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).
The Content of our Character
"I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
I recently had the honor of being interviewed by eighth-grade journalist Joseph N. on behalf of The Knight's Scroll, the Gooden student newspaper. One of his questions was, "Why is chapel essential for all Gooden?”
It's a good question.
In considering my response, I thought of the quote above from the Reverend Dr. King. This is one of the most well-known quotes from, perhaps, his most famous oration: “the content of their character”
A word is a horse pulling a cart - you need to pay attention to what’s in the cart. The word “character” can pull a cart loaded with a wide array of meanings. From “uncle Mario is a real character," to "she's a character in the play," to "that building has striking character,” to “they are behaving out of character,” and more.
I believe the Reverend Dr. King is talking about what kind of human being one is. The truth of who one is in oneself.
In this “information age,” there is a danger in confusing information for knowledge and knowledge for wisdom. We are drowning in information - while knowledge is obscured and wisdom is, bluntly, hard to come by. Information without knowledge is of little use. Knowledge without wisdom is dangerous, often in the extreme.
Education in the Episcopal school tradition is about much more than simply passing on information. It is about a deep and abiding concern for what kind of people we want to be. It is about asking the questions: "What is a good person and how do I become one?" and "What is a good life and how do I live it?"
To respond to these foundational questions of being requires the knowledge that makes information of constructive use - and even more critically, it requires wisdom. Our great religious and philosophical traditions are the means whereby wisdom has been carried through the thousands of years of human history. These wisdom traditions provide us with resources the natural sciences, for all their intrinsic value, simply cannot.
The pursuit and acquisition of applied knowledge and wisdom are two core commitments of Episcopal education. They are wedded commitments at The Gooden School.
One of the ways of looking at a human being is from five different perspectives or "elements" -physical, intellectual, emotional, psychological, and spiritual. These five elements are symbiotically intertwined and constantly interacting with each other - what happens in any element is always affecting the others. Failure to attend to any one of them reduces what it means to be truly human. Chapel may be seen as primarily addressing the spiritual element, but it is also part of the much larger matter of character formation and human development. It is about the pursuit of wisdom. It is about those two big questions: "What is a good person and how do I become one?" and "What is a good life and how do I live it?"
It is about the content of our character.
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 theatre practitioner and consultant internationally and works with interactive narrative, mindfulness practice, and restorative justice.
Whether your family celebrates a faith-based holiday or not, these weeks at the end of the year are for setting aside time for family and family traditions. They provide teaching moments within homes and families and cannot be discounted. Gooden has many traditions, and all are intended to build connections between and within families. Movie night, seasonal teas, promotion and graduation ceremonies, Grandparents’ and Special Friends’ Day, and of course Lessons & Carols, are traditions that bring us together as a community and strengthen our connections with one another.
Community and connection underpin Gooden’s 3Rs, and our traditions help students understand that they do not live in a vacuum and that they are connected to all people in all other periods of time, both those that preceded them and those that will come after. They understand that they are part of something larger than themselves, and it is during the holidays that their unique cultural traditions have the greatest potential to help in this process of self-definition, to contribute to their well-being, and to cultivate an all-important sense of belonging and a healthy perspective of their place in the world.
We desperately need our traditions. Part of the responsibility of having the chance to live at all is to be a part of the transmission of our particular family and ethnic customs. In so doing, we honor past generations by passing on their rites and rituals to the next generation. In this way, our family lineages stay stable and strong. Since ceremonies outlive us, they make us feel part of that larger sense of things as we pass them down to our own children, and theirs. That is how we realize our immortality, not in living forever, but in being part of living traditions.
It may be weddings, Sunday football, Halloween, religious holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, or graduations — there is little that is not tradition. Yet, while we hold old traditions dear, we should also not ignore new ways of looking at things in the name of keeping traditions alive that may have become outlived or outdated. For example, as a child, I helped my grandmothers make Christmas cakes every year even though I hated Christmas cake and the smell of the brandy and mold as they aged in root cellars. I hated the product - and today not many people eat these cakes - but as I got older, I realized that the product was not the point: it was the tradition of spending time with my grandmothers that mattered and that I treasured. Traditions can and should change, and so we must be all the while open to the creation of new ones.
On December 19 the entire student body will participate in a chapel service of Lessons & Carols, held at St. Rita Church (one block north of Gooden). In the early weeks of December, the student body prepares by practicing for this 43-year school tradition adapted from a long-standing Anglican service. Some students will present the story from the angels’ perspective, while others will portray members of the holy family or shepherds and kings who were drawn to the humble manger scene. Of all the school’s traditions, Lessons &Carols is the most dearly held tradition for many students and alumni. For some students, it is the memory of being in first, second, or third grade and reciting the words of Saint Luke, who told of the birth of Jesus. For others, it may be the memory of a solemn journey down the church aisle as fourth-grade students dressed as Mary, Joseph, or one of the magi. When we are very lucky, a real baby joins us as baby Jesus. Participation in this special evening provides each child with a collection of meaningful memories that remains for years.
On behalf of everyone at The Gooden School, I wish you and your family a very happy holiday season and a happy New Year.
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.
November has become the month of “Gratitude Challenges” in the social media world as we approach the less glamorous, sometimes forgotten, holiday of Thanksgiving. Maybe you’ve seen friends and family posting about their daily gratitudes already. People post about things both large and small that they are thankful for in their life. This is an amazing and wonderful idea, but I am here to explain why I think you should incorporate a gratitude challenge into your daily family life.
The benefits of a gratitude practice for both adults and children has scientifically been proven to alter your brain and the way you approach life. It’s amazing that such a little thing can make such an enormous difference in your life and the way you experience life. By incorporating a gratitude practice into your family life, you can change the way your family members use their brains. Gratitude can boost the logical thinking skills, decision-making areas, and the memory center of your brain. When all of those areas are strong we are able to think better, quicker, more rationally, and retain information. Wouldn’t we all like that for our family? This can be achieved with very little time commitment and consistent practice.
When we practice gratitude, the electrical firings in the brain light up and communicate with each other. They release hormones (neurotransmitters) called oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin. Oxytocin is known as the love hormone that makes us feel safe and secure and recognizes that our needs have been met. Dopamine is our reward system that boosts optimism, stabilizes our moods, and helps us to successfully achieve our goals. Serotonin is the happy hormone that reduces stress and anxiety and helps us to look at life as a challenge we can overcome instead of something overwhelming. Increased levels of serotonin make us feel happy on the inside.
Science tells us that people who practice gratitude regularly increase their immune system function, heart health, longevity, resiliency, and relationship skills. As if those weren’t enough, this practice also has other positive benefits such as a direct result of boosting your immune system; you exercise more, sleep better, make healthier choices, and reduce anxiety levels. This boost results in you getting sick less often. If nothing else, getting sick less often makes it all worth it!
When working with children, we want them to experience the feeling of being grateful. In order to replicate feelings of gratitude, we need to teach them how to think gratefully. Thinking gratefully will help your child to celebrate the present moments.
There are many ways to implement a gratitude practice in your own home with children of all ages. If your children are older, journaling or listing things they are grateful for can be a nice way to start. A family journal might be more appropriate for families with younger children and you can read back some of your favorite gratitudes on New Year’s Eve every year when you flip through the journal.
Children of all ages benefit from a dinner-time gratitude practice. While having dinner, have each family member share three things that they are grateful for that may have happened that day. This is a pain-free, material-free way of making gratitude and family dinner time work together. Children begin to look for the positive events that happened in their day and become excited to share them with the family.
In my classroom, we have a gratitude jar that collects “thank you” beans. If a child hears or uses a thank you, they may put a bean in the jar. When the jar is full we celebrate with a reward (dance party, extra recess, etc.)! You can implement a gratitude jar at your house. This will tune your family’s ears to listen and eyes to look for thanks in your daily life.
Why not try a family gratitude walk to find items everyone is thankful for, such as a colorful leaf, spotting a ladybug or a hummingbird, beautiful cloud formations, chirping birds, flowers, neighbors waving hello, or community members sharing a smile. If you need more ideas, try this gratitude scavenger hunt with your family.
As we head into the holiday season and new year, create a new routine to boost your family’s brains with a gratitude superpower practice and watch your family thrive.
Kristin Schmoke is a recent addition to the Gooden School family, but not new to education. Kristin has been working, in some capacity, with children aged 2 ½ to college students for more than 20 years. Wherever she goes, she is drawn to children of all ages, from coaching to teaching, to parenting classes, Kristin is a perpetual student when it comes to child development. She and her husband, with their four kids, originate from Michigan but have lived in Pasadena for 14 years. Kristin holds a master’s degree in education from Grand Valley State University, a bachelor's degree in elementary education and teaching from Hillsdale College, and is a certified health and life coach. Aside from child development and education, Kristin enjoys spending time with her family, reading, cooking, crafting, talking about Michigan, and exercising.