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Coping with tragedy, death and change: OISE Continuing & Professional Learning unveils Grief Education certificate program

November 1, 2021

By Perry King

OISE Continuing & Professional Learning division (CPL) has developed a one year, online certificate program that is designed to help educators – but also other client-facing professions, including within healthcare – gain a better understanding of grief and bereavement in the Canadian context and how grief impacts our experiences. 

Loss of employment. Loss of social connection. Loss of identity. Loss of family. Unpacking, understanding and supporting those who are experiencing grief is a challenge for many educators.

OISE Continuing & Professional Learning division (CPL) has developed a one-year online Grief Education certificate program that is designed to help educators gain a better understanding of Canadian bereavement contexts, and how grief impacts our experiences. Designed for educators at all levels, the program explores grief and bereavement theories, research and practices.

This Grief Education program is an evolution of CPL’s former Bereavement Education program. With the leadership of Karima Joy, a doctoral candidate at University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, CPL was able to add insight into grief from leading scholars, researchers and practitioners.

“In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, there is so much unacknowledged grief around us demanding space and attention,” said Joy, who now serves as program lead and sessional facilitator. “Everyone can benefit from grief literacy, or greater proficiency in recognizing and understanding grief so that we can better support ourselves and others.”

This program does not make one qualified to become a grief counsellor or to conduct any form of psychotherapy. Rather, this program is meant to better equip educators and other professionals in supporting people experiencing grief. This includes nurses and other healthcare workers, clergy, volunteers, mental health practitioners and human resources officers.

“Grief and loss are everywhere, and this is going to be a program that's going to openly talk about and investigate the experiences of grief and loss because you're never the same after a significant loss has occurred,” said Mark Shelvock, a certified thanatologist who is facilitating the first of three courses in the program, Introduction to Grief and Bereavement.

The many sources of grief have multiplied during the pandemic. In the Canadian context, Canadians are steadily recognizing the brutal legacy of settler colonization and the residential school system, as well as ecological disaster globally, says Shelvock. “We're creating a space to actually talk about a very taboo and disenfranchised topic that just has so many different layers and has so many different ways people can apply this.”

The evolution of the program was triggered by the pandemic itself. Trish Mazzotta, CPL’s Associate Director, Professional Learning, says it forced the division to re-examine the offering and the talent around the table. Wanting to provide a program that is differentiated from a college-based certificate, that realization led to a year-long consultation with community members, with Joy at the helm.

“What we heard loud and clear was that broadening of the topic, and a broader understanding of grief in terms of trauma and displacement and many other contexts was really needed and felt that our prior focus solely on bereavement was a bit too narrow,” said Mazzotta.

The consults also got CPL thinking about the audience and where this knowledge and access to this information might be missing in with key professional groups—including healthcare workers.

“What we truly wanted was to root this program in education by ensuring that the design was underpinned by the Educator Skill Domains while reflecting the needs of our broader audiences who may be in working in human services—either in an educational role or responsible for educating others in some capacity,” said Mazzotta.

It was a collaborative process for all involved, and it produced a program that takes a critical and anti-oppressive lens to offer a learning experience that is very personal and reflexive in nature.

“This is such a unique and, honestly, magical program,” added Shelvock, who was so enthralled by the consultation that he agreed to teach in the program. “This is such a timely program.”

The first of the courses began on Oct. 14, with the second course beginning on February 3 and the last course on May 12.

If you have completed courses in the former Bereavement Education program between 2016 and 2020, and are interested in the new Grief Education program, please contact OISE Continuing and Professional Learning.


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