“I don’t believe myself! I was so excited to come to school today—and to take a test!”
So spoke a seventh-grade Gooden student this month while waiting to be picked up after the morning’s MAP testing. It was just one of many similar comments during this time. Eyes smiled and laughter rippled as “mask art” was compared. Curbside conversations flourished. Teachers found unexpected tears in their eyes as they checked students in and out.
We human beings are social creatures — we are built for relationships, for community. Spending time together, sharing our lives with one another. It nourishes our need for connection to something larger than ourselves.
The fabric of community is woven out of history, circumstance, experience, temperament, and opportunity. These various strands are pulled together by the constructs of shared stories, shared traditions, and shared rituals. What we do is inextricably part of who we are, both as individuals and as community. The ties that bind.
The quality of our communal interrelationships is profoundly impacted by how we spend time together, how we share our lives with one another. This time of pandemic and civic upheaval puts great stress on these ties that bind. Many of the things we relied on to maintain our interrelationships are currently strained, truncated, or even unavailable to us.
These are hard and challenging times.
Human beings are capable of tremendous resilience and adaptability — particularly when in community. The challenge we are called to meet together in this time is one of maintaining those ties that bind — strengthening those still available to us and establishing new ones.
Shared stories, shared traditions, shared rituals.; holiday festivals are epicenters of such. “Holiday,” from “holy day” — that which is sacred, blessed. “Festival”, from “feasting” –sharing that most basic of human necessity, food and drink.
Earlier this fall saw the celebration of Diwali by the Hindu, Jain, and Sikh faith communities. This is a festival of lights that celebrates light transcending darkness, good transcending evil, and knowledge transcending ignorance. The Jewish community will also celebrate Hanukkah this month, an eight-day festival of light commemorating the rededication of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. Numerous other faith traditions will celebrate the December solstice as either midwinter or midsummer, recognizing our intrinsic bond to nature and the interrelationship of all things. Christian communities will celebrate Christmas to commemorate the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.
These are all marked by a recognition of the sacred and deep expressions of mutual connection. Shared stories, traditions and rituals as families, as faith communities — and as humanity writ large.
As we move through this time of holiday festivals, may we embrace the sacred and blessed feasting in any and all ways that it may come to us. May we draw on the resources of faith, hope and love within ourselves, our families and our communities. May we cherish our shared stories, traditions and rituals — even as we create new ones.
And may we celebrate the ties that bind — old and new.
Grace and Peace!
David J. Kitch serves as chaplain to The Gooden School community. Chaplain David came to Gooden after six years as chaplain and educator at St. Martin's Episcopal School in Winnetka, CA. He received his Master of Divinity degree from Claremont School of Theology with an emphasis on spiritual formation. David has a background as a theater practitioner and consultant internationally and works with interactive narrative, mindfulness practice, and restorative justice.
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.
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.
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.