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Observing a pair of California Scrub Jays through binoculars with students and parents in the quiet early hour before school begins…

Witnessing the Pavilion transform into the Pale of Settlement of Imperial Russia of 1905…

Discovering the studio of Leonardo Da Vinci surrounded by student-crafted renditions of Mona Lisa and Self Portrait in the medium of candy (yes, candy!)…

Learning the process of sketching out a mural from concept to fruition, which is inspired by a group of high school students’ open-hearted immigration ideals…

All this happened this past week, and all were initiated and/or implemented by our parents. As Krishnamurti said the day before the school opened for the first time, “It would be right that the parents as well as the teachers and the students work together as a family unit.”

We ask parents to communicate directly with the teachers and staff, to attend parent education meetings, to actively read school and classroom updates, and to volunteer for projects and activities already established within the school. When parents move beyond this base-level of engagement and are energized by an idea for which the school can provide scaffolding for its implementation, we are able to provide something that might not otherwise be possible. When parents and staff can partner to bring form to a new idea, we are able to broaden our resources and capacity as a school, as a community, and as a family unit. Being a small school with a skeletal staff and a modest tuition, we might be limited by internal resources. But limited we are not! We have parents with an incredible wealth of knowledge, talents, and energies who choose to share those with our community. We rely on our parents to complete the circle so we can, together, operate a school “where one learns about the totality, the wholeness of life.”

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.”

You can also read this article in context by viewing our
2017-18 Annual Report »

 

One of my most memorable experiences growing up in India was that my twin sister and I would travel to Chennai during the warm days and cool nights in December. It was something we waited for eagerly, as we would get to stay at the beautiful 250-acre land of the Theosophical Society in Adyar wherein my family would attend the international convention that happens every year. Each year the convention has a theme where theosophists and avid learners of various disciplines would converge to hear lectures and have wonderful discussions. For us as children, we would be in this wonderful environment of learning but mostly focused on play and I had no idea that it was subconsciously having a great impact on my inner child. A theme from the convention has stayed with me over the years, “where YOU are, love is not” and I didn’t understand the impact it would have on me in my adult life.

When we came to Oak Grove to explore the school and community, Surya (my son, 11 at that time) and I were resistant as we did not want to leave our lovely home, community, friends in the Bay Area. My husband convinced us to explore the school and then to decide if we wanted to uproot our lives from the known and jump headlong into the unknown. We met with Andy, who embodies many wonderful things of the Oak Grove teacher culture and were very taken in by the honesty and simplicity of this Krishnamurti school. I remember sitting with Surya by the Pavilion and asking him about his thoughts/ feelings going through his mind. After voicing some of the positives and fears of moving to a new school, he said, “My heart says to stay in the Bay Area (because of my friends) but my gut says to come to this school”! I was stunned at the depth of his observation in himself and that he was able to articulate it so succinctly. I told my husband about this and we both knew at that time that this would be the right choice for him/us and applied to the school. Suffice to say, when Surya got accepted, we moved our lives, left all that was familiar and safe to us, and moved to Ojai.

They say (I don’t know who) that nothing good in life comes easy. We went through our struggles of moving, change of jobs, finding a home in Ojai, saying goodbyes to friends and I can say a year later that it has been completely worth it. Surya was welcomed, embraced by the class, teachers and school alike, and made connections with kids that I know will last a lifetime. The growth of the mind, the ease of the heart and the happiness of learning in a relaxed environment is reflected on Surya on most days after school. One day, in the middle of the year, he said, “I did not realize I was so stressed at Independent (his previous school) until I realized I wasn’t feeling the stress anymore.” When asked how he would describe the stress, he said that he felt the class energy was less about strict rules and more focused on learning and creativity. Every child goes through their own struggles (education, social relationship dynamics and peer pressure) in school irrespective of the greatness of the school but to hear that he was not stressed, my husband and I thought this was absolutely worth all the sacrifices we made as a family.

I realized after I moved to Ojai that the convention theme of many years ago, “where YOU are, love is not” would circle back as a theme of being more present and aware of one’s own self in the world of relationships. And that we as a family would get an opportunity to be in an environment to explore that self and be able to reflect and grow.

Oak Grove embraced us, reminded me that there are schools in this world that breed a culture of integrity, kindness, honesty, authenticity and most of all genuine empathy towards fellow human beings. My family and I are grateful for this wonderful experience of the Oak Grove school/community and look forward to the exciting years ahead in Surya’s experiences at the school.

Warmly,

Deepa Pulipati

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:

Faculty and staff generated some “Do’s and Don’t’s” on how we communicate with children on campus.

  • 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 KidsDr. 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:

Calming your child during moments of extreme anxiety or agitation:

Strategies to use when your child is struggling with his/her social or academic life:

Here are some helpful resources that we distributed during the workshop:


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

Here are some helpful resources that we distributed during the workshop:


Here is a link to a schedule of our upcoming parent education workshops.