A conversation with Dr. Jennifer Adams

FEATURE: A conversation with Director of Education, Dr. Jennifer Adams

 In December 2017 Director of Education Dr. Jennifer Adams was invited as guest presenter at the Jeju International Symposium on Education where she delivered a presentation on the topic of “Continuous Assessment in the Learning Process: Transforming Assessment Practices in the OCDSB”

"These international partnerships give kids opportunities they would never have had before, and it is highly motivating for our staff - the interaction, and the learning, and the excitement and motivation - that's what education should be!"

- Dr. Jennifer Adams, OCDSB Director of Education


Director of Education Jennifer Adams will soon be retiring from the OCDSB; she leaves a legacy of being a strong advocate for international education. During her 8 years as Director, Dr. Adams has overseen many significant changes in international education at the OCDSB including an increase in the enrollment of international students in schools, more student and teacher exchange programs, the creation of the International Certificate Program, new MOU agreements with educational jurisdictions overseas, intercultural competency training, among many other initiatives. OCENET has had an important role in all of these developments.

The following are excerpts of answers by Jennifer Adams to several key questions about international education at the OCDSB:

#1: Being “Globally Aware” is one of the intended Exit Outcomes for every OCDSB student. Why is this exit outcome important for today’s graduating students?

JA: “The idea of being globally aware is related to an understanding that students are heading into a world of great interconnectivity, both socially and economically. Global awareness includes the idea of a sustainable world, and a world concerned with issues associated with social justice and diversity. Research has shown that these skills are developmental and will continue to evolve long after graduation.”


 OCENET Executive Director Geoff Best, Amancio Ortega, OCDSB Director of Education Dr. Jennifer Adams, and OCENET Program Director Constantine Ioannou (l-r) at the signing of the teacher training program partnership agreement between Fundación Amancio Ortega Gaona (Spain), the OCDSB, and OCENET.


 OCENET (Ottawa-Carleton Education Network) and the OCDSB donate $100,000 to the Education Foundation of Ottawa (EFO) to provide bursaries for students wanting to participate in international field studies abroad. Picture: Chris McGarvey (left), former Executive Director of the EFO; Jennifer Adams, OCDSB Director of Education; and Geoff Best (right), OCENET Executive Director

#2: How do international education initiatives have a positive and reciprocal impact for both for international students and educators as well as for OCDSB students and staff?

JA: “I’m thrilled with the work that the OCDSB and OCENET have done together. When we look back, OCENET was primarily a student recruitment agency. OCENET and the OCDSB realized that so much more could be done...the partnership between these two organizations has led to initiatives such as the International Certificate which is an example of how a wide cross-section of students can have internationally-focused academic courses and their unique interests and experiences formally recognized. The International Certificate Program is a concrete example that has fundamentally changed and improved the way in which programs are offered in our schools….I’m also really pleased with the way we have fostered partnerships with educational jurisdictions in Sweden, Spain, Aix Marseilles, Nice, in France, Chengdu in China,, and Jeju Island in South Korea, among others. These partnerships provide opportunities for ongoing professional learning for our educators, our administrators, and really interesting opportunities for students.”

#3: In what ways has OCENET contributed to the OCDSB being recognized as an innovative leader in international education in Canada and abroad?

JA: “I think the liaison with the OCDSB and OCENET has evolved to the point where we have reciprocal benefits between the visiting international students and educators and the students and staff in our schools. OCDSB students and staff are now connected through established ongoing relationships to learning in other places….Public education in Canada is very highly regarded around the world, in part because of PISA and other learning assessments….many countries are dealing with the effects of globalization and changing student demographics, and they are trying to figure out how to provide education to a much more diverse population. The OCDSB is eager to share our experiences with other educational jurisdictions. In Ontario, 95% of parents choose publicly funded education—this is most unusual in most parts of the world. I think OCENET has been able to help the OCDSB share that vision and share that model. We often get requests from educational jurisdictions around the world that want to come and see what teaching and learning looks like here.”

 Pictured is the Director of Education in South Korea (1) at a MOU signing ceremony, (2) dressed in traditional attire (with OCENET Executive Director Geoff Best), and (3) meeting with Korean educators

#4: What are some of the challenges that have come with the expansion of international education in the OCDSB and how has the school board addressed these challenges?

JA: “We have greater numbers of international students and educators coming to the OCDSB. We need to think about the resources in place to support the international students. Also, when we have visiting international educators come to learn about our schools, there is the question of our capacity to offer a meaningful learning experience for the visitors, as well as opportunities for our staff to learn from them….The OCDSB has addressed these challenges by focussing on a few significant partners. We see the mutual benefits of these long term relationships….Obviously one of our primary concerns is safety and security, and it is comforting to know that when we are sending students and teachers overseas to participate in outbound exchanges or on study tours, we know the people who are there at the other end….We ask for feedback from teachers and principals to get a sense of how this is all working—”Are they seeing the benefits of the international relationships?” and “What are the challenges?”— we share this information with OCENET and seek solutions.

Another aspect of international education involves the issue of equity. We try to make sure that there are equitable opportunities for students to participate in international education initiatives. For example, one of our concerns during the development of the International Certificate Program (ICP) was the experiential education component and knowing that not every ICP student would be able to travel outside of Canada. We designed the program to ensure students could successfully complete the ICP through volunteering with a consulate office or international NGO situated in Ottawa. Secondly, the availability of study abroad bursaries for students and staff of up to $1,000 to pursue an international learning experience helps address equity. Any of our 10,000 employees can apply for a bursary; it is not exclusively limited to teaching staff…The third piece around equity is friendship schools. Over time, the learning and sharing is happening for all of the students because it is occurring during class time; they’re connecting to other countries through technology. In this way, every student has the opportunity to be involved. There are now many more different types of internationally related experiences for students and staff.”

#5. During your years as Director of Education, can you recall an event or encounter which encapsulates the importance of international education for you?

JA: “It’s difficult to pinpoint because in my role as Director I have been very privileged to have many experiences involving international education....perhaps my role as Chair of the OECD Study of Social Emotional Skills, which involves 10 countries, including Ottawa, Canada….Through OCENET and the OECD I have been able to observe several different educational systems around the world, and in spite of differing contexts and educational systems, there is a common understanding of the skills that are critical for students to be successful in the future.”

“As a final comment, I would note that I am so proud of the work we have done in international education over the past decade. OCENET Executive Director Geoff Best and the OCENET team are to be commended for their leadership and for sharing their expertise with other school districts across Canada. OCENET has shown what international education in Canada can look like.”

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