Learning how to make and be a friend is one of the major developmental tasks of early childhood. It’s like learning to read – it’s a foundational skill for building later competencies that depend on this.
How can the community cultivate a culture that puts people first – that fosters trust and connection, empowers people with resources and support, and inspires all learners to actively engage in their own learning?
The California Department of Public Health approved our COVID-19 mitigation plans to allow in-person instruction for our high school and middle school students.
To ease any health concerns about returning to campus following the Thomas Fire, please read the following update on our post-fire campus cleaning efforts.
April 19, 2020
Jodi Grass, Head of School
I have been visiting the classrooms (virtually, of course) to see the faces of our students and to answer their questions. Some questions have been personal in nature, “What is the name of that cat I can see behind you?” “What is your favorite color?” “What do you miss most about being at school?” The most prevalent question, however, has been, “When are we returning to campus?”
I don’t know when we will return to campus, but as soon as it is safe for any local school to return to a physical campus, Oak Grove will be returning to ours. In the meantime, we will continue to offer the most comprehensive remote program possible to our students. We will continue to invite feedback from parents and students and to thoughtfully incorporate that feedback into the program.
Since none of us (students, parents, teachers, staff) chose remote schooling, it will never be ideal. What we have been able to provide, however, is truly astonishing. Our teachers, with the active support of our Program Directors, Ron, Russ, Laurie, and the Director of Teaching and Learning, Meredy, have performed a herculean effort to shift quickly to a remote platform. This meant that we missed Spring Break. I have often heard from our tireless staff, “This is the hardest I have worked in my lifetime.”
What is most remarkable, however, is the commitment of the entire Oak Grove team. Not one of our teachers or administrators had to be compelled to do this extra work. Not one had to be enticed to do additional professional development or to learn new technologies in the evenings and over the weekends. Not one administrator had to be coerced to attend online meetings, workshops, strategy courses, and seminars offered by the National Association of Independent Schools, the California Association of Independent Schools, or the California Teacher Development Collaborative. Hours have been spent looking, researching, dialoguing, and re-assessing to deliver academic content, connection, and a safe container to our students and their parents.
I am humbled by our teachers and staff’s deep commitment to our students, to this community. I am also grateful to many of our parents and students who have offered their gratitude and acknowledgment of these efforts.
It is my job to do everything within my power to support these incredible people, to ensure a safe return to campus, and to ensure that our school and the community remain strong and intact. I remain committed to and inspired by our truly unique community.
When there is love there is consideration, not only for the children but for every human being. Unless we are deeply touched by the problem, we will never find the right way of education.
Education and the Significance of Life
March 18, 2020
One of the benefits of community is that we may be there for each other in challenging times. Clearly this is one of those moments. As Board Members and stewards of the school, we applaud and respect our administration’s commitment to the health and safety of students and staff while maintaining focus upon providing students with quality education. Teachers have been working diligently to create content and provide distance learning experiences which will continue to meet grade-appropriate learning objectives. The administration has been actively monitoring updates from CAIS, NAIS, WHO, CDC, and with fellow schools in our educational community to ensure that Oak Grove is making thoughtful and responsible decisions often based upon ever-shifting information and an uncertain future. The Board of Trustees stands with them in their efforts with every appreciation for the challenging decisions and Herculean efforts necessary to adapt to challenge and change.
Please be assured that the Board will continue to remain in close communication with the Head of School, Jodi Grass, to monitor the situation as it evolves. As always, all decisions will continue to be made based upon the best interests of our students and the greater community. Being quite aware that distance learning, particularly in younger grades, depends on the role of parent as teacher, we acknowledge that families are an important partner in our work and we send out every appreciation and blessing to each of you who are working together and with the school to support, foster, and enhance learning. In this way we model for our children how a caring community adapts to adversity while reinforcing that great lessons often come in times of great challenge.
We hope that this finds you and your loved ones well and thank you for your understanding and cooperation as this situation unfolds.
Yours in Community,
Oak Grove School Board
Thank you to those of you who were able to attend our Parent Education workshop on implementing Growth Mindset practices in your household. It was wonderful to see such a dedicated group of parents working together to discuss what actions and language will best help their children to embrace a culture of effort and perseverance.
“If parents want to give their children a gift, the best thing they can do is to teach their children to love challenges, be intrigued by mistakes, enjoy effort, and keep on learning. That way, their children don’t have to be slaves of praise. They will have a lifelong way to build and repair their own confidence.”
– Carol S. Dweck
For those of you who missed it, or are interested in further research, here are a few recommendations:
- What Do We Tell the Kids?
- A very brief summary of Growth Mindset praise (a one minute read!)
- Mindsetworks: Growth Mindset Parenting
- Some best practices for implementing a Growth Mindset culture in your family.
For the verbal linguistic learner:
- How Not to Talk to Your Kids- The Power (and Peril) of Praise.
- Great overview of the research on the way that praise can affect our children’s performance and attitude.
- The Effort Effect
- A summary of the research that Dweck has done on implementing Growth mindset practices and language in schools.
- The Talent Myth:
- Malcolm Gladwell explores the way that large corporations identify “talent” and explains how they often end up worse off by embracing a fixed mindset culture.
- Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S Dweck:
- Mindsets for Parents: Strategies to Encourage Growth Mindsets in Kids
- The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How.
For the visual learner:
- Ted Talk: Carol Dweck- The Power of Believing that you can Improve
- A great introduction to Dweck’s research
- The Power of belief — mindset and success | Eduardo Briceno
- More evidence of the effectiveness of a Growth Mindset culture
- Fostering Growth Mindsets in your Family:
- A series of dialogues from the Greater Good Science Center. The Greater Good Science center is an excellent parenting resource on all sorts of subjects.
For the auditory learner:
For the musical learner:
A school is a place for learning, and not just for our students. It includes an active learning environment for the adults, too. In addition to an emphasis on inquiry and self-reflection, which in and of itself supports a culture of learning, we also set aside time in our regular schedule for professional development, shared inquiry, and parent education, as well as targeted individual training and development for faculty and staff.
On most Wednesday afternoons, the faculty and staff meet to learn together. Two Wednesdays ago, the entire staff participated in an in-service around Peer Conflict. This past Wednesday, the faculty inquired together around the Intent of the School. On Friday, three of our Early Childhood Program teachers attended a workshop in Santa Monica on Materials and the 100 Languages of Children in the context of learning. Also recently, our K-8th grade teachers attended a Responsive Classroom training. Last month, a group of teachers and high school students attended the first annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Youth Summit at Thacher on Courage, Conscience, and Coalitions.
There is a significant amount of engagement, sharing, and learning with staff from other schools, too. I talk regularly with the Heads of Schools at many schools in Ojai and several in Santa Barbara; our admissions team talks with other admissions departments, communications with other communications staff, teachers with teachers, and so on. Several of our teachers have made recent visits to observe maths, science, and learning labs at local schools. I spent four days this past week visiting the Waverly School in Pasadena, serving on their accreditation team as part of my HOS duties as a dually accredited independent school. Although the intent is to closely examine the school in all its practices, culture, and governance, to recommend a term for accreditation, it is also an opportunity to take a deep look into how another school operates. Next month, three staff and two students will visit our sister schools outside of London — Brockwood Park School and the Inwoods School for Small Children.
Last Tuesday, parents of our Junior High students met with our High School teachers for a coffee mixer, as a way to get to know one another and to discuss questions about the High School. On Thursday, parents and teachers from Preschool-3rd grade met by the fire in Main House to discuss emergent questions around early childhood development. Upcoming all-school parent education topics include growth mindset, stress, and college.
Krishnamurti was clear about the teacher also being the learner, just as the student is the teacher. He intentionally added the parents into this purpose when founding Oak Grove School. On February 11, 1974, the day the school was officially announced, Krishnamurti said:
“And this school here, we have been discussing with the teachers, with the parents, and with the architects for the last two years. This school is entirely different from the other schools in India and England. Here the parents are involved in it, which is a new kind of experiment because if the children are going to be different then parents must also be different, otherwise there is a contradiction between the child and the parents, and there will be conflict between them. So to avoid all that we thought it would be right that the parents as well as the teachers and the students work together as a family unit.”
In early childhood, children are developing skills at school to help build a strong foundation for cooperative social play. During early childhood, kids actively seek ways to assert their own identities and to find ways to be powerful. Unfortunately, because of their developmental level, young children often don’t know how to make themselves feel more powerful without it being at the expense of another. They often look for “advantages”—who runs faster, who’s currently using the pink scissors, who has the biggest muffin in their snack box. For young children, as strange as this may seem, this is the work of finding their place in the world.
As kids begin to feel safe at school and want to play with other kids, they bring their naturally spontaneous and playful nature to these interactions. However, these same social impulses can be unpredictable and hurtful. As they play, stethoscopes get snatched and friends get elbowed out. As young children learn how to enter and sustain play, how to be friends and to bounce back from rejection, their social skills grow. Young children often disagree intensely, which can be distressing to adults, but which is part of learning who they are.
Young children naturally move from parallel play (alone or next to other kids, with separate ideas) to cooperative play, in which children share a common idea or theme, working together to negotiate rules and roles of the moment. In new situations like beginning at a new school, we may see children return to a less mature kind of play until they feel relaxed enough to jump into their more sophisticated ways of playing.
Some Preschool and Kindergarten friendships are serene and calm, but many are turbulent and variable. On the way to learning to cooperate and compromise, we adults may wince at hearing their words: “I had it first! You’re not my friend.” “No, my idea is more cool. You can’t play here.” “Only girls can climb up here—no boys allowed!”
All of us want our children to be generous and friendly and well-liked. As parents and teachers, how do we support this? Some of the ways we do this at Oak Grove include:
Observing without judgment. We keep in mind the age level of individual children and the social dynamics that come with that. We know that children have their individual temperament—some prefer playing with friends to everything else and play with a wide variety of children. Others take time to warm up and prefer playing with one or two special friends in familiar, small groups. Some prefer to lead play and others to follow; we encourage opportunities for kids to fulfill the opposite role in play.
Respecting their friendship choices. We respect children’s right to choose (sometimes two children are discovering a special connection) while making sure that feelings aren’t hurt and that there is space for a third child to connect and belong elsewhere.
Facilitating their learning to resolve conflicts independently and peacefully. When arguments erupt, we guide children in expressing their feelings and needs, in listening, and in coming to mutual solutions.
Active listening. We listen actively to children—to understand their feelings and goals at a specific moment and to reflect them back. Instead of stepping in (ordering them to let kids play), we strive to remain attentive to children without imparting our own feelings, values, or judgments. Our focus is on reflecting back the heart of children’s thoughts or feelings, which helps us to focus on understanding the child, instead of trying to explain, fix, or solve their dilemmas.
When children come to us with a hurt or complaint, we listen closely and restate a condensed version of what we hear. We “check-in” to help make sure we’ve correctly understood the child’s basic message. “It sounds like you were worried your play would be interrupted,” or “Today, she only wanted to play with him, and you’re feeling sad. Are you wondering whether she is still your friend?”
Active listening connects us with children but also models reflecting on their own words and feelings. Over time, we hope they’ll begin to see other perspectives: “How do you think she felt when you said to go away?” Young children are still learning self-regulation and empathy, and trying on another’s feelings can be a startling idea for them.
We may gently push them to own their own choices. Instead of offering a solution, we might ask, “What do you think your next step could be?” The child won’t immediately see the situation from another point of view, but the simple act of seeing that there are lots of possible solutions to a seemingly impossible problem is empowering. By responding with empathy, adults give children the opportunity to pause and move forward when they’re ready to.
As young children grow, they often explore feeling powerful through language, discovering (to our dismay) name-calling and excluding.
Exclusionary play—when friendship hurts:
Excluding is a natural impulse for young children. As two children or a small group solidify their friendship, they may exclude other children from their play. When a child orders another away from her play, she may be thinking, “He and I are in the middle of our pretend play and if another friend joins us now, it will ruin our story.” That thought is often verbalized as, “Go away!” This is because children generally aren’t sure what holds their play together and may fear that the pleasure of their play will be lost if they let another child join in. Exclusionary play can bond two children together: “We are friends if we agree with each other, and right now we both say ‘no’ to playing with you.”
When engaged in cooperative play, a question keeps coming up for kids: Who’s making the decisions about our play? A lot of negotiating goes on as children experiment with ways to have control over their firefighter or mommy play. This includes threatening: “You have to be the baby brother puppy or you can’t play with us” or “Give me the silver bucket or you can’t come to my birthday party.”
Children also exclude to investigate the role of power in affecting other children’s feelings: “If I say you can’t play here, will it make you cry?”
Kids often don’t understand the boundaries of friendship—if they are playing with someone, then they’re “friends,” and if they’re not playing with someone, they’re “not friends.” This means they might say, “You’re not my friend any more,” rather than “You can’t play with us right now.”
Excluding other children also springs from the cognitive developmental stage in which children begin to categorize. People in their family are different from people not in their family. Realizing that some people are like them and others are different, they often use those categories to exclude other children: “Only boys can play!” “We don’t want anyone here who has short hair!”
Teachers make sure that no child is excluded based on an attribute or affinity with which they are born, like gender, race, ethnicity, or ability, or a social category like family differences.
We include children in problem-solving. A powerful way to approach exclusionary play is to acknowledge the play that is going on. Because kids worry about a loss of control of their play, this reassures them. “It looks like you’re building a strong dam for the pond.” Once kids hear their play acknowledged, they have more confidence that it won’t be overridden and less resistance to having someone else join in.
We also might invite children’s ideas about ways their play could be extended to make room for others: “Do you need someone to carry the doctor tools and the groceries?” This often helps children find a way to open their play to another.
Adults might need to find ways to help expand children’s play, so if there isn’t room for more passengers in the wagon, we wonder out loud about bigger ideas: “Do we need to set up a ‘wagon washing station’?” This way everyone who wants to can join in.
It’s important to make sure the child who’s being excluded has a voice. We don’t speak for children (which puts them in a passive role), but check in with them: “How do you feel about that idea?” or “How does it feel when kids say that?” Whether an excluded child gets into play isn’t as important as being heard when they express their feelings, so we make sure others listen to what she has to say.
We keep play areas open for all children: “The slide is for everyone.” We arrange the classroom to provide limits at times, like the “two-person table” for art projects.
We establish ground rules for safety: “Those are hurtful words. It’s not okay to use those kinds of names with kids. What’s another way to say what you’re trying to say?” or “I wonder if you’re trying to tell her, ‘I just want to play with him right now.’”
Fortunately, as children grow older (though sometimes much older), they are more capable of understanding multiple points of view, think through their choices, and predict natural consequences to events. They become better able to understand that yelling, “Go away!” is not a great way to keep a friend.
Children’s friendships will be developing and changing all through the year (and through the years). Relationships in Preschool and Kindergarten are based on the here-and-now, and supporting them is ongoing work for teachers and parents. As busy adults, it’s easy to fall into the trap of playing judge and jury for social collisions between children. We may say, “Play nice!” or “Time out!” or “I’m going to put that tool away!” none of which are helpful solutions. But as long as we continue to mediate and “resolve” their conflicts for them, we prevent children from practicing those crucial skills themselves. Instead, it’s helpful to think of ourselves as attentive observers and guides for children as they do the work of learning how to be a friend.
Over time, these responses help increase the level of trust between adults and children. Kids learn that we are there for them in this complex process of navigating friendships. With our support, over time, children begin to understand that what they say and do affects others. When they trust that adults respect their ideas and clarify safe limits, they’re more willing to work together toward mutually satisfying solutions, and the rocky road of friendship can be a little smoother.
— Adrienne Hoskins
By Will Hornblower
Across the Oak Grove campus, parents and staff have been discussing strategies to improve the way that adults connect and communicate with children. Over the course of three workshops, we brainstormed ways to help students develop resilience, autonomy, and rapport with adults.
We started by posing a question to a gathering of the entire Oak Grove School staff and teachers: How should we talk to students at Oak Grove? This evolved into the obvious counterpoint: How shouldn’t we talk to students at Oak Grove? The teachers generated some excellent strategies. Here are some that might be of benefit in the home:
“The do’s” of adult-child communication:
- Body language equals words: show children that you are giving them your full attention by engaging in active listening. Here is a link to some active listening advice for those interested in practicing at home.
- Use “I” messages to communicate your feelings. Communicate your feelings honestly, and encourage children to communicate their feelings using “I messages” as well.
- When praising a child, praise the process and not the person or result. Instead of saying, “You are so good at math!“, try saying, “I like the way you tried all kinds of strategies on that math problem until you finally got it.” Here is more information on recent research on the effects of different types of praise in encouraging a growth mindset.
“The do not’s” of adult-child communication:
- Avoid making assumptions or leaping to conclusions when communicating with children. Often, we are only projecting our own anxiety onto the child. In her wonderful book, Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids, Dr. Laura Markham writes: “When we are worried, we usually feel an urgent need to take action. That alleviates our own anxiety but doesn’t necessarily give the child what he needs. So the first intervention is always becoming aware of and regulating our own emotions.”
- Avoid comparisons when your child is within earshot, especially comparisons to siblings. Kids are always interested in what adults have to say about them, and this can shape their own feelings of self-worth.
Strategies for Elementary Students
Every time you talk to a child you are adding a brick to define the relationship that is being built between the two of you. And each message says something to the child about what you think of him. He gradually builds up a picture of how you perceive him as a person. Talk can be constructive to the child and to the relationship or it can be destructive. – Thomas Gordon
Our first parent education workshop discussed communication strategies for younger students to help them develop resilience, autonomy, and executive function. Here are some strategies that we came up with:
Routines and rituals that help to encourage connection and communication:
- Regularly scheduled family meals. Assigned chores and structured conversations help make these meals more successful.
- An unhurried bedtime routine. Build plenty of space into your bedtime routines for conversation and connection while still making sure that your child enjoys the health benefits of adequate sleep.
- Structured daily reflection activities like: “Rose, Thorn, Bud” or “Three Good Things.”
- Screen-Free Sunday (or Saturday) for all family members. If you really want to go big, try a screen-free week.
- Enjoying nature together
Calming your child during moments of extreme anxiety or agitation:
- Soothing experiences like baths, massage, or snuggles.
- Role play and storytelling.
- Creating safe spaces and providing stress-relieving toys and objects for children.
- Mindfulness routines
- Modeling self-regulation by taming your own emotions during high-stress moments.
Strategies to use when your child is struggling with his/her social or academic life:
- Coaching, not controlling: consider the consultant model over a more authoritarian approach. Instead of offering solutions, ask, “How can I support you?”
- Asking specific questions about academic or social life as opposed to more general questions.
- Avoid power struggles around homework
Here are some helpful resources that we distributed during the workshop:
- Refrigerator sheet- How to Talk So Kids Will Listen And Listen So Kids Will Talk
- Whole Brain Child Refrigerator Sheet
- Dr. Laura Markham- Gameplan for Parenting Your Elementary Schooler
Strategies for Secondary Students
As parents, our need is to be needed; as teenagers their need is not to need us. This conflict is real; we experience it daily as we help those we love become independent of us. – Dr. Haim G. Ginott
Our second parent education workshop discussed communication strategies for older students to help them retain healthy attachments and strong connections with their parents and caregivers:
Routines and rituals that help to encourage connection and communication:
- Electronics-free times such as meals or even encouraging an entire screen-free day.
- Sharing common interests and hobbies: sometimes conversations flow better when engaged in a common task like cooking, hiking, or surfing.
- Game nights and playing music together.
- Going out on a one-on-one “date night.”
- Being enthusiastic at child’s sports and performance events.
Approaching difficult conversations such as discussions on sex, substance abuse, or peer conflict
- Using facts and discussing current research as opposed to voicing opinions. A calm demeanor and positive body language also help to avoid activating a child’s defense response.
- Using movies, tv shows, or current events as teachable moments or to discuss sensitive issues.
- Talking about issues in abstract terms or using another person’s experience as opposed to asking personal questions.
- Do not make assumptions about your child’s views on alcohol, sex, or other sensitive topics.
- Have a plan for when your child asks you about your own teenage experiences.
- Choose your moment to have a conversation; don’t “ambush” your child with a difficult conversation.
Strategies around electronics use to avoid miscommunication and to promote connection
- A media contract is a useful negotiating tool to remind parents and children about expectations.
- Modeling responsible media use is important as children observe and criticize every action by adults that might be deemed hypocritical.
- Texting and email can create misunderstandings. Convey important information in a face-to-face interaction.
Here are some helpful resources that we distributed during the workshop:
- Tips For Talking To Your Child About Sex, Drugs and Alcohol
- Communication Blocks to Avoid
- Why Your Grumpy Teenager Doesn’t Want to Talk to You – The New York Times
- 30 Ways To Stay Connected With Your Teen
Here is a link to a schedule of our upcoming parent education workshops.
CONTACT OAK GROVE
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