One fine spring day, so the legend in Mrs. Jordan’s class goes, a tiny hamster, cape on his back and sword at his side, was found on the steps of Bright Water School. The class was in first grade then and without a class pet of their own despite a preponderance of chinchillas throughout the school. I took the hamster, Mr. Tiny, as my office companion and Mrs. Jordan’s class helped me look after him.
Mr. Tiny was a regular visitor to Mrs. Jordan’s class in their second grade year. He accompanied me to the classroom twice a week for story time. His favorite books to hear were the stories of Humphrey, a fictitious classroom hamster.
Mr. Tiny passed on in September of Mrs. Jordan’s third grade year. He lay in state for the afternoon and then the students and I held a memorial service and buried Mr. Tiny in the front garden of the school, nearby the third grade room. After a suitable period of mourning, I filled the blank space on my bookshelf with another hamster, the insatiably active Mrs. Busy.
Mrs. Jordan’s class continued to care for Mrs. Busy throughout third grade and into fourth. She summered away from the heat and emptiness of the school and came back refreshed and ready for grade four. But in March, she became easy to catch when students came to clean her cage and feed her some treats. We knew from watching Mr. Tiny grow old that the end was probably near for our dear friend. Last Friday, when a student came down to take care of Mrs. Busy, she was too distressed to have her cage cleaned. At around 4 pm, Mrs. Busy passed on.
Yesterday morning I found a book of condolences in my office mailbox. I’m sharing just some of the students’ sentiments here. This morning I went up to thank them and to talk about Mrs. Busy and how quiet it is in my office now. They all wanted to know if there would be a new hamster for them to take care of, and some students had even thought of names.
Take a look at some of the fourth graders’ heartwarming messages here.
Humans love to identify patterns. It’s a great survival tool if you are able to recognize a pattern of animal behavior just before a predator arrives, or when a particular cloud pattern indicates storm. We need to recognize patterns to feel secure, to ascribe meaning to events, to attempt to predict outcomes or future events. So it’s no surprise that most of us would take a piece of chaos theory–the Butterfly Effect–and turn it around into a cause and effect example rather than its true role as an example of randomness. The Butterfly Effect is about unpredictability: we typically have a limited amount of information at any given time and therefore predictability of cause and effect is limited beyond a certain point. An accessible example of this is how difficult it is to predict the weather accurately beyond a certain point in time. However, many people interpret the Butterfly Effect to mean that even the smallest cause can create an effect. While this is true, finding a linear path that can trace that effect is what we can’t predict or measure.
What does this have to do with Hiromi Sensei? I immediately thought of her when my family offered to host two high school exchange students from Japan. My sophomore son, in third year Japanese, no doubt continued his language studies as a result of Hiromi’s work with him. When our visiting students arrived, I created a nice, linear path in my mind through Hiromi’s teaching, my son’s learning, on to the visiting students, and their return trip to Japan. One person, Hiromi Sensei, making a difference, influencing the world through teaching language.
It’s true that my family’s experience with Hiromi and the Japanese language may have influenced our decision to host students. That is part of the finite information that I began this venture with. The rest of it–the boys’ interaction with American high school students, their actions upon their return to Japan, and all of those ripples–are not predictable. The actions and outcomes are infinite, and that is probably the most beautiful thing about this Butterfly Effect. We have no way of knowing the many wonderful things that will unfold for our family or for our visiting students, Taka and Hibiki. We do know that we were enriched and enlivened by the experience, and truly touched at sharing time together. We were happy to be a part of such a big event in their lives, and we know they’ll remember us and the time they spent here.
By Cameron LaFlam, Communications Coordinator
Snow swam downstream from the cloud-dense sky, its river of fluff and dust blanketing the dark-lit grass as we entered the park. Just a few hours prior the day was still and bright; now the night was swirling and white.
Finn, our Border collie and scout, pursued the path as we walked behind. Occasionally tossing lumps of snow for him to play fetch with, they quickly disintegrated in his mouth or on his face. Soon, without consensus or plan, snowballs flew helter-skelter among the group too.
We laughed and jumped and slid along midnight’s glowing stage of snow and trees. Miraculously, the city’s light pollution proved to be a boon: my friends and I existed in a surreal space of all-seeing darkness. Were we dreaming? Most of the neighborhood was asleep – and yet in the silence, voices of light screamed off the Arboretum’s shadowy surfaces. As suddenly as the pulse of the snowball ‘fight’ had begun, its energy ebbed and we continued onward.
This spontaneous process repeated itself several times: snow-trail exploration, talking, a shook branch or two to rain down powder, and – POW – a fresh snowball to the gut. Eventually, we receded into our warm house, shielded from the elements. But we’d brought back an indomitable piece of the outdoors with us: the experience of nature-play.
I describe this experience because it is a recent, visceral example of how time spent in nature can facilitate spontaneity, wonder, and camaraderie. Having attended Richard Louv’s lecture at Town Hall a couple of weeks back, these ideas have been top of mind.
Richard Louv is famous for writing the 2005 best-seller “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder.” More broadly, he is a journalist and advocate for nature education, conservation, and research, and is one who deeply explores the relationship between children and the natural world.
During his talk, he stressed the importance of unstructured play for children. He differentiates this kind of play from things like sports teams and dance lessons. Although the latter activities are excellent outlets for exercise and teamwork, the presence of adults, rules, and an overall structure preclude it from being ‘unstructured play.’ Unstructured play is what occurred when my friends, dog, and I took to playing in the snow with no care for time limits or rules.
Nature is the ideal domain for unstructured play. It is a landscape of treasures and wonder ready to be explored by children. Young ones’ imaginations are magically vivid; a patch of woods transforms into an explorer’s discovery, a meadow becomes a sprawling desert with camels and cactuses. There are no limits to how children’s creativity can meld with the natural world. Mr. Louv speaks to this creative freedom – and the ‘hybrid mind’ concept – which underscores experiences that legitimately utilize all the senses. To touch, taste, hear, see, and smell your environment!
In contrast to the hybrid mind is the inert mind. He illustrated a disconcerting example of the inert mind, one which I can relate to from time to time. When one sits for a long, uninterrupted period in front of a computer or television screen, the brain begins to block out other stimuli. The body is already inert, frozen as it is in its chair. The mind follows suit, forming a tractor beam-like tunnel vision for the screen. According to Mr. Louv’s view, one becomes “literally less alive when inert in front of a screen” for an extended period of time.
It is the vitality of nature-play, then, which must be cultivated and protected. Not only for exercise and free-play, not only for full sensory engagement, but also for the overall social, emotional, and physical health & development it promotes in youth. Furthermore, engaging with nature on a regular basis from a young age is a strong indicator for whether individuals will invest energy, resources, and basic stewardship for nature in adulthood.
Richard Louv couched his emphatic insights and stories in the limitations of existing research, though. The pool of current studies one can refer to, to demonstrate the positive indicators between children and nature, have only surfaced over the last 5-10 years. It is correlative research; longitudinal studies of 15, 20, or 30 years are simply not available. Researchers and scientists didn’t think to study children and nature then; or they did and it did not seem a worthwhile pursuit. “More is coming,” Louv assured the audience. Powerfully, he said even with the limited research, “it is enough to ACT.”
I think about my childhood, how lucky and grateful I was to have had an acre or so of woodsy land to explore, as well as additional forest acreage beyond my fence. I freely explored with my friends, siblings, and dog; I pretended to be animals, explorers, wizards, dragons. The sense of being a part of that world – rather than apart from that world – is something I carry from that time of early youth.
My household had dial-up internet until I was 15 years old. I did not own a cell phone until I was 16 years old. Though I absolutely indulged in television shows and video games, the high-speed internet & mobile device culture did not exist then. The speed, fluidity, and ubiquitous presence of technology in people’s lives have climbed a rung or two on the cultural ladder in the last 15 years. That being said, I’m no Luddite. I am generally competent with and interested in technological advancements. I am 25 years old and find it awe-inspiring to have ‘grown up’ with the Internet in a sense. As our culture’s dependence on technology increases though, so too must our strength of will to maintain balance between the virtual and the actual.
Richard Louv agrees. He says that people often get “lonely, disconnected, apathetic, and lose touch with their body” when they devote too much time and concern to the virtual. The actual – that is, the real and concrete world – “can reinvigorate place and purpose. Experiencing the presence of animals, plants, trees, trails, mountains, streams, flowers, scents, and sounds provides an ineffable sense of connection to the wider world.” Spending time in nature is a potent reminder that we really belong to something greater beyond ‘ourselves.’ That we ourselves are more than just an isolated, solitary ‘self.’
Provide children with the opportunity for unrestricted nature-play and a vitality and appreciation will develop. This is what Mr. Louv hopes for. He hopes for it to improve children’s lives in the present day, but also so that we may collectively create a future that we and the world deserve. One that stands in brave indignation and contrasts with the future images that are so popular: dystopian societies, post-apocalyptic earth, chaos and urban overflow. These images deserve to exist in their own right for the sake of art, expression, and entertainment.
But what if an alternate set of images concerning the future became just as popular and enduring?
One in which our connection to nature is closer to the center of living, rather than permanently thrown out of orbit. According to Mr. Louv, if we truly desire this future, we must creatively envision it now – and work towards it child by child and adult by adult.
If you are interested in this topic, visit Richard Louv’s Children & Nature Network for access to research, stories, events, advocacy efforts, and grassroots campaign opportunities.
Have you ever seen a Moomin? Or even heard of one? Years ago when I worked at Seattle Central Community College, I learned of the Moomins through a coworker who, like author Tove Jansson, was a Swedish Finn. Never having heard of either a Moomin or a Swedish Finn, I was intrigued. At the time, my young son could not get enough of stories, and we were reading constantly to him. Yes, we’re a no-TV household, so a library membership is a must.
We tore through all the Moomin books quickly. They have an almost Poohish (as in ‘Winnie-the”) quality of happenings that are not happenings. The most exciting of the books was Comet in Moominland, and the most poignant was Moominpapa at Sea. Jansson didn’t focus entirely on Moomintrolls or on children’s books; The Summer Book is a spare, atmospheric tale in which a young girl who has recently lost her mother spends the summer on an island with her father and grandmother.
What are some other good reads to share with your kids? In general, I used date of publication (before 1970) and location of author (usually English or European) as a shortcut for finding quality reads that were also appealing to the adult reader. After all, I had to stay awake during story time. I was most interested in providing my son with good stories that had realistic characters and rich language. I wanted good clean fun, with emotion well-wrought. To keep it age-appropriate, I selected books with characters that were the same age as my son.
How many years should you read to your children? For as many as they will let you! Mine put up with it until he was in sixth grade, and then reading at bedtime was his alone.
Some of the gems we read together were:
The Wheel on the School, by Meindert deJong
Peter Pan, by J.M Barrie
Emil and the Detectives, by Erich Kastner
Haroun and the Sea of Stories, by Salman Rushdie
The Mysterious Benedict Society, by Trenton Lee Stewart
All Sail Set, by Armstrong Sperry
Nicholas, by Rene Goscinny (All the Nicholas books!)
The Thirteen and a Half Lives of Captain Bluebear, by Walter Moers
*The chalkboard drawing is from Grade Four. Grade Four is the turning point at which many students have switched from ‘learning to read’ to ‘reading to learn’. The formality of producing a book report helps develop comprehension, in addition to introducing them to formal report writing.
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