Radical and Relevant News

February 2015

Storytelling in the Waldorf Curriculum TCDSB Professional Development Day

This past Friday 45 Catholic Board teachers came to the Steiner Centre for a professional development day to learn about Storytelling in the Waldorf Curriculum. This was one of over 50 choices that they had for this day and we are pleased that they chose to join with us to learn more about Waldorf education and the power of storytelling. This workshop was led by Elyse Pomeranz, a long time Waldorf teacher and colleague at RSCT and by Warren Lee Cohen, the Codirector of the Centre and the director of Waldorf teacher education program.

Elyse led us straight away into exploring the story that is our lives. She asked each teacher to remember a teacher from their childhood that had made a favourable impression on them and that was in one way or another connected with their desire to become a teacher. She then invited us to describe that person to a partner as if they were a landscape. The sharing was lively and a number of colleagues commented on how freeing it was to speak of someone in this imaginative way, that it allowed them to come closer to describing the person’s true essence.

We reflected on this conscious use of story and the imagination and began to see them as tools that help us to come closer to one another and to central human truths. This is why story is so important in Waldorf education. It allows us to touch that which is universal and relevant to each individual. Story can engage all of our senses and imaginations and cultivate student interest in just about any subject.

Elyse then invited us to each think not of a personal story this time but of a universal one. She asked us to choose a Parable from the New Testament that inspires us. The atmosphere grew lively as teachers not only shared their stories with one another but found similarities and insights that they wanted to share with the whole group. Story brought us together. It centred us, helped us to be interested in one another and gave us insights into how to enrich our relationships and our teaching.

The day also included a tour of the Toronto Waldorf School and a short presentation on Waldorf education with plenty of time for questions. The teachers were keen to understand more and commented on more than one occasion how enriching the day was for them. We received a number of very lovely thank you notes from TCDSB teachers, who found the day valuable for their professional and personal development.

“I left today feeling calm and yet inspired”

“The workshop spoke to me on many levels and it validated me as a person and as teacher.”

 “Thank you for facilitating such an inspiring workshop last Friday. It is so wonderful to know that you and your colleagues are doing such amazing work at the Toronto Waldorf School.”

We are blessed to have met such integrity and striving in our fellow teachers. We are grateful for this interchange and look forward to working together again with our Toronto Catholic District School Board colleagues.

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What is Waldorf Education?

Waldorf Education

The first Waldorf School opened its doors in September 1919 in Stuttgart, Germany, under the sponsorship of the Waldorf-Astoria Company. This new education sought to make cultural renewal possible so as to become an antidote to the despair gripping Central Europe and its young people in the aftermath of World War I. This comprehensive education was intended to foster bright, creative and balanced individuals capable of a new imagination of human society.

The Waldorf School was revolutionary for its time. While this school was initially created to meet the needs of factory workers’ children, it was open to children from all social, religious, and economic backgrounds, and co-educational. By 1928 it had grown to become the largest non-denominational school in Germany, serving as a model for other Waldorf Schools that soon sprang up in Germany, Switzerland, Holland, England, and the United States.

Waldorf Pedagogy

Waldorf schools employ holistic methods that incorporate the teaching of math, language arts, science, art, history and geography in interconnected and lively ways. Storytelling, movement and the arts generate interest and engagement with all academic subjects. The curriculum is comprehensive and finely tuned to the development of each child.

Waldorf schools are founded upon relationships – strong, long-term, respectful relationships that value the striving of each individual. Their motto is to:

Accept the children with reverence,
Educate them with love,
Send them forth in freedom.
—Rudolf Steiner

Waldorf education is not really a pedagogical system but rather an art of education. The task of each teacher is to strive to recognize and work with the gifts and challenges of each unique student- not to create a uniform product, but to allow the gifts of each one to unfold gracefully. This takes time, patience and a deep level of professional commitment. Teachers work as a team in service to the children in each school.

Lessons are taught through a wide variety of arts to open the gateway for a many-tiered engagement with the learning process. This offers students a deep sense of satisfaction that celebrates the individuality of each one. Rather than work from textbooks, Waldorf students document their learning by writing and drawing pictures in their own notebooks. These “main lesson books” capture each child’s learning and ability to express it in words and images. They become treasures for life.

Waldorf is an education of head, heart and hands, one in which intellectual learning is balanced with social/emotional and physical challenges. Every lesson offers children opportunities to grow in all three areas.

The children develop into healthy and balanced adults who are capable of thinking clearly, feeling deeply and imparting purpose and meaning to their lives.

                                                            Warren Lee Cohen
                                                            Codirector Rudolf Steiner Centre Toronto

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January 2015

Why did I take the Foundation Studies in Anthroposophy course?

Melissa Ghorashy has been a parent at the Toronto Waldorf School and recently completed an 18 month program, Foundation Studies in Anthroposophy at the Steiner Centre. The article she wrote below was recently sent to all the parents at the school. It is a wonderful example of how a Waldorf school can bring parents to their own important learning. We are a learning community afterall. - ed.

When my first daughter was six or seven months old I found TWS by chance when I spotted an intriguing bumper sticker on the DVP.  “Waldorf - Education from the inside out” was a sentiment that resonated with me.  I did some research on Waldorf education and contacted the school to arrange for a tour.  Like many people, I was enchanted by the simply appointed early childhood classroom and the description of a program that was designed to nurture the young child in a way that was unique in my experience.  After enrolling in the parent and tot program with my daughter, I began to learn more through the craft table discussions and articles provided by the teachers.  I also attended the Gateways conference hosted by TWS and read some books and began to fill in some more pieces of the picture.   As I learned a little bit more about  the philosophy of child development that Waldorf education was based on, I realized that I wanted to bring the separate pieces of the picture together in a more meaningful whole.  As my children progressed through the early childhood program, my initial intuitive attraction to the school was supported by what I learned about the curriculum and pedagogy, but the pieces of the picture were still discrete and specific to a particular aspect or moment of my child’s experience.

My daughter’s teacher suggested that I consider taking the Foundation Studies in Anthroposophy course offered at the Rudolf Steiner Centre located on campus.  At the time this program was offered on Saturdays over the course of one year, but I was not able to commit to a full year of Saturdays at that time.  Distance learning was a possibility, but I really craved the opportunity for class discussions.

Several years ago my husband attended the Saturday FS course, and encouraged me to enrol.  When I discovered last year that a new format for the program was being offered at the school on Wednesday mornings over 1 ½ years, I was thrilled to finally be able to pursue this goal in a way that worked with my schedule.

As I had hoped, the Foundation Studies course provided a framework for understanding Waldorf Education that has been deeply enlightening for me.  I always felt that there was both beauty and logic to the curriculum, and now I understand how and why it progresses as it does through the distinct phases of child/youth/young adult development.  I also have an even deeper appreciation for the tremendous skill and dedication required of Waldorf teachers.  I have always believed that becoming a Waldorf teacher is a calling, not a career move.  My FS experience has not only reinforced, but magnified this belief.  I stand in awe of those special individuals who take up this work and truly give themselves to the task of becoming a Waldorf teacher.  From what I understand now, this is a lifelong quest of personal and professional development.

I encourage any parent of a child attending TWS to consider taking the Foundation Studies course in whatever format works best for them, or to attend as many of the information sessions available through the school as possible.  Many of us are drawn to TWS by the belief that there is something here that meets our own child’s specific needs, but we don’t necessarily understand the big picture that lies behind the how and why of it all.  When questions arise about curriculum, student progress, approach to teaching, school traditions, or how festivals are celebrated, it is useful to know something about the philosophy behind how and why these things are done at TWS. 

We choose TWS over the many other options available for our children for our own reasons.  It’s important to recognize that we are choosing something that is based on Rudolf Steiner’s philosophy of the human being known as Anthroposophy.  Other parents may choose a school based on the philosophy or methods of Maria Montessori, Howard Gardner (Multiple Intelligence), or Loris Malagucci (Reggio Emilia) for instance, and those schools conduct themselves according to their own philosophy of child development and education.  Perhaps you are like me, and bring your child to TWS because something about it appeals to your values or sensibilities.  It feels right.  I wanted to know why I feel the way I do about Waldorf education, and the Foundation Studies course has provided me with these answers.

RSCT will be starting a new Foundation Studies program this Wednesday, January 21. Please contact us if you are interested in participating. We are also accepting applications for our distance program which allows people to explore the same rich content with a one-on-one mentor at your own pace. Both programs are an excellent way to meet the ideas and practical impulses of anthroposophy in the world and in your life.

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December 2014

TV Lobotomy


These drawings come from a french book called TV Lobotomy, written by a neurologist.

  1. The first line of drawings were drawn by 5 to 6 years old children that watch television for less than 1 hour a day.
  2. The second line of drawings is from similar children that watch television for more than 3 hours a day.
  3. The third line of drawings were made by children that have had traumatic experiences watching television without supervision.

The differences between the images are striking. Detail and connectedness are lost in each successive row. If television were not a factor, one might assume that these children are much less mature than the first row children. But, this is not the case! They simply are watching more television and being traumatised to varrying degrees by it. The research is broad based and clear. Television is not healthy for young children. It inhibits healthy neurological development, decreases physical activity, limits the imagination and leads to obesity.

 

 


 

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Remembering Georg Locher

Georg Locher died at 5:20  this morning (UK time). The funeral is scheduled for this coming Friday,  December 19. Other memorial services are planned, including one in Wilton New Hampshire on December 28.

Georg Locher was a Waldorf graduate. He studied music in Zurich, Switzerland (his country of origin) and became a concert cellist before training to be a Waldorf teacher in England. He taught at Michael Hall Rudolf Steiner School for 25 years (class teacher, foreign language, religion and High School visual arts teacher) and was director of Steiner Waldorf Teacher Education at Emerson College, England for 14 years. He has served as a wise counselor to many schools and teachers throughout the world.

Georg touched many souls on both sides of the Atlantic as a genial mentor and advisor to countless Waldorf teachers young as well as seasoned. As the successor to Francis Edmunds (his father-in-law), Georg was a mainstay of the Waldorf teacher education program at Antioch University New England, as well as being a regular feature of both the Rudolf Steiner Centre Toronto and, in its day, the Rudolf Steiner Institute. And all of that activity was during his time off from his "day job" in England as teacher and mentor at Michael Hall and at Emerson College. He will be warmly and lastingly remembered here as in Europe and beyond.
 

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November 2014

Waldorf in Guatemala

RSCT Mentor and Lecturer Elyse Pomeranz just returned from a visit to  Guatemala where she worked intensively with one of her mentees, offered support to the Escuela Caracol Waldorf school and a number of other creative endeavors in the community. Her reflections are nothing short of inspiring. The illustrations are by the author, inspired by her study of the local flora and fauna - Ed.

I made my way along a path. On one side I heard the sound of rushing water, on the other side I saw trees and bushes much of it new and unfamiliar and in ecstatic bloom. Under my feet is a path of earth and rocks. I arrive at a wooden door and stand at the threshold of Escuela Caracol. I push the heavy door open and what I see takes my breath away.

The trees, bushes and flowering plants are abundant and healthy. They are clearly tended with great care and attention. There is a cobble path that winds and curves gently among the buildings. The buildings themselves sit comfortably amongst all that is living and growing. In fact they seem as if they “grew” there as vital and alive  as the plant life. There are butterflies of different sizes and colours playing joyfully, freely flying in the “inner” spaces of the open walled meeting room, kitchen,  community gathering space and open classrooms.  There are other classrooms added recently which are enclosed . These new buildings are simple and beautiful. They were carefully imagined and work harmoniously with the rest of the campus.

I notice the kitchen. There are two women moving easily around the counters, sinks and wood burning stove. The roof, supported by wooden posts, provides a space without walls, open to the beauty of the abundant gardens and the sounds of the children having lessons or playing. It was quickly clear to me that this wonderful open kitchen is the heart of the school. The cooks, some of the longest standing members of this community are preparing fresh , healthy and delicious snacks and lunches for ALL THE MEMBERS of the community; children and adults are all fed.

Sitting in the Grade Four/Five classroom at snacktime and lunchtime I am touched by the enthusiasm of the students for their food, for sharing the meal and also conversation that ranges in topic from school related questions to speaking about their diverse lives at home. This is a relaxed and respectful space.

I was also aware of what was NOT in the room…the stress of the parents and teachers to prepare and pack food that would travel well and be edible even if it returned home after 10 hours uneaten. The stress of refereeing the culture of lunch swapping between children where some parents would be upset if their child ate something forbidden. The stress of communicating with parents and enforcing the school policy around sweets and candy etc. The wastefulness of garbage and packaging that is involved in sending the food with the children in lunch bags.

So much is freed up and so much rich social fabric built up with this important central activity. It is a great challenge for the school to continue to support this program as it is costly. I heard how the cooks travel to special weekend markets to get the ingredients they need for the week. I am so heartened by their efforts to ensure this continues! I am sure that help for the program would be welcome.

Examining the food program offers a way into understanding what is so beautiful and nourishing about this school. There is a grounding, a healthy respect for basic needs and for care of the body and sense experiences that makes it possible to work with other very challenging aspects in the cultural and intellectual realm.

The students come from a diverse set of circumstances at home. Culturally and also socio-economically there is a wide variety in the classes. They join together and share the world of story, painting, sculpting, handwork, singing, recorder, guitar, drawing, writing, reading, games and drama. This is Waldorf education at its best.

The teacher of grade five told me that at the end of a block on Ancient Egypt the children crowded around a map of the pyramids that showed the location of the Sphinx. Behind their teacher the blackboards were full of beautiful chalk images from the stories. The children were all discovering that these places they heard about are real, they exist in the world to be seen/heard….after a pause for a moment one student declared…”Does that mean that the gods are real too?!”

There is certainly an aspect of contemporary culture that permeates this remote village on the Lake Atitlan. There are cell phones in teachers pockets and the children hear western music blasted over loud speakers at a village wide end of year school festival( not an event that was organized by the Escuela Caracol but they were in attendance, a way to stay connected to the village community) and yet there is an openness and amazement and receptivity to nature, to story and to the artistic experiences that seems to be a special gift in these classrooms. The teachers are devoted, enthusiastic, clear and strong individuals who live and walk their talk.

My brief visit to Escuela Caracol has opened my mind and heart. I am inspired and grateful!

Elyse Pomeranz
Richmond Hill, Ontario, Canada

 

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The Turning Point of Time and Waldorf Education

Waldorf Development Conference

Waldorf education fosters the recognition of the "Universal Human" in each of us. It urges us to transcend nationalism, religious fundamentalism and sexism. Patrice will describe the practical aspects of our spiritual nature which we can apply in our daily work. Can we make a distinction between the inherent spiritual side of human beings and the call to a religion?   The esoteric roots of Waldorf education as they manifest in the curriculum can nourish all.

We invite Waldorf educators and administrators to join us for two days of working with this important and timely theme.
Friday and Saturday, November 7 & 8, 2014
Waldorf Development Conference
Keynote Speaker Patrice Maynard

 
Patrice Maynard, MEd, is the director of Publications and Development for the Research Institute for Waldorf Education. She has a deep and broad experience with Waldorf education. For nine years she was a leader in AWSNA and before that a Waldorf class and music teacher. Patrice helped to found Merriconeag Waldorf School in Maine and taught at the Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School in New York.

Suggested reading: On Earth as it is in Heaven by Roberto Trostli

For more information please contact the Steiner Centre:

9100 Bathurst St. #4, Thornhill, ON, L4C 8C7  905.764.7570  info@rsct.ca

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October 2014

Why play is important to us all!

Here is an entry from the Lauren Laverne column in the The Observer, Sunday 5 October 2014. We recieved this article through our colleague Blondine Maurice, a powerful creator of play in her own right who will be leading Playful Presence Inner Clowning, July 13 to 17 in our Summer Festival of Arts and Education.

Life is a serious business. But new research shows that the way to get the most out of it is to be more playful. So get out there and have some fun! !

‘Play is indispensable to human progress and good for individuals.’ I’ve always been the playful type. Honestly, my Wildean it’s-too-important-to-be-taken-seriously view of life has not always gone down well. Convent school was a nightmare. Then I got really into music, but didn’t fit in at Radiohead concerts. Now social media (where only binary emotions are permissible) is problematic.! !

Nonetheless, I choose to remain experimental. We are all explorers. I must pursue adventure my own way, even if Twitter sometimes makes me feel like Ferdinand Magellan, lowering himself crotch-first into a river of hungry piranhas. How cheering, then, to discover that neuroscience supports my approach. Play and a playful attitude are not just enjoyable, they’re an essential ingredient of good mental health.! !

Let’s define our terms. In English, “play” is the opposite of “work”. But the act itself is more complex. As psychiatrist Dr Stuart Brown puts it: “The opposite of play is not work, it’s depression.” Dr Brown has spent decades taking “play histories” from patients, after discerning its absence when studying a group of homicidal young men. He believes that play (of any kind – there are seven different types, from “object play” to “narrative play and storytelling”) is essential
to brain development. “Nothing,” he says, “lights up the brain like play.” !

We know this instinctively when it comes to bringing up children. But research shows that adults need to play, and be playful, too. Prioritising it might seem frivolous – we live in a planet-sized tangle of problems and injustices, after all. But problems need creative solutions. What if play could help us find them? What if play was one of them? Dr Brown is just one scientist who suggests it is. Einstein was another. In his words: “Play is the highest form of research.” There is, the theory goes, a reason Archimedes shouted “Eureka!” in the bath, not the laboratory.! !

We’re all convinced we’re too busy to do it, and that’s no accident. Our culture values busyness – it is how we measure goodness. Take political language: the Victorians distinguished between the “deserving” and “undeserving” poor along religious lines; these days politicians differentiate in terms of productivity: “jobseekers”, “the hardworking poor”, “hardworking families” – busyness has replaced godliness, but the new language is just as unhelpful as the old.! !

Play isn’t slothful, it’s useful. It is recreation with the emphasis on the last three syllables. Play is indispensable to human progress and good for individuals. A culture that encourages it will enjoy cumulative benefits. Denmark – officially the happiest country on earth – is an example. Flexible work and affordable childcare are the norm, which means more free time. In addition, there is greater gender equality and a work-to-live culture that includes the expectation that people should pursue private interests (even – gasp! – mothers).! !

In the workplace, an experimental approach – to tasks as well as the structure of the working day – can boost productivity and profits. Forward-thinking economists, scientists and employers know this. Google and Pixar led the way with their infamously groovy work practices, but other employers are joining in. Last week Richard Branson announced unlimited holiday for his staff at Virgin Group. “Smart” not “hard” is the new way to work. (For more on the benefits of play, see Brigid Schulte’s Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has The Time).! ! We all need to play, especially those of us who think we are too busy. Five minutes a day will make a difference. Why not start now? It is the weekend, after all.

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September 2014

Michaelmas


Verse for Michaelmas

There is a knighthood of the twentieth century
Whose members do not ride through the darkness of physical forests of old,
But through the forests of awakened minds.
They are armed with spiritual armor.
And an inner sun makes them radiant.
Out of them shines healing-
Healing that flows from the knowledge of the image of man as a spiritual being
They must create inner order, inner justice, peace and conviction
In the darkness of our time.
     Karl Konig
 

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