The Twelve Responses of Yuletide

Dear Tucson Waldorf School Community,

In keeping with the spirit of the season, and with our pledge to answer as many of the questions that were posed to us before and during last month’s Town Hall, Robyn Kool and I will be addressing one question per day beginning today, and proceeding until we dismiss for the winter holiday on December 20th.

It’s a blessing to be a part of such an engaged community, and we’re thrilled to be a part of an ongoing dialogue about how to become ever truer to our mission.

Thanks for all you do to make TWS the special oasis that it is, and here’s to a wonderful holiday season. Stay tuned for “The First Response of Yuletide!”

-John Keeney, Pedagogical Director & Robyn Kool, Administrative Director
We received the question, “Why do you use consensus with decision making?”

It’s a good question, and my first instinct was to say,

“So, to reply, we got everyone into the casita to attempt to hammer out an answer. Thus far, we have established broad agreement, and given another week or so, I feel confident that we’ll be able to offer a timely response to your inquiry.”

…Because consensus decision making can be difficult and time consuming. It requires listening, both to individuals, and to the will of the group. It assumes that a decision making body is a network of individuals, each with a unique and valid perspective. The act of building agreement assures that each voice has an opportunity to be heard, and that all members take the full range of opinion into consideration before arriving at a decision. As such, group members are encouraged to think in terms of the relative benefit to the collective, rather than to themselves or to a faction within the body.

Participation in a consensus process does not imply that all members of a group feel equal enthusiasm for a proposal or a decision. It is a patient search for the will of the group.

That said, there are many decisions made from day to day by individuals who have the mandate of the body they represent. There are also instances in which time-sensitive decisions can be made by majority vote.

The objective is to pioneer non-hierarchical operating processes. It’s difficult when there are so few historical examples to go by, but the potential payoff is in the prospect of creating an organization wherein each of its members are fully enfranchised, and serve its mission with confidence and enthusiasm. And, it’s good to remember that difficult things become easier with practice 🙂

We received several questions regarding communication between parents and teachers around classroom and personal concerns and conflicts, specifically, around the directive we often refer to as “Rule #1,” to bring concerns directly to the other adult so they might be discussed face to face.

On the face of it, it seems obvious that the quickest way to resolve a conflict is to address it as directly as possible. In practice, though, there are numerous obstacles to directness. Some are habitual; for instance, it’s not uncommon in institutional settings that concerns are to be brought to a supervisor rather than to the party with whom one is experiencing conflict. More commonly, the obstacles are personal; it’s uncomfortable to bring comments that may be perceived as critical into a parent/teacher relationship, or to any relationship between two human beings. Often, people express trepidation around the prospect of being hurtful to someone whom they respect or admire.

Certainly, there is a kind of pain in confronting difficulty, like an acute pain, momentary in nature, and avoidable. The failure to address an acute pain can lead down the path to chronic pain, which becomes unavoidable. Conflict is a natural part of any group endeavor, and while it can feel ominous or frightful on the front end, if handled with consciousness and a wish to bring resolution, it can be a fast track to deeper mutual understanding.

But there’s more to it than that – there’s a benefit that comes from face to face interaction beyond the activation of courage alluded to above. It’s been demonstrated scientifically that the majority of communication is non-verbal – that body language and tone of voice convey as much or more than words alone. Further, modern modes of electronic communication tend to minimize the feeling-content present in interpersonal dialogue, and when used to express sensitive topics can bring all the pain with very little of the human warmth that can lead to resolution.

We’re endeavoring – in all areas of community life – to build a muscle that in much of today’s world is being left to atrophy, well encapsulated in the third of Rudolf Steiner’s three directives to the teachers of the first Waldorf School: “Sharpen thy feeling for responsibility of soul.”

Most issues that arise between community members are easily enough brought to resolution when approached with mutual good will. When the prospect is seen as too difficult to manage without assistance, I and many colleagues on campus are willing facilitate a meeting.

So – email and text messages are best used to schedule appointments or communicate data. Where specifics are concerned, in person meetings are strongly encouraged, and will gladly be facilitated 🙂

Several questions came to us about the disparity between the TWS calendar and that of other local school districts and the U of A.

It’s a major project every year, to craft the shape of our school calendar, and every year, in spite of our best efforts, our solutions are imperfect. We know that families in our community who have children in other schools are often saddled with breaks that don’t correspond, forcing difficult choices around scheduling vacations and child care. There are many moving parts and irreconcilable wishes.

Some of the particulars that influence our choices have to do with considerations unique to a Waldorf school. For instance, in the grade school, lesson content is brought in blocks of three to six weeks, and breaks of any length need to be spaced to accommodate uninterrupted blocks. Another consideration is that most of our teachers spend their summers preparing for an entirely new curriculum as they advance through the grades, and the training seminars they attend often extend into late July, making an early August start challenging. Further, within the Waldorf movement, winter conferences are scheduled in February, corresponding with our “Rodeo” break. Also, our spring break is typically tied to Easter, whereas that linkage is less and less common in larger school systems.

It’s also important to consider that our community straddles at least three different public school districts, and the University, each of which has a unique annual calendar.  In other words, there’s a lot to take into consideration in making the calendar meet as many needs as possible.

Once upon a time, school started after Labor Day and ran through Memorial Day or perhaps a week into June. In more recent years, concerns about educational effectiveness have led districts to add days to the school year in the belief that more classroom time will lead to better educational outcomes. Waldorf pedagogy’s focus is more on “lighting fires” of enthusiasm and interest than “filling buckets” of information. We endeavor to bring children meaningful experiences that lead to genuine understanding and love of the world they inhabit. Also, we want our faculty to come to the children in their care centered, rested, and able to model the stress-free life we hope to bring to the students.

As of this writing, next year’s calendar is a work in progress. In order to more closely match the schedules of TUSD, Amphi and Catalina, we have determined to move our start date up one week this year, placing it on Wednesday, August 12 for the grades, and the following day, Thursday, August 13 for early childhood. We hope that this is a welcome first step in making our calendar more friendly to the needs of our beloved families.

There were several questions regarding social dynamics both in and out of the classroom, concerning discipline, bullying, compassion as a subject of study, social exclusion and other facets of this broad and complex issue.

Some of the questions appeared to have had their genesis in specific incidents, and for these I encourage private conversations with your child’s teacher.

A theme that was present in many of the inquiries was the feeling that teachers were perhaps too “hands off” in supervising outdoor play; some students were experiencing hurtful, exclusionary behavior and questioners were wondering if there was some reason, based in Waldorf pedagogy, not to intervene.

Let me begin by saying that from the point of view of Waldorf pedagogy, unstructured play is a key element of a healthy childhood. It’s the medium in which imagination can have its greatest expression, where peer relationships form and flourish, where individuals find and feel the boundaries of their bodies and their will, and where identity is workshopped and established. It’s the essence of the early childhood experience here at TWS, and is preserved through the grades with generous recess periods twice daily.

Discovering who you are and how you want to be in the world is a lifelong process, but it’s the main thing that’s happening in elementary school. A child’s consciousness transforms dramatically over the first fourteen or fifteen years of life, from a sense of being at the center of all things, to the dawning perception of the selfhood of the others with whom one shares the world. It’s a hallmark of developmental maturity to take responsibility for the effects of one’s behavior and to begin to see through the eyes of another.

In every classroom, the teacher has a code of conduct, implicit or explicit, that the children understand and follow such as they do, but under supervision and during scheduled activity; the boundaries are relatively clear, and you bump into them at your own risk. During recess, there are rules, but supervision functions primarily to guarantee physical safety, and students are free to engage in their various societies of play. It’s mostly wonderful, but in rare cases, and nearly always when the adults can’t see, it can get pretty unpleasant too.

When we witness or hear first hand of an incident of bullying, harassment, or other mistreatment, there will be intervention and disciplinary action depending upon the circumstances and severity of the event. Interventions serve to bring understanding between individuals in conflict, and develop strategies for smoother sailing when similar circumstances or feelings arise.

More often, though, the rougher interpersonal moments occur away from the attention of adults, and unless we’re informed, we’re obviously unable to intervene. In many cases, when we do hear from a participant in or a witness to an event, we’ll take steps, beginning with sifting out a mutually acceptable version of the truth. In other cases, we’ll often hear from a parent of a participant or a witness that something has happened away from our gaze, with a wish that we might step in to discipline a child. Sometimes this even happens when incidents between school friends occur off campus.

If your child saw something, or was on the receiving end of unseemly behavior, please encourage them to talk to their teacher. I know that sometimes the reason that parents are the first ones to hear about a playground incident is that feelings of shame or a reticence to tell on a friend have made talking to a teacher a daunting prospect. The closer we can get to the event itself, the more effective we can be in addressing it.

A couple of the questions painted a picture of a wild, wild west of a yard during recess, and wondered whether teachers might consider teaching compassion. I believe our faculty is fiercely dedicated to the idea of planting the seeds of moral imagination, and the curriculum they bring was developed largely for that very purpose. I also would like to state with confidence and with pride that the quality of cooperative play on our yard is remarkably high, and the rarity of incidents that require disciplinary action is much to be appreciated.

We’re doing our best, and the closer we come to joining together as a community of mutual stewardship for all of the children we care for, the closer we come to the ideal we strive for.

We received a question regarding our dress code, not about the code itself, but the perception of its uneven enforcement across the grades, with a specific concern around the younger grades.

The dress code has been a perpetually sticky subject, both in its drafting and its enforcement. We are largely a community of iconoclasts, people actively looking beyond established societal norms to find a place where their unique individuality can come to expression; and as a rule, we all want this for our children as well. There’s a tension between not wanting to create unnecessary strictures and wanting to create the conditions in which a child’s truest self and best instincts can be fostered.

There’s general agreement among us that material possessions do not make the person, and that identifying too closely with what one has rather than with what one is can be seen as one of the social distortions a Waldorf education seeks to clarify. Clothing occupies a curious space between stuff and self. Dress can be a marvelous mode of expression, and it can be a pesky distraction. Our dress code intends primarily to minimize distraction and facilitate easy movement. Meanwhile, our rich curriculum seeks to educate our students in the manifold modes of human self-expression, encouraging both self-awareness and general competency.

Enforcement of the policy has improved over the years I’ve been here, partly due to an effort to simplify its terms, but it remains imperfect. To begin with, enforcing the dress code with seven-year-olds, for whom most decisions are still made by their parents, is a very different animal from enforcing it with teenagers, who are more accountable for their own choices. Secondly, where there’s a question of compliance for a first or second grade student, a teacher may view it through the lens of, “is this going to be a distraction?” and where it’s determined that the answer is, “probably not,” the teacher may choose other, more critical battles. All of us are sensitive to the possibility of causing shame unnecessarily, while endeavoring to hew to the rules we’ve established. We’re doing better, but there’s still room for improvement. Just remember that keeping the young ones in compliance with the policy involves conversations with parents more than with children, and every one of us is aware of the challenges a morning presents as the family prepares to head to school. I’ll include the policy as written in the Parent Handbook at the end of this response.

One concern that teachers across the range of ages share is being sure that the children come to school dressed warmly enough during these chilly days. Please send your children to school in layers 🙂

Campus-Wide Dress Code
Simple, Functional, and Weather-Appropriate.  
Keep It Simple
Send your children to school in uncomplicated clothing, in solid colors or with simple patterns, in decent condition, without images from popular media, written messages, or commercial logos. TWS printed gear is the exception.
Keep It Functional
Students should come to school dressed for maximum freedom of movement; they need to be able to work, play, get messy, and move freely without self-consciousness or concern about their clothingClothing should fit properly, so please, no baggy, restrictive, or revealing clothing. (Students in grades 6–8 must keep a set of movement education clothes and shoes at school.)
Shoes should be flexible, have traction for running and climbing, be close-toed, and not slip off the foot (e.g., no flip flops). Please note that EC children need a separate pair of soft-soled indoor shoes or slippers.
Keep It Weather-Appropriate
A sun hat is required throughout the year. In the winter months, a warm hat with a sun visor is ideal. Shoulders must be completely covered.
Dress in layers appropriate for our variable climate.
All children need an extra set of seasonally appropriate clothing at school for wet days.
Additional thing to keep in mind:
Teachers are not allowed to apply sunscreen; consider applying sunscreen before school if you choose.
Minimal jewelry and adornment only, please, and minimal makeup in Grades 6–8.  Body piercings and tattoos are not allowed.All students’ hair must be secured and kept off the face.
In Early Childhood:
In EC, shoes such as clogs, Crocs, cowboy boots, flip flops, and dress shoes with smooth soles should not be worn.  Early Childhood students must have a seasonally appropriate set of extra clothes at school.
Please keep in mind EC children must be able to manage all clothing fastening independently.

Thanks for the excellent questions! We look forward to seeing many of you this Sunday at the Winter Concert!

We have also received questions regarding the future development of our campus: Will there be more trees? Will there be a library? School store? Community gathering space? Kitchen? Farm? The answer to all of these questions is, Yes!

First, a bit of history: TWS was gifted its current property a little more than ten years ago by an incredibly generous community member, at a time when the Early Childhood through Grade Eight were squeezed into just a few acres near Presidio and Fort Lowell. We immediately brought five grades classes to the property and housed them in the existing buildings: a house, the garage, and even storage spaces (now Grades Three and a Four, Quail’s Nest, and the South Office) – talk about pioneering days! Over the next few years, we created a master plan for the whole campus, held a capital campaign, and were able to build two new buildings, which now house Grades Five through Eight. During this time, we had Farmers Jon and Emily carefully stewarding River Roads Gardens on a few acres along River Road, including a number of years of a CSA (community supported agriculture) program, which many of you surely remember.

About six years ago, TWS combined the two campuses into one again, bringing the Early Childhood through Grades Two into their current spaces in the modular buildings on the north end of campus. This allowed us to grow the school in a more unified fashion, but it also meant that our previous master plan needed revisiting. So, our Campus Planning Committee (CPC), with input from The Board of Trustees and the Land Stewardship working group, has been developing a new master plan, under the guidance of Architects Paul Weiner and DUST (Jesus Robles and Cade Hayes). We hope to have a final plan by the end of the school year, and will be seeking community input along the way.

Some of our primary specific goals are:
— to create a single shared entrance for the entire campus.
— to build out a new, beautiful Early Childhood campus (with room to expand the program) and four new Grades classrooms.
— to provide indoor space for movement and eurythmy, community gathering, a lunch program, and a teaching kitchen.
— to preserve as much wild and open space as possible, and continue to develop the gardens following biodynamic principles

Consistent with TWS’ Land Stewardship guidelines and the underlying principles of Waldorf Education, we aim to do these things in a way that is respectful of our environment and creates wholeness, (bio)diversity, and community. One image the architects are bringing is of “reclaiming” the desert as we develop the school, so the hope is to recreate mesquite bosques, parking gardens instead of lots, and provide for the needs of the school community while deepening our connection to the wider Tucson community, as well as the Sonoran desert community.

So thank you for the questions, and for joining “us” (by “us” we mean you all!) on the journey!

We fielded a question about the purpose of music in our curriculum.

Music is a social art that engages the will and the senses, and in an ensemble, encourages harmonious interplay, demanding both inner and outer awareness. It’s a language that expresses something more foundational to the human experience than thought. Rudolf Steiner said of music,

“Music is the expression of the will of nature while all other arts are expressions of the idea of nature.”

Goethe said,

“The dignity of Art appears perhaps most eminently in music, because in music there is no material factor to be discounted. Music is all form and figure, exalting and ennobling everything it expresses.”

Great thinkers across the ages have written widely on the ineffable qualities of music. The interplay of the bodies that weave and rotate within the starry expanses of the universe is sometimes referred to as the “Music of the Spheres,” and there are those personages who claim to have heard it, among them writers, philosophers and, notably, physicists.

Tones, scales and harmonies can all be expressed and understood as perfect mathematical ratios – a topic that is brought to students in the middle school years when they take up the study of acoustics.

Music provides a vocabulary for processing experience. Many of us have made it through challenging moments in life with the aid of music, which speaks to elements of the psyche that words cannot reach. A perfect fifth (a musical interval) expresses power and solidity in a way that presupposes language – a minor second (a different musical interval) is all tension that cries for resolution.

As adults, we can look back on elements of our own schooling to understand some of our own sympathies and antipathies. Just as many of us still have a troubled relationship with math or writing, due in part to some aspect of how we came to meet it in our youth, there are many of us who dare not sing for the same reason. We hope that every student who comes through our doors walks out with unfettered access to their own human birthright of joyful openness to their many potentials. To un-self-consciously break out in song because the moment calls for it is one such human potential.

Much concern is given to the concept of “not teaching students what to think, but rather how to think.” Another high priority wish of parents, particularly in these rapidly changing times, is education in problem solving. These are noble goals, but how are they achieved? I’ll offer that the arts are perhaps the most efficient way to address both questions. More on this in a future screed.

Here’s a link to a lecture cycle given by Rudolf Steiner in 1906 entitled, “The Inner Nature of Music and the Experience of Tone,” for those of you interested in the rich and unusual insights of the founder of Waldorf education. These lectures don’t pertain directly to elementary education, but are pretty fascinating on their own merit:

https://wn.rsarchive.org/Lectures/GA283/English/AP1983/19061203p02.html

It was great to see so many of you at yesterday’s winter concert. I had intended to compose this and send it out Sunday, but I spent the day playing my guitar, expressing the inexpressible, and finding infinitely many ways to do things better than I was able to before I got started. Look for the eighth response a little later today 🙂

There were several submissions wondering whether the Waldorf curriculum was properly tailored for the modern era and for Tucson geographically, and whether alterations to the lesson content could create an environment more welcoming to a broader demographic.

As Waldorf grade school teachers, our first task is to come to understand the students in our care as deeply as we can, and based on that understanding, bring them lessons on a broad roster of themes – measurement, botany, renaissance art – that harmonize with both their stage of development and their unique collective personality, as well as their geographic and historical circumstances. In creating our lessons, we have broad freedom in determining their specific content, their overall tone, and the type of work the students will do, either in books or other projects, all within the roomy confines of a beautiful framework, sensibly conceived to evolve with the children’s evolving consciousness.

The inspired overall design of the grades curriculum moves from the imaginative through the perceptive to the creative, from local to global, animate to inanimate; from the will, through the heart and only then to the mind; it systematically engages of all of the senses, and conscientiously develops the many methods of human expression… these are among the things that set us apart, and that makes us proud to band together in a grand act of playful courage.

It seems clear that the questions that came to us have to do primarily with the literature that underlies the language arts curriculum, beginning with fairy tales and ending with modern history, novel study, and other subjects strongly influenced by a dominant culture and language.

It’s no small task from year to year to be girded with a whole new bundle of content, and ready for the significant shifts in awareness and capacity our students bring to each new campaign. Fortunately for teachers seeking a hand with the constant preparation of new material, there’s been a great deal of literature generated over the century detailing approaches to core curriculum written by revered pillars of the movement. Over time, certain approaches, stories, songs, and materials have become traditional and deeply beloved by many, and strongly identified with the Waldorf brand, nearly all of them having their origin in Western Europe and the American northeast.

Unfortunately, leaning too much on tradition or traditional material can mean that full consciousness isn’t brought to the conditions in which it originated as compared to the conditions in which we find ourselves today. It’s one of Waldorf’s biggest challenges, to cleave to the core mission without clinging to the trappings and regional iterations associated with its “pure” form. In a steamy tropical February in Puerto Rico, I observed a kindergarten puppet play featuring King Winter. In the interior of China, in another puppet play in another kindergarten at a young Waldorf school, the lyre played and the silks were lifted to reveal a ginger haired, blue-eyed Mother Holle from the tales of the Brothers Grimm. Everyone in the room besides me was Chinese, and until they met me, many of the children had not met a westerner. We had much to talk about.

Of course, traditions have value within a community as well. Some of the old habits of the movement are the very things that make us feel like a part of the global Waldorf community, our shared experiences, our common vocabulary when we meet other students, teachers and parents at a Pentathlon or Medieval Games event, or drop in to visit schools while traveling. We as a community of some maturity have established many of our own traditions which help define us, and can also prove rather stubborn when an effort is made to change them.

So yes, we are called upon to consistently examine our assumptions and intentions, be engaged in the world as we find it, and bring authentic and relevant experiences to the children who come to us. We are committed to growing ever truer to our ideal; through open dialogue and a sense of common purpose we’ll make good things happen.

We are also often asked about our budgeting process, and, particularly, how tuition is set. The short answer is that it is a process of determining the needs of the school (the children, the faculty and staff, the physical plant) for the upcoming year, and balancing those needs with our ability to bring in revenue, based on tuition and other income streams, i.e., fundraising.

The longer answer is this: The Board of Trustees*, which meets monthly, is the body entrusted with the financial and legal health of the school. This is the process it follows:

Step One: The Board initiates the budgeting process by asking the College of Teachers to identify and prioritize any anticipated budgetary changes for the following year; generally, these are staffing changes based on needs in the classroom and are part of an overall plan to create a better program, for instance, to boost the Grades’ language programs or remedial support for both Early Childhood and Grades.

Step Two: The Faculty representatives take these requests to the Finance committee (comprised of the Board Treasurer, the Finance and Administrative Directors, the two Faculty Board representatives, and a few at-large members). The Finance committee also elicits input from the Enrollment Director and MORE as to possible shifts in enrollment or other “market” and TWS community considerations (e.g., comparable tuitions, families’ needs, or local demographics). Then the back and forth begins, knowing that almost all of these needs will be met by tuition revenue, and that tuition revenue comes primarily from our school families.

Step Three: The Finance committee makes a recommendation to the Board, and the Board approves tuition for the following year by early January. Once tuition is set, the rest of the budget is tweaked and finalized in the Finance committee over the next few months (for example, often we won’t know the final cost of healthcare for the year until May), and approved by the Board in late Spring. The process is long and often challenging, but the school highly values participation by many different realms, and that takes time.

TWS has been fortunate: the school has had years of an Administration and Board making good decisions toward the financial health of the school; TWS has had individual donors give generously and freely (including our current property and buildings); and TWS has been blessed by the unique tax credit program in Arizona, which allows many children to come to TWS who might not otherwise have the financial means. TWS has also been blessed with an extraordinarily talented, well-trained, and dedicated faculty, and the school’s primary challenge in the upcoming years will be to find ways to better support its faculty and staff, while keeping the doors open to as many families who want the benefits of Waldorf education as possible.

We heard a few questions around tutoring at TWS. Among the wonderings were: Why is it needed? Why didn’t I know support was needed sooner? Shouldn’t children in a particular grade have mastered certain academic skills? By recommending tutoring, are teachers abdicating their responsibility?

These are difficult questions to address in this forum, because each of them comes from a unique personal experience, so I’ll try to zoom out just a bit and address the context that underlies them.

The Waldorf curriculum, as I’ve mentioned in a previous response, is arranged to mesh with the growing students’ stage of development, and by that, I mean primarily the development of their consciousness. While, beginning in the early days of first grade, the groundwork is laid for the academics that follow, we have no arbitrary expectation that an entire class will absorb and master abstract concepts by a date certain. For those children – typically a minority in a first grade group – who have unfolded their ability to grasp conceptual material early, we often see reading come alive in the first grade. We’re cognizant that different people unfold at different rates. One of the great advantages we enjoy as Waldorf teachers is that we can be patient with our students’ skill development. If a child isn’t reading in the early grades it isn’t considered abnormal, and when, through observation, we see physical and emotional developmental milestones being met, we proceed with reasonable confidence that their skills will awaken in their appointed hour. If we notice a persistent difficulty in encoding or decoding, or some other developmental or behavioral obstacle, it will be brought to a conference with parents. What we don’t want to do is stigmatize a child as being learning disabled when what they really are is young.

In any classroom, there will be a range of ability in every activity we take up. What we most want to do is provide experiences that will take root in the hearts of our students, and that have the ability to rise up within them as concepts when the moment is ripe. Our lessons are not meant solely to hone academic skill; on the contrary, a Waldorf school experience is meant to awaken the qualities of observation, expression, and interest in the world, all of which are independent of academics.

When a teacher recommends tutoring, it’s either because in spite of their best efforts, a child’s state of skill development is affecting their general well being, or they’ve encountered an obstacle that can best benefit from one-on-one attention, which, except for short moments in the course of a lesson, they’re unable to provide.

What’s always true is that from the youngest to the oldest student on campus, we strive daily to show loving interest in the core of their being, and to recognize and validate the unique gifts they bring to the world.

 

We fielded the question, “Can a blind person go to Waldorf?”

This is an interesting question; it’s given me much to think about and inspired me to muse on the felt experience of the fully abled young children who make up our student community, and it’s spurred me to wonder how much we take for granted generally.

When I consider all the visual beauty to be seen in here at TWS, and how much my experience is heightened by the magnificent landscape, the joyful faces, the pastel and rosy tones of the nursery and kindergarten, the vibrant hues of watercolor paintings, the magnificent chalkboards, the lovingly crafted lesson books, with artwork depicting mythological and historical scenes from across space and time, it makes me wonder what someone who couldn’t share that facet of life at TWS would experience.

And then I think of the sounds of life on campus; the laughter of children, the somber voice of cellos, songs and harmony, the wind as it plays through the delicate leaves of the mesquite and palo verde trees, and the stories…

…the smells, too – the lovingly prepared snacks that our youngest students enjoy every day, the subtle aroma of beeswax as the candle flame announces the coming of another tale, the creosote after a desert rain and, to be fair to all smells, the blue paint, opened after a week of hot weather…

Rudolf Steiner speaks of twelve senses rather than five, and a Waldorf education is meant to stimulate and exercise all of them, from the primal sense of touch to the highest sense, the sense of the divine in the other. So it’s fair to say that there’s much in a Waldorf school experience that a blind person could enjoy and benefit from. Practically, it would require much that our teachers are not trained for and our classrooms are not equipped to provide, but with the aid of a personal assistant, as several differently abled students have had, and with a strong mutually supportive relationship between the teacher and the parents, it could be made to work.

Our mission is to honor and awaken the shining core at the heart of all the students in our care, while acknowledging that all of us must both carry those who can benefit from our help, and be receptive to the help of others when our own senses are dulled.

 

As we approach the Winter Break, it’s a wonderful time for reflection; being the recipients of these writings, you know that John and I have been reflecting a lot. Now it’s time for us to share a question of our own. We’ve each had moments of asking ourselves why we are doing this work for the school. The work is hard, requiring soul-searching and vulnerability, and offering challenges on a personal, professional, and social level. We see parents driving their children far and wide, volunteering in myriad ways, making sacrifice after sacrifice to be here. So, we ask again, why are we here?

My own answer is this: Love. I love this beautiful, wacky world in which we live and its even wackier inhabitants. I love my own children more profoundly than I could have ever imagined. And I love how this school truly aspires to be a place to cultivate a love of the world, of knowledge, of other people, of beauty, art, music, movement, play, creativity, and knowledge. I love the thoughtfulness I see in the interactions between children and their peers, between children and adults, and between adults. I love the bravery it sometimes takes to speak the truth to another, to ask hard questions, to confront fears and insecurities, and, at times, to maintain composure even in times of difficulty. I love the joy of simple knock-knock jokes and unexpected surprises, and of finding ourselves on the other side of challenges we thought were insurmountable. I love the interest I find my children taking in their own world as they go out on their own. Nothing is perfect, not by a long shot, but we are doing good work when we see each child and each other as individuals capable of amazing things, and help each other be the best we can be.

John’s answer: Conspiring to help our students have an unusually interesting childhood, and working with the rare breed of folk who would join in that conspiracy… it’s thrilling, and it’s an honor. In the years since I first encountered Waldorf education, I’ve experienced untold joy, struggle, epiphany and hard work, felt the risks and rewards of profound vulnerability, and been witness to and blessed by acts of unaccountable grace – many such acts of late. I’m beyond grateful to have a place in this community, and to be able to contribute to the life of the school. Rudolf Steiner said, “Our rightful place as educators is to be removers of hindrances.” I love the challenge of discovering what that can mean, both in my work with others and when turning my gaze inward. I’m here because being part of an effort to bring truth, beauty and goodness into children’s education means looking extra hard for what’s true, beautiful and good wherever it can be found, and that’s a worthy task, especially in times like these. We help to make the world a better place by showing people that it’s already miraculous.

With deepest gratitude, we thank each of you for entrusting your children to us and for taking the time to be an integral part of our effort, for supporting the school, your children’s teachers, for strengthening our community through the development and deepening of friendships. We’re blessed. Have a wonderful break, and we’ll see you all in the New Year.