The Art of Relationship
By Jodi Grass, Head of School
My relationship with Oak Grove began when I first visited the campus in 1997. I had never been to Ojai before. My husband Kevin and I came up for the day to see the Krishnamurti school. It was a weekend, so quiet, but I felt connected to this place instantly. This campus has a magic that is difficult to put into words.
It was a few years later, when we moved to Ojai, that I began conspiring to figure out a way to send our children here. At the time, I worked for a nonprofit, and Kevin had just been hired by the LA County Fire Department. Private school tuition was not in our budget.
Through some twists and turns of circumstances, in 2005 I began working here, and shortly, within a couple of years, my children joined me here. I have been grateful every day since.
I witness the Art of Relationship on this campus daily, from a soaring red-tailed hawk to parents patiently escorting their children to class, from attentive exchanges between teacher and student to the delicate sway of the native grasses inviting the preschoolers to explore, and the elderly oaks who have held this land since it was honored by the presence of the Chumash people.
A few years back, I went with Kevin to a firefighters’ holiday party in LA. I was sitting at a table with people I didn’t know, all of them firefighters and their plus-ones. If you know me well, you probably know that chit-chat is not my comfort zone. I tend to go deep too quickly, so I can be a bit awkward in these social situations.
I was talking with a man sitting directly across from me. He asked, “So, you live in Ojai?” I said yes. He said, “I went to a school in Ojai when I was growing up.” I responded, “Really? Which one?” He said, “You probably won’t know it. It is really small.” I replied, “I might. Which one?” He said, “Oak Grove.” After I told him that I work at Oak Grove, he instantly froze. He shifted his whole body, moved closer, and said, “You know when you are facing the Pavilion stage and look on the left side; is the oak tree still there?”
He hadn’t been on campus for decades, but his first question was whether or not a particular oak tree was still here. To me, this is a beautiful example of the deep relationship our students can have with nature on this campus.
The Art of Relationship is also a growing science – studied in the disciplines of business, mental health, and physical health, as well as education.
Building rapport with each student is a foundational skill in teaching. Meta studies around academic performance reveal that when students have a sense of belonging (being in relationship) they exhibit a deeper level of learning, have better math scores, and higher attendance. The simple act of greeting students by name at the classroom door increases academic engagement by 20%.
This sense of belonging also has profound implications for student mental health, social development, and emotional well-being.
During last summer’s Covid surge, like all other schools, we grappled with the escalating polarization around vaccines and masks, the growing mental health crisis, disrupted social growth, and a significant learning loss for students worldwide. We had serious concerns about the elevating stress and reactivity within our school community.
Choosing the Art of Relationship as this year’s theme was not simply to highlight a core intent of the school, but a call to action, a response to the urgent needs of our students, and the entire community which supports them.
We chose this theme to lean even more into our commitment to partner with the adults and the children within our community – to meet the current challenges with curiosity, humility, and deep listening.
With so much conflict and instability in our present-day world, our highest priority is to keep students here on this campus, to deepen the relationship with themselves, others, and the natural environment.
Children need to be here where the human structures are kept in balance with the natural environment; where adults see children as competent and capable separate individuals; where students are given opportunities within the learning day to sit in silence, reflect on their own thinking, inquire into perennial questions, and to actively engage with the natural environment; where teaching and learning are not transactional or teachers filling students’ brains, but a relationship where the teacher is also a student and the student a teacher; where students are challenged by rigorous academics and learn functional knowledge through both conventional and progressive approaches to learning; where they are learning in a place that offers constant skill-building around conflict resolution, communication, self-awareness, and care for our shared planet. Here students are known not just by their teachers but by all the staff, including the kitchen, front office, and maintenance workers.
Imagine what kind of world we would live in if all people understood our relationship, and therefore responsibility, to all of life.
Imagine a world where each of us understood our connection to the stranger tail-gating us, the neighbor who has opposing political views, the person experiencing homelessness, the immigrant, the river, the tree.
Children who have the opportunity to grow up with this deep understanding of the Art of Relationship are, in many ways, our best hope for a more interconnected and compassionate world.