Thanksgiving is around the corner—for many of us, our favorite holiday of the year! The alchemy of family, feasting and fun can be a truly powerful opportunity to experience everything we are truly thankful for in our lives—the generations of our loved ones, the abundance of amazing food that delights our senses and fuels our bodies, and the warmth of community. Some families have explicit traditions for sharing that gratitude around the holiday table; others leave the words unspoken though the feelings run very deep.
Gratitude is not just for Thanksgiving! This is a fundamental value that we work with in Waldorf education. It happens every time we sing a blessing before eating, every time we say a morning verse, every time a teacher thanks a child for being helpful or doing an assignment with full striving. There are few things more important in weaving the social health of a family a class or a whole community than our individual acts of gratitude, large and small.
In The Child’s Changing Consciousness and Waldorf Education, Lecture VI, Rudolf Steiner writes:
All that flows, with devotion and love, from a child’s inner being toward whatever comes from the periphery through the parents or other educators—will be permeated with a natural mood of gratitude. . .
It is the cultivation of this universal gratitude towards the world that is of paramount importance. It need not always be in one’s consciousness, it may simply live in the background of one’s feeling life, so that someone, at the end of a strenuous day, can experience thankfulness upon entering a beautiful meadow full of flowers—to give an example. Such a subconscious felling of gratitude may rise up in us every time we look at nature. It may be felt every morning when the sun rises. It may emerge when beholding any of nature’s phenomena. And if we only conduct ourselves rightly in front of the children, a correspondingly graduated feeling of thankfulness will develop in them for all that comes to them from the people living around them, from the way they speak, smile or deal with them. (pp 128-9)
Gratitude is not only about manners, habits, or social niceties. Gratitude is about what happens inside the person who is grateful—the capacity for gratitude is strongly related to living joyfully, and to treating other human beings with care and compassion. Sometimes when we feel annoyed by the little nuisances, chores and dysfunctions of daily family or school life, the best way to combat this sour mood is to shift our attitude to gratitude! In fact, many of the chores and situations we don’t like are intimately intertwined with what gives us joy—our homes, our children, and all of the people we love! When we can shift our attitude to the flip side—how much we love and appreciate our home, our children, the school, the people we work with—suddenly gratitude can come flooding into our hearts, and we find a new, much happier way to meet the tasks and challenges that life brings.
On a personal note, I want to share my very deep gratitude to all parents, students, faculty and staff at Tucson Waldorf School. We are so blessed to be together in this beautiful place, weaving together a community full of amazing people, united in their desire to bring the very best education possible to growing human beings. May you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving!
A wonderful description of class meetings from Spring Garden Waldorf School:
This type of community building makes a Waldorf community and classroom like no other in education today. Ideally, the children, teacher and parents will be together through elementary school for eight years. Throughout those years, there will be many celebrations and some challenges, but regular class meetings help parents come together and remember the common cause that brought them into each others’ lives — the education, care and love of the children.
Having class meetings several times per year is also pragmatic. While teacher/parent conferences focus on one child and his/her social and academic progress, class meetings can deal with class learning goals and social dynamics. Understanding what the children are learning when and why, can help parents relate to a child who often reports that a day was, “fine.” And knowing the ins and outs of academics helps parents assist children in their homework tasks or in areas that need attention.
Class meetings also give parents ample opportunities to ask questions of the teacher and also to share their experiences with other families. Often parents find that their peers have the same questions, struggles and successes with their own children. It is so good to know your experiences are not yours alone!
And finally, coming together builds the parent community as families get to know one another over the years, not just through their children, but by relating to one another at these meetings and through volunteer opportunities and social engagements.