Focus groups: a way to stay connected, listen to those on the front line, and push for change.
The 2018-2019 school year marks my first year working at QPAT and it is a year that has proven the importance and benefit of teacher focus groups. The struggle teachers are living in trying to deliver equitable, quality public education in Quebec’s English sector is constant, and participating in focus groups allows teachers to voice this. At QPAT, I’ve had the privilege of working with several teacher Focus Groups this year. Through their participation and testimonies, I was able to capture a global portrait of various issues teachers are experiencing and to establish a solid foundation on which to build much of my work at QPAT this year.
One such group, a QPAT Preschool Focus Group, permitted me to periodically meet and consult with full-time 4 year-old and 5 year-old Kindergarten teachers to obtain their feedback on the new MEES Preschool Cycle Program.
This Focus Group also provided input on the updating of the Professional Competencies. By consulting this group through face-to-face meetings, an online questionnaire and a survey, I was able to bring their recommendations, suggestions and concerns to various provincial tables at the Ministry of Educationthroughout the 2018-2019 school year.
Another focus group, which provided in-depth information on issues regarding special needs in our schools, was the QPAT Special Needs Focus Group. This group consisted of three sub-groups; Elementary teachers, High School teachers, and Special Education teachers. Several teachers from various school boards participated in each of the sub-group meetings. The sub-group meetings consisted of separate round table discussions aimed at pinpointing common issues occurring in English school boards in Québec.
The information gathered from the various Special Needs Focus Group meetings was used to build a survey designed to acquire feedback, on issues with inclusion, from teachers working within the Youth Sector in English schools. The purpose of the survey was to formally determine the prevalence of issues with inclusion in English school boards in Quebec, assess whether the current (supports/services) structure is meeting need demands, examine possible barriers to services and/or supports, and to provide comparable data amongst the English school boards and local unions. A Beta-Test Focus Group, consisting of six teachers, was also created to test the survey prior to its official launch. The Beta-Test Focus Group helped identify questions that were problematic or unclear, and the survey was edited accordingly.
Overall, each QPAT Teacher Focus Group was a way for me to meet and work with teachers from various teaching backgrounds, and it was a way for teachers to provide valuable and realistic input on various issues they are experiencing. Teacher input permitted QPAT to collect necessary data to build a survey on special needs and a survey on the full-time 4 year-old Kindergarten program, as well as participate in authentic discussions and decision making at various provincial committee meetings at theMinistry of Education. Taking time to meet and work with teachers is key to listening to those on the front line, staying connected to the realities of the classroom, and pushing for change at the provincial level – so working conditions for teachers can improve. I appreciate the time teachers were willing to give to participate in focus groups at QPAT this year and look forward to another productive school year in 2019-2020.