TKY educators are inquisitive, proactive leaders who seek out opportunities to expand upon and refine their professional skills. Geena Constantin teaches sixth grade Language Arts and coaches softball at Robert Frost Middle School. Six years ago, she arrived in Lousville to launch her education career after graduating from Middlebury College. Since then, she has earned two masters’ degrees and is currently working on a doctorate in curriculum and instruction from the University of Louisville.
Geena recently spent four days at a PEBC Thinking Strategies Institute, which was hosted by Shelby County Public Schools. The Institute explores research-based ways in which educators can plan, support, and teach ways to foster deeper thinking by their students. Below is the reflection she wrote for her principal.
Day one of the Thinking Strategies Institute began with introductions and unpacking the process for understanding our own beliefs about education and our students. Stevi Quate, lead facilitator, took us through some questions that tested our beliefs about what kids can do. One of the questions that stood out to me was this: What group of students are most likely to have difficulties in school? The statistics she pointed out to us clearly showed that students living in poverty struggled the most in their educational journey. While this fact is disheartening, it invigorated me and strengthened my need to bring these strategies back to Robert Frost. If students in Shelby County and other OVEC schools can do this, we can too! I kept thinking of my students back at school during the institute and repeating two words to myself anytime I felt bogged down by how to implement the strategies: high expectations.
We wrapped up the first day of the institute by selecting texts for our own personal book clubs, an activity that guided us through the week. Analyzing and annotating these text was hard work! It was difficult to clear my mind, filled with adult issues and responsibilities. I kept thinking about how difficult the work was for me, and continued to reflect on how my students, with ample problems and worries of their own, would react to this type of deep reading. Then the words came back in my mind: high expectations. If I expect my students to complete sustained, focused reading tasks- they will! If I give them challenging texts and work that is authentic and engaging- they will do it, and do it well.
The two days in the middle of the institute consisted of our two lab visits. Our hosts were phenomenal teachers who gave us all insights into what thinking strategies would look like in the classroom. They had clear procedures for their strategies, and built a classroom environment that was conducive to success. I was ecstatic to see some of the strategies I have already been implementing in my classroom demonstrated in a different setting. This summer, Mr. Baragary and Ms. Spicer, two of my PLC partners at RF6A and I attended a thinking strategies and metacognition workshop through the Adolescent Literacy Project at U of L. We’ve had routine classroom visits from our mentors and have worked to implement thinking strategies into our routines. Watching these Shelby County teachers gave me the confidence that my own students were on the right track, and that next year I could begin cultivating my classroom community by using thinking strategies on the first day of school. Ms. Wang and I were energized; and without any communication between the two of us, began making posters to use in our classrooms and on our team next year.
We ended the institute with a culminating reflection on our own definitions of understanding. I cannot wait for the opportunity to use these strategies with the scholars we have at RF6A. I want my classroom to be a learning lab too, where people come to see lessons adapted for a more diverse audience. I want visitors to see a culture of high expectations, mixed with love, warmth and positivity. The strategies will set a framework for high achievement in my classroom. My expectations will be mirrored by culturally sustaining pedagogy that brings the materials to an access point for my students. My hope is that my scholars, and all scholars in our building, can be proficient and savvy readers with a better understanding of their own thinking. I plan to share these strategies with my colleagues so that all of our students gain a better knowledge of how they function as learners. By fostering positive discourse in the classroom and maintaining reflection in our pedagogy, we can live the mission of the Robert Frost Sixth Grade Academy to empower scholars to be 21st-century leaders who SOAR to new heights.