3. Engage


Once the initial connections and plans have been made, then the rubber  really hits the road. Jumping into the actual GrandPals project work can be a huge amount of fun and also a ton of hard work! It can be very helpful for those engaged in the process to hear from others about the pitfalls and joys that take place along the journey. Take guidance and courage from the words of students, teachers, seniors, librarians and program managers, who have all taken part in previous projects.

Facilitating Learning

At first I was kind of scared because I didn’t want to make my Grandpal upset by asking personal questions. It took me about two meetings and then we were fine talking with each other. Hannah Osmond – Student
Encouraging all participants to have an open mind and flexible attitude is a good starting place for engaging in the project. Another point to emphasize is that everyone will experience a lot of learning and growth, especially in the area of interpersonal skills. Many students will experience a steep learning curve when acquiring proper etiquette, learning how to greet their senior friend, how to engage in conversation, how to ask relevant and appropriate questions, and how to have a general sense of ease during interactions. Surprisingly, many seniors also begin with a little anxiety. They might have had their own children, but that was “a long time ago”. Reminding all participants that these growing pains are a normal part of the process can be encouraging for all involved.  

We expect kids to know how to react, without making a mistake. They are going to make mistakes. They may ask questions that may be inappropriate, but it’s okay, because that is the whole point. They are supposed to learn through the process. Anna Hardy – Program Manager – Long Term Care Facility

Another component involved in facilitating learning during the project is to watch for sparks of curiosity in students. As students engage in conversation with their senior friend, they will naturally come across new ideas, learn about new places, or make new historical connections. They will also express an interest about learning more. It is the teacher’s responsibility to watch for and facilitate this incidental, yet important and powerful learning. These sparks of curiosity can become the basis for inquiry and research back in the classroom.

One student’s Grandpal came from Pigeon Lake. She wanted to find out everything about Pigeon Lake in Canada. She discovered there are all kinds of Pigeon Lakes all over the world. She started comparing and contrasting; one here in Canada and one in Europe. How are they alike? How are they different? It allowed the learning to become the student’s learning rather than me directing it.
Donna Calanchie – Teacher

Student Writing 

I knew the work that the students would be completing…but I really didn’t know the amount of time and hard work it would take to complete at the standard we were looking for.
Tim Buchan – Teacher

A central component of a GrandPals Project is student writing. Students are capturing stories from the lives of their senior friend and the real world implications of this work demands the highest standards. Students often instinctively understand the importance of the work they are doing and as a result are deeply invested in creating quality material. Having the work “go public” at the end of the project also provides an additional incentive for students, as they want to put their best foot forward.  

While motivation is one part of the equation for quality student work, the importance of drafting and feedback can not be emphasized enough. As is true for any author, students will need to receive feedback from many sources (teachers, peers, parents, seniors etc.) as they draft and redraft their way to excellence.

This is a real world project that’s going to have a real world audience, and therefore students can’t create materials that are flawed and don’t get ideas across.
The more people you have that can help students review their work, get some feedback, and work on it some more, the more excellence you’ll get out of the product. Paola Argentino – Principal

Managing Expectations

Any person who is getting into this program is going to have problems. There is not one project that we have ever worked on that didn’t run into a problem. Anna Hardy – Program Manager – Long Term Care

One aspect of this kind of programming is that problems are inevitable. But if these problems are reframed as growth opportunities, then students, teachers and seniors will have the right expectations when embarking on the project journey. These problems might involve students being shy or behaving inappropriately, seniors dropping out of the program, seniors getting sick, or in rare cases a senior participant passing away. All involved will need to commit to being flexible, adaptable and resilient as they engage in the project.

We also lost some of the seniors during the time we were running the program. The school social worker spoke to the students about loss and bereavement. It became a very teachable moment. Cecilia Vespa – Community Librarian

Celebrating Successes

The later days of a project will begin to produce powerful and positive results for participants. It is important to have regular check ins with students and seniors to find out about these successes and to also be able to share them as a community. 

These successes might be in the area of interpersonal growth,
It’s nice just to talk with your Grandpal and not have to worry about what you’re going to say. It’s not a text bubble, it’s a conversation face to face. Alexandra Keith – Student
or about the benefits that seniors are gaining from the project,
As the program progressed, the seniors would be waiting for us at the door when we came for our visit, with big grins on their faces. Kristie Walraven – Teacher
or the benefits that the parent community are beginning to see.
I noticed good things were happening when she was waking up in the morning and excited to go to school. For an 11 year old girl, that’s not something you would expect.
Jeremy Curry – Parent

Regardless of the successes emerging, they should be intentionally recognized and shared for the benefit of all involved.