A multiethnic group of students study together at a library.

Diversity, Promising Practices, Research

Providing a Quality Education in a Multicultural Environment

The Marguerite-Bourgeoys School Service Centre (CSSMB) is located in the west end of Montreal. Covering over 100 schools and institutions, it is Quebec’s second largest school service centre (CSS). The territory served is divided into seven networks, each encompassing one or two high schools and their feeder elementary schools. This structure ensures consistency in the interventions for client groups living in relatively homogeneous areas. Administrators and educators from both levels maintain close ties, facilitating the students’ transition from elementary to high school. An example of this is Amène ton parent au théâtre, an initiative in which elementary students, accompanied by their mother or father, are invited to attend a bullying prevention activity presented by high-school students.

In addition, the CSSMB relies on the insights of a small team of statisticians who closely monitor hundreds of indicators, notably those associated with the 17 goals listed in its Plan d’engagement vers la réussite (Commitment to Success Plan). This information is valuable because it helps us quickly identify and address our students’ academic and social vulnerabilities.

The activities carried out in the CSSMB’s 102 institutions interconnect with many of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations. In this article, we will focus primarily on Goal #4: Quality Education.

Access to quality education for all

Quebec’s student population has changed dramatically in the past few decades, especially in Montreal. In the CSSMB’s elementary and high schools, over 80 percent of students are first- or second-generation immigrants. This diversity creates a number of challenges when it comes to organizing educational services. For example, many recently arrived immigrants are unable to speak French, their new language for school and socializing. During the 2019-2020 school year, 4,500 students attended “welcome” classes, which are designed to teach French while fostering the academic and social integration of non-French-speaking young people.

If we are to provide a quality education to all (SGD 4), notably students with diverse cultural backgrounds and life experiences, we must rethink the way in which educational services are delivered. This process requires in-depth reflection, adapted tools and, ultimately, a review of existing practices. We have successfully met this challenge because we have the highest graduation and qualification rates of any Quebec school service centre – not bad for a CSS where students speak over 150 different mother tongues!

Implementing practices supported by research

To efficiently coordinate the activities of all the experts working with our students, we have created reference documents and frameworks to define everyone’s role. These resources are inspired by research in various areas to ensure that best practices are integrated and applied. In 2015, we published Vivre-ensemble en français (Living Together in French). This document offers guidelines for learning how to live together in French, clarifies some key concepts, and provides tools to better focus activities (CSMB, 2015, p. 9), while taking into account the school’s diversity, which is integral to providing all students with access to a quality education.

Together, our reference documents and frameworks have enabled us to implement a shared vision of an organization that supports the school experience of all its students, which is our primary objective. These tools establish a culture of accountability and co-operation among those who work to support the success of all students. In this way, the responsibility for teaching and monitoring learners does not fall to a single individual.

Some of our reference documents are also inspired by the tiered approach to intervention. This model, also known as Response to Intervention (RTI), is a system that prevents problems, identifies necessary interventions and improves the chances of success for all students (Bissonnette et al., 2020).

An applied research centre to support sustainable success

Although educational success includes success in school, it involves more than just obtaining a diploma or qualifications. It means encouraging children to reach their full potential intellectually, emotionally, socially, and physically. It also aims to instil values, attitudes, and obligations to help students become responsible citizens who are prepared to play an active role in society (Government of Québec, 2017).

As mentioned earlier, a majority of our students come from linguistically and ethnoculturally diverse backgrounds; increasingly, our staff reflect this diversity as well. While immensely enriching, this reality generates some everyday issues. To address these issues, the CSSMB created the Centre for Pedagogical Intervention in Diverse Environments (CIPCD, cipcd.ca) in 2012. Initially serving the “living together in French” orientation of our 2014-2018 strategic plan, the CIPCD then shifted its orientation to “provide an inclusive, welcoming environment open to the world and the future” in accordance with the CSSMB’s 2018-2022 Commitment to Success Plan. This innovative initiative is unique because we are the only CSS to have our own applied research centre affiliated with various partners.

The CIPCD has six working groups to study challenges related to ethnocultural and linguistic diversity in schools, each with its own priority focus. A university researcher and CSSMB administrator or educational consultant are assigned to each group, which has three primary mandates: research, transfer of scientific knowledge, and training.

Focus 1: Teaching French in a multi-ethnic and multilingual environment

Since 2012, various projects have been carried out to address issues of diversity at the CSSMB. Working Group 1 was created because of the very linguistically diverse student population. French is not the mother tongue of over 60 percent of our elementary and high-school students. This working group focuses on the overall problem of adapting pedagogical practices when teaching French to bilingual and multilingual learners for whom French is a second, or even third, language.

In 2015, the CSSMB and Université de Montréal launched a continuing education project called Taking Action in Multi-ethnic and Multilingual Environments with Preschool and Daycare Students. One outcome of this initiative was to increase staff awareness of the importance of recognizing and acknowledging the different languages spoken by students (e.g. Festival “Pluri-Pluri”). This project has changed our perceptions of languages of origin and the need for inclusive practices.

Focus 2: Academic success and school-family-community relations

As noted earlier, over 80 percent of our students are first- or second-generation immigrants. For a variety of reasons related to their migratory experience or that of their parents, these students may face numerous social vulnerabilities and/or academic challenges. Working Group 2 concentrates its activities on the twofold challenge of academic success and school-family-community relations.

In the last few years, the group has organized a number of activities. Several CIPCD-affiliated researchers carried out a study entitled Intercultural Climate and Educational Success of Immigrant Students. This research aimed to evaluate the state of the intercultural climate in several multi-ethnic schools in Quebec (including two at the CSSMB) and examine the impact of this climate on the educational success of immigrant students. Ultimately, a diagnostic tool must be developed to help administrators assess their school’s intercultural climate, as it is a key factor in supporting the educational success of immigrant students.

Focus 3: Vulnerable immigrant populations and psychosocial intervention in educational settings

Recent immigrant students entering the Quebec school system sometimes arrive with emotional baggage that includes grief and trauma. Working Group 3 studies the psychological well-being and academic success of these students, particularly those in psychological distress.

During the 2016-2017 school year, an action research project provided insight on the academic and social integration of young Syrian refugees. Discussion groups were formed in welcome classes to help these students develop a sense of well-being and belonging. At the end of the project, a guide on organizing discussion groups in schools, Mener des groupes de parole en contexte scolaire (2017), was published for school practitioners. Professionals in many of our schools now use this guide to organize such groups so students can express themselves on various topics like death and violence. These groups are designed to foster the psychological well-being of young people in school and, consequently, their educational success.

Focus 4: Inclusive education and intercultural understanding

Working Group 4 was created to address the interpersonal relationship challenges generated by the diversity of our CSS. Its work focuses on making the concept of “living together” a reality in our schools, notably by explaining the foundations of the inclusive perspective. It also looks at activities to promote intercultural understanding and seeks to document their impact.

In 2015, this working group developed a pedagogical guide to help school staff who would like to discuss sensitive topics with students: Aborder les sujets sensibles avec les élèves. This practical tool can be used on a daily basis to discuss topics, whether related to diversity or not, that can provoke discomfort or sometimes heated class discussions.

Focus 5: Socio-professional integration of recently immigrated staff and work relationships in a multi-ethnic environment

More and more CSSMB staff members have been educated outside Quebec, a reality that creates challenges with regard to their socio-professional integration and the school climate. In the last few years, teachers have been trained as peer mentors to help welcome their foreign-trained colleagues, and school administrators have been invited to awareness training on the topic. Teachers educated outside the province have also taken part in group discussions to learn more about the profession in Quebec (challenges and advantages). Finally, this work has led to the publication of a guide for school administrators on facilitating the socio-professional integration of foreign-trained teachers: Faciliter l’intégration socioprofessionnelle du personnel enseignant formé à l’étranger (2019).

Focus 6: Vocational training for youths and adults with an immigrant background

Ethnocultural and linguistic diversity is also increasingly present in vocational training (VT), raising a number of issues particular to this educational sector. In addition to studying the pathways of VT students from ethnocultural minority groups, the members of this working group examine the problems these students face when acquiring skills and trying to enter the job market. In the last few years, the group has led projects to raise awareness of the realities experienced by young people from immigrant backgrounds and revisit the practices supporting their occupational integration, for example, in internship settings.


The makeup of our student population has been transformed over the past few decades. Children named Bertrand, Roberge and Lauzon now sit alongside those named Traoré, Chang and Hernandez, primarily because the Charter of the French Language dictates that the majority of new immigrants must attend French-speaking schools. These students come from around the world. Upon arrival, many of them spend one or two years in a welcome class, discovering the language of Félix Leclerc, before joining a regular classroom where they will be successful.

This is possible because we have taken measures to ensure their success, notably by creating more partnerships with university academics. We offer these experts a vast testing ground and, in return, they share what they learn with us. The results speak for themselves: at the end of the 2019-2020 school year, the graduation and qualification rate of our students was ten points higher than the average for all French-speaking school service centres in Quebec. We can therefore safely infer that we are on the right track!

Photo : Adobe Stock

First published in Education Canada, March 2021

Read other articles from this issue


Bissonnette, S., Bouchard, C., St-Georges, N., Gauthier, C., & Bocquillon, M. (2020). Un modèle de réponse à l’intervention (RàI) comportementale : Le soutien au comportement positif (SCP). Enfance en difficulté, 7, 129–150.

Commission scolaire Marguerite-Bourgeoys (2015). Référentiel d’accompagnement vivre-ensemble en français.  Service des ressources éducatives.

Commission scolaire Marguerite-Bourgeoys (2018). Plan d’engagement vers la réussite 2018-2022https://www.csmb.qc.ca/fr-CA/csmb/pevr.aspx

Festival « Pluri-Pluri » à l’école Terre-des-jeunes.

Government of Québec. (2017). Policy on educational success: A love of learning, a chance to succeed.  Ministère de l’Éducation et de l’Enseignement supérieur.

Hirsch, S., Audet, G., & Turcotte, M. (2015). Aborder les sujets sensibles avec les élèves — Guide pédagogique. Centre d’intervention pédagogique en contexte de diversité, Commission scolaire Marguerite-Bourgeoys.

Amène ton parent au théâtre.

Morrissette, J. (2019). Faciliter l’intégration socioprofessionnelle du personnel enseignant formé à l’étranger. Guide à l’intention des directions d’établissement. Centre d’intervention pédagogique en contexte de diversité, Commission scolaire Marguerite-Bourgeoys.

Papazian-Zohrabian, G., Lemire, V., Mamprin, C., Turpin-Samson, A., & Aoun, R. (2017). Mener des groupes de parole en contexte scolaire. Guide pour les enseignants et les professionnels. Centre d’intervention pédagogique en contexte de diversité, Commission scolaire Marguerite-Bourgeoys et Université de Montréal.

Meet the Expert(s)

Jean-Pierre Bédard

Director General, Centre de services scolaire de Saint-Hyacinthe

Until recently, Jean-Pierre Bédard was Assistant Director General of the Marguerite-Bourgeoys School Service Centre (CSSMB) and Executive Director of the CCSMB Centre d’intervention pédagogique en contexte de diversité (Centre for pedagogical intervention in diverse environments, or CIPCD). He is now Director General of the Saint-Hyacinthe School Service Centre.

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Justine Gosselin-Gagné

Coordonnatrice, Centre de services scolaire Marguerite-Bourgeoys

Justine Gosselin-Gagné is Coordinator of the CIPCD at the Marguerite-Bourgeoys School Service Centre. She holds a PhD in Psychopedagogy from Université de Montréal.

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Michel Turcotte

Directeur adjoint au Service des ressources éducatives, Centre de services scolaires Marguerite-Bourgeoys

Michel Turcotte is Assistant Director in the Educational Resources Department of the Marguerite-Bourgeoys School Service Centre and a member of the Conseil supérieur de l’éducation Commission on Secondary Education.

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