Former Head of School, Meredy Benson Rice, now the Director of Teaching and Learning spoke about her personal journey as an educator and how students experience education at Oak Grove School as part of the 2015 Do Lecture Series.
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
Today, we welcome five administrators from other California independent schools, including Lick-Wilmerding High School, Presidio Knolls School, Westridge School for Girls, Village Christian School, and Trinity School. They are our Accreditation Visiting Committee, and they will be with us through Wednesday.
Oak Grove has a dual accreditation through the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) as well as the California Association of Independent Schools (CAIS). If you don’t already know how this works, an independent school, through an in-depth review process, is granted one-, three-, or seven-year accreditation status. The process begins with a 12-month self-study, which is broken into 16 chapters covering all aspects of the school, including curriculum, climate, finances, physical plant, human resources, administration, safety, and so much more.
This is an amazing opportunity. This process assists us in reviewing what we say we do against what we actually do. Talk about mirrors! Even though seven years is the longest accreditation stretch offered through WASC/CAIS, Oak Grove is currently in our eighth year. We were supposed to be reviewed last year. However, on a glorious Saturday morning in 2018, I was sitting at my kitchen island replying to emails, and in popped a message from CAIS Accreditation Director, Mariana Robles. She explained that there were twice as many schools up for accreditation than usual and, since Oak Grove was in good standing, questioned if we would be open to pushing our self-study one more year.
This was the quickest email I have ever written; I couldn’t reply fast enough! Within a couple of moments, Mariana replied back with, “Wow! That was a quick response! Thank you, Jodi, for being willing to help.” Ha!
Beginning in January 2019, we began working intensely on our self-study, which included 93 committee members and a 12-month timeline. The self-study itself included 85 questions to be answered, along with oodles of “evidence” like financial data, enrollment and retention numbers, proof of best practices, curriculum scope and sequence, parent handbook, emergency procedures, teacher guidelines, on and on.
One of the questions in the Education Program section asks, “Taking into account the future world in which the school anticipates that its students will be living, describe how the curriculum is informed by that vision.” This one is particularly interesting to me. Here’s why. Research strongly suggests that current employers and world leaders are looking for people who can solve complex problems with an ability to negotiate on a global level, often through conflicting cultural, social, and political ideology. People must have the ability to synthesize discordant ideas because the world’s interdependence is rapidly narrowing and these are skills that cannot be performed by a computer.
Oak Grove’s academic program emphasizes critical and creative thinking to solve complex problems; the ability to collaborate with others, which requires clear communication, flexibility, cultural sensitivity, and deep listening skills. Throughout Oak Grove’s curricular and co-curricular programs, which are outlined in the Arts of Living and Learning, we incorporate a climate of inquiry, self-reflection, understanding through relationship, aesthetics, attention, metacognition, citizenship, and environmental stewardship.
The truth is, however, that Oak Grove is not focused on simply preparing our students for the world they will someday inhabit. We are honoring them as they are today in the world in which they live now. Yet perhaps most importantly, we are preparing our students to change that world for the better – not just for humans, but for all the world’s inhabitants. We already see this with our alums, like the ones highlighted in our many publications and the ones who are now Oak Grove parents and members of the faculty.
Krishnamurti once said, “A school, through its students, should bring a blessing to the world.” This is a radical idea, and at its core, Oak Grove is a radical school. Aristotle talks about living a eudaimonic life, which is living a life of virtue and excellence, living our highest self. This might be similar to what Krishnamurti referred to as “flowering in goodness.”
What is most significant about this concept isn’t the benefit to oneself, but how living this way is a benefit to others and therefore initiates an endless cycle of reciprocity. In many ways, in living life in this way, one is bringing a blessing to the world and therefore receiving this blessing.
Let’s enjoy this opportunity to share the vibrant learning of both student and teacher here at Oak Grove against the backdrop of beauty and serenity on our campus.
Seven and a half years ago, I started my first day of teaching at Oak Grove School. I had spent the summer lesson planning, figuring out how to adjust from teaching 40 students a class to teaching 12 to 16. As 8:00am approached, I put on my game face, ready to show the kids that I was a force that should not be trifled with.
As the students filed in, I said in my most stentorian voice, “My name is Mister umm Will, and I am going to start with my expectations for the class, which are EXTENSIVE. I began rattling off my policies on tardiness, food in the classroom, punctuality, ad nauseam. Had I looked up from my notes, I might have noticed a bemused expression on the students’ faces. However, my lecture was interrupted by a student who burst through the door with a haggard expression on his face. He announced, “I am so sorry. I ran over a squirrel on my way to school and I had to stop and think about that for a while.”
This stopped me in my tracks. I paused to consider how to proceed. My professional instincts and training urged me to continue with my lecture, knowing that one can only fit so much curriculum into my 181 days of instruction. However, another part of my brain started prodding me in another direction. This inquiring, curious part of my brain had atrophied in recent years, and it begged for some exercise. So I turned to the student. A small smile started to crack the facade of my game face and I asked: “So after you hit that squirrel, what did you think about?” So, we spent the first day of US history class engaged in a free-ranging discussion on death, random chance, moral agency, and ethics.
Krishnamurti writes: Education in our schools is not only the acquisition of knowledge, but what is far more important, the awakening of intelligence, which will then utilize knowledge. It is never the other way around.
Something awakened in me that day; I suppose I could call it intelligence, and it profoundly changed the way I approach teaching and my relationship with my students. The culture of this school has a way of changing those who come into its orbit. However, we sometimes forget that this change is not limited to students. While our focus remains on the students, the magical thing about this place is its ability to awaken intelligence and to promote a culture of self-inquiry in the community of teachers, parents, alumni, and community members.
So I wish to challenge you with this question: How has this school, this wonderful institution of learning, led you to consider and question your own ways of thinking?
-Will Hornblower, High School History Teacher
Adapted from a speech written for the Tea Fundraiser
I was lying in the shade on the Main House lawn looking up at the sky. The weather was warm, not hot. I could see the gentle breeze move through the trees. Nearby, other staff and faculty members were spread out around the lawn, gazebo, and pathways. Some were seated on rocks, others lay on benches, or sat upright facing the mountains. Together, but alone, we were engaged in “radical downtime,” something many of our teachers practice with our students throughout the school day.
This was during our weekly faculty meeting, and the amount of time was far too short. Radical downtime is not mindfulness or meditation. The idea is to be without external stimuli – books, electronics, paper, instrument, conversation – to be with oneself without a purpose. Daydreaming, thinking, not thinking, allowing the mind to wander, closing the eyes, napping is fine if that is what is needed.
I remember reading once that for a person who gets the appropriate amount of sleep, it should take 15-20 minutes to naturally fall asleep after closing one’s eyes. The mind will cycle through the day’s interactions, projects, forgotten to-dos, but once the mind slows down, sleep will prevail. I wonder how many people allow that amount of time to drift off. My own habit is to read until I realize I am dreaming with my eyes closed and the book has fallen out of my hand. That’s when I turn off the lights and fall asleep within seconds.
Research around radical downtime suggests that people who practice this activity have improved memory, increased creativity, decreased stress, and experience fewer sleep disturbances. When we stop and do “nothing,” especially in this hyper-technological world full of distractions, we increase the possibility of becoming more aware of our emotions, noticing body sensations and what they may mean to us. For children, having time to process what is happening inside themselves and learning how to be content with themselves without external provocation is an essential aspect of our purpose as a school.
“It is very important to go out alone, to sit under a tree – not with a book, not with a companion, but by yourself – and observe the falling of a leaf, hear the lapping of the water, the fisherman’s song, watch the flight of a bird, and of your own thoughts as they chase each other across the space of your mind. If you are able to be alone and watch these things, then you will discover extraordinary riches which no government can tax, no human agency can corrupt, and which can never be destroyed.”
— J. Krishnamurti, “Think on These Things”
As the Oak Grove academic year ends, students depart and the campus quietens. This is a time for staff and board members to retreat, recoup, and reflect.
In late June, the Oak Grove School Board met in the relaxed setting of a ranch home on the California coast. Between casual walks and light conversation, the OGSB inquired into the intention of the school, discussed some big-picture topics, and made goals for the 2019-2020 school year.
Twice throughout the summer, Oak Grove staff has the opportunity to retreat over a three-day period with the Head of School at the Krishnamurti Education Center. This gives faculty and staff the opportunity to stay at Pepper Tree Retreat, a place of silence and calm, to explore the Krishnamurti Education Center with all of the resources it offers, and to discuss Krishnamurti’s Letters to the Schools. Each person has ample time to quietly reflect, take walks, rest, read, and practice yoga. A true retreat.
The Leadership Team, a group of ten administrators representing all departments of the school, retreats in August, meeting for three days at a home in Santa Barbara. The days are filled with planning, philosophical discussions, and organizing the upcoming year, all the while interspersed with fun activities and importantly, leisure time.
“So we must be very clear in the understanding of the word leisure: it is a time, a period when the mind is not occupied with anything whatsoever. It is the time of observation. It is only the unoccupied mind that can observe. Free observation is the movement of learning. This frees the mind from being mechanical.”
The Whole Movement of Life is Learning