Newsletter Articles

Four Keys to Returning to Full Community Life

By Lisa Mahar

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Four Keys to Returning to Full Community Life

By Lisa Mahar

Longer, warmer days and the tentative emergence of buds and blossoms let us know that spring is underway.

In our schools we are all happily anticipating our return to community celebrations and festival life after many months of limited contact, modified events, and sustained precautions. With a pandemic that impacted three school years, many school leaders have observed that large portions of their student bodies and their parent bodies have yet to experience the full rhythm and richness of our Waldorf community celebrations, festivals, special events, and school traditions. Introducing a renewal of community life promises a special kind of refreshment, nourishment, and sustenance we long for.

With this renewal, we are presented with a unique opportunity to pause and ask:

  • How do we best renew our community activities?

  • What new opportunities present themselves for nurturing a fulfilling community life?

  • How might we adopt and incorporate our ongoing and meaningful work aimed at broadening circles of inclusion and welcome?

  • Which traditions still pulse with life, and which are ready to become meaningful memories of a past time?

  • What new events and celebrations are peeking over the cradle’s rim ready to be taken up?

Each school community will answer these questions in its own way. What follows are some reflections and insights from the work of Jorgen Smit on elements that make up a healthy, vibrant, balanced community life. Schools might find these insights useful as they plan for a full return to community life.

Jorgen Smit studied human community and observed human relationships. He developed his observations and experiences into a picture of the healthy human social organism, based on four dynamics of community life: Warmth, Initiative, Form, and Continuity. When each of these four dynamics is present and lively and when these dynamics are actively and consciously balanced and rebalanced, a living and vibrant sense of community carries us all.

Warmth

Community warmth creates an atmosphere of welcome, of extension toward the other, of striving for connection. Warmth is interest, curiosity. Warmth flows through and breaks down any separation between the long-time members of the community and the brand-new ones.

Warmth brings a sense of welcome, comfort, acceptance, enthusiasm. Diversity, and its essential companion, inclusion, thrive in a community permeated by human warmth. In such a community, even challenges are welcomed because they often generate “heat” in our human connections. Warmth is a necessary condition for growth, raying out and engaging those it touches.

Initiative

Proposing, exploring, and manifesting new approaches demonstrate a commitment to our healthy future. Initiative asks questions, is willing to experiment, and takes risks. Balanced with warmth, form, and continuity, it’s the fuel that moves a community forward. Vibrant wholeness and energy characterize communities friendly to initiative.

A school community that works to sense the future welcomes initiative from all quarters, including from new teachers, new staff members, new parents, and from the students themselves. After all, our new and our young community companions bring us the gift of fresh eyes. When balanced with warmth, form, and continuity we find initiative to be an inspiring energizer keeping us fresh and engaged.

Form

Form is the structure of the community and its policies, procedures, protocols. Form reflects our living values, what is important to us. It holds us up and holds us together. If we are committed to professional development for teachers, our budget supports it. If we are committed to financial accessibility for all, our tuition policies make that possible. If we are committed to diversity and inclusion, our curriculum, staffing, enrollment, festivals, and celebrations bring these commitments to life. We experience form as a framework: our values lead to principles; principles lead to policies; policies lead to practices. Form has a sturdiness and durability to it. We can count on it. Form is, of course, open to transform. It is, at best, the set of firm yet supple golden threads that weave our school community together.

Continuity

Continuity embraces and continually refreshes what is valuable, inspiring, and working well. It lives in community rhythms, predictability, tradition, accountability, and the honoring of history. Continuity is carrying forward what is lively and true. Continuity gives new ideas time and space to work. Continuity is sensing and celebrating what we can rightly rely on: it was, it is, it will be. This is a gift for our children, a source of strength, trust, and security. Dynamic continuity calls us to be attentive, perceptive, and especially awake, avoiding doing a thing because “we’ve always done it”.

Warmth, initiative, form, continuity, these four elements are guiding lights illuminating the path of community health and well-being. As we reflect on our own school communities, we can ask ourselves:

  • Are all of these elements present in our school community?

  • Which element are we especially good at?

  • Does one or another need to be strengthened?

  • How does each show itself in the life of the school?

  • Are these elements well-balanced with one another?

  • Are there groups or individuals especially gifted in holding one or more of these elements?

  • Where do we see opportunities for further growth and development of warmth, initiative, continuity, and form?

In this new moment we are offered a unique opportunity: returning to full expression of our vibrant community life. With a nod to the thoughtful work of Jorgen Smit, we look forward to making the most of the compelling possibilities that lay ahead. Kind thoughts to all as you examine, strengthen, and renew your community relationships and deepen your school culture now and for our future.

Jorgen Smit,1916 – 1991, was a Waldorf Educator—a class teacher, trainer of teachers, international pedagogical leader, and one of the founders of the anthroposophical center in Jarna, Sweden, which now includes a teacher education seminar, a cultural center, hospital, school, biodynamic farm, dairy, and the international Youth Initiative Program (YIP). Jorgen Smit was a warm–hearted, compassionate human being, deeply interested in others. He inspired many young people to pursue careers of service in Waldorf Education and other anthroposophically based initiatives. Stories abound of his interest in others, his humor, curiosity, and encouraging guidance.

The Qualities of Collaboration: Learning to Lead Together

By Michael Soule

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The Qualities of Collaboration: Learning to Lead Together

By Michael Soule


At the heart of Waldorf Education is an imagination of a better world through human beings’ conscious collaboration with one another, the natural world and the spirit. Its founder, Rudolf Steiner, looked into the future and saw that, in order to combat an age of growing materialism and self-centeredness, a new approach to education was needed – one that took into consideration the spiritual nature of the human being and the cosmos – one that considered the interdependence of the natural world and the spirit.

Now almost one hundred years later, we have made a good start. Waldorf Education is known and practiced in thousands of independent institutions throughout the world – schools connected by a commitment to this imagination.

In all of these schools and early childhood centers worldwide, groups of individuals continue to wrestle with the unique social dynamics of their organizations, trying to understand and incorporate the social impulses embedded in the first school, as they strive to be practical, sustainable and creative organisms in their communities and cultures.

Throughout his life, Rudolf Steiner did everything he could to offer insights, tools and examples of a conscious working together. From the very beginning, he imagined Waldorf schools as social organisms where individuals would learn how to collaborate and lead together.


Collaboration in a faculty, in a board and in an administration is essential to the long-term success of Waldorf Education. Collaboration between schools and colleagues is equally as essential if we are to develop the kinds of relationships needed to keep our Waldorf schools vital.


This site is an attempt to gather the wisdom that has been gained during the last century and begin a new dialog about our tasks, one that we hope will help support a deepened understanding and practice of how to LeadTogether.

In every area of human endeavor, leaders are understanding better and better how to support the healthy development of the individual while building relationships that further the mission and effectiveness of the group or organization. In both hierarchical as well as horizontal organizations, inspired leaders are discovering and practicing new approaches to organizational management that create a balance of organizational and individual growth and development.

While a science of collaboration is still as of yet undefined, practice in many fields are leading towards a common view of the basic guiding principles. Here is an outline of the basic elements of Collaboration from extensive research in the field and years of experience in Waldorf communities.

  • A commitment to a common vision, shared values and clear goals.

  • Individuals empowered to take initiative and step into leadership roles according to their capacities.

  • Clear roles and responsibilities for the people involved and ways of supporting individuals to be successful in their roles.

  • Building of safe space and trust within and between groups. Trust is built through transparency, communication and consistency, as well as tolerance and forgiveness.

  • Open mindedness towards other points of view, experiences, contributions and styles and the practice of equanimity in relation to one’s own feelings and to the actions of others.

  • Ongoing reflection by individuals involved (in the form of self-reflection) and by groups (in the form of conscious review of intentions, processes and interactions).

  • Interest by each individual in the growth and development of the other individuals involved in the group – to be sincerely interested in understanding others and accepting that each person is on their own unique path of development.

  • An understanding that the health of a group or organization depends on the health of the individuals involved and a commitment to finding ways that both the individual and group can grow simultaneously.

Both teacher, staff and volunteers leaders in Waldorf Education regularly face the challenges of working together in our organizations especially in a culture and in a world where social dynamics are becoming more continually more intense. There are many tools available to help us navigate these dynamics -- from learning to clarify values and create shared vision, to sharing biographical work, to hygienic communication techniques, to learning new ways of self and group reflection through meeting review and individual contemplative practice. The above elements/principles of healthy collaboration can provide a foundation to help as we continue to study, practice and strengthen our collaboration with each other.

The Gifts of Practice Teaching

By Sally Boyd, SCC Grades Practicum Coordinator

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The Gifts of Practice Teaching

By Sally Boyd, SCC Grades Practicum Coordinator


Becoming a Waldorf teacher is a process that requires intellectual, emotional, physical, and spiritual development. In addition to developing a deep understanding of the principles underlying Waldorf pedagogy through engaging course work, class discussions, self-reflection, and written, visual, and craft curriculum work, students are required to participate in a practicum in the classroom of an experienced Waldorf teacher.


The goal of a teaching practicum is for the student to experience and reflect on the whole activity of being a teacher, including the preparation and presentation of lessons, work with individual students and the class, and interacting with parents and colleagues. Written assignments are designed to provide a form to guide the practicum students in observing, documenting and reflecting on their experiences.

Experiencing how the art of teaching with Waldorf pedagogy is brought to life to meet the souls of growing children is inspiring and truly awesome. Some students’ reflections on the value of participating in their practica follow.

The practicum gave me the opportunity to take some much-needed time to work on my inner development. I don't often have solo adventures and was able to fully immerse myself in practices and experiences that best suited me at the time. It was wonderful to see what other Waldorf communities are like, as I have only truly experienced the one I am directly involved in. This was an impactful and memorable experience both for me as a professional and in my personal life.

Riley M., Grades Student


My practicum experience was probably one of the most valuable parts of my Sound Circle Teacher training. During my first year of SCC classes I would constantly be asking questions about resources, classroom management, and “real life” scenarios only to find that once I was in my practicum, many of those were answered when I saw the children and the master teacher in front of me. I learned how to observe the children, how to record and assess their progress, and how to craft an engaging lesson (and how to recover from a not-so-stellar one the next day!). Having a mentor teacher who gave daily feedback and shared ideas was also a wonderful gift of colleagueship. I came out on the other side of my practicum with the practical experience needed to run a classroom and with the connections to help me get a teaching position.


Val S., Grades Student


I am approaching the end of my teacher training, having navigated a pandemic and other universal intensities. The opportunity to have a practicum during this time has helped put things in perspective by calling me to tune into the now. Through this experience, I dedicated time to reflect on my own teaching, colleagueship, child observation, and the community I am immersed in. This has set me up to have better habits when I get into my own classroom. There are an infinite number of moving parts when we are holding a class. A practicum is like dipping your toe into the water before you dive in and allows us to learn more skills with which to meet the students, the community, and the universe.


Jordan F., Grades Student

The Healing Story for the Early Childhood Classroom

By Somer Serpe, SCC Faculty

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The Healing Story for the Early Childhood Classroom

By Somer Serpe, SCC Faculty


During the last year, Sound Circle Center offered two virtual intensives entitled, Bringing Cultural Consciousness Through Stories and Circles in Early Childhood in which EC faculty members helped guide participants in the process of creating new stories and circles for the children in their care. We asked ourselves several questions: How do we as human beings embody social justice? How do we as early childhood teachers create a classroom that is built on social justice? How do we hold this just space while meeting the young child in a way that is developmentally appropriate?


Through biography work, bias exploration, and meditative tools, Holly Koteen-Soule, Somer Serpe and Leslie Woolverton led the participants on a workshopping journey. They explored the contrasting concepts of archetypes vs. stereotypes, implicit vs. explicit, and deeds of the heart (vs. those of the intellect) in order to awaken powerful new gestures in their story creation. Each participant wrote a story and then they worked together to transform some of the stories into circles for the classroom. The following is a story created by one of the participants, Jessica E., about a brave porcupine looking for new friends.


Note from Jessica E.: When I wrote this story, I was thinking of the children who are thought of as “different” from their peers and aren’t included in play or games. I was also thinking about the children who do the excluding, knowing that often times children need a bridge of understanding so that they may overcome their fears and judgments.


The Friendly Porcupine

By Jessica Eastman - SCC EC Student

Once upon a time, there was a little porcupine named Henry. Henry lived with his porcupine mother and his porcupine brother in a forest at the edge of a small creek. He spent his days playing with his brother. They played hiding games and had contests to see who could dig a hole the fastest. Then they would eat lunch together on the banks of the creek, enjoying each other’s company. One day Henry’s brother had to go on a long trip to the edge of the woods to find supplies for winter. Henry would have no one to play with for a few days until his brother returned.


On the first day, Henry tried to explore and play in the woods by himself, but he found it just wasn’t as much fun without someone to be the seeker in the game of hide and seek, or without someone to have digging contests with. Just then, Henry noticed a group of squirrels playing in the trees overhead, scampering around, leaping to-and-fro, and gathering nuts for the winter.


The three squirrels chattered and chased each other down the long tree trunks. “Hello! Hello squirrels!” Henry called. But they did not hear him, as they were so busy with their squirrel business. “Hello there, squirrels,” Henry called again, “would you like to play a game of hide and seek?” The three squirrels chattered and laughed and said, “Oh, we don’t play with porcupines! Your terrible and sharp quills will poke us, and besides that, we have squirrel things we must do. We don’t do porcupine things. You are very different from us!” And they scampered away into the treetops.


Henry called out to the squirrels again. “Squirrels, I know how to keep my quills to myself, and I will be careful not to hurt you. I would like to learn how to do squirrel things, and maybe you would like to learn how to dig a hole as fast as me and my brother, to bury your nuts for the winter.”


The three little squirrels flicked their tails and chattered to each other. They called out to Henry and said, “Porcupine, you may know how to dig a hole and keep your quills to yourself, but we don’t play with porcupines. We only play with squirrels. You are very different from us!” And they scampered away again.


Henry was sad that he had quills and not a long bushy tail. He wished he could leap from branch to branch and do squirrel things, so he too could play with the squirrels. He went home to his burrow and told his mother what had happened. “Little Henry,” said his mother, “do not be sad. We are different from all the other animals in the woods, this is true. And the forest counts on us to do porcupine things, like digging holes to find roots and spreading seeds when we eat wild fruit. If we didn’t do porcupine things, the forest would not be the way it is today.”


It just so happened that the three little squirrels were burying nuts near the porcupine burrow and overheard Mother Porcupine. “It is true,” said the smallest of the squirrels, “that porcupine is different from us. But he is important to the forest, just as we are.”


“Yes,” agreed the second squirrel, “he does porcupine things and we are nervous around his big quills. But he has never tried to hurt us, and he wants to be our friend.”


The third squirrel said, “He really isn’t so different from us, you know. He eats roots and nuts and wild carrots, just like us. And he can dig really fast! I have admired his digging skills from the treetops and have wished I could dig as well as he does.”


The three squirrels decided they were going to ask porcupine to play a game with them after all. “Porcupine!” called the squirrels, “would you like to play a digging game with us?” Henry poked his head out of the burrow and was surprised to find the three squirrels there waiting for him. “You said I was too different to play with and that you were afraid of my quills. I can’t do squirrel things like you can.”


“You are not so different from us after all,” they said. “And we know you are not going to try to hurt us. You are a kind and gentle porcupine, with great hiding skills, and we would like to play with you! Maybe you can teach us how to dig as fast as you can, and we can teach you how to find the best nuts to eat.”


Henry agreed to this and crawled out of his burrow to play with the squirrels. They played a game of hide and seek and porcupine showed them the best hiding places on the forest floor. Then the squirrels showed him where the yummiest nuts were hidden and they had many digging contests. The squirrels learned how to dig faster by watching Henry, and Henry learned how to store his roots away carefully so he and his family would have delicious winter snacks. From then on they played together most afternoons, doing both squirrel things and porcupine things together, and all was well in the forest.

An Invitation to Open Our Hearts

Creating the Festivals for Our Time - By Somer Serpe (SCC EC Program Director Assistant)

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An Invitation to Open Our Hearts

Creating the Festivals for Our TIme - by Somer Serpe (SCC EC Program Director Assistant)

As Waldorf Early Childhood teachers, we have accepted the important task of providing an atmosphere of love, warmth and gratitude in which the young child feels recognized and accepted as a newly journeyed being from the spiritual world. We carefully weave reverence, beauty and intention into our environment and activities to acknowledge this journey while gently guiding the young child into the earthly world with joy and wonder. In the eyes of the child we can see our own souls' purpose as we begin the sacred task of renewing the relationship between the spiritual world, mother earth and the wisdom of the stars. The festivals are the celebration of this sacred task and therefore need to honor what each child has come to earth already knowing.

The festivals bring us together in a social and spiritual deed. They are physical manifestations of the soul quality of the seasons. They unite our souls’ rhythm with that of the earth, the sun, the moon and the stars. We know these rhythms deeply and yet we also know that many of the physical forms of our beloved festivals do not speak to the universal human. In our attempt to remedy that, we have made well-intended changes to our festivals over the years in many ways. We have kept old traditions but given them new names so that we won’t offend. We have incorporated as many cultural festivals as we can into one season so as not to exclude. We have celebrated the purely physical aspect of nature to eschew any spiritual ties. In some cases, we have even considered giving up the festivals altogether. Sometimes we have created these new forms because of or in spite of our own inner life. Often our “new” festivals can feel contrived, truncated and unenliven. In the end, are we not left less united than when we began and are we truthfully meeting the children before us?

If we remember that each human is a spiritual being, then we can be unapologetically spiritual in our festivals. Moreover, our festivals can serve as a healing balm for our world at a time when society places the importance of science over spirituality and the individual over humanity. To imagine a festival life that honors every human spirit, we need to honor the spiritual essence of the cosmic year which has informed the beautiful festivals that we have come to cherish and will inform the new festivals we wish to create. To always be aware of and truly know the other, we can look to the festivals to inform each other, weave into each other and echo in one another.

This is a process of renewal like any other. It doesn’t happen all at once; it is a living, breathing picture. This process doesn’t discard that which came before, but it happens precisely because of the wisdom from which it was born. The transformation happens within us, not outside of us. There is a certain amount of individual work and self-reflection needed before connecting to the other. It is the being of love within us all that makes this possible. It goes into us, creates forces within us, weaves through us and then out of us. When the spirit informs us and we are open to receiving it, a certain alchemy must take place in order for us to bring it out into the social sphere in a way that truly unites us all.

How do we do this in a conscious way? We look to the spiritual world and we look to the wisdom of the earth. We look to the elemental world and the mood of the seasons. We look to the indigenous people who celebrated the land on which we stand and we look to the threads that are universal in all cultures. This is an invitation to consider the universal threads:

Light and Dark, Warm and Cold, Movement and Stillness, Balance and Breathing

Breathing Out and Breathing In, Nature Consciousness and Self Consciousness,

Expansion and Contraction, Birth, Death, Rebirth,Transformation

Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter

Sun, Moon, Earth, Stars

Air, Fire, Earth, Water

Sylphs, Salamanders, Gnomes, Undines

Movement, Ballance, Touch, Life

Astral, I, Physical, Etheric

Thinking, Feeling, Willing

Roots, Leaves, Flowers, Seeds

Food, Song, Art,

Gratitude, Harmony, Love, Courage

We will begin to know these essential imaginations intimately if we consciously begin to feel the shifts in nature and the cosmos in our souls just as the young child feels them unconsciously. Then we can bring this essence into a physical form of celebration to the children, their families and our communities with love, authenticity and joy.

Once we have worked through the inner meaning of the season and the festival, we can ask the following questions of ourselves and with our colleagues:

  • How can I bring this festival in a picture that captures the essence of this festival and is appropriate for the children in my class?

  • How will I engage their four senses?

  • What part can the parents or families play?

  • What is the giving and receiving in which we will all participate?

We can allow our heart wisdom to inform our deeds so that the festivals we create tend the garden of our souls and honor every young child’s unfolding. As we honor our connection to the living, breathing earth and our spiritual foundation, let us not forget that we are on this sacred heart path together, and we have all we need within us to create a true festival life for the children, for each other and for all humanity.

A Healing Mood for Us All

Part I: Images and Perspectives for Early Childhood Educators - By Holly Koteen-Soule on behalf of the WECAN EC Research Group

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A Healing Mood for Us All

Part I: Images and Perspectives for Early Childhood Educators - By Holly Koteen-Soule on behalf of the WECAN EC Research Group

This article is a synthesis of a conversation among members of the ad hoc WECAN Early Childhood Research Group that was formed in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. The goal of the group is to serve as an organ that can observe and help distill what early childhood educators are learning as we try to navigate the unusual circumstances in which we find ourselves. Members of the group include Stephanie Hoelscher, Rihana Rutledge, Rachel Turner, Nancy Blanning, Laurie Clark and Holly Koteen-Soule.

In our recent conversation, we recognized that as the crisis continues and schools began to plan for a likely resurgence in the late fall or winter, we are all- children, parents and teachers- suffering to some degree from the effects of the ongoing uncertainty in our lives. We naturally began to focus on how to support the children and their families in their healing and quickly realized that we also need to check in with ourselves. We realized that we need to acknowledge the spectrum of feelings that we have experienced and to rebuild our inner forces, in order to be able to be fully present for the children and their families when we meet them again in the fall.

The situation that we are facing now and will be facing in the coming school year is full of challenges. Some of them are technical and logistical, while others are questions of priorities, values and integrity. How much can we stretch ourselves? How much should we stretch ourselves?

One of the members of our research group characterized the situation as a “Yes, and…” situation. Yes, this is incredibly difficult , AND we need to find a way to find our serenity in the storm. Accepting where we are, what is happening and affirming our capacity to be present, even in discomfort and danger, is strengthening. Acknowledging this is a good place to start healing.

Healing comes from many sources. We are all well aware that everything we do in Waldorf early childhood education has a healing element. Our WECAN hub is a rich treasure trove of examples. Our emphasis on predictable rhythms and a breathing balance between polarities can be as helpful to us as it is to the children. Especially potent are the healing images and stories that have been offered. We teachers need these as well.

One of our members cited the importance for her of the story of Parsival. Through years of wandering, searching, trials and travails, Parsival finally awakens enough to the other to take compassionate interest in the wounded Amfortas. He asks at last, “What ails thee?” This was the question that opened the possibility for healing. In our current situation, we are warned to not reach out with physical touch toward others, yet we can reach out with our warm interest. Our spatial distancing requirements still afford the opportunity to reach out with our interest to know the other. “What is your life? What is your pain? I want to feel with you so that I can

understand, so we can be companions.” This applies to the work with our colleagues as well as with our families.

While certain aspects of our work are healing for both us and the children, the unique circumstances that we find ourselves in call for a heightened awareness on our part. One member of our group offered the image of “fishing.” For her, fishing means patiently waiting with one’s line in the water- waiting, watching, and sensing- for what is best for the children. The caveat is, of course, that we approach “fishing” with unselfish intentions. It is interesting to note that Amfortas was also called “The Fisher King.”

Another colleague brought the picture of the current situation as a process of purification. For her, each of us is like a point on the periphery of the Waldorf Early Childhood movement as a whole. The situation (like the point and periphery meditative exercise) is dynamic, not static. Some of us may find ourselves taking a step towards what we see as the center, while others may choose to step towards what they sense as the periphery. The guiding question is, “What is essential?” for me as an individual. The same question is being asked by the movement as a whole. “What is the essence of Waldorf early childhood education?” There is a clear appreciation for the importance of working with this question, both individually and together as colleagues, and for the measure of intensity and creativity with which we are being called on to do so.

Another member of our group commented on the likelihood of our movement being tested again and again. In her view, our task is to build up the requisite immunity without losing our humanity. She echoed an earlier colleague’s test for herself: “Can the children feel my devotion, even if I am wearing a mask?” We reminded ourselves of the struggles of humanity’s great leaders and the inspiring efforts of individuals who created new initiatives out of anthroposophical insights, both past and present. In his time, Rudolf Steiner has to persist against many negative influences. Waldorf education and the other initiatives were not easily won.

If we were to look for a common thread in the conversation, perhaps it is the quest to find a dynamic balancing point between polarities: between stretching and standing firm, between the self and the other, between surrender and action, between past and future, between listening and acting, between knowing and not knowing. We do not know what is coming towards us, but we do know that our inner life is a place where we can build up a sense of certainty and trust. We are grateful our work together and these imaginations and perspectives that can, hopefully, strengthen us for our chosen tasks.

A Healing Mood for us All: Part II

Supporting the Children and their Families - By Holly Koteen-Soule, on behalf of the WECAN EC Research Group

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A Healing Mood for us All: Part II

Supporting the Children and their Families - By Holly Koteen-Soule, on behalf of the WECAN EC Research Group


At the end of Part I of “A Mood of Healing,” which summarized the conversation by the WECAN EC Research Group on how we can work on healing ourselves, we recognized that in this time of uncertainty and questioning, each of us is trying to find a personally authentic balance point on a continuum of two polarities. Some of the opposing values that we articulated included knowing and not knowing, stretching and standing firm, listening and acting.


The situation continues to unfold, and as we approach our future work with children and families, we may still need to adjust our positions to account for newly found perspectives. Three new polarities that come to view as we think about reopening are those of risk and safety, comfort and discomfort, and trauma and resilience.


One member of our group remarked that a sense of safety is more relative than absolute. In communities that face yearly risks of hurricanes, tornadoes, forest fires and earthquakes, people prepare as best they can, and then have to rely on the creativity and compassion of their human companions when these unpredictable events actually happen. This is a reality that is even more pronounced in communities where residents are already living on the edge of sustainability and whose lives are particularly vulnerable to disruption.


How can we be “a shelter in the storm” for the children and for their parents?” In Part I we discussed the need to recognize and work with our own inner weather- stormy or otherwise unpredictable- in order to be a calm presence for others. Because the children live in our soul moods, this is our first responsibility. A child’s sense of safety will arise, not only out of our own inner work, but also from the way we work with colleagues and parents. Mary Pipher wrote a book about the importance of family that was titled, “The Shelter of Each Other.” The title is reminiscent of Covid signs that remind us, “We are all in this together!”


We can find shelter and safety in our conscious caring for one another. We have heard from many teachers about how their spirits have been lifted from the intensive work they did with their colleagues to find creative solutions that allowed them to stay connected to their families. Teachers were also buoyed by the collaborative mood that resulted from having to utilize

different ways of working with parents.


In this situation, while we may be required to let go of some of our cherished ideals, the essential aspect of Waldorf education- the quality of our human relationships- is what we need to preserve and protect above all. The focus of our second conversation was not on specific interventions, but on ways of being and doing that can be therapeutic and create the healing mood in which we can all continue to learn and grow. “Letting go is not abandonment, “ one member of our group reminded us.


The responses of individual programs range from taking a year off and supporting their parents to find alternatives, to becoming an outdoor program or an essential worker care center, and to restructuring classrooms and schedules to accommodate requirements from state and local health departments. One colleague characterized the situation in an image: “If I opened my front door and there was a baby on the doorstep, what would I do?”


As early childhood educators, we know that everything we do in the Waldorf EC classroom has a therapeutic quality, but in this time, we need to pay particular attention to certain elements of our work. We have already underscored the fact that the young child lives in the surroundings and especially in the soul life of the adults around him or her. In addition to that, we discussed the potential importance of simplifying the physical environment and the daily schedule or rhythm as much as possible. One colleague shared that her new motto has become, “What CAN I do?”


Less stuff, more time; moving slowly and spending lots of time in nature; minimizing the number of transitions between activities; all of these things will support a child’s free breathing! Being aware of our own breathing in all its aspects, not just our physical breathing, will also help. The more the children are able to work out of imitation, rather than instruction, the more they can stay in their dreamy selves. Ritualizing and taking lots of time with necessary activities, such as handwashing, and imbuing those activities with warmth and reverence will also allow the children to find those activities to be restful, rather than wakeful.


Imaginative pictures can ease children out of fear and into playful engagement, often quite magically. “Making soap soup” helped a child who was refusing to wash his hands, come along with alacrity. Imaginations that we live strongly into ourselves will draw in even the most reluctant children. We may have to work hard to find the right picture for a particular child. In this task, we will need to exercise our capacities for observing, listening, and carrying that child into sleep. What we do for an individual child ultimately supports the class as a whole.


Much of what is true for the children also holds true for the parents. The quality of our relationships is what matters the most and “one size does not fit all.” Are we willing tend to the specific needs of individual parents out of a genuine interest in their well-being? One of our colleagues shared how often she failed by overwhelming parents with too many expectations and too much advice. Offering one concrete suggestion and helping parents build upon their sense of success was much more effective.


During this hiatus, some teachers have found that being more available to parents for phone conversations has strengthened their relationships and the children have benefitted. Early childhood teachers feel their relationship with parents has grown because, on one hand, the teachers have had to share why and how they do what they do and, on the other hand, because they have listened more deeply and responded to the concerns and needs of the parents. While it is usually easier to practice non-judgment with the children, non-judgment is the key to being truly supportive to the parents.


In addition to the primary element of a loving relationship, suggestions that emerged from our conversation circled around three themes: simplification, ritualization and working with imagination. At the heart of our work with the children is the joyful sharing of everyday wonders- dewdrops on a leaf, a sky blue piece of shell falling from the nest of a just fledged bird, the sound of an owl in the distance, a black beetle crawling out from beneath a rock in the garden. Can we make space for these “less is more” moments? Can we affirm the children’s wish to be here on earth at this time in this place?


Week by week, it has become increasingly clear that we will not be returning to the old normal. What began as a health crisis has also become, in the United States, a full-blown racial and social justice crisis, that is echoing in cities around the globe. In our communities we are facing a trial of the soul as well as of the body. In Waldorf education, as in other realms of life, we are not able to rely on our old assumptions. We are being asked to dig deep into our individual and collective resources, watch and listen with new awareness to the phenomena that we are witnessing, and bring new impulses into our work and movement.


Part III will focus on Healing Images in Stories, Fairy Tales and Puppetry and their Role in Building Resilience in Ourselves, our Families and our Movement.

Working Together Digitally and Staying Whole

By Michael Soule SCC Pedagogical Coordinator

Click on the arrow to the right to read the full article

Working Together Digitally and Staying Whole

By Michael Soule SCC Pedagogical Coordinator


Almost overnight, there has been a significant shift towards the use of screen technology as a primary means of communication. While this technology is not new, social distancing has brought us into a new level of dependency on it. As a consequence, many people are experiencing increased stress and a lack of vitality, phenomena described recently in articles in the National Geographic and the New York Times.


We already know about some of the negative effects of extensive screen time: exposure to EMF’s and screen light; the lack of physical movement; and an over stimulation of the eyes. All of these are particularly harmful when not balanced with in-person human interactions , time in nature, full body movement and play.


Here are some thoughts about how to counteract these effects and stay healthy both in this challenging time and beyond.


Be grateful every day for the opportunity to connect online. Appreciate everything and everyone who has helped make our computers, the internet and video conferencing possible and be grateful for the technologies themselves. They are truly amazing tools. When we are grateful for something, our relationship to it changes for the better.


Appreciate Real Human Connection. Do not think for a moment that web calls can replace real time face-to-face in-person meetings. They are only a substitute for those situations where it is not safe or spatially possible to meet in person. The power of human connection cannot be replaced by a virtual meeting. Even now we can find ways to connect with people in face-to-face conversations from a safe distance. Do not underestimate the power of a single in-person conversation to bring joy into your day.


Have the Right Expectations. Do not expect virtual meetings to provide you with the warmth and the range of experience that in-person meetings offer. At the same time, treat an on-line meeting with the same respect you would an in-person meeting. Many people are finding it helpful to prepare for an online meeting by imagining the others who will be on the call and thinking about them ahead of time. Even when we are meeting face to face, this is a helpful practice.


Create a Comfortable Space. The space you create for the meeting is important whether you are all together in the same place or in a virtual setting. Be comfortable. Be aware of what is behind you that others can see. Dress appropriately. Limit background noise. Try not using background pictures of a different setting, as this can be distracting to you and to the others and it adds nothing to the meeting. It just brings in another illusory element to the event. It is helpful to have something beautiful to glance at when you need to turn your eyes away from the screen. It is much like driving – it is good and less stressful to keep your eyes moving, not just peeled on the road ahead. Sit where you can occasionally glance out the window or glance at something beautiful.


Be Conscious of Your State of Mind. Take a minute or more before the meeting to check in on your mood and your frame of mind. Your thoughts and feelings are real and have an effect on you, on the space around you, and on other participants. Bringing your most positive self to the meeting may have a significant effect on what can happen in the meeting. Simple rituals can also help you feel more present. Consider lighting a candle or holding a stone in your hand. Consider turning off the video for parts of the meeting/conversation. Just listening, without added visual distraction can be less stressful.


Go Slowly, Breathe and Look for Balance. The added stress of web conferencing requires more rest time for both your mind and your body. Find a few moments each day to be quiet, especially between meetings. The mind and the computer can move at a pace that the body cannot. Virtual meetings are better when breaks occur regularly that allow everyone to breathe out and recenter. You will find your own rhythm for this. Many people use games, breaking into small groups, or other activities to break up longer sessions. Make sure that the mission of the group is touched upon regularly. Make sure that everyone touches in (when groups are not too big). Begin and end the meeting with an inspirational quote or poem.


Recognize the difference between the picture and the person. It helps to remember that the other person is not what you see on the screen. The screen offers only a facsimile. The real person is vastly more dynamic, complex, whole and wonderful than any screen image can convey. In many ways, the picture you have in your imagination, with all of its connections of memories, stories, feelings etc. is a much more living picture of the person than what you see on a screen. Bringing an image of the other into your mind can help the screen connection be more living. When meeting with new people, take a few minutes to introduce each other, to share something personal so that the screen image is more alive. It helps to think of the person(s) before the meeting to bring more life to the online interaction. The interest you take in others, whether in person or virtual, can make a significant difference in the quality of your connection and your time together.


Take an Active Interest, Stay Open-minded to Others. Keeping an open heart and mind to colleagues, friends and new acquaintances can make a significant difference in the quality of interactions with them. There are many practices to help maintain an open attitude with others. Try to see them in a positive light. Be grateful for how they are part of your life. Loving interest is a living force that can overcome all manner of interpersonal hinderances.


Separateness and Wholeness. In an online meeting, the digital nature of the medium cannot capture the wholeness of the meeting or of the group. The participating human beings give the meeting a sense of wholeness, purpose, and camaraderie. To be really enlivening a meeting needs to provide a sense of individuality and wholeness.



We always live life on two levels at the same time. We experience our life as a world of separate things, people, and places. At the same time, we also experience life and the world as a unified whole, interpenetrated, interwoven and full of unexplained wonder.

It is the combination of these two levels that allows us to create wholeness out of separateness.


One imagination that can help is to remember that the physical distance that separates people also connects them. We stand on the same earth. We breathe the same air. We are warmed by the same sun, see the same moon in its phases, and wonder at the same stars. The mountains, the valleys, the rivers and the seas are all connected. Through them we are and can feel connected and in touch no matter where we are.


All of these suggestions have a common foundation – the practice of interest, respect, and care for the self and others. One possible result of this global pandemic will be a much greater understanding and consciousness of the ways we are and can be connected, heart to heart, even over long distances.


Michael Soule

Whidbey Island

May 2020


Michael Soule has been involved in Waldorf Education since 1983, as a parent, teacher, school administrator, board member, AWSNA Executive and school advisor. Currently he is the administrative director of Sound Circle Center teacher training in Seattle and works with experienced colleagues in Leading with Spirit, an initiative to provide training, professional development, resources and advisory support to schools and school leaders. You can contact him at mhsoule@gmail.com or visit his website, www.Leadtogether.org