MARATHON, Ontario – The Superior-Greenstone District School Board (SGDSB) is celebrating their Educators Brandy Robbins and Amanda Paakkunainen. Both Teachers, from the George O’Neill Public School, are this year’s recipients of The Class Act Award from the Critical Thinking Consortium, in recognition of their exceptional efforts and outcomes in nurturing thinking in their students.
The aim of The Critical Thinking Consortium (TC2) is to work in sound, sustained ways with educators and related organizations to inspire, support and advocate for the infusion of critical, creative and collaborative thinking as an educational goal and as a method of teaching and learning. The Class Act Award is presented in recognition of educators who have embraced The Critical Thinking Award framework to nurture and enhance critical thinking in students and colleagues.
Amanda Paakkunainen, a Kindergarten Teacher at George O’Neill School, has been engaged in the TC2 work for the past 3 years. Through her work, Amanda has created a space/environment for her students that shapes the climate for thinking. She quickly noticed how powerful a simple strategy, of framing challenges and establishing routines that value thinking, open up the content for all students to find their place within it and to share their understandings and thoughts. Students know that there is no one right answer and that all of our thinking matters. This year Amanda has moved much of this learning onto the land, as this is where not only her passions, but the passions of the students lie. She has worked to design a yearlong inquiry with her teaching partner Lana Desjardins, around Indigenous Knowledges and the moon phases. By connecting the Consortium's Framework to land based learning, she has noted that students are developing a meaningful relationship with the land, and she is developing an even deeper understanding of her students and their knowledge.
Amanda has noted on many occasions how impactful her work with the Consortium has been on her students and on her practice. Students are supported and taught to utilize skills and tools to make decisions in the classroom in a variety of capacities which increases their sense of belonging and independence in the classroom. By approaching her instruction from a critical inquiry stance and bringing it out onto the land, she has articulated that it has broken down some of the barriers that some students experience. Amanda has noted, that without the opportunity to engage in deep thinking, observation and communication on the land, she may have never seen the depth of understanding and insight that some of her students have demonstrated, and that may not have been as visible, through our traditional approaches to learning and assessment.
Amanda's implementation of The Critical Thinking Framework in connection to outdoor, experiential learning, is a great example of a rich Early Years Program that places the whole child and their natural curiosity at the center of education. Superior-Greenstone District School Boards youngest learners are supported in understanding that their thinking is valued, deserves exploration and that every voice matters.
Upon receiving this award, Amanda stated that she feels “very grateful to be among this group of inspiring educators who are being recognized with this award. I have been fortunate to be a part of a school team in which taking risks and trying new instructional approaches has been valued and encouraged. It is through this work that Lana and I have been able to see our kids blossom and grow. This work is near and dear to our hearts; it’s the work we do, and we are thankful to be recognized for it.”
Brandy Robbins, a Gr. 5/6 Teacher at George O’Neill Public School, is one of this year’s recipients of The Class Act Award from The Critical Thinking Consortium, for recognition of her exceptional efforts and outcomes in nurturing thinking in her students. Brandy is a very thoughtful educator who approaches all of her instructional decisions by first considering who the students are sitting in front of her in that year, their strengths, stretches, interests, identities, and responds accordingly. She carefully designs her classroom environment and shapes a space that nurtures thinking for each and every student. Over the past few years, Brandy has enhanced her instructional practice through her focused work with The Critical Thinking Consortium. It is through this collaboration that Brandy has refined her planning to thoughtfully design critical inquiries for students that center around opportunities for thinking, and greater and more meaningful participation among all students in her classroom. This work has been deepened this year, as she has worked intentionally to embed anti-racism and anti-oppression content. Students had the opportunity to inquire and think deeply about powerful actions that people have taken in relation to some of the big issues that have continued to surface in 2020 and have adopted the stance that this is our collective work.
With the implementation of her inquiry around powerful actions people in Canada are taking to bring about change, in relation to issues including, LGBTQ2S, Black Lives Matter, Inequities for Indigenous Peoples, the impacts of Residential Schools, Refugees and Human Rights, the students began to develop a sense of agency and a commitment to take actions that could make a difference. When asked why she made the instructional decision to bring these topics into the classroom, her response was immediate and was because, “the students were talking about these issues, every day they were coming to class with questions and wonderings around why these things continue to happen in our world.” Being the thoughtful educator Brandy is, she knew these wonderings couldn’t be ignored, but that it needed to be approached in a thoughtful way. Learning opportunities around societal issues took on a new life in the classroom as the students considered powerful actions and whether they were negatively impactful or positively impactful. As students thought deeply around how racism and oppression has and continues to impact people, they could be heard talking about actions and creating a plan to put those actions into motion.
This is a powerful example of how the intentional work of integrating topics around anti-racism and anti-oppression engaged students in deepening their critical consciousness and instilling a sense of hope, agency, and that their actions can make a difference. Student were highly engaged in this learning as the result of the carefully constructed inquiry and the desire of an educator who values the importance of this work and our roles in the healing and dis-mantling of racist legacies.
Upon receiving this award Brandy stated that “growing up, I always knew I came from German descent on my mother’s side. However, it wasn’t until I was in my late 30’s, that my Dad uncovered our family’s Metis ancestry. My relatives didn’t talk about being Metis for fear of losing their lives, home, farmland, and their children to residential schools. My Dad knew there was a family secret and my grandma hid it well. I know that my story is just one of the many untold stories of history. We need to uncover these stories, ask questions, and learn from the powerful actions of people whose voices have been silenced.
This unit was about listening to those voices, starting those conversations, engaging in thoughtful discussions, learning together, and becoming an ally for these groups. It is such an honour to be recognized by The Critical Thinking Consortium for the work in our Grade 5/6 class this year.”
Amanda Pakkunainen and Brandy Robbins are two of the eight educators from across Canada that have been honoured as recipients of The Critical Thinking Consortium’s Class Act Award for 2021. As part of the Superior-Greenstone District School Board, these educators are an example of the Board’s vision to “inspire students to succeed and make a difference.”