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.
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.