Monique Zastrow loves to read, is a confessed information junkie, and would undoubtedly be someone you’d want leading your Tuesday night trivia team. But it was her dedication to collaborative learning and impact on a former student that helped the Upper School Head Librarian at Glenelg Country School (GCS) win the 2019 University of Chicago Outstanding Educator Award.
“I have always believed that the highest form of education is mutual learning, and my experience with you has been a true testament to that belief,” wrote Wenxuan Li, a GCS alumnus who recently matriculated to The University of Chicago, in his nomination letter. “I consider myself extraordinarily lucky to be among the souls that you have influenced in the past and will influence in the future.” The University of Chicago allows newly admitted students to recognize educators who have made a difference in their lives.
Zastrow's mother and sister are both classroom teachers. She says she was drawn to helping others as well but chose the library as the stage for her career in education. A self-described bookworm who finds herself fascinated by “random and trivial stuff,” Zastrow has devoted her life to helping students make connections between the subjects they are studying. She says it was a college professor that helped her first see those connections for herself.
“One of my most memorable instructors was my theatre history professor in college. She required such detail, and it was the first time I’d been required to do primary source research,” Zastrow said. “I think that class was also the first time I became truly aware of how different disciplines connect and inform one another. It was a revelation and such a challenge. It’s that experience that I want my seniors to have. I want students to get to college and realize that they more than capable of handling all the new information and learning they are required to do. And that students share their knowledge with others that didn't have the benefit of a learning environment as supportive as GCS.”
Zastrow says she is particularly honored to be nominated by Wenxuan because he was such an impressive student with which to work.
“Wenxuan Li, or Wilson, is an incredibly talented and intelligent young person,” Zastrow said. “He is what I would call a real seeker of truth in its many forms. He has the inherent ability to see those connections and apply that knowledge to his efforts.”
Zastrow didn’t know Wenxuan well until he was assigned to her Senior Integrative class. Students in the class participate in active reading and seminars based on various texts and themes related to the overarching question of what it means to be human. The course then ties these skills of deep engagement into a thesis-driven, primary evidence supported, analytical, research project on a topic of the student’s choice. Students are guided through the process by faculty mentors culminating with an oral defense and a 40-hour Field Placement in a professional environment.
“I love teaching this capstone class and believe deeply in the skills and vigor inherent in the curriculum,” says Zastrow. “No other school that I know of challenges seniors with a required seminar and research class that is, at its heart, a college-level course.”
With that in mind, Zastrow is happy to say that Wilson’s approach to life and learning is integrative. “I have great respect for him as a person, which only enhances my delight and gratitude for being nominated by him for this award.”
In his congratulatory letter, James G. Nondorf, dean of admissions and financial aid at the university, wrote, “For over thirty years, the College of the University of Chicago has asked its entering students to help us identify and commend outstanding high school educators. Students at the University of Chicago are intelligent, highly motivated, and committed to using their gifts for serious academic work. We are dedicated to excellence in teaching, such as yours, and we know that true learning is a collaborative experience that depends as much on the dedication of the teacher as it does on the motivation of the student. Thank you for your commitment to this endeavor.”
Zastrow earned her Masters in Library Science from the University of Maryland, College Park, where she also earned a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre. She joined the GCS faculty in 2007. For the last seven years, she has been part of the Senior Integrative Team and is currently working with the Integrative Creative Research Project.
“I love this community,” Zastrow added. “It offers me the opportunity to work with so many gifted educators who thrive on collaboration and whose main focus is the success of our students. It’s a comfortable and safe environment both physically and emotionally for most, which is the first step in being ready to learn. I’ve always believed that this school’s biggest strength is the truly positive relationships formed between the teachers, which translates to a holistic approach toward the education of each student.”