster school-community projects with appropriate cultural components (strategy 3.2, p.19).
  • develop creative strategies to encourage more FNMI parents to participate more actively and directly in the education of their children (strategy 3.3, p.20), and
  • increase involvement of FNMI parents, Elders, and other community resources (strategy 3.3, p.20).
Prepared sixteen years ago, the FNMI Policy Framework does not offer any meaningful linkages with climate change.

The foundation exists for social planners to make a deeper connection between existing provincial policy, Indigenous communities and school and school district operations. This mutually beneficial opportunity is available due to the need for climate adaptation.
Communication and Measurement Matters

A reinterpretation of the role of community schools for climate adaption offers a starting point for new working relationships, framed by the tenets of effective communication and measurement.
The last post on grey adaptation identified that community organizations, leaders and school districts are currently required, by virtue of the Ontario Ministry of Education’s Community Planning and Partnerships Guideline, to share planning information on the availability and use of surplus school space. Planners from all spectra of community development can likely agree of the potential that this singular example offers as a platform to initiate measurable progress on an almost endless variety of grey and soft indicators.

In this context, the potential for progress reports on facility upgrades, or student transportation, or the availability of school climate shelters is matched in importance with the potential for progress reports on community school partnerships, or equity assessments, or communication campaigns, or community wellness, or student feedback etc.
Planning Now for the Immediate Future

When thinking about the role of schools in the immense journey ahead, it can help to view the process longitudinally. For most students, the time spent in K-12 Ontario schools is 14 years. What we can begin now, and maintain over the next 14 years with the current cohort of junior kindergarten students, can also be used to guide and support future student cohorts to follow.  
Planners have the skill set and capacity to help guide a new role for community schools for the public, elected officials and the private sector on the journey of climate change adaptation and mitigation.
Phil Dawes, May 25, 2023

*The word “soft” seems somewhat lacking – evoking a secondary role to grey adaptation. The soft adaptation work of community development must be seen as critical to the adaptation needs of communities overall.
**The OPPI database is currently being upgraded. Accordingly, I was unable to confirm the number, proportion or sector alignment of Ontario registered professional planners self-identified as social planners.

The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author(s), and may not reflect the position of the Ontario Professional Planners Institute.

Post by Phil Dawes, RPP

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