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Cultivating Gratitude in the Classroom

November 20, 2020
By Matthew Foster

Since moving to California from the UK, Thanksgiving has become my favorite holiday celebration. Of course, I miss eating haggis at Burns’ Supper, watching Morris dancing on May Day, and warming my hands by the bonfire on Guy Fawkes Night, but nothing beats gathering with family and friends for a Thanksgiving dinner.

Over the last four years, as the Halloween sugar-high comes to an end and the mayhem of Christmas shopping begins to loom, I’ve reveled in the momentary pause that the fourth Thursday in November provides. Free from gimmicks and distractions, I’ve appreciated the time to take stock and give thanks for everything in my life that I hold dear.

At Gooden, each year we celebrate Thanksgiving with our Grandparents’ and Special Friends’ day. Here, the children traditionally welcome family members into the school for a chapel service, musical performance, and classroom visit. I love listening to the heartwarming conversations sparked between the students and their guests, as they discuss the various things they are grateful for. I always end the day with a full heart and a reminder of just how powerful gratitude can be.

In the classroom, I’ve found that cultivating gratitude is so important for promoting a positive environment where children feel valued and respected. Since children learn from what they see us do as adults, my starting point is always to model expressing gratitude effectively and frequently. To do this, I trade praise for gratitude when giving feedback to my students by using a restorative practice known as “affective statements.”

The idea behind affective statements is for teachers to connect students with how their behavior is impacting others. For example, during group work, I might say, “Thank you for taking turns. That makes me feel happy because I really value cooperation.” By expressing gratitude in this way, students understand the positive impact a specific action has had, and they feel appreciated for doing it.

Meanwhile, dishing out praise like, “good job” doesn’t provide any information that is useful to learning. Children don’t know the exact behavior that is “good”, so it can cause confusion. Indeed, when done too much or in over-inflated ways, praise can lower self-esteem rather than promote feelings of appreciation.

By trading praise for gratitude through affective statements, I’ve found that gratitude remains a key part of the classroom climate well beyond the Thanksgiving period. Over time, children absorb the language and manner of expressing gratitude effectively and begin to build it into their own daily lives.

Each year in the UK, as the holiday season starts, a famous TV ad by the Dogs Trust reminds the nation that, “A dog is for life, not just for Christmas.” In a similar vein, as the smell of roast turkey draws tantalizingly closer, I will endeavor to remember that gratitude is for life, not just for Thanksgiving.

Matthew Foster is the fifth-grade teacher and director of strategic initiatives at Gooden. Educated in the United Kingdom, he received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Durham, and his teaching credentials and a master’s in education from University College London. Prior to coming to Gooden, Mr. Foster taught in public schools in underserved areas of London and Oxford, where he developed an awareness of the importance of social and emotional learning and a passion for promoting restorative practices.

Philanthropy and Community At Gooden

October 15, 2020
By Jo-Anne Woolner

Choosing a school for your child can be a daunting task and even more so at this time. Families are asking: what are the teacher/student ratios? What does each child learn every day? Will be my child be challenged and will they grow? One of the most crucial questions that often is overlooked: what is the culture of giving at this school? Does the community share in the life of the school? Fortunately, at Gooden the answer is yes!

During this pandemic so much of what you might have seen and experienced in person is now either virtual or on hold. However, there is one window into The Gooden School community that’s as open as ever: philanthropy.

When the school was founded, it was a gift from one of the school’s founders that allowed Gooden to take advantage of this beautiful location. It was many gifts that have allowed the school to construct the buildings that where Gooden’s teachers are currently teaching students, even at a distance. It is the gift of parent volunteering that helps support so many of the programs at Gooden. Philanthropy at independent schools is an integral part of what allows them to grow and to flourish, even in this time of being apart.

One year ago—long before anyone could have guessed what 2020 would bring—Gooden School parents, alumni, staff, trustees and community members were making gifts, the full impact of which lay some months in the future. None could have known then how crucial the giving would be to keeping learning going when nearly all else ground to a halt.

Supporting distance learning during a wildfire-scorched, pandemic  year may be the most dynamically challenging assignment for The Gooden School in its history. But at each crucial moment, the teachers and staff said, “We’ve got this. And we’ve got you.”

Their ability to adjust every aspect of how they teach has been thanks in no small part to donors, parents, grandparents, alumni families, faculty, staff, and trustees, having also said, “We’ve got this. And we’ve got you.” Those gifts ensured that Gooden had the resources it needed to be ready at a moment’s notice for online or hybrid instruction, while supporting each family’s individual needs.

Every school has a different culture of philanthropy. At Gooden, it envelops our whole community, allowing us to make an impact in the lives of Gooden students. This giving represents helps the school bridge the difference between competence and excellence, between vulnerability and resilience.

Since the spring, all of us have been navigating massive challenges at work and home. We are deeply grateful that last year’s donors showed up for Gooden students. As you read this, The Gooden School community is already showing up for next year’s children.

Jo-Anne Woolner is the head of school at Gooden.  She has served the school as interim head of school, director of the Middle School, registrar, and teacher of English, social studies, and Latin after originally joining the school community as a parent of four Gooden students. She received her Bachelor of Arts/Science in English from the University of Calgary (Canada) and Master of Arts in medieval history and languages and Master of Philosophy in Catholic Church history from New York University. In addition to teaching at NYU before moving to California, she has been a presenter at regional independent school conferences and has been a volunteer and board member at several community-based nonprofits in Pasadena.  

Mrs. Woolner would like to acknowledge the contributions of parent volunteers to this article. 

Instilling Cultural Awareness in Our Students

September 17, 2020
By Phil Dominguez

I am often asked why I got into education. “Is it because of the sweet perks?” Or I would hear “I bet you just wanted your summers off!” and  “Teaching is easy, no sweat.” I often laugh because while teaching does have some pretty cool perks, like having summers “off,” none of these reasons are why I got into teaching. 

For me, my journey started in a classroom in San Diego. I was six years old, and my parents had just immigrated from Mexico. I didn’t know the English language, customs, or traditions. I was pretty upset that I couldn’t buy a torta and a small, glass-bottled Coke during recess like I could back home in Mexico City. I mimicked, I tried, I did everything I could to try to blend in and not stick out. That, of course, was impossible because I couldn't communicate with my teachers or peers. That experience always stayed with me and I vowed that if I ever was in a position to be a mentor to young people, I wouldn’t let others have the same experience  because I knew how it felt to not be able to communicate or have access to all the things my peers did. That experience, that sense of wanting to mentor, led to my desire to enter the teaching profession. 

While I believe that we as educators can instill and raise cultural awareness amongst our students, I also believe that this process starts at home. That is where most of us first learn to speak and communicate and how to interact with others. Parents and guardians are their children’s first teachers, as well as providing a safe environment and meeting their children’s other needs.  Teaching them to share and wait their turn, modeling kindness and empathy are some of the skills that we, as parents and guardians, would like to instill in our children. Once those are instilled at home, it is easier to send our children off to school where those skills are then refined by teachers. So what happens when our children are suddenly immersed in a room with others who may not look, sound, or even speak like they do? That is where the bedrock skills I mentioned earlier come into play. Most children at that young age are not always capable of making sensible decisions, and as most of us already know, children are brutally honest. In those early years, a child may not understand exactly why their words may have hurt another child, but if they know the word “sorry,” or the phrase “do you think that was nice to say?,” we as teachers can help build up that foundation. 

Instinctively, humans look for differences and sameness in each other, that is why we choose our friends, cliques form, and we identify with others who share in our ideals. If we are exposed to thinking that group X only does this well, and group Y only does that well, we may be missing out on something greater. That is why here at Gooden we are choosing to incorporate cultural awareness from the very beginning, connecting with skills that have been taught at home about sharing, patience, kindness, and empathy. Gooden finds it incredibly important to showcase cultural awareness early because we feel it is imperative to teach about different cultures positively, instead of having negative connotations associated with different cultures. 

For example, at the beginning of a social studies lesson, many educational institutions would focus on enslaved persons experiences once they arrived in the destination country, rather than celebrating the rich and vibrant cultures from which they originated. Once we are able to ingrain cultural awareness in a positive way, students may be able to better understand and grasp the bigger concepts of empathy while becoming educated about experiences that differ from their own. I would like to showcase some of the things we are doing at Gooden to raise cultural awareness that you can incorporate into your home as well.

In Mrs. Dewis’s “History of Tech,” she is focusing on the contributions of women and people of color in STEM fields. This will allow the different experiences of women and people of color who have contributed to the field of STEM to have their stories shared and celebrated, some of which our students may never have learned about if only the most famous success stories were shared. 

In Mrs. Dominguez’s art class, students are reading The Color of Us in kindergarten, first, and second grade. This is a story of a young artist who discusses the different colors of the people of her neighborhood using fun color analogies. Students then discuss their own experiences and their color with their classmates. This helps bring awareness to the forefront and tackles differences of color and makes it fun to be unique.

In Mr. Williamson’s Middle School English classes, his philosophy is that “reading, writing about, and discussing literature, both classics and modern, lead to an understanding of what it means to be human.” One of those examples is a book called, The Cay, which is about a boy overcoming his prejudices and learning to love and appreciate the African-American man who saved his life. If you want to hear a great story about Mr. Williamson’s dad, who grew up in the south and exposed racism through his journalism career, make sure to ask Mr. Williamson about it.

These few examples are why raising cultural awareness is important to me. I experienced it firsthand, and those experiences led me to become the person that I am today.  It is part of my life’s mission to ensure that no child is left feeling like they are being overlooked because they may not speak a certain way, look like others, or have the opportunity to hear about the contributions of people to whom they can relate. Everyone belongs here at Gooden, and we strive to uphold the Episcopal tradition and values of embracing and nurturing all students every single day. Gooden provides an environment where access and support for every student is a core value, but we can’t do it alone. Understanding and compassion begins at home, where the first seeds of awareness are planted, and together we can make the world an even better place.

Mr. Phil Dominguez is the director of global studies and director of equity and inclusion at The Gooden School. He has been teaching for 16 years and is starting his third year at The Gooden School. He grew up in Mexico City and San Diego before settling in Los Angeles. Mr. Dominguez holds a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Southern California, and a master’s degree in history from Cal State University, Los Angeles. His teaching philosophy is engaging students to be active participants in the process of learning, rather than reading and answering questions from a book. He loves to spend time with his wife and two kids, cook, and create music. 

The Case for More Arts Classes in School

August 20, 2020
By Samantha Dominguez

My third-grade teacher, Mrs. Taylor taught all the core subjects, but she also dedicated time to teaching her students about famous artists and having us participate in a variety of  art projects. I loved coming to school and recreating Van Gogh’s Irises and Picasso’s Weeping Woman;  I enjoyed making abstract art using interesting colors and shapes and I reveled in the deeper level art discussions we had. Twenty-five years later, I still have vivid memories of that special time that led me to the career that I practice  today. My love of the arts began at an earlier  age but my passion to teach art started in Mrs. Taylor’s third-grade class. 

Arts are considered “enrichment” in many school communities. However, if you look up the definition of enrichment, it is the action of improving or enhancing the quality or value of something. Visual art, music, theater, film, dance and many other forms of artistic expression, enhance the quality of education and the lives of our students. Now more than ever, our children yearn for opportunities to express their feelings, to relieve  the stress produced by the pandemic, and to connection with the world during this time of isolation. 

Arts are essential in any curriculum, but this is especially true within a virtual environment. A poll taken in 2018 by Americans for the Arts titled, “Americans Speak Out About The Arts,” indicated that 91% of those surveyed believed the arts should be part of a well-rounded K-12 education, 94% believed the arts should be taught in grades K-12, 81% believed the arts are a positive force in the world, and 72% believed that the arts unify us regardless of age, race, and ethnicity*. These findings suggest the arts improve one’s environment and community, and that advocating for arts programs should be a priority during a time when positivity and equity are of the utmost importance. 

Research also suggests that participation in the arts improves  overall test scores, promotes the ability for students to react positively to constructive criticism, and builds resiliency. Such participation also develops critical thinking and problem solving techniques that can be applied to various subjects and real world experiences. Students who learn to solve problems  as they create art learn to solve problems creatively in other situations too.  Research also tells us that  children who participate in arts programs not only  display more sophisticated social skills, such as sharing and collaboration, but their levels of anxiety, shyness and aggressive behavior are reduced.**  Limiting student art experiences thus affects performance in core subjects, and their social and emotional development. 

What we are left with is basic fact that students enjoy coming to their art classes. They need time to exercise and enjoy the results of their creativity. They relish the opportunity to solve problems, and to produce and display completed artwork.  Students thrive when given the freedom to showcase a creation that communicates their style, beliefs, and personality to the world. Arts nourish the soul and support the personal development and wellbeing of our children. 

As in Mrs. Taylor’s third-grade classroom, Gooden students expect and are expected to learn not only  core and co-curricular academic subjects; they are encouraged to pursue more, to be inquisitive, and to nurture their creativity. This is my goal as a teacher, a parent, a community member, and a human being.

Samantha Dominguez has been teaching for 12 years, six of which have been as the art director at the Gooden School. Samantha grew up in Los Angeles and attended California State University, Northridge where she received her bachelor’s degree in art education. She continued her teaching career by completing her Single Subject Credential in art, her Multiple Subject Credential, as well as her master’s degree in education. Samantha teaches with the philosophy that the process, not the product, is the key to growing as an artist and to learn from constructive criticism and mistakes. She has spent the last six years developing the art curriculum and implementing the standards for a successful art program. 

*What Americans Believe About the Arts. 1000 Vermont Ave., NW 6th Floor, WA: Americans for the Arts.

** The Arts in Early Childhood: Social and Emotional Benefits of Arts Participation (Rep.). (2015). 1100 Pennsylvania Avenue, WA: National Endowment for the Arts.

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