It is a privilege to be a teacher; we are trustees of the future. We help lead students to a wider, more exciting, more meaningful world by helping them to understand themselves, their classmates, and their environment. One of the most rewarding things about being a teacher is watching students grow, not only academically but socially and emotionally as well. In addition, research shows that when students have meaningful relationships with adults at school their academics improve. Developing these relationships throughout a child’s kindergarten through eighth-grade years are crucial for students as it helps set them up for success in high school, giving them skills in self-advocacy. Beginning in kindergarten, these developmentally appropriate practices can set students up for a lifetime of strength and resilience. At Gooden we are living these practices with our students every day.
In the Lower School, students participate in morning meetings and closing circles with their classroom teacher. For the younger students the morning meeting provides them with a sense of stability. Teachers go over the schedule for the day, do a review to warm up their brains, or take a poll like “Who is your favorite Star Wars Character?” to get them ready to learn. The morning meetings typically set the tone for the rest of the day and help to improve student's confidence. They create a sense of empathy and trust, while encouraging social and emotional learning.
At the end of the day for our Lower School students, the closing circle is a time to wind down and reflect. Teachers will read to students and make connections to the reading, have restorative justice circles to work through feelings and come up with positive resolutions, share stories of kindness, and much more.
In the Middle School, students choose an advisor. Their advisor is the point person - the adult they can lean on, go to for help, and confide in. This is so important in Middle School because students, at this age, are sometimes reluctant to go to a parent to discuss more of their social and emotional lives.
Each week, students in sixth through eighth-grades meet with their advisor in a group setting. Topics range from academic and organizational help to social emotional learning. The focus for each meeting is chosen based on the students' needs. Our goal is to foster a strong relationship between advisee and advisor which bolsters and supports their academic and behavioral performance.
I have worked at a few schools in my more than twenty years of teaching, and I can say without a doubt that Gooden stands out in this area. We use a restorative approach to discipline where students feel heard. We empower them to be able to learn from their mistakes and talk through their struggles. The touchpoints that our students have with their teachers and advisors throughout their time at Gooden gives them the skills to be successful not just in high school, but also in life.
Laurie Tortell started teaching at Gooden in 2008 as the Middle School science and math teacher. With over twenty years teaching experience in middle and high schools, she holds a bachelor’s degree from Louisiana State University and her teaching credential with a GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) from the University of California, San Diego. Originally from Louisiana, she likes to spend time outdoors: gardening, walking, going to the beach, and swimming. A resident of Sierra Madre, she is married with two children in college.
Mrs. Tortell feels that it is a privilege to be a teacher, that her work is being a trustee of the future. Teachers help lead students to a wider, more exciting, more meaningful world by helping them to understand themselves, their classmates, and their environment. Her goal for students is that they will become thoughtful citizens, independent, and lifelong thinkers and leaders who will contribute positively to their communities. She has a particular interest in middle school education and knows that for that age group, as a teacher and Gooden's Middle School director, it is not enough to know the periodic table or scientific process if you don’t really care that your students are unhappy or overwhelmed by the stresses of adolescence. She feels the best teachers teach the content of their curriculum, but they also teach life skills, from organization and planning to getting along with others, to taking care of themselves and the world in which they live.
Finding Old Traditions to Help Cope with New Challenges
Starting a new school is always going to be tough for kids, however, starting at The Gooden School during a global pandemic has been the best experience we could have hoped for in these uncertain times. Distance learning at Gooden has been wonderful for Sadie and Porter, and they are happy and confident in their studies. They love their teachers and their classmates have been very welcoming!
Although their academic experience is going smoothly, Sadie and Porter are not immune to the stress and anxiety kids all across the country faced this year. We certainly have our moments where they feel overwhelmed and over-Zoomed. Sadie transitioned from elementary to middle school this year so the pressure of having seven classes of different disciplines has been a big change for her.
Recently the kids’ Kung Fu Sifu (Tav Byerhoff) sensed Sadie’s stress and taught the kids Tai Chi movements to help them focus and feel calm. Tai Chi is a traditional Chinese martial art and meditation practice. Its slow movements bring about a state of mental calm and clarity, and provides low impact physical fitness. Incorporating Tai Chi into the kids’ break periods has helped Sadie and Porter focus and feel rejuvenated between classes!
Watching my children utilize Tai Chi movements to nurture their minds and bodies brings back fond memories of when my grandmother lived with my family. I saw her wake up early in the morning and do Tai Chi in the backyard. She lived to be 105!
When the pandemic is over, I can pretty much guarantee we will not continue many of the routines we picked up this year, such as wiping down all of our groceries! However, I know we will continue practicing Tai Chi to bring peace, solace, and good health to our minds and bodies. In such a somber and unpredictable time, I am grateful our family picked up a new enriching tradition to help keep us centered and to carry forward.
Coach Dale’s PE curriculum and Chaplain David’s mindfulness lessons have also been providing invaluable tension relief and thought clarity for Gooden students during their busy school week. If your family is interested in also adding in some Tai Chi, here are some good beginner tutorial:
Madeline Yang grew up in Calabasas, CA and Josh Fleagane grew up in Moorpark, CA. They are high school sweethearts! They have been living in Pasadena since 2000. Their daughter, Sadie (sixth grade), and their son, Porter (fourth grade), joined The Gooden School this year. Sadie enjoys reading fantasy and science fiction books, and she loves creating art. Porter likes to build anything and he enjoys drawing. As a family, the Yang-Fleaganes can be found riding around town on their motorcycle sidecar, playing laser tag, and playing in Nintendo Switch video game tournaments together. They also enjoy traveling, snowboarding, off-roading, archery, going to concerts, art shows and, Comic-Cons.
I love reading books and recommending them. As an English teacher and librarian, I remind students that literature helps readers understand what it means to be human. Like any great art, literature is multi-faceted, or many-faced. It presents struggles that reflect the struggles of the human condition and, gradually, leads to a resolution or a series of epiphanies.
Just about a year ago, I was attending a conference for English teachers in Baltimore. I went to seminars on Shakespeare and the Library of Congress, but I also attended several courses that featured recommendations for how to better teach students of all backgrounds and what books could enhance the learning experiences of my students. Again and again, I heard presenters talk about how they felt that it was essential for readers to see characters that reflect different backgrounds and experiences.
Did this change my understanding of literature or cause me to discard the important work of reading canonical classics like Esperanza Rising by Pam Muñoz Ryan, Night by Elie Wiesel or The Crucible by Arthur Miller? Not really. I already valued many works by a wide range of authors. However, it did remind me of the importance of expanding my range of reading. Why do this? Because reading from a variety of voices gives readers greater insight into what it means to be human.
One book lauded for its diversity that we explored during our reading course during Gooden’s summer program was Flying Lessons and Other Stories, which was edited by Ellen Oh. It featured several authors with whom many of our students were already acquainted such as Jacqueline Woodson, author of Brown Girl Dreaming, Grace Lin, author of Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, Soman Chainani, author of The School for Good and Evil series and Walter Dean Myers, whose story “The Treasure of Lemon Brown” is in our sixth-grade literature anthology. It also introduced many of us to the wonderful writing of Kwame Alexander, Meg Medina, and Matt de la Peña.
In my decade discussing literature with Gooden School students, I have learned that they are intelligent and curious, and they read diverse authors in our classrooms and on their own. I am grateful for the exchanges and discussions that we have about the books that we love. We have all helped each other stretch and grow as readers—this is one of the main purposes of being a part of an educational community.
Reading stories and novels by diverse authors enhances our lives and helps us understand lives that exist outside our own. It helps us understand what our neighbors or classmates might have experienced and makes us more apt to be humane and less likely to put our feet in our mouths. As you choose your novels, remember that they are written with care and love, and they provide great insights into the joys and sorrows that we and our neighbors experience. Invite diverse authors into your fold. Let them teach you about life. Cozy up with a book. Set times for you to read alongside your children. You will all grow wiser together.
The links below include some related articles and book recommendations that feature diverse authors or situations. If you have a book recommendation for me or our students, please feel free to comment. I love hearing from you and the students!
John Williamson joined The Gooden School in 2010. Born on Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Fairborn, Ohio, Mr. Williamson grew up as the son of a journalist-turned Episcopal priest and a schoolteacher-turned homemaker-turned schoolteacher. He attended Azusa Pacific University, where he earned both a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Arts. He has also taught in Shandong, People’s Republic of China. When he isn’t teaching, he enjoys writing, playing family games with his wife and two children, hiking, cooking, reading books and student-written work, and recording original songs.
Mr. Williamson believes that reading and ruminating over literature is how we understand what it means to be human. He approaches every English class with rich anticipation, knowing that his students are all in the process of growth and discovery.
“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.