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Ask The Experts: Our Children on Distance Learning

May 21, 2020
By Jo-Anne Woolner

More than eight weeks into distance learning and interviews with expert administrators, educators, psychologists, curriculum directors, government officials, and parents about best practices and distance learning are seemingly everywhere, and yet somehow still inconclusive. 

I have had many discussions with Gooden students as they have dropped by the office with parents to retrieve or exchange items. They have been so excited to give their own opinions about what is working and what is not, what they miss, and what they fear, and even offered some solutions. Our teachers have also been discussing the situation with students and what they are learning from it. Recent writing prompts from teachers have yielded very thoughtful responses.

“Many of us are going through humongous changes because of the pandemic”, writes one of our eighth-graders. One of her biggest changes is not going to school with her best friends. But she has learned to accept the change, feel it out, and tell herself that she  “will get through it.”

Our third-graders wrote about distance learning in poetry form: 

Distance Learning is different but in a good way

It can be a very fun time

Distance Learning is different but in a good way 

I have a lot of fun things to do

Distance Learning is different but in a good way

It teaches me to learn on my own

Distance Learning is different but in a good way

I enjoyed doing my art projects

Distance Learning is different but in a good way

I enjoyed the almost peace and quiet 

One of our second-graders suggested that in order for him and his classmates to meet in person, they should each create a hologram of themselves to come to school. While this is currently the stuff of science fiction, our hope is that our bold young thinker might someday invent such a device. 

Parents can also start these discussions with their children. David Willows, author of the blog Fragments II offers the following prompts to ask your child: How have you changed as a learner? What is important to you right now? As you look back on the last two months, what are you most proud of? Their answers can help form a family dinner discussion as well as help us, as a school, plan our return to teaching this fall. 

While we continue to consult with a team of experts as we plan several scenarios for our return to school, our children have, if not the answers, the ideas, the thoughtfulness, and maybe even some visionary technology down the road for us. 

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. 

Taking Time for Self-Care

April 16, 2020
By Marguery Lyvers

Take some time to recenter yourself with tips from our school psychologist, Dr. Marguery Lyvers

Let’s focus on you, parents and caregivers, before turning our attention to your children. Your self-care comes first. Recently, our school chaplain gave us some great advice about putting your oxygen mask on first. You know what? It’s valid. Repeat as necessary. And remember, self-care can be a (virtual) group or family-wide activity. So, sleep, eat, meditate, breathe on purpose, exercise, and have online play dates and hangouts, and whatever else you need to fuel yourselves. 

Modify expectations and be flexible. This experience is unprecedented for all of us, and we’re just getting the hang of our new roles and routines. Various combinations of ‘the juggle’ include working from home, looking for work, going to work out in the community, caring for vulnerable and older family members, supervising your children’s academic time, and maintaining peace and order in your homes and families, all simultaneously! It’s a tall order and simply impossible to handle each component competently, let alone masterfully. Be patient with yourselves. Be patient with your children. 

Be patient with your families and communities. Grace is a powerful antidote to anxiety. Our children are sponges and take their cues from us. Not only do they pick up on our anxieties and overwhelm, but also the ambient noise of that around them. Similarly, they pick up on our resilience. Therefore, it is essential that you process your own feelings with trusted and loved ones. 

Be smart about your health and wellness, including your media consumption. Sensational media coverage may be luring, but try to maintain an analytical mindset as you follow the news. Stick to trusted resources, such as the CDC, California Department of Public Health, LA County Department of Public Health, and the Pasadena Public Health Department. Other than these trusted sources, use social media generally as a means of connection and entertainment and verify information that you receive from all other sources. Similarly, monitor your children’s exposure via traditional and social media platforms. Everyone needs breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news coverage. 

Talk to your children about COVID-19. Uncertainty begets worry (and catastrophizing, and make-believe, and other distorted thinking). Sheltering our children from reality is impossible. Determine what they know already. Correct inaccurate rumors. Don’t dwell on hypothetical worst-case scenarios. Help children sort out what is happening versus what they worry will happen. Address their questions and fears head-on in an age-appropriate manner. If a child perceives that their caregiver is skirting the issue, they most often assume the worst. Otherwise, why wouldn’t they answer directly? Children’s reactions, like our own, can be complex and confusing. That’s to be expected! Some may express that they love having so much family time together, while others may feel overwhelmed, suffocated, angry, disappointed, lonely, bored, and more. Emphasize what is in their control and empower them to practice self-care and care for their communities. 

Finally, watch for behavior changes. If a family member, friend, or child is exhibiting changes in sleep patterns, appetite, interest in socializing, need for reassurance, “acting out,” irritability, unexplained physical symptoms, or other escalated or out of character behaviors, more help may be needed. If you or your loved ones are overwhelmed by feeling sad, depressed, or anxious, it’s time to reach out to a counselor, doctor, clergy member, or public mental health resource. 

Be well, laugh, and wash those hands! 

Dr. Marguery Lyvers is a licensed clinical psychologist and the school psychologist at The Gooden School. Dr. Lyvers specializes in neuropsychological assessment at her private practice, Lyvers & Associates. Additionally, she is a partner and executive director at Integrated Learning Solutions, overseeing a multidisciplinary team of professionals serving students with diverse learning needs via individually tailored interventions, while simultaneously supporting their families and educators. Dr. Lyvers earned her bachelor’s from California State University, Los Angeles’ Early Entrance Program, followed by her master’s and doctorate from the California School of Professional Psychology at Alliant International University. Dr. Lyvers’ training and experience spans educational, forensic, private, community clinic, and inpatient settings. A Pasadena native, Dr. Lyvers is invested in fostering the development of our young community members by removing barriers to educational and personal success. 

Modeling Behavior: How Students Learn

March 19, 2020
By Matthew Foster

As an Englishman living in California, it can sometimes feel difficult being so far away from friends and family back home. One thing I love, however, is the eight-hour time difference, which means I wake up each morning to a string of WhatsApp messages from people in the UK already at the end of their day. As I brush my teeth and eat my breakfast, I watch videos sent to me about my nephew. I see him stomping in muddy puddles in the park, constructing towers out of popsicle sticks, and snuggling up with his grandad for story time. I am continually astonished by the new things he learns each day, and constantly find myself wondering: where does this learning come from?

A picture of my nephew, Joseph, sitting at my brother’s laptop, his brow furrowed in stern concentration. A video of Joseph driving in his toy car, waving out of the window while saying, “Bye Daddy, I’m off to the office”. A clip of Joseph, stood over his baby brother’s crib, wagging his finger and shushing loudly. Over time, these pictures and videos have led me to the secret: my nephew is not a child genius, he’s the world’s best copycat!

As a teacher, I see this phenomenon lived out every day in my classroom. When I walk into a lesson upbeat and smiling, I’m greeted with cheery responses and positive energy. When my frustration or grumpiness slips out, I see my students’ heads go down, and the mood dampen. Whether it’s the vocabulary we use, the emotions we convey, or the hobbies and interests we practice, children imitate and learn from everything adults do. As a result, as teachers and parents, our number one way to help children learn is to act as and provide effective models.

At Gooden, our faculty strive to do this both in our academic instruction and social and emotional learning. In the classroom, we make modeling a central feature of every lesson. For example, in math, our teachers provide students with worked examples so that the steps that need to be taken to solve a particular problem are clear and understood. Likewise, in English our teachers narrate the decisions and choices they make when writing an essay, supporting students to form their own mental models and gain confidence in their writing decisions.

When helping students to resolve social conflicts and work through their worries and concerns, we model the behaviors we want to promote. For example, during circle times our teachers model empathy, supporting students to put themselves in the shoes of others and view incidents from a different perspective. Moreover, in our advisory program, our teachers provide a listening ear, ensuring that every individual is made to feel valued and understood. Finally, in restorative meetings our teachers work collaboratively with students to solve problems, fostering teamwork and mutual respect.

When I step onto the school campus each day, I try to keep that morning’s video of my nephew fresh in my mind, determined to model the skills and knowledge our children need to learn and flourish. Around me, I marvel at our faculty striving for the same goal, and I savor watching as our Gooden “copycats” profit from absorbing everything they see.

Mr. Matthew Foster is the fifth-grade teacher and director of the Lower School 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.


Managing Expectations: Conquering The Admissions Waiting Game

February 20, 2020
By Drs. Joe and Carrie Dilley

What if it’s true that adult job satisfaction depends on which doors are opened by one’s college alma mater, and in turn, one’s college acceptance depends on where one graduated from high school, and so on . . . all the way back to preschool?  Whoa. Even if we don’t buy the idea that the trajectory is always quite so linear, the reality is that waiting on admissions decisions throughout our children’s lives is pretty stressful. But we don’t have to sit in that stress or let it overtake us. The following three practices are particularly helpful to families as we anticipate admissions decisions.

Name It to Tame It

The sheer number of acceptance-themed decisions that come our children’s way across the lifespan is staggering—from the lunch table to the dance troupe and from the prom to the first job—we empathize with our kids as they strive for appropriate belonging. While it isn’t particularly effective, let alone accurate, to treat high school acceptance as the ultimate decider of our kids’ futures, it also doesn’t do us much good to go into a kind of denial by pretending that it’s a non-event. By acknowledging that waiting on the final decision can be fraught with anticipation, a lack of control, and conflicting preferences within the family or even within oneself, we’re better equipped to channel our energies into purposeful activity. 

Get Busy Livin’

While it’s important to acknowledge the stress brought on by waiting, we certainly don’t need to buckle under it, succumbing to the “paralysis of analysis,” and spending our time and energy in isolative worry about an outcome we can’t control. One of the human needs highlighted by The Shawshank Redemption was that of engaging in activity that we find generative, productive, and satisfying. In the absence of such pursuits, we might as well “get busy dyin’,” as the Shawshank story goes. What are the activities that you find life-giving? Go do ’em! Channel that anticipatory anxiety into your passions. What are the activities your partner or child might name? Do any outings make it onto everyone’s list? Wonderful. Do them together. When was the last time you grabbed your favorite burger or walked the beach? Hiked Mt. Baldy? Went sledding? Volunteered at church? Go. The admissions decision will come on its own time, along with plenty of other variables you’re also waiting on; you have other things to do right now. 

Author Your Narrative, Help Your Child Do the Same

If our lives were so linear that adult job- or life-satisfaction ultimately boiled down to any given disappointment earlier in life, two things would be nightmarishly true: 1) Life would be stale: there would be no room for adaptation, spontaneity, or ways that God’s blessing can transcend circumstance. 2) All of our autonomy would belong to whomever rendered that one critical denial—from the boyfriend or girlfriend who dumped us to the dormitory that was already full when we submitted our housing application. But fortunately, life is much . . . sloppier, isn’t it?! As such, immensely important personal characteristics, like resilience, and quality-of-life variables, like job satisfaction, depend not so much on that one binary acceptance/denial, but rather on what we make of the myriad decisions handed to us. As we craft our life stories into dynamic narratives that are exciting yet coherent, our trajectories necessarily include but are not dominated by setbacks, dead-ends, unpleasant surprises, and the like. Although such obstacles may remain undeniably painful, we also come to assign them special status as catalysts of personal growth. Maybe that’s what Garth Brooks had in mind when he sang of his retrospective gratitude for unanswered prayer. 

On the other hand, sometimes our prayers are so well answered that we end up facing difficult decisions. While having multiple schools to choose from might seem a blessing at the outset, such a scenario comes with an incredible responsibility for us, as parents, to be in touch with who our children are, in order to facilitate a decision that will afford them personalized opportunities for their ultimate success. That means it’s important to consider that sometimes the right school for your child isn’t necessarily the one that others have deemed the best school on the list.  

As you anticipate a high school or other admissions decision, may you remain in touch with how you feel, channel any apprehension into activity that nourishes you, and keep the faith in the notion that your child’s placement is but one component of their ultimate purpose.  

Drs. Joe and Carrie Dilley are licensed clinical psychologists and the owners of Synergy Psychological Inc., a private practice in Sierra Madre offering comprehensive psychological services. They are also the parents of Ashton (a third-grader at Gooden) and Jack (preschool).

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5/21/20 - By Jo-Anne Woolner
4/16/20 - By Marguery Lyvers
3/19/20 - By Matthew Foster
2/20/20 - By Drs. Joe and Carrie Dilley
1/16/20 - By David J. Kitch
12/19/19 - By Jo-Anne Woolner