Science education begins long before a child enters school. The first nature walk where the child observes, picks up, and asks about every rock, leaf and caterpillar they encounter is a vital moment of learning. The first time a child climbs up on a stool and helps Grandma make biscuits is as well. Or their first experiences of throwing things off the highchair tray to watch them fall. Experiencing the world around us is science education. Children receiving a Waldorf education are allowed to explore their world through play, rhythmic movement, music, and observation – without the heady analysis they are not ready for in the younger years – by building the house from the ground up, rather than starting with the “roof”.
A shift happens when the student enters middle school in sixth grade. Around 12 years of age, the child is ready to receive the world in a new way. They are focused more on the world around them and they want to engage this environment in a deeper fashion than before. In Grade Six, we introduce a formal study of the physical world. Sixth grade Physics addresses the phenomena of heat, sound, light, magnetism, and static electricity. The study still involves students observing demonstrations and phenomena, but they learn to organize their thoughts around it by writing lab reports which end up as beautifully illustrated main lesson pages. We experience an activity and sleep on it through the night. The next day, we review the prior day’s work and the students often bring insights that occurred to them since we last met. Then we have time for bookwork, so they can write about their experience.
Here are a few examples of the many experiences the sixth grade children have absorbed during the past few weeks:
Study of Heat
We put a brass ball through a brass ring, heated the brass ball and observed that it had expanded enough that it would not fit back through. After cooling, it fit through easily.
We heated a bi-metal strip and observed that it practically bent double due to the different expansion rates of the brass and steel that are bonded together. This precipitated a discussion of thermostats and how they work.
Study of Light
We started in a room that was totally dark. Candles were lit one at a time, until a painting became barely visible – still seen in shades of gray. More candles were lit until the painting could be seen to have many colors. Light was slowly introduced until the students could see a brightly lit painting of a sunrise before them. They all had the experience of color rising between darkness and light. Some students commented that when the room was dark, they could not tell if their eyes were open or not!
Study of Magnetism
We observed how a magnetized piece of metal will orient itself in a North – South direction. We learned about the interaction of the like and unlike poles of magnets. We were able to see the magnetic lines of force using a strong magnet and iron filings. I brought in some sand from a beach on Whidbey Island where I live. It contains a significant amount of magnetite, which we separated out from the sand. We made a compass by filling a soda straw with the magnetite and floating it in a bowl of water.
These observations are the nature of science study in sixth grade. We deepen these topics in seventh grade and add Mechanics and Inorganic Chemistry.
This year, I have the privilege, once again, of teaching a science block to each of the middle school classes. These classes take place in Bright Water School’s new Science Lab. This room is the most versatile and well-equipped science facility I have taught in. There is an open space that we use for some movement work before diving into the lessons. The huge windows give a sweeping view of the city. On each side of the blackboard are cabinets stocked full of lab equipment. There are two sinks and a very large teacher’s table for activities and experiments. The students sit, two to a table, at their own tables which can be moved about the space to create “stations” or whatever is needed. The room can easily accommodate 30 students.
The most impressive aspect of the science room is the atmosphere for learning it can create. Last year, after performing some very basic demonstrations using beakers and a fish tank, I looked around at the students. They were completely quiet and focused. They looked mesmerized. One of the students broke the silence by saying, “Mr. Mobley, may I say something? I believe that you could take a glass of water and simply pour it into another glass at this table and we would all feel like we were seeing that for the first time.” THAT is the atmosphere I want to create – and one that is very difficult to create anywhere else, such as in their classroom. When they are in the Science Room, they are learning science!
I look forward to sharing my experiences with Grades Seven and Eight as they unfold over the next couple of months.
Andi Galliher sat on the tiny bench, each of her hands placed gently around those of her preschool student. The boy had his hat on his head, not quite yet pulled down, and held the strings of the hat loosely in his hands. “And now you pull your hat on,” Andi said as she gently pulled the boy’s hands down, snugging the hat onto his head. It was a touching moment, and one that gives me gratitude and inspiration. What Andi was doing was more than just showing care for a student: she was developing his skills, and thereby helping to ensure his future school success. In schools across the state and across the country unremarkable snapshots like this illustrate a core part of the curriculum of early childhood programs: developing executive function.
Executive function skills include planning, organization, and paying attention. These skills are stronger in some children than others, but all children benefit from developing executive function: it helps them order their world and translates to the ability to do academic work when the time comes, and to show up for work on time when they enter the job market. Many children in Washington State, often those whose families have limited resources, aren’t developing those skills in their early years for a number of reasons. The good news is that there is a bill in the Washington State Legislature right now that intends to create uniformity for young children in care by requiring licensed day care programs to “streamline and align licensing and performance standards in order to facilitate integration of these early learning programs”.
Members of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee recognize that the early childhood ‘opportunity gap’ means that many children don’t have basic skills for learning when they begin kindergarten. This does not mean that licensed day cares and preschools will teach and test kids for literacy: the intent of this bill is to close the opportunity gap by preparing all young children for success in the classroom: that means executive function skills must already be present. Of course, there is debate about how to achieve the results the bill is after. You can learn about some of those issues here:
It is heartening to see legislators concerned with helping all of our state’s children come to school equally prepared, regardless of whether they’ve spent their early years at home, in care, or in a formalized school setting. It is further encouraging that our legislators understand that ‘success’ in school is not about an achievement gap, but it is indeed about an opportunity gap. The full text of the bills (6067, 6068, and 6127) can be found here by entering the bill number into the space indicated.
I generally don’t have as much time as I’d like for reading, but even when I’m not engaged in work-related reading, I tend to choose non-fiction books. My main areas of interest are: human cognition and behavior, and adventure stories of triumph against the odds. Endurance: Shackleton’s Legendary Antarctic Expedition, by Caroline Alexander and Adrift: Seventy-Six Days Lost at Sea, by Stephan Callahan are two of my favorite adventure reads. Every now and then, some fiction comes into the picture, and over the break I finished Booker Prize Winner The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton.
This summer I enjoyed a great book by Nobel Prize winning economist, Daniel Kahneman: Thinking, Fast and Slow, which was a fascinating mix of cognition and behavior.
My current non-fiction book is The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander. This book and the Prison Culture blog below document the prison industrial complex in the U.S. Even a cursory look at some of the statistics published by Prison Culture is cause for alarm.
Shorter reads are more suited to my daily obligations. I follow a few blogs and websites, some of which I’ve listed below. What I seek out in my daily short reads is primarily viewpoints and perspectives that can widen my own perspective and understanding; this is linked to my interest in human cognition and behavior, and my interest in personal stories of survival/strength. I’m looking to understand what others are going through and where their struggles and possible solutions lie. It was this type of interest in other people and their thoughts that led me to pursue a BA in German Language; I wanted to be able to read news and opinion pieces from another culture in the original language. I also took a brief dip into Slavic languages before realizing that my interest in 18th century European Jews was best served by learning Yiddish; after a year of Polish, I took Yiddish in the summer of 2000.
Learning and understanding others’ perspectives doesn’t require the study of world languages, but it is a study in language and communication. Thanks to blogging and social media, it’s easy to seek out different perspectives, opinions, and trends. I’m grateful for this window into the world and how it expands my understanding. It provides me with clues about how my actions, personally and professionally, can be a part of the solution.
Short Reads/Blogs I Follow:
A blog by Kiese Laymon, English professor at Vassar and author of a collection of essays How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America.
A blog about how the prison industrial complex shapes American society and a catalog of ideas about transformative justice.
Jamelle Bouie’s Blog
A blog about politics and race by Daily Beast writer Jamelle Bouie.
Yong Zhao’s Blog
A blog by Yong Zhao, a University of Oregon professor and expert in global educational trends.
I also follow Prison Culture, Jamelle Bouie, and Yong Zhao on Twitter.
Meet the Team is a bi-monthly series intended to showcase the wonderful faculty and staff here at Bright Water School.
This edition’s special guest is Handyman, Gary Curtis. If you like what you see, please visit Bright Water School’s Tumblr to read more illuminating Meet the Team interviews, as well as other stories and features.
2. Why do you find glass to be a difficult material and/or process? Is the challenge an important part of the creative experience?
Glass is difficult for many reasons. the extreme temperatures necessary to melt require very tough molds that hold up for days while casting and annealing takes place. Imagine 1900 degrees F held for 24 hours and followed by a slow temp reduction that can last a week. So many things can go wrong. And, probably 50% fail. So, lots of time and labor and money for materials— with the same chance of a flip of a coin.
But, when it works it’s sometimes magical. Each part of the process, making the original, making a rubber mold, making a wax part, investing the wax in a plaster/mix mold, burning the wax out of the mold, feeding glass into the mold at 1800+ degrees over a 24 hour period, the constant attention, etc etc— all very difficult to pull off. This is all made more difficult because of the shape of the figure and details like ears and eyes and nose that are expected to fill out in the melting…with each stage along the way there are great and varied opportunities to create something unique. That excites me. Glass always surprises me.
3. Who are some of your favorite artists – contemporary or otherwise?
Chaim Soutine is probably my favorite. Anselm Kiefer for living artist. But love all the obvious greats. Depends on the medium I guess. This is an endless subject for me because I’ve spent my entire life as an artist.
A cast glass piece with a rust patina created by Gary
4. You say that you’ve spent your entire life as an artist – what’s the first thing you remember creating? And have you always been most receptive to the visual arts, or has your artistic energy led down other channels as well?
I was very creative as a kid. But really the first time I created something that made me think that I was some kind of artist– I was about 22 or 23 and invented a packaging device that took me to Chicago for an engineering job with a company called ITW. I worked as a mechanical engineer for 3 years and received 6 Patents and then quit ITW. I then studied Lit and wrote plays and in the 80’s started to paint which led to sculpture/ studying bronze casting and so on until I finally started trying to cast glass.
You asked if the creative impulse has taken me down other channels– well, I think it makes me more interested in everything because being an artist for me is all about curiosity. What if’s. What if I change this or do that etc etc… The artistic impulse changes your world view in my opinion. My current project is how to build my next art studio/ living space. A very exciting prospect.
5. What do you love most about your job?
I just like solving problems. Of course it’s fun working with Ellen. But I enjoy it too much to consider it work. It’s art.
6. Did you grow up in Washington State or elsewhere? What was it like?
I grew up in Montana…boring.
7. What’s one piece of advice you’d give to yourself twenty years ago if you could travel back in time?
Thank you Gary for all your hard work and artful presence around school. It is fascinating to learn about your experiences in the arts, and the kinds of projects you are pursuing at present. The creative impulse is, as you yourself would attest to, an incredibly important one to nurture.
Each year, our school hires a teacher for the upcoming Grade One class. We may have one or two other positions to hire for as well. Hiring a grade school class teacher creates anticipation in the faculty and the parent body; sometimes this anticipation spills over into the student body as well. Having taken part in hiring for eleven years–leading searches for eight of those years– I know there can also be some anxiety about hiring season. Over time, we’ve developed excellent processes and the ability to cast a wide net via our own website, that of NWAIS, and the Waldorf websites. Some of the questions we get each year are outlined below with my answers. I’ve detailed the statements of intention period at the end, in the hopes of demystifying that annual event. Please ask a question in the comments if there’s something you’re wondering about that hasn’t been addressed.
When does hiring season begin?
Hiring season begins whenever we have an open position. Each year, we know we will have an opening for a Grade One teacher, so we post that position in the fall.
What’s the earliest you’ll post a position?
Usually as soon as we know we will have an open position. For example, last year, our second grade teacher let us know she would retire at the end of third grade. The school posted the position in spring of 2013, rather than wait until fall of 2013. Even though we posted that position early, we expect the majority of applications to arrive over the December break. This is due to the statements of intention period described below. Because of that Waldorf tradition, January is when we typically see applications come in for open positions, even if we’ve had a position open for months before.
What is the hiring process like?
The Hiring process is held by the Hiring Committee, which is mandated out of the Leadership Team. The Hiring Committee this year is Flora McEachern, Cindy Jordan, and the Head of School. The Committee is responsible for an initial phone interview–in-person if the candidate is local–and reference checks. If the Committee decides to move forward with a candidate after the initial interview, the Committee forms a guest teaching schedule and interview with the full-faculty. Teaching candidates will teach at least two main lesson sections and between 2-4 other lessons. Main lesson portions will be taught in the relevant class (in Grade One if the candidate is applying for a Grade one position), and other classes in math or language arts are taught in upper and lower grades to show the teacher’s range of ability with varying age groups.
The Hiring Committee formulates the majority of questions for the applicant’s faculty interview and allows time for other faculty members to ask the candidate questions, and time for the candidate to ask the faculty questions.
May parents watch a guest teaching segment?
Guest teaching segments are attended by faculty members only. The Hiring Committee endeavors to sign up between 2-4 other faculty members to attend these segments; at least two Hiring Committee members are in attendance for guest teaching. Our Hiring Committee and our faculty are the only observers allowed to view guest teaching segments; we have the training for this and we know what we our criteria for classroom teachers are.
My child’s class teacher position is currently open and I just saw an unfamiliar teacher giving a lesson. Is this person likely to be my child’s new teacher?
Because the Hiring Committee schedules applicant teachers in a variety of classrooms, and because there may be more than one position open at a time, the visiting teacher may not be a candidate for your child’s class. Because the hiring process is confidential, we don’t talk about applications we have or notify parents when we have guest teachers in the building. It’s understandable that all this mystery can be hard, but it allows us to have a fair process for all candidates.
May parents meet teaching candidates?
Parents may meet teaching candidates after they have been officially hired by the school.
What are the required qualifications?
Check our employment page to see the requirements for each job listing. Requirements vary depending on position.
Statements of Intention
Over the December break, many teachers in Waldorf schools consider their employment for the coming year. This time of consideration is generally known as recommitment. In our school, it is known as the period in which a teacher formulates their statement of intention. We’ve made that distinction because we recognize that employment at the school is a mutual arrangement, to be agreed upon by both parties.
In January when school reconvenes, most teachers have a clear sense of where they want to be for the following fall. Upon their return from the December break, each faculty member communicates in writing to the Leadership Team their intent for the coming year regarding their employment at Bright Water School. The Leadership Team reads the statements and, if necessary, opens a hiring process.
Does the school automatically accept a teacher’s stated desire to continue teaching at BWS?
No. The Leadership Team discusses each statement and makes an overt acceptance or rejection as a group. This period is not an evaluative period, and, generally, performance issues are known to the Leadership Team before statements of intention are received. Should the Team reject a teacher’s stated desire to continue, the group would then undertake a formal process with the teacher in question.
Our school’s Leadership Team was formed by the faculty in 2006 to provide an efficient and effective means to make operational, program, and policy decisions. The group is chaired by the Head of School and works in the following areas:
- Along with the Head of School, ensure compliance with Board Governance Policies
- Hiring/employee separation/special situations
- Develop and plan in-service days and February conference
- Conflict Resolution assistance, oversight, and facilitation as needed
- Policy and program decision making after consultation with relevant faculty members
- Oversight of Pedagogical Committee and Hiring Committee
- Long-term program development
- Long and short term planning
- Maintain a healthy working relationship with the board
- Receives annual faculty statements of intention
- Agenda Setting for
- In-service days
- Review Days (in conjunction with the Triad)
When the faculty chooses new members, we look for the following qualities:
- Vision of the whole
- Moral courage
- Good communication
- Depth of consideration, commitment to meditation, study, and reflective practice
- Sense of service
- Willingness to consult and delegate
Our group has developed some general guidelines for members:
- If a Leadership Team member indicates in their statement of intention that they will not teach at BWS in the coming year, that member will step down from further Leadership Team service in the current year. The Leadership Team will dedicate a part of the appropriate February meeting to an appreciation of departing member(s). A new LT member will be sought via a selection process in the first full faculty meeting in March.
- Absences: each faculty member who makes the commitment to join the LT is greatly appreciated and their time, care, and efforts are valued. Sometimes members may find they are not able to attend a meeting or two during the year. The group understands that other needs sometimes arise. For the health and efficiency of the group, if a member or members miss multiple regularly scheduled meetings during the year, the LT may review terms of service with the member.
- Should a Leadership Team member be placed in a conflict of interest situation, be involved in an action plan, or similar process as the result of an unsatisfactory job performance, their membership in the group may be revoked, and a new member selected.
This Year’s Members Are:
|Role in Group:||Position||Person|
|Head of School||Laura Crandall|
|Grade Five Teacher||Nazneen D’Souza|
|Honeybees Teacher||Alison Landeros|
|Grade Eight Teacher||Kirsten Dahlberg|
|Grade Seven Teacher||Beth Simpson|
Lead Subject Teacher
The Leadership Team developed the following FAQ to give faculty members a more clear view of our decision-making process and how to become involved in it:
How does the Leadership Team handle questions and decisions?
We use consensus decision making. This means that we are committed to the statement that ‘The committee speaks with one voice’. In practice, that means that if you’d like to know about a decision we made or a discussion we’re having, we will invite you in to our meeting to hear from all of us.
Who can give input into your process?
Everyone. The Leadership Team agenda is available on the back of the faculty meeting agenda every week. If you see a topic you’re curious about, please contact the Chair (Laura) to let us know you’d like to attend. We’ll give you the time that item will be discussed. Our meeting is scheduled after school so that teachers can attend if they’d like.
Can I just attend to see what’s going on, without having interest in a particular issue?
Absolutely. Again, just contact the Chair to notify us of your intent to attend. We’ll set up an chair for you.
I just have a quick question. Do I have to schedule time with the whole group?
It’s important for us to represent the committee as a committee. This means that one person can never adequately convey our group’s decisions. We’ve learned from experience that having our whole group meet to answer questions is the healthiest, most effective way to bring some understanding about our decisions and for us to have an understanding of any issues faculty members may bring to our group.
I have an issue/concern, but I’m daunted by the prospect of bringing it to the whole group. Can’t I just convey my problem to a committee member and have them take it from there?
We think we’re a pretty approachable bunch, and when faculty come to visit us with an issue, our interest is in hearing what the issue is and trying to understand how we can help. We’re all looking for solutions. Meeting with the entire group is how our process works.
What We’ve Worked on Thus Far
The Leadership Team has worked on the following agenda items:
- Reviewed and approved a new Admissions Team Proposal from the Admissions Director
- Reviewed and approved 2014 Eighth Grade Trip
- Planned the year’s topics (below)
- Undertaken a discussion of Pedagogical Committee Duties
- Discussed and proposed an alternate venue for Medieval Games, 2014 (still under discussion)
- Developed a series of topics for discussion in the faculty meetings, centered on meeting content and structure, committees needed to run the school, and an exploration of the college of teachers (these discussions in the faculty meeting are underway)
- Currently discussing the Eighth Grade Trip policy and scope
- Review consensus decision making and bring to faculty for review
- Teacher course load for the grade school
- Professional development program: group trainings and workshops, department guidelines, faculty recruitment
- Special education: child’s needs, teachers’ needs (re: training, program, staffing, etc)
- Further administrative/faculty support
- AWSNA membership
- BWS faculty as evaluators for other schools/policy and procedure regarding time off and payment
Rudolf Steiner’s verse The Healthy Social Life is often used at adult gatherings in Waldorf schools. It reads: The healthy social life is found when, in the mirror of each human soul, the whole community finds its reflection and when, in the community, the virtue of each one is living.
Undoubtedly, the verse has inclusive sentiments, but looking more deeply into it, what community is Steiner referring to? How would you read it? I used to think of the school community when saying this verse, but, over the last few years, I’ve widened my view to include the whole community. You can see that expansion in the school’s new diversity statement:
Bright Water School welcomes, values, and supports racial, religious, economic, and cultural diversity. Our school seeks a diverse faculty and student body and is committed to having our school reflect the abundant and changing diversity of the United States. We welcome, value and support single, dual or multiple parent households and LGBT parents, faculty and/or students.
Bright Water School does not collect demographic data on students yet, but may do so in the future. Many independent schools nationwide do collect that data and the National Association of Independent Schools (NAIS) compiles and archives it. NAIS also separates the data out by region. Independent school demographics in our region are noticeably different than the Seattle Public Schools (SPS) district’s demographics. Below is a table of NWAIS (Northwest Association of Independent Schools) and SPS statistics detailing student diversity. The NWAIS region is comprised of 110 schools in 10 states. 69 of those schools are in Washington State, 43 of them in Seattle, Bellevue, and Mercer Island. So the comparisons are not direct, but they do illustrate a different picture for independent schools.
|Total Enrollment of Students of Color||4,989||48,496|
|Enrollment of Students of Color as % Total||27.3%||56.8%|
|Percentage of African American Students||3.0%||21.4%|
|Percentage of Hispanic American Students||3%||12.3%|
|Percentage of Asian American Students||11.2%||20.7%|
|Percentage of Native American Students||0.3%||6.4%|
|Percentage of Pacific Islander American Students||0.1%||0.8%|
|Percentage of Multiracial American Students||8.5%||5.7%|
|Percentage of Middle Eastern American Students||1.5%||Not Tracked|
|Percentage of International Students||2.8%||Not Tracked|
|Percentage of Unsure about diversity||5.1%||Not Tracked|
|Percentage of European American Students/White||64.9%||43.2%|
*NWAIS is the Northwest Association of Independent Schools. Statistics are taken from NAIS 2011-12
**SPS is the Seattle Public Schools District, District Summary from December, 2011
How and What Can We Change?
A friend of mine used to have a sign on the back of his door so that he could see it every time he left the house. It read: Keep giving what you’re giving, and you’ll keep getting what you’re getting. It was his rather brusque way of waking himself up to the fact that he had a lot to do with his own destiny. This is true for an institution just as it is for a human. If we truly want to reflect the community, we need to work to affect that change within ourselves, both personally and institutionally.
There are many reasons why independent school demographics, and Bright Water School’s family and faculty make-up, do not reflect our regional or national demographics. Some of those reasons are quite complex, some are under our control, and some are not. Two things that we can influence and change are financial accessibility and school culture.
Over the last few years, BWS has steadily made changes to the financial aid program to address the whole cost of attendance (COA), recognizing there are costs beyond tuition. Some of the changes we have made are structural. Thus far, we have:
- changed the maximum tuition reduction from a limit of 50% of published tuition to tuition reductions between 50%-95%
- reduced extended-day fees by the same percentage as tuition–ex. A student attending at a 90% tuition reduction would have an extended-day rate of 90% of the published extended-day rates
- a flat fee of $10 for all after school sports
- $10 band instrument rental, $5 refunded upon return of instrument
Why Do We Offer Financial Aid?
There’s also a philosophical element to financial aid distribution, and that had to shift in order to make the above changes. The size of the financial aid budget remains the same, but now the distribution is different.
Back in the days when the school offered a maximum of a 50% reduction in tuition, we didn’t take the COA into consideration. A family that qualified for the maximum amount of financial aid would still be required to pay at least $5,000 a year, and there was no reduction for extended day, and no real plan for after school sports fee reduction. When faced with a minimum monthly cost of at least $500, a large number of families were excluded from even thinking about applying to our school. Holding to a 50% model essentially meant that we were using financial aid to make our school more affordable, not necessarily more economically diverse. It became important to fully consider what a financial aid program is for. Our school has decided that it is to provide enough financial assistance to create economic diversity. Financial aid was initially offered by independent schools as diversity tool. Over the years, it has become an enrollment tool for many schools–offering reduced tuition to make schools more affordable rather than more economically diverse. Our school has returned to using financial aid as a means to expand economic diversity.
What Else Supports Working Families?
Other things our school has put into place to support working families and economic diversity are the all-day preschool and all-day kindergartens, with extended day care offered for both of those age groups. Although our all-day preschool is only 3 days per week, we hope to expand it to five days next year. These are some of the things that will help more families come to our school, and this was also a philosophical shift for our school. It is one that was made to support the needs of a variety of parents and students. Another puzzle we have yet to solve is how to provide before-school care for all students who need it. We are greatly hampered by space constrictions, and financing an appropriate program is also a concern.
If We’re All in Agreement, Can We Agree to Be Different?
Most of the families with students enrolled in our school were drawn here because of what they understand or know about Waldorf education. Some became curious about us for other reasons and decided to enroll after a visit. Having visited and spent time in a number of Waldorf schools, one thing I see consistently is that the parent body has shared values. Shared values are how we make a cohesive community, but cohesive does not necessarily mean that it is or should be always harmonious.
If the majority of those in the school are often in agreement, do we really have diversity in our school?
Shared values may not always be obvious, and understanding others requires work and a willingness to have uncomfortable, unfamiliar moments. Limited media use and screen time is a common expectation in most American Waldorf schools, with most schools having a written policy. If we were to have a discussion on what is behind that expectation, there would be many different answers such as the importance of movement, healthy brain development, and even the value of boredom. Within that range of expectation and understanding about media use and screen time, each family will have their own guidelines about use: some will restrict it entirely, some not at all, and then there is the middle. But the point is that even the media ‘policy’ is, and should be, moveable, and each family can explain why they have that view. Media use and screen time can be one of the biggest points of contention among parents in a class, and I use it as an example to illustrate a point: If we truly want to have a school that is reflective of the community, working to understand each family and their values, leaving judgements and suppositions at the door, will help our school to have a rich, diverse school culture and community where the virtue of each one is living, as Steiner says.
To have a more diverse school, we, as a community, will have to change, and not all of us will agree on what those changes should or will be. Not all of us will be comfortable with those discussions and changes, but many will become more comfortable as a result of them. And many of those discussions will be enlivening and joyful as we build a path that is wide enough for everyone. We want to do more than just attract economic and cultural diversity: we want to welcome and keep those new members, too! That requires creating more conversations within our community and building opportunities for understanding. These are conversations that can happen in many places, not just at school. The school will continue the conversation later this year in a community conversation, TBA. In the meantime, challenge your thinking and ask yourself how you can expand your philosophy and practices.
This year, our middle school students are taking part in the Seattle Kids Marathon. Many students in other grades are participating in a personal marathon challenge to log 26.2 miles by November 29th through walking, running, or playing. By participating in this event, students are raising funds for their school, and are thus taking an active role in supporting their own education and that of their classmates. We chose this fundraiser because it supports our values of healthy movement and healthy competition. But before settling on it, our board development and fundraising committee discussed the role of competition and what was appropriate for students. What follows is a sketch of some of the things our school does to prepare students for competition, both individually and in teams.
What do you think of when you hear the word ‘competition’? Does it create a positive or a negative image for you? What if someone described you as competitive? Would you be flattered or dismayed? What is competition? Striving to be your best or the best?
We hear a lot about healthy competition, but what is that? Playing by the rules and respecting teammates and opponents are undoubtedly elements, but there’s another aspect to healthy competition in our school: how old are the competitors? Our school pays close attention to developmental stage and age, and that includes sporting competitions. Our end goal is to have students emotionally prepared for competition, both as individuals and as a team. In order to achieve that, we lay some foundational blocks with our curriculum that help students have positive experiences and a lasting desire to engage in sports. Some of these blocks are:
- Team Building
- Emotional Safety
- Personal Responsibility to Self and Others
- Emphasis on Participation
Sharks, Minnows, and Chores
The heart of the preschool and kindergarten play-focused curriculum is social education. Small-group and individual play develops social skills needed for children to work as a team, and large-group activities like circle and eurythmy give the children practice in behaving like a team. Group play requires cooperation, patience, and an ability to listen to others. Left-fielders of tomorrow can develop patience by waiting for a turn with a toy or a tool. Clean-up time and chores build a child’s sense of service to a larger group, meaning that they can be there for their team. Responsible execution of a regular chore builds good life-habits and actively engages kids in service to others. These are small steps, taken in age-appropriate context, and they build a positive staircase to give children skills to navigate through increasingly complex social systems. Focusing on others’ needs instead of our own also helps build compassion and empathy.
Most of us see compassion as a crucial component for life. In sports and competitions, it means we have the capacity to see our opponent as a person of value, not a thing to be destroyed.
Having compassion doesn’t mean you don’t have a competitive edge: it means you’re a gracious winner or loser, someone who picks up a player when they fall, whether they are on your team or not.
At school, we create a safe and familiar environment for students by having a schedule of activities for the day, week, month, and year. Within that framework, our youngest students are guided through transitions between activities by rhymes, songs, chimes, a particular way of lining up, or visual cues. These indicators, once students have learned them, are ways of instruction that require little or no verbal instruction. Kids become confident and comfortable as they navigate through the day knowing what to expect, and without a lot of verbal instruction. A familiar environment with a regular routine helps create an atmosphere of emotional safety. This is why you may hear your class teacher talk about regular bedtimes and mealtimes if that is possible for your family. Students learn best when they feel safe, emotionally and physically.
The Grade One class teacher’s social work with the students is centered on class formation: coming together as a cohesive, supportive group. Outdoor games class may have the class teacher in the role of mild antagonist while the students work to outwit him or her, such as in Sharks and Minnows, when the teacher is the shark and the students are the minnows. Kids of this age love a game of chase, and here they can enjoy a good run and bond with each other as they make their escape from the shark. This is a very safe and appropriate way for them to engage with an adversary. Games and movement in Grades One through Three are cooperative, and may involve an academic challenge as well, such as small teams answering a math problem correctly before moving or throwing a ball to other players. In adding this extra component, students come to rely on one another to achieve a common goal. Eurythmy classes also bolster group work by building spatial awareness and the physical skill of moving together, honing an intuitive sense of where other team members are on the playing field.
Behold, the Frisbee Team Approacheth
Ultimate Frisbee, starting in the fourth grade, is the first after school team sport that students will play for Bright Water School. Ultimate is a self-officiating game–the players themselves are responsible for their own foul and line calls. The game stresses sportsmanship and fair play; and competition is encouraged, but not at the expense of respect for players, the rules, and the joy of the game. Ultimate is a great start in competitive sports because those values are overtly stated. Each player is called upon to be personally responsible for upholding the rules and for keeping the spirit of the game elevated: this is personal responsibility to self and others.
The Olympiad is a two-day pentathalon competition between fifth graders from local Waldorf schools. But our students don’t compete as Bright Water School against other schools: students from each class are separated into city-states to compete. All events are judged in two separate categories: performance (the farthest javelin throw, the fastest runner, etc) and grace and beauty (execution); competitors may win an event in the category of grace and beauty or in performance. They are judged on both, but each holds equal and separate value. Students’ overall behavior throughout the pentathalon is recognized with the presentation of a laurel wreath. Fifth graders are eager for competition, and the Olympiad is structured to be an emotionally-safe environment in which students can challenge themselves individually and work in a team.
That continues with the Medieval Games in sixth grade when regional schools compete again in a series of races and physical challenges. As part of preparation for the springtime Games, the class teacher assigns each student a Squire’s Challenge. This involves:
- service to the ‘lord and lady’ (keeping your room clean, helping around the house)
- learning a new skill
- service to the community in the form of helping a neighbor or a small child on a regular basis
Their success with this challenge, and their behavior at the Games, will indicate whether the student will be knighted at the Games. Each component of the Squire’s Challenge builds something different: learning something new puts the student a bit out of their depth, helping to develop empathy for seeing one’s competitor as someone who is striving to meet a goal, or by having patience for a teammate who is less-skilled; serving the ‘lord and lady’ translates into listening to your coach and responding to what needs to be done; community service builds the teamwork muscle.
Yes, there are some students who don’t achieve knighthood.
Bright Water School’s Movement Teacher and Athletic Director, Bryan McGriff, leads games and movement classes twice a week in each grade school class except Grade One. He also coaches and trains our students for the Olympiad, the Medieval Games, and the seventh and eighth grade track meet. The track meet is the most competitive event our students participate in within the curriculum. Our young adults in those grades are enthusiastic about the meet. It is an age that is defined by moving into independence, testing the strength of boundaries, and of themselves. These kids are looking to make a mark and define themselves as individuals and to explore their growing strength. The track meet is a good platform for them to test themselves against themselves and against others.
Up until this year, Coach McGriff coached every after school sport we offered! He will coach fifth grade boys basketball this year, and he oversees our entire after school activities program to ensure that the coaches we hire and the volunteers who help out all understand our philosophy of movement and sports. One of Mr. McGriff’s most deeply-held values is that all kids can and should participate in movement and sports for a lifetime of healthy movement. The best way to see that to fruition is to build a safe environment where students of all skill levels are welcomed and encouraged to participate. Coach knows that building regular movement opportunities into a student’s routine makes them more likely to participate in sports and movement for a lifetime.
Alumni students from our school have shown that Coach’s approach is a solid one: our alums remain engaged in sports when they attend high school, joining in football, basketball, volleyball, cross-country, swim, and track teams. They’re not all sports stars, but not many of us are. But they can experience the joy of saying ‘yes’ to a pick-up game of basketball, and that, we believe, is a winning way to live!
Growing up, possibly only a lucky few of us escaped the Disney version of Snow White. I know it was a favorite of mine, though I did find the evil queen scary. To my six-year-old self, Snow White was a story of a pretty girl, a mean lady, a gaggle of happy gentlemen, and some amazing bluebirds. It wasn’t until I saw Bright Water School’s eighth grade class perform the play a couple of years ago that I understood the tale from a different vantage point.
In Disney’s version, and in most American print versions of the tale, Snow White’s tormentor is her stepmother. But in the original Grimm’s version, Snow White’s adversary, the evil queen, is her own mother. It was this original version that our eighth grade staged. Watching this version as an adult, it was very clear to me that it was the story of a girl crossing the threshold into womanhood as her mother moves out of her childbearing years and into old age. Of course, that’s not all there is to it, but I’ll only look at that aspect here.
Now, we all deal with growing older differently, but Snow White’s mother seems especially perturbed by her waning looks. She vows to eliminate her rival and tries to do so in a number of ways: to have her killed by the huntsman, to poison her with an apple, to strangle Snow White with her own bodice-laces, to kill her with a comb. In the revised version, these actions are shocking and sad, but the subtext of the story is somewhat suppressed. The real value of the tale lies in the original casting of mother vs. daughter. This is much different than stepmother vs. daughter, because the evil queen mother disregards her primary role as parent and sees only her own needs and wants–not those of her child’s. As parents, we may understand this, but we may not voice such a sentiment. It may lie in one of the darker corners of our psyche. However, by engaging with the tale of Snow White as an adult, I am safe to explore the feelings I have about my own aging as my youth gallops over the horizon. This fairy tale brings me to a place of feeling about my own human condition. Is it just for kids?
Watching the play with grown-up eyes, I could see the themes from the vantage point of the queen: here, the blossom of youth unfolded while I looked on from my own little autumnal leaf pile. Unlike Snow White’s mother, aging hasn’t made me homicidal. But it does bring with it a dash of fear, a pinch of regret, and a splash of anger. While there are many wonderful advantages to growing older and gaining maturity, there are, for me, some negative feelings that go along with it. I could see that part of the Snow White story and understand it; something that I couldn’t grasp at age seven. This was very poignant, and I confess to shedding a tear at the sight of a 14 year-old Bright Water School student, with whom I had walked hand-in-hand when she was a kindergartner, now being strangled with bodice laces by her stage mother. I looked across the audience at the student’s real mother and wondered if she was having the experience that I was.
Snow White, of course, is a fairy tale. We know fairy tales and folk tales to be teaching (pedagogical) stories. We use pedagogical stories for the younger children at our school as a part of the curriculum, and to address anything from social difficulties to rule-breaking. This parallels how cultures around the world use these teaching tales. Fairy tales or folk tales aren’t the only pedagogical stories: as high school or college students, we’ve all deconstructed literature to wring some subtext out of it.
Steiner legend has it that pedagogical stories take forty years to fully unfold within the listener. Does that mean that your first grader won’t understand the story of Michael and the dragon until he’s 47? I don’t think so. I think it means that for some of us, it can take that long to fully realize the deeper message of a tale, or to be able to see it with different eyes, as was the case with me and Snow White.
At the end of September, our school holds its Michaelmas celebration, like many other Waldorf schools around the world. The lower grades children are busy singing about Michael and the dragon, pitching meteors, and trying to tame a fire-breathing beast made up of sixth graders. For most children, the story of Michael, the villagers, and the dragon, is about strength, hope, perseverance, humility, and heroism. The villagers, terrorized by a dragon, call upon Michael for help. Michael comes to their aid, but does not slay the dragon: he tames it, and the villagers put it to work for them. In short, they’ve taken a negative and turned it into a positive. The villagers faced a challenge and they met it. From the story come the activities of the festival, in which students can challenge themselves to accomplish a difficult task: strike a steel, saw a giant log, arm wrestle. Through the festival activities, they can have the physical experience of stepping up to a challenge; they are building their resilience.
For adults, we often say that the Michaelmas festival is a time to gather courage for the dark months ahead. But we’re not just talking about the impending change of season, though Michael’s sword of light can help us out with that. From a grown-up perspective, that dragon threatening the villagers is really the beast within all of us that can drag us into a place of fear and uncertainty, doom and depression. The weather doesn’t help, but our dragon lives on whether it be spring or winter. The tale of Michael gives us a tableau upon which we can take that dark side out and look at it a little bit, maybe even contemplate how we might tame it and put it to work for us. Do we have a sense of hope about our dragon? Will humility help us find some relief from our shortcomings or a way to work with them? The tale of Michael and the dragon can unite us as we admit our own struggle against fear or chaos, and search for our own sword of light to carry us through the dark times.
Did you ever have a moment of embarrassment when your parents hauled out your baby book and shared pictures from your life that you would have rather kept to yourself? Maybe you and your sisters were crammed into matching dirndls someone brought back from vacation for you, or you looked like the ‘don’t’ picture from a hairstyling tutorial. In simpler, less-digital times, it was easier to hide those unattractive or lamentable moments. But thanks to a preponderance of digital cameras, all kinds of things end up on the internet, some of which we have no control over. We worry about what our kids are posting online and how it will affect their future, but what about the trail we may be creating for them?
It was hard to escape the attention that the Reasons My Son Is Crying tumblr received last spring. The micro-blog was cute and funny, and helped many to laugh away the feelings of frustration that parenting a young child can bring. My own family was amused by the entries, and my husband and I shared stories with our son about some of the seemingly reasonless outbursts that punctuated his preschool and kindergarten years.
While many parents have no online social media presence at all, they are rapidly becoming a minority. If you’re a parent with a social media account, you may share special moments from your child’s life with a limited or an unlimited online audience. To some degree, the choice is yours, though it is impossible to completely control who’s photographing and posting or sharing pictures of us and of our kids.
An increasing number of parents and grandparents are sharing pictures and anecdotes, embarrassing or endearing, with an online audience. They are authoring their kids’ and grandkids’ stories. It’s no longer a story that’s created entirely by the subject, like the old days of MySpace or the early days of facebook: the ‘peripherals’ are now weighing in, too. I’m not sure how I would have felt about my mom posting a picture of me with my broken leg and the caption, “Good thing we didn’t name her Grace!”. But if I were growing up today, that’s the type of post I might see from one of my parents. I also wouldn’t want those around me to be tweeting my every accomplishment or blunder, but I wouldn’t really have a choice.
My personal facebook feed is peppered with foibles and achievements of the under-eighteen crowd, posted by their parents. I’ve even seen medical information posted–something I’d consider might be best kept confidential. Is this really fair to our kids? What happens online stays online, and as we’ve seen with the numerous missteps of politicians and celebrities, there’s no way to scrub cyberspace clean no matter how hard you try.
I saw my own hypocrisy after a short session with Reasons My Son Is Crying: I thought, ‘Wow, what is this kid going to think and feel about this when he’s older?’.
Then I realized my own facebook page, indeed, my own blog is leaving a little digital vapor trail of my under eighteen son that he can’t control. And here I was worried about what he was posting.
Last week, New York magazine published an article about the ‘media elite’ making Twitter accounts for their babies. It won’t be long before we see some trickle-down on this. Is making sure your child has a Twitter handle or a domain name with their name that important for newly-born? It is when it’s about branding, says ESPN sports business reporter and ABC News correspondent Darren Rovell:
“It was just a simple strategy,” said Rovell. “Before I announced her name to the select people — before maybe it could get out — I locked down her name at Gmail, her dot-com, her Twitter handle. It was just an intellectual capital investment.”
Before he announced her name. He was already protecting her brand.
And this from CNBC reporter John Carney:
“These are the tools that I didn’t have growing up. It’s important to have your dot-com for your entire life. It’s part of your brand,” he said. “When do you become a brand? Some people say it’s for people who achieved something. I would argue that in some sense you become a brand the second you’re born.”
Okay, I can see how you might want to secure a domain and an email for your youngster, though I do think it’s a tad over-the-top. I know having your own domain comes in handy when you’re looking for work. At our school, we’ve seen a few professional websites from applicants that gave us an excellent picture of the prospective employees and their teaching skills. The sites included videos and lesson plans and allowed us to have a more effective interview. So I can go along with owning your domain name and your name-specific email account, though I don’t think it’s so vital for the majority of mortals to have that locked in at birth. Sidenote: I might have been glad my folks secured my domain so that I was the Laura Crandall of the internet–domain still available, I see!
But I might not be so pleased if my parents did what little Harper Wolfeld-Gosk’s moms did with her infant Twitter account:
“First doc appt tdy. Big success.” … “Pooped AND pee’d on Dr’s changing table. Everyone laughed. Will have to try that again tmrw at home.”
Sure, I could delete their tweets when I finally inherit my account. But could I eliminate all the other things they posted about me online? Probably not. My digital vapor trail by the time I turn 18 would be too long, and too dispersed for me to clean it up.
Maybe John Carney is right: maybe we are all a ‘brand’, or at least those of us who choose to have an online presence are. If this is so, do we have the right to shape our kids’ brand from birth? What digital vapor trail are we leaving for them? We give thought about what our kids are posting online, but how much have we considered what we are leaving behind about them? Will it resurface when they grow into job seekers? Are we negatively impacting our child’s future? Maybe it’s not so dire as all that, but if we’re posting about our kids online, we are certainly affecting their right to privacy. They’ve gone ‘public’ without any choice in the matter. I know I’ll be taking a moment to think before I tweet about my son in future. In the meantime, I hope my sisters don’t mind that I’ve posted the family-famous photo of the three of us dressed in, yes, dirndls.