The Living Classroom – Shared Learning Environments in Long-Term Care
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The Living Classroom – Shared Learning Environments in Long-Term Care

A Living Classroom is a shared approach to bring a long-term care home and a college together and to create a positive learning experience for students. And so these would be personal support worker students, practical nursing students, and students in other fields. Within the concept of a Living Classroom, residents add some knowledge, the family members add some knowledge, and the team members add some knowledge. So students can learn in any part of their environment. One of the things that I really love about being involved with the Living Classroom is that I can bring first-hand knowledge as a family member. I can enhance not only the hands-on treatment, but the fact that they get to know a family member. The Living Classroom makes a lot of sense to me because we use the same curriculum as any of the other campuses, but we’re able to provide the students with hands-on experience with actual residents, in their homes, and experience that day-to-day life much sooner than what other students would be able to do. We learn faster because we are having theory, but also practice. We’re practicing together, and then we went upstairs helping. Upstairs is different because you are with life, so you need to be focused. Being able to interact with residents before you’re even working out in the field is a positive. By going just into a classroom setting, you’re reading a textbook telling you exactly what to do with the perfect resident, someone who’s mannequin-like. You’re able to take your textbook learning and be able to apply it to a real individual. First semester, we got to do interviews, and I actually went back every week and I visited that same resident and it just made their whole week. I don’t know, if I was at a different campus I wouldn’t be able to just walk up the stairs and go and see this resident. And we can help with assisting with dining, anytime during the week, and you can’t do that at other places. And it also has prepared me emotionally, and it’s also, it’s changed me emotionally because going into the Living Classroom, building this connection, and then having them pass away, it’s hard, but it’s helpful. Since I have the Living Classroom at hand, anytime on my breaks if I think I could improve on something, I’ll come up here and do it. The hands-on gives you more of a leverage, it gives you more of a confidence boost. You feel confident the second you hop on the floor that you can go and provide care to someone. PSW is like the foundation. There’s so many other places you can go from here. Here’s where I found out that I have an interest in palliative care. The students see opportunities by looking at what some of their co-workers are doing — the opportunity for growth and development, other positions within the home — and we have the advantage of seeing firsthand the students at work. We have hired many of the students and know that we’re picking the best of the best. The students being here is an amazing opportunity. Many of our residents will ask, “When are the students coming?” We’re actually learning where they’re living. Learning from a textbook is very important, but when you’re actually doing it, there’s things that maybe I wish I had’ve learned that I’m able to let the students working with me know about. You know, every little bit helps. When I was on my air crew course, we took Morse code, but until we got onto the base and did some actual radio work, it was really so much different. And I think it’s different to have this opportunity, and us to have an opportunity to meet them. I told them that what they would need to do, and what they would have to carry with them — their sense of humour, not to be shocked at some of the things that they encounter. But I’m sure they’ll handle it. I never cease to be surprised at what these people do. We need to have more colleges and more long-term care homes working together to create this magic that we have in the Living Classroom. We are seeing more engagement, a more capable workforce more skill in working as part of an interprofessional team, because the learning is as part of an interprofessional team. I can tell our team members are really passionate and are enjoying having someone alongside them, and teaching them, and also getting something back from them as well. I think it actually is giving them a moment to reflect with the students and be able to reflect on their practice a lot. We do something called mentorship training for staff members. So for personal support workers and also nurses, whoever will be working very closely with our students. We teach them about our program, how to provide constructive feedback, provide them with guidance in order to promote growth within their field. I think starting a Living Classroom in long-term care homes is a fantastic opportunity that benefits all stakeholders. I think the best advice is there’s a lot of resources available in terms of a Living Classroom guide that can be referenced, but really the first step is establishing a strong partnership with an academic institution. It’s important for Mohawk College to continue building relationships with our community. We want them to know that we’re listening to the needs and we hear the needs of our community and we’re working together to build strategies such as the Living Classroom methodology to support what our community needs. And our community is saying that they need personal support workers. The problems that healthcare and education are facing, you can’t really solve them on your own or in isolation. You really need to work with your partners. With the PSW Living Classroom what we brought to the table was access to residents, patients, staff, family members, and through partnership with Algonquin College we’ve been able to let their students take advantage of that. And we in turn have access to their instructors, who can help us deliver even better care.

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