The Living and Learning Organization – May Focus

“We shape our buildings. Thereafter they shape us.” This is equally true of organizational structures. We create our organizations out of our vision, values and relationships, and thereafter, they shape us in our development. So how does one work within an organization to create and sustain healthy development? A first step in understanding this process requires developing an imagination about living organizations.

To understand a living being, one needs to know its physiology, its environment and connection to the rest of the world, the phases of its general development and its individual biography. It is the same with an organization. All organizations are complex sets of relationships evolving over time. Like living organisms, they have a birth, a purpose, an unfolding life story, internal processes, social dynamics and a relationship to their environment that evolves over time. They also have certain processes and principles that guide them, affect them and that determine their success, health and longevity. Rudolf Steiner articulated a number of fundamental principles or social laws that can act as guides for understanding individual and organizational dynamics.


Three articles this month focus on specific aspects of how to understand and work with the life in our organizations.

The Phases of School Development by Chris Schaefer explores the life phases of organizations, their qualities and challenges.

Emerging Hypothesis by Rea Gill explores the background of her attempts to bring new imagination to organizational life in a Waldorf school.

Organizational Integrity by Torin Finser explores the relationship of human physiology to organizational development, especially how the functions of organs provide insight into the processes in an organization.


We have also posted in the forums a list of other related articles and resources that provide insight and further explore the living nature of organizations.

Organizations as Living Organisms by Magda Lissau which looks at a school in light of life processes and the elements.

School as a Living Entity by Rea Gill, an ebook exploring the story of Rea's work in Vancouver and the dynamics of creating a school as a living entity.

Theory U and Presencing by Otto Scharmer from MIT, a creative new approach to living systems.

Learning and Organizations by Mark Smith is a scholarly exploration of the definition and principles of a learning organization and the wide range of perspectives on what is meant by a learning organization.

Sociocracy, a new approach to organizational life and health being used worldwide to develop communities which is very congruent with the life of Waldorf schools.


Waldorf Tuition: Gift or Investment or Something In Between?

Strong gusts of wind drive sheets of rain against the rhythmi­cally moving wind­shield wipers as Brenda and I drive from Cambridge to Lexington. We are going to an open meeting at the Lexington Waldorf School to discuss school finances. The meeting is to be chaired by the president of the Board, and in attendance to answer questions will be the school's Finance Committee. Siegfried Finser is a guest and will open the meeting with some thoughts on Waldorf financing.  Brenda is the full-time director of development at the school, and I am a parent of a third-grade boy and a kindergarten girl.

My wife is at home, tending to the important bedtime hour. We take turns going to meetings, and this one seemed more in my domain of interest. Eventually thirty-five persons are assembled in the Eurythmy room. In a handout entitled "Finance Committee and the Forming of the Budget," the sources of revenue and the expenditures are described. Special effort is made to clarify how the anticipated addition of a ninth grade in the fall will affect the budget and tuition costs. The handout asks, "How can parents help the school's financial picture?" and suggests that parents need to inform themselves about the school's finances, pay tuition in a timely fashion, and contribute to the Annual Giving Campaign. The inevitable budgetary pie charts show that for 1995-96, tuition and fees account for 96 percent of the revenue, and that of the expenses, 51 percent is for faculty, 18 percent for tuition waiver and assistance, and 20 percent for general and administrative purposes.

Siegfried Finser opens the meeting with a story. He is a veteran Waldorf teacher with much experience in school start-ups and financing, but also with much experience in the corporate world. Suppose, Siegfried proposes, we go into a furniture store to buy a sofa. We take our time examining the selection, and as we perhaps sit down on a sofa to test it, a salesman says, "Comfortable, isn't it?" This is the start of a process of selling and buying. You, the buyer, probably have some idea of what you want to spend. Because you want the sofa, you bargain with the salesman and eventually agree to a figure.

Siegfried's story then takes an unexpected turn. After you have paid and are leaving, the salesman runs after you and exclaims, "I was impressed with you and our transaction. May I borrow two thousand dollars from you for a project which is likely to yield large profits in a short time?" Siegfried notes that most of us would be surprised and probably put off by such a request. It would seem inappropriate and would probably be dismissed at once. However, someone might be willing to listen, and this would probably lead to asking the salesman personal questions concerning his education, training, competence to pursue the project in question, his place of residence, marital status, and so on.

Siegfried does not make explicit the moral of his story. To me he is suggesting the different ways that we can relate to money. In purchasing something, we have a right to purchase only what we truly desire. It would be a paradox in North American culture if we went into a furniture store and were told that we must purchase a particular sofa. Purchasing something should be a voluntary act, both with regard to choice of object and to price. A different relationship, however, is involved in borrowing or lending money. In this case, we, if we are the lender, or the bank - which is more likely the case - have a right to check out the borrower to safeguard our loan. We will want evidence the person is capable of paying back the loan, and we will want the loan backed up by collateral.

Having presented his story, Siegfried raises the question, "What type of money transaction is paying Waldorf tuition?"

My mind scans the possibilities. "Am I purchasing something?" I ask myself, and respond, "Well, yes, to some extent."  And I ask myself further, "Am I giving a loan?" "No," I answer right away, because my tuition is a payment for something, and I expect to get that "something" in return, rather than money back with interest.

At last, Siegfried reveals the point of his story. Waldorf tuition, he asserts, is a gift. It is a gift that we give to the school to support the teachers to whom we entrust our children. "Waldorf schools," Siegfried exclaims, "are buoyed up by gifts."

Initially, I am carried away by the graciousness of the idea of gift-giving and by the warmth and conviction of Siegfried's manner. But very quickly I begin to feel uncomfortable. "Wait a minute," I say to myself. "It is true I have entrusted my children to Waldorf teachers, but the tuition is not a gift. I do give gifts to the school, in the form of monetary gifts to the Annual Fund Drive, in the form of pro bono professional hours spent training mediation teams for the school; being a member of the Parent Council, and in other ways. These are gifts because there are no strings attached. To me, the primary feature of a gift is that it is given as free as possible of any expectation of return. Given what we are as humans - self-oriented beings driven by a host of conscious and unconscious needs - we probably seldom give a gift in this ideal sense. Pure altruistic giving is no more likely than pure altruism. Nevertheless, I feel the highest gift I can give is one free of any expectation of return."

If we see our tuition as an investment, and we see ourselves as active, rather than passive, investors ... then we take on the responsibility to ensure that our investment yields the results we seek.

As I run these ideas through my mind it becomes clear that the tuition I pay is an investment. However, I make this investment not in the hardnosed, self-protective way that I might purchase stocks or bonds or property. My Waldorf tuition is an investment made in goodwill, with a lot of trust, and with a certain spirit of giving. (read more)

At this point I share my thoughts with the group, pointing out that I see the tuition I pay as an investment and not as a gift. The investment, I point out, is in the future of my children and, by extension, in the future of the world. As an investor, I am concerned with how my money is used to achieve certain purposes I have in mind. Whereas one can give a gift with no other motive than to express love and caring, in making an investment one always has an explicit objective.

The discussion then turns to the topic of the projected ninth grade, which dominates the rest of the meeting. Except for two speakers who support the idea of tuition as investment, no one discusses further the distinction between gift and investment.
I feel compelled to write on this distinction, however, because it raises some of the most fundamental questions regarding the governance of Waldorf schools and the role of parents in the decision-making process.

To whom is Waldorf faculty responsible? Are they responsible to the parents who provide, in the case of the Lexington Waldorf School, 96 percent of the revenues? And what does it mean to be "re­sponsible?"

Parents sign a contract with the school each year. In the current year at the Lexington Waldorf School each parent is even assigned a "Customer Number." The contract consists entirely of an itemization of the tuition and fees, with totals and with payment terms. In legal terms, it is a poor contract at best in that it does not spell out the conditions that both parties are to meet or the safeguards both parties have against default. So although the word "contract" is used, it appears to be a euphemism for "bill" or "bill of sale." It states simply what I, the parent ­"customer," owe the school and states nothing about what the school is giving in return.

We are entering murky and difficult waters here. Historically, teaching contracts have differed from commercial or fiduciary contracts. At the college level, where I have taught for over thirty years, a teaching contract spells out the number of teaching hours and of weekly office hours, the minimum number of student advisees, as well as committee assignments and other special services to the institution. It specifies the length of the contract and the conditions for renewal and for abrogation. It may even explicitly note the type and extent of scholarly contributions expected. The contract also states that the institution in return agrees to reimburse the teacher a per annum amount in specified installments. Usually accompanying the contract is a faculty handbook that spells out in more detail all of these condi­tions, plus what behaviors on the part of the teacher would release the institution from its contractual obligations.

The danger - the downside - of thinking of Waldorf teaching as a gift is that it implies an unrealistic and, in my judgment, an undesirable carte blanche given to Waldorf teachers. "Here," it may imply, "you take my child and do what, in your Anthroposophical wisdom, you think is best for him. I give you this salary with no expectations and with total trust."
Certainly there needs to be trust, for trust is at the very heart of any voluntary organization, particularly one to which we entrust our precious children. But the fact is that our tuition is an investment of a most complex kind. For me, I am investing first of all in a philosophy and practice of education that embraces the whole child - his body, heart, and soul, as well as his mind. Second, I am investing in maintaining and strengthening a community of parents, teachers, and staff - a community dedicated to a vision of human life and of the world that I can personally support. Third, I am investing in a special type of education that provides a corrective to the reductionism, the escapism, the "virtual" reality that progressively pervades North American society and the industrialized East and West. Fourth, I am investing not only in my children's future, but in the future of generations yet unborn who will have an opportunity to attend the Lexington Waldorf School. And fifth, I am investing in maintaining a physical school, a building with desks, chairs, books, and supplies, and a physical school that is attractive and functional and is an expression of Anthroposophy.

If we see our tuition as an investment, and we see ourselves as active, rather than passive, investors - which some Waldorf parents may choose to be - then we take on the responsibility to ensure that our investment yields the results we seek. This means that we, as parents, need to be as clear as possible about what we seek for our children. We need to understand the Anthroposophical worldview that undergirds Waldorf Education. We need to understand our own motives, our own inner needs that are being met through our children. We need to become involved in the life of the school in whatever way we can, to tune into its pulse, to respond to the ebb and flow of energy. It is no coincidence that many Waldorf teachers begin as parents of Waldorf children and through their children come to appreciate the important way of being that Waldorf Education offers.

By the time the meeting at the school ends, the wind and rain have ceased. A calm, slightly foggy New England night makes one look forward to the warmth of hearth and of quiet time for thought. Driving home, I realize that the tuition I pay is somewhere between an investment and a gift. It is at a balancing point on the continuum between my right to expect accountability from the faculty and to have my expectations met, and their right to be trusted to make sound decisions in all of the domains affecting my child's developing mind, heart, and soul. It is perhaps our greatest responsibility as Waldorf parents to find where we stand on that con­tinuum and then to act energetically and in good faith to have our expectations met.

Waldorf Tuition: Gift or Investment or Something In Between?       Written by George Eastman

Published in Renewal, A Journal for Waldorf Education, Volume 5, #1 (Fall/Winter 1996).

George Eastman has had a varied career as college teacher and administrator. as clinical psychologist, and as an organizational consultant, primarily to the nonprofit sector. He holds an EdD from Harvard University and a PhD in Clinical Psychology from New York University. He was one of the founders of The Independent School of Buffalo and is active on the Board of Trustees and the Parent Council of the Waldorf School of Lexington, Massachusetts He is in private practice in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and teaches at Berkley College of Music, Boston.



Funding for Australian Steiner Schools: Benefits, Challenges and Lessons of Government Support

 In this essay by the Head of the Steiner Education Assn. in Australia, Tracey Puckeridge discusses the funding structure of Australian Steiner schools and offers an assessment of the benefits, drawbacks and practical realities of the current government funding for Steiner Schools.

 Government funding for Steiner and other independent schools in Australia has been available through a number of avenues since 1964.  Since that time, the federal government has increasingly instigated education reforms, which are tied to funding agreements.  As a result, Australia now has 27 different funding models and a complex maze of regulatory requirements for schools.

For the time being, Steiner schools in Australia enjoy significant benefits from the national approach to educational funding. However, with a political and uncertain funding and regulatory future, they must remain creative and flexible as they face a growing set of challenges in navigating the country’s educational environment.

How the funding model is structured

In Australia there are three categories of schools: government (State or public), Catholic, and non-government (independent schools). Steiner schools fall under the non-government (independent) category. In some states there are also Steiner stream classes in State schools, which are fully funded.

Steiner and other independent schools in Australia receive funds from three main sources: the Commonwealth Government; State or Territory Government; and private income from parents (school fees), benefactors, tax-deductible donations (to building and library funds) and fundraising.

Each State and Territory has a school registration authority responsible for the registration of independent schools. They often apply different levels of scrutiny and compliance across their jurisdictions. Once registered, the school is entitled to both State and Commonwealth funding, with amounts varying according to a range of extremely complex formulae.

In 1964, the first government funding to independent schools was received through capital funding grants. From 1970, recurrent funding occurred on a per student basis. After 1973, these grants were calculated as a percentage of the cost of educating a child in a government school and linked to a four-year cycle under the Commonwealth Act. There have been many additional changes to the Act over the last 40 years, up to the latest iteration adopted in 2012.

There is currently a funding review of the latest model. Steiner Education Australia’s submission can be found at

What are the benefits of government funding?

Government funding for non-government schools provides choice and diversity of schooling in Australia. Parents can choose from a wide range of religious and philosophically based schools, or those in the public or Catholic sector.

In Australia, teachers are well paid. If independent schools in Australia did not receive government funding, most would close due to the high nature of wages -- approximately 70 to 75% of a school’s total expenditure. Independent schools are also able to access government grants for capital funding for building projects.

Another benefit of government funding is increased professionalism among teaching staff. Every teacher must have full university qualifications, be registered under their state teacher registration institute and be regularly appraised against national professional teaching standards.

The Commonwealth and State governments have also increased funding for many projects to improve literacy and numeracy, support students with disability, improve educational outcomes for indigenous students, empower school leadership, drive school improvement, etc. Many of these funds have been distributed through independent school associations.

With the introduction of an Australian curriculum in 2012, the Commonwealth government created an opportunity for a national Steiner curriculum to be recognised as an alternate curriculum framework. Steiner schools across Australia, therefore, agreed to work together to develop an Australian Steiner Curriculum Framework to ensure the integrity of Steiner’s indications and also meet curriculum outcomes as required by registration. Curriculum development is still in progress and many benefits have already been identified. (For more, visit )

What are the drawbacks?

Recently, managerial bureaucrats and policy makers in Australia have strongly influenced the educational agenda, emphasizing financial accountability and the goal of producing a multi-skilled and flexible workforce able to “compete in the global economy on knowledge and innovation” (Melbourne Declaration on Educational Goals for Young Australians, 2008). However, they have largely ignored international educational research and academic recommendations for policy reform in order to pursue their political/economic/business agenda.

The Commonwealth Government has implemented reforms to increase transparency in a push for public accountability such as the National Assessment Plan of compulsory standardised testing to measure student outcomes and school performance as part of the funding agreement.

Steiner school parents have the option to withdraw their child from these standardised tests but the school is obligated to offer them in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 with more tests on the way and the introduction of online testing in the next few years. The publication of standardised testing as a key measure of school performance on the national MySchool website has evoked much debate from stakeholders both for and against the publication of the data, which has resulted in the comparison of schools and published league tables.

What does this mean for Australian Steiner Schools?

Steiner schools are operating in a highly competitive educational environment. Many non-Steiner schools, for example, characterize their education in similar language as the Steiner schools; holistic, creative, imaginative, excellent music, art and outdoor education programs, balancing head, heart and hands, etc.  Steiner schools must clearly articulate what they stand for, what they promise and then hold up to expectations and constant scrutiny.

Administrative costs have increased to manage the barrage of reforms and to up-skill staff in order to meet increased accountability requirements and new legislation. Many schools have reviewed the role of the College of Teachers and have made changes according to their local needs and context as to how they manage workloads and expectations, while still retaining the core of pedagogical discussion and practice.

A new focus on school governance may also see directors of school boards having to complete accredited courses, so they fully understand their responsibilities. While this would be beneficial, small schools, or schools in regional areas that already find it difficult to find directors for school boards may see this as an added burden.

In Summary

The current government funding model is complex.  Formula for determining funding allocations is inconsistent, and difficult to analyze and understand. As a result, many schools are in a state of uncertainty as to how they can financially manage and plan long term in an increasingly competitive environment with higher accountability.

Tracey Puckeridge

Chief Executive Officer

Steiner Education Australia

Funding for Australian Steiner Schools: Benefits, Challenges and Lessons of Government Support


The Free Education Group at Michael Hall School in England : 1977-80

It was the late 1970’s and a number of us with children at Michael Hall, a well- established Waldorf school in Forest Row, Sussex, had an intense interest in Steiner’s social and economic ideas. We wanted to get away from the fee for service model of set tuitions and began talking to the faculty and council of the school about alternatives, tuition as a percentage of income or different levels of tuition. However, the Bursar, the English equivalent of the Business Manager, was set against any form of financial experimentation. He was even opposed to sending one tuition bill to the seven families who were interested in alternatives. So we began meeting once a month and decided to simply total up our tuition amounts and then to see what each of us could pay. This led us to talk, and to share our financial and life circumstances. One summer the farmer’s wheat crop failed due to hail, another spring a new roof was needed by another family, and a third needed to help an ailing parent. And yet for the first three terms we managed to have a surplus. This happened because when you listened to others you looked at your own priorities and expenditures with new eyes and decided to give more. Was the second car really needed or could we share with another family, what else could we cut or how could we increase income? As each family went through such questions we contributed more than enough money, indeed our surpluses funded a teacher vacation fund for the faculty for two years running. As we learned to pool our resources we also began a simple import business and began exploring other income creating ventures. Eventually we built the group to 30 families, in part through the school sending us their scholarship families. While we attempted to make sure the families were motivated by the same ideals in this we were often not successful and the group eventually stopped its work when we accepted too many families who both needed financial support and did not share our underlying values. Some of lessons learned : 1)     Every way of working with tuitions in unconventional ways takes more time and a deeper connection between people. 2)     Success is dependent on members of a group sharing the same motives and values and not working primarily out of self- interest. 3)     A deeper connection between people, sharing biographies and life circumstances, including finances, enhances generosity and initiative. 4)     Generosity can be contagious. Four faculty members in the school who shared our interests started a shared income community, using one checking account and pooling their resources. 5)     Tuition support groups of the type described can be worked with within a school having a traditional tuition model as long as the school can count on a set amount of income per child. Indeed there is no reason a school cannot work with a variety of tuition approaches at the same time. 6)     Involve the parents in the issue of how to develop alternatives to a set tuition model, indeed it is their task to assure the financial sustainability of the school.

The Free Education Group at Michael Hall School in England : 1977-80         By Christopher Schaefer

Deepening Our Work Together, K Jefferson

This booklet was written by Keith Jefferson (Themba Sadiki) while working at the Seattle Waldorf School in 1986. Keith/Themba was a class teacher, talented social development thinker, and creative influencer at the school.

Deepening Our Work Together notes by K Jefferson


Returning to a Renewed Community Life in Our Schools – Lisa Mahar

Returning to a Renewed Community Life in Our Schools: 

Four Keys to help regain Vibrance 


Lisa Mahar is a co-director of the Art of Administration summer training program of Leading with Spirit., offering  week-long administrative training  focused on the foundations of Waldorf education, explorations in school governance, school communication, meeting facilitation, roles and responsibilities, community building, leadership development, collaboration, and more.


As Longer, warmer days and the tentative emergence of buds and blossoms let us know that spring is underway and we are happily anticipating our return to community celebrations and festival life after many months of limited contact, modified events, and sustained precautions,  many school leaders are facing the reality that large portions of their student bodies and their parent bodies have yet to experience the full rhythm and richness of our Waldorf community celebrations, festivals, special events, and school traditions.  


While reintroducing a renewal of community life promises the special kind of refreshment, nourishment, and sustenance we long for, we are presented with a unique opportunity and challenge to pause and ask

How do we best renew our community activities?  

What new opportunities present themselves for a full refreshment of community life?  

How might we adopt and incorporate our ongoing and meaningful work aimed at broadening circles of inclusion and welcome?  

Which traditions still pulse with life, and which are ready to become meaningful memories of a past time?  

What new events and celebrations are peeking over the cradle’s rim ready to be taken up?


Each school community will answer these questions in its own way.  What follows are some reflections and insights from the work of Jorgen Smit on elements that make up a healthy, vibrant, balanced community life.  Schools might find these insights useful as they plan for a full return to community life.


Jorgen Smit, a long time Waldorf teacher and anthroposophist,  studied human community and observed human relationships. He developed his observations and experiences into a picture of the healthy human social organism, based on four dynamics of community life: Warmth, Initiative, Form, and Continuity.  When each of these four  dynamics is present and lively and when these dynamics are actively and consciously balanced and rebalanced, a living and vibrant sense of community carries us all. (See a brief introduction to Jorgen Smit below)


Consider these four elements and your own school community.



Community warmth creates an atmosphere of welcome, of extension toward the other, of striving for connection. Warmth is interest, curiosity. Warmth flows through and breaks down any separation between the long-time members of the community and the brand-new ones.  Warmth brings a sense of welcome, comfort, acceptance, enthusiasm.  Diversity, and its essential companion, inclusion, thrive in a community permeated by human warmth. In such a community, even challenges are welcomed because they often generate “heat” in our human connections.   Warmth is a necessary condition for growth, raying out and engaging those it touches.



Proposing, exploring, and manifesting new approaches demonstrate a commitment to our healthy future. Initiative asks questions, is willing to experiment and takes risks. Balanced with warmth, form, and continuity, it’s the fuel that moves a community forward.   Vibrant wholeness and energy characterize communities friendly to initiative. A school community that works to sense the future welcomes initiative from all quarters, including from new teachers, new staff members, and new parents, and from the students themselves.  After all, our new and our young community companions bring us the gift of fresh eyes. When balanced with warmth, form, and continuity we find initiative to be an inspiring energizer keeping us fresh and engaged.



Form is the structure of the community and its policies, procedures, protocols. Form reflects our living values, what is important to us. It holds us up and holds us together.  If we are committed to professional development for teachers, our budget should support it. If we are committed to financial accessibility for all, our tuition policies should make that possible. If we are committed to diversity and inclusion, our curriculum, staffing, enrollment, festivals, and celebrations reflect these commitments. We experience form in a framework: our values lead to principles; principles lead to policies; policies lead to practices. Form has a sturdiness and durability to it. We can count on it. Form is, of course, open to transform, yet it is, at best, the set of firm yet supple golden threads that weave our school community together.



Continuity embraces and continually refreshes what is valuable, inspiring, what works.  It lives in community rhythms, predictability, tradition, and the honoring of history. Continuity is carrying forward what is lively and true.  Continuity gives new ideas time and space to work.  Continuity is sensing and celebrating what we can rightly rely on: it was, it is, it will be. This is a gift for our children, a source of strength, trust, and security. Dynamic continuity calls us to be attentive, perceptive, and especially awake, avoiding doing a thing because “we’ve always done it”.


Warmth,  initiative, form, continuity, these four elements are guiding lights illuminating the path of community health and well-being. We can ask ourselves: Are all of these elements present in our school community? Which element are we especially good at? Does one or another need to be strengthened? How does each manifest in the life of the school?  Are these elements well-balanced with one another? Are there groups or individuals especially gifted in holding one or more of these elements?  Where do we see opportunities for further growth and development of warmth, initiative, continuity, and form?


In this new moment we are offered a unique opportunity: returning to fuller expression of a vibrant community life.  With a nod to the thoughtful work of Jorgen Smit, we look forward to making the most of the compelling possibilities that lay ahead.  Kind thoughts to all as you examine, strengthen, and renew your community relationships and deepen your school culture now and for our future.  Happy Spring!


Jorgen Smit (1916 – 1991) was a Waldorf Educator—a class teacher, trainer of teachers, international pedagogical leader, and one of the founders of the anthroposophical center in Jarna, Sweden, which now includes a teacher education seminar, a cultural center, hospital, school, biodynamic farm, dairy, and the international Youth Initiative Program (YIP). Jorgen Smit was a warm–hearted, compassionate human being, deeply interested in others.  He inspired many young people to pursue careers of service in Waldorf Education and other anthroposophically based initiatives. Stories abound of his interest in others, his humor, curiosity, and encouraging guidance.


To learn more about Leading with Spirit and our July 2022 summer course offerings in the Art of Administration, please visit Leading with Spirit or reach out to Lisa Mahar at


Finding Strength in Spirit: Growing Hope

Finding Strength in Spirit during Challenging Times

Like everyone, we at Leading with Spirit are finding these days to be challenging.  The rhythms of our lives have been disrupted, and the events unfolding around the world can easily lead us into a kind of despair. It feels at times that there is little we can do to make a difference in the systems we all would like to see changed - deeply embedded racism, economic inequity, a militarized world, and many people with great power continuing to promote negative untruthful narratives that separate people. Through this seeming darkness, it is possible to see new light - A growing light of self-reflection and personal transformation, of empathy for others, of finding small and large groups who share positive values and are working for change. Hope is needed more than ever in these times and it can only come through our own effort. We can see hope in others, and we can be hopeful in ourselves. We have to make hope. Working with our teacher training students at Sound Circle Center, and our Leading with Spirit Administrative training advisees, we are aware of the challenges people are facing, and the ways they are, day by day, meeting them with courage. This continues to be the joy and inspiration in our work. As we continue, please let us know if we can be of help in any way. 

Michael Soule

Here is an inspiration that I have found helpful in these times:


“Let your loyalty to another human being come about in this way:  there will be moments — quickly passing by — when he will seem to you filled and illumined by the true, primal image of his spirit.

Then can come, yes, will come, long stretches of time when your fellow-being seems clouded, even darkened.  But learn at these times to say to yourself:  The spirit will strengthen me; I will remember the true, unchanging image that I once saw.  Nothing at all — neither deception nor disguise — can take it away from me.

Struggle again and again for the true picture that you saw.  The struggle itself is your faithfulness.

And in those efforts to be faithful and to trust, a human being will come close to another as if with an angel’s power of protection.”

-Rudolf Steiner

When In Wilderness: Applying wilderness wisdom to navigating the current pandemic


By Karl Johnson M.A.

Our present situation with the novel coronavirus has thrust us all into new terrains - a wilderness of uncertainty. When that happens, it’s easy to feel disorientation and even trepidation - especially if one is unaccustomed to traversing such terrains. The complexity of wild environments and shifting variables, such as weather, all necessitate the need to steadfastly and bravely assess and meet new situations head-on with commitment. Being in wilderness can also evoke a feeling of excitement and curiosity. The unknown holds opportunities. A sense of adventure can arise. In life, adventures invigorate us.

Here are some guiding thoughts gleaned from many years of leading wilderness experiences. May these be helpful metaphors in navigating our current, uncertain landscapes.

  • Orient Yourself to Your New Surrounding and to Those with You

Start to pay attention to what is around you. What resources do you have? Where is your water? What is your orientation to the earth and sky? Who is with you? Being observant, alert, and identifying your essential resources that will help you survive physically, mentally, and spiritually. How do we take stock of what useful resources we have with us right now and what is close at hand?.  Have we been practicing for contingencies? Do we have a resource of people in our community we can count on?  Is there a way to accentuate strengths right now? Are there new opportunities that we see around us in this new landscape? Remember the essentials. Find the “waters” that will sustain you and protect the source. Make sure you keep practicing as a meditant to keep those “waters” flowing.  Trust in life and the guidance of the spiritual world.

  • Establish your Camp: 

Create a safe shelter. Protect oneself from the elements. Be prepared for sudden changes in the weather. Choose your site carefully. A home base is the foundation of safety in your journey. It allows you protection, support, and security. By having a secure base, one can venture forth, but also retreat. There may be dramatic shifts in the “weather,” but you can take shelter in what you have created as a “ base camp.”  Safety and security are foundational. Ground yourself nightly in the security of what is your well-made and well-maintained shelter. This can be your actual home, but also the safety and security of one’s nightly practice, which we build up every evening. “Building one’s hut” gives one the opportunity to begin to practice gratitude. Gratitude is the attitude that will change everything.

  • Quiet your Mind:

Stay calm. Mindfulness, on the trail and at home, is key to being resilient, flexible, and centered. Remember you are the “decisive element” in this moment in the wilderness. Practice mindfulness and steadfast courage. As the saying goes, “Worry never lessens tomorrow’s problem, but rather robs today of its strength.” Focus on the positive. Take deep breaths. Cultivate a still mind even amid the thunderstorms of the wilderness.

  • Listen to All that is Around You:

Listen intently. Attune to what is being intoned in the wilderness around you. Notice the wind. Listen to the “voices” around you. The capacity to listen in many different ways – to yourself, to your body, to others around you, and to the world at large is key to helping you stay focused. This includes all who are near and dear to you. And especially the “quiet “voices that we only hear if we ourselves are quiet. There may be other voices clamoring for our attention. We should learn how to listen carefully to dissenting voices. But learn also how to separate what is “essential from what is not essential.” Seek to hear the quiet voice of inner guidance.

  • Be Aware of the Sun:

When and where is the sun rising? When and where is it setting? What is its arc during the day? Can you orient to the sun and find the right daily rhythms?  The path of the sun through our days and regular daily rhythms are essential in new (and even in familiar) environments. In rhythm is strength. Be aware of the “Sun” - the big picture of guiding forces in our lives. Remember there are larger patterns in motion. Through these larger motions, seek to find your rhythms and steadfastly maintain them. Rhythm replaces strength - and rhythm awakens life. We also benefit greatly when we remember that “wisdom lives in the light.” Focus on the light.

  • Tend Your Fires:

At the end of every day, the night will come. Have you gathered your woodpile? Have you kept your tinder dry? Warmth is an essential of survival – whether in the wilderness or in your daily life. Especially when the new technology provides no supportive physical warmth – like a fire that won't stay lit or burns too small. When the light fades, we can tend our fire. Through the darkness, can we remember our core passions? What actually inspires and motivates us? How do we attend to those motivations when darkness encroaches? Remember, we need some preparation beforehand. Gather and sort the resources of your “woodpile.” Lay your fire well. Start small and feed it carefully.  If we are not careful our “fire” can easily become wild. A well-laid and well-tended fire will burn steadily and then, at evening's end, we can enjoy the abiding, glowing embers of our efforts.

  • Notice the Stars:

When the fire dies away, gaze upward. The stars, which have always been there, will now be revealed. Take time to marvel and ponder. A sense of wonder and awe are not just gifts but significant aspects of any journey. The stars are always above us at night, but do we take the time to notice? What secrets are arrayed before us in their nightly sweep?

What are the patterns which have “constellated” for us in this lifetime? Can we truly “re-member?” In other words, can we integrate all those parts of ourselves - even from pre-earthly existence - and remember what we said we would do in this lifetime? In so many ways, life is about remembering what we said we would do - before this incarnation - and doing it. The stars can help us “re-member”...


Karl Johnson, presently the Pedagogical Chair for the Santa Fe Waldorf School, is approaching his 35th year as a Waldorf Educator. He has also been an Outdoor Educator for the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) and founded the Santa Fe Waldorf  High School Wilderness Experience Program.  If you are planning real wilderness journeys for yourself or for your school or if you need help navigating the strange, new world we are experiencing, feel free to contact Karl for some advice. A guide is always helpful. An experienced mentor, consultant, and trainer, Karl Johnson has mentored and trained teachers at dozens of schools in the U.S. and internationally. He still goes out to rejuvenate himself in the wilderness at every opportunity.

kjohnsoneducator@     website:


Working Together Digitally and Staying Whole

Working Together Digitally and Staying Whole

by Michael Soule


Almost overnight, there has been a significant shift towards the use of screen technology as a primary means of communication. While this technology is not new, social distancing has brought us into a new level of dependency on it. As a consequence, many people are experiencing increased stress and a lack of vitality, phenomena described recently in articles in the National Geographic and the New York Times.


We already know about some of the negative effects of extensive screen time:  exposure to EMFs and screen light; the lack of physical movement; and an overstimulation of the eyes.  All of these are particularly harmful when not balanced with in-person human interactions, time in nature, full-body movement, and play.

Here are some thoughts about how to counteract these effects and stay healthy both in this challenging time and beyond.

Be grateful every day for the opportunity to connect online. Appreciate everything and everyone who has helped make our computers, the internet, and video conferencing possible and be grateful for the technologies themselves.  They are truly amazing tools. When we are grateful for something, our relationship to it changes for the better.

Appreciate Real Human Connection.  Do not think for a moment that web calls can replace real-time face-to-face in-person meetings. They are only a substitute for those situations where it is not safe or spatially possible to meet in person. The power of human connection cannot be replaced by a virtual meeting. Even now we can find ways to connect with people in face-to-face conversations from a safe distance. Do not underestimate the power of a single in-person conversation to bring joy into your day.

Have the Right Expectations.  Do not expect virtual meetings to provide you with the warmth and the range of experience that in-person meetings offer. At the same time, treat an on-line meeting with the same respect you would an in-person meeting. Many people are finding it helpful to prepare for an online meeting by imagining the others who will be on the call and thinking about them ahead of time. Even when we are meeting face to face, this is a helpful practice.

Create a Comfortable Space. The space you create for the meeting is important whether you are all together in the same place or in a virtual setting. Be comfortable. Be aware of what is behind you that others can see. Dress appropriately. Limit background noise. Try not using background pictures of a different setting, as this can be distracting to you and the others and it adds nothing to the meeting. It just brings in another illusory element to the event. It is helpful to have something beautiful to glance at when you need to turn your eyes away from the screen. It is much like driving – it is good and less stressful to keep your eyes moving, not just peeled on the road ahead. Sit where you can occasionally glance out the window or glance at something beautiful.

Be Conscious of Your State of Mind.  Take a minute or more before the meeting to check in on your mood and your frame of mind. Your thoughts and feelings are real and have an effect on you, on the space around you, and on other participants. Bringing your most positive self to the meeting may have a significant effect on what can happen in the meeting. Simple rituals can also help you feel more present. Consider lighting a candle or holding a stone in your hand. Consider turning off the video for parts of the meeting/conversation. Just listening, without added visual distraction can be less stressful.

Go Slowly, Breathe, and Look for Balance. The added stress of web conferencing requires more rest time for both your mind and your body. Find a few moments each day to be quiet, especially between meetings. The mind and the computer can move at a pace that the body cannot. Virtual meetings are better when breaks occur regularly that allow everyone to breathe out and recenter. You will find your own rhythm for this. Many people use games, breaking into small groups, or other activities to break up longer sessions. Make sure that the mission of the group is touched upon regularly. Make sure that everyone touches in (when groups are not too big). Begin and end the meeting with an inspirational quote or poem.

Recognize the difference between the picture and the person. It helps to remember that the other person is not what you see on the screen. The screen offers only a facsimile. The real person is vastly more dynamic, complex, whole, and wonderful than any screen image can convey. In many ways, the picture you have in your imagination, with all of its connections of memories, stories, feelings, etc. is a much more living picture of the person than what you see on a screen. Bringing an image of the other into your mind can help the screen connection be more living. When meeting with new people, take a few minutes to introduce each other, to share something personal so that the screen image is more alive. It helps to think of the person(s) before the meeting to bring more life to the online interaction. The interest you take in others, whether in person or virtual, can make a significant difference in the quality of your connection and your time together.

Take an Active Interest, Stay Open-minded to Others. Keeping an open heart and mind to colleagues, friends and new acquaintances can make a significant difference in the quality of interactions with them. There are many practices to help maintain an open attitude with others.  Try to see them in a positive light. Be grateful for how they are part of your life. Loving interest is a living force that can overcome all manner of interpersonal hindrances.

Separateness and Wholeness. In an online meeting, the digital nature of the medium cannot capture the wholeness of the meeting or the group. The participating human beings give the meeting a sense of wholeness, purpose, and camaraderie. To be really enlivening a meeting needs to provide a sense of individuality and wholeness.

We always live life on two levels at the same time.  We experience our life as a world of separate things, people, and places. At the same time, we also experience life and the world as a unified whole,  interpenetrated, interwoven, and full of unexplained wonder.

It is the combination of these two levels that allow us to create wholeness out of separateness.

One image that can help is to remember that the physical distance that separates people also connects them. We stand on the same earth. We breathe the same air. We are warmed by the same sun, see the same moon in its phases, and wonder at the same stars. The mountains, the valleys, the rivers, and the seas are all connected. Through them, we are and can feel connected and in touch no matter where we are.

All of these suggestions have a common foundation – the practice of interest, respect, and care for the self and others. One possible result of this global pandemic will be a much greater understanding and consciousness of the ways we are and can be connected, heart to heart, even over long distances.

Michael Soule

Whidbey Island

May 2020

All Resources

Deepening Our Work Together, K Jefferson2023/01/122023-01-12 15:20:13
Returning to a Renewed Community Life in Our Schools – Lisa Mahar2022/05/142022-05-14 12:51:31
Finding Strength in Spirit: Growing Hope2022/03/302022-03-30 07:02:51
Summer 2020 Leadership Training Course West Coast2020/05/222020-05-22 21:53:33
Summer 2020 Leadership Training Course East Coast2020/05/222020-05-22 21:47:11
When In Wilderness: Applying wilderness wisdom to navigating the current pandemic2020/05/112020-05-11 19:51:14
Working Together Digitally and Staying Whole2020/05/112020-05-11 19:45:46
All Resources2020/01/102020-01-10 22:23:26
Love, Power and Wisdom2019/06/072019-06-07 21:20:35
The Art of Facilitation Newsletter, Intro2019/05/132019-05-13 22:06:21
Love and its Meaning in the World, A lecture by Rudolf Steiner, Dec 19122019/03/182019-03-18 23:10:42
The Threefold Social Organism and Collaborative Leadership, a lecture by Jessica Ziegler2019/02/082019-02-08 07:37:43
Between Our Demons and Our Gods: Human Encounter in the Light of Anthroposophy – Elan Leibner2019/02/082019-02-08 06:37:06
Institutions of the Spiritual Life, B. Lievegoed2018/07/052018-07-05 11:26:02
New Impulses in Waldorf School Administration, Leadership and Governance, M Soule and M Stewart2018/04/252018-04-25 23:01:33
Highlight 2, 8-25-2014 The Phases of Development in Spiritual Organizations2018/03/302018-03-30 17:10:34
Highlight #18 Leading With Spirit Administrative Training Summer 20162016/02/042016-02-04 12:59:32
Highlight 17, Enlivening Spaces2016/02/042016-02-04 12:57:02
A New Image of Waldorf School Organization – M Soule2016/01/172016-01-17 04:37:16
Where the Spirit Leads – the Evolution of Waldorf School Administration2016/01/172016-01-17 04:30:36
Management and Governance – Dianna Bell2015/07/102015-07-10 05:39:18
Good Governance Checklist from CWP2015/07/092015-07-09 23:33:36
Policy Governance Introduction by John and Miriam Carver2015/07/092015-07-09 18:02:11
Renewing Governance2015/07/092015-07-09 07:44:39
Understanding Governance by Michael Soule2015/07/092015-07-09 06:48:58
Governance Models, An Essay by Nathan Garber with Reflections by Michael Soule2015/07/092015-07-09 05:07:31
Self Administration and Governance in Waldorf Schools, Chris Schaefer2015/07/092015-07-09 04:09:42
Personal Reflections on Waldorf School Governance and Effective Practices, Lynn Kern2015/07/092015-07-09 03:33:55
Identity and Governance, An essay by Jon McAlice2015/07/092015-07-09 02:57:40
More Governance Resources2015/07/092015-07-09 01:12:34
Enlivening Spaces by Michael Soule2015/07/082015-07-08 23:42:08
Holocracy: A new model for collaborative organization2015/07/042015-07-04 19:31:19
School as Living Entity, ebook by Rea Gill2015/07/042015-07-04 06:35:32
Principles of a Learning Organization, Five Disciplines, Senge2015/07/042015-07-04 06:31:57
Basic Principles of a Living Organization, by Rea Gill2015/07/042015-07-04 06:21:15
Leading with Spirit Summer Leadership Workshops 20172015/06/022015-06-02 03:49:55
Chaos in Life: Cleaning and Caring by Linda Thomas2015/05/202015-05-20 05:19:45
Redefining Accountability and Transparency: LeadTogether Highlight #15 3-15-152015/04/192015-04-19 20:05:20
Exploring Accountability: An Introduction2015/03/262015-03-26 03:28:14
Accountability, the Individual and Integrity2015/03/242015-03-24 22:08:42
Six Principles for Building Accountability and Agreements in an Organization, Michael Soule2015/03/242015-03-24 22:08:00
Managing Horizontal Accountability, Ray and Elder, IPC2015/03/242015-03-24 22:07:14
Organizational Accountability: One World Trust and GAP2015/03/242015-03-24 21:57:43
Faithfulness by Rudolf Steiner2015/03/182015-03-18 01:21:22
Performance Management2015/03/152015-03-15 03:53:45
The Art of Handling Complaints: LeadTogether Highlight #14 1-20-152015/01/202015-01-20 05:37:27
The Art of Being A Mentor by M Soule2015/01/202015-01-20 05:11:03
Mentoring: From Observation to Conversation by Holly Koteen Soule from NW Mentorship Seminar2015/01/202015-01-20 05:10:47
Five Strategies for Mentors, from Working Wisdom by Robert Aubrey2015/01/202015-01-20 05:09:57
Goethean Observation: Two Articles by Craig Holdrege2015/01/202015-01-20 05:08:57
More Mentoring Resources 22015/01/202015-01-20 05:07:13
“Light in the Soul“ from More Precious Than Light by Margreet Van Den Brink2015/01/172015-01-17 19:13:20
Mentoring and Coaching: 25 differences2015/01/162015-01-16 05:15:15
Complaints: LeadTogether Highlight #14, 1-13-152015/01/132015-01-13 06:23:31
Complaint Assessment Checklist from One World Trust2015/01/132015-01-13 06:21:03
The Art of Fruitful Conversation, Griset and Raymond, WECAN2015/01/112015-01-11 07:28:49
Mentor in Greek Mythology2014/12/092014-12-09 05:41:50
Mentoring: Key Aspects for a Successful School Mentoring Program2014/12/092014-12-09 05:30:38
Mentoring an Untrained Teacher2014/12/092014-12-09 05:20:13
Mentoring in Waldorf Early Childhood Education, WECAN2014/12/012014-12-01 16:38:34
Working Together: An Introduction to Pedagogical Mentoring2014/12/012014-12-01 16:03:49
Alignment: LeadTogether Highlight #12 11-24-142014/12/012014-12-01 06:29:39
Positivity: LeadTogether Highlight #13 12-1-142014/12/012014-12-01 06:22:33
Appreciative Inquiry, an introduction2014/12/012014-12-01 06:10:04
The Six Basic Exercises for Esoteric Development by Rudolf Steiner2014/12/012014-12-01 06:06:10
Transitions Handbook for New Teachers, short form, Teacher Education Network, AWSNA2014/11/302014-11-30 00:14:54
Transitions Handbook for New Teachers, Teacher Education Network, AWSNA2014/11/302014-11-30 00:04:47
Mentor Qualifications and Scheduling, AWSNA Effective Practices2014/11/292014-11-29 23:54:58
Evaluations and Mentoring, ASWNA Effective Practices2014/11/292014-11-29 23:09:39
The Mentoring Program, AWSNA Effective Practices2014/11/292014-11-29 22:48:37
School Mentoring Program Assessment Form, Sound Circle Mentoring Seminar 20082014/11/292014-11-29 22:31:25
Mentoring a New Teacher from Transitions Handbook, Teacher Education Network, AWSNA2014/11/292014-11-29 22:27:34
Mentoring and Evaluating Terms: Definitions and Clarifications, D Gerwin, M Soule AWSNA2014/11/292014-11-29 22:22:20
Mentoring: Oversight and Review of the Mentoring Program, AWSNA Effective Practices2014/11/292014-11-29 22:19:20
Alignment and Orientation: LeadTogether Highlight #12 11-24-142014/11/242014-11-24 21:06:35
More Mentoring Resources2014/11/112014-11-11 21:43:28
Waldorf in China by Ian Johnson, The New Yorker2014/11/062014-11-06 13:48:56
A Note from China – LeadTogether Highlight #11, 11/5/142014/11/062014-11-06 12:15:18
Forming a Spiritual Organ in a School: LeadTogether Highlight #10, 10-27-142014/10/262014-10-26 15:41:28
The Virtue of Each One: LeadTogether Highlight #9 10-20-142014/10/202014-10-20 04:22:52
Supporting Conscious Development: LeadTogether Highlight #8 10-13-142014/10/132014-10-13 06:11:19
AUTONOMY, ACCOUNTABILTY AND INTENTION: Publicly Funded Charter Schools Using Waldorf Curriculum and Methods by: George Hoffecker2014/10/132014-10-13 02:12:28
Engaged Community: A new book by Jon McAlice2014/10/092014-10-09 04:26:47
Leadership and Self Administration: LeadTogether Highlight #7 10-6-142014/10/062014-10-06 02:27:38
Leadership and Self Administration: Michael Harslem2014/10/062014-10-06 02:18:23
Resource List2014/09/272014-09-27 13:26:25
The Call of Michaelmas – LeadTogether #6, 9-21-142014/09/222014-09-22 04:59:06
Healthy Communications in a Young School2014/09/202014-09-20 03:54:15
Healthy Conversation, Communication and Agreements2014/09/192014-09-19 17:50:48
Group Moral Artistry, The Art of Goethean Conversation2014/09/192014-09-19 17:42:41
Communication by Connie Starzinski, from The Art of Administration, AWSNA2014/09/182014-09-18 23:36:58
Feedback that Works2014/09/182014-09-18 17:45:40
Meeting Each Other: The Human Encounter, a lecture by Heinz Zimmerman2014/09/172014-09-17 03:12:47
Speaking, Listening and Understanding by Heinz Zimmerman2014/09/172014-09-17 02:56:40
Non-Violent Communication: An Instruction Guide2014/09/162014-09-16 13:35:06
A Sample Community Covenant2014/09/162014-09-16 13:27:45
Personal Readiness for Collaboration2014/09/162014-09-16 13:20:43
The Art of the Apology2014/09/162014-09-16 04:58:32
Feedback that Works2014/09/162014-09-16 04:56:09
Healthy Conversation, Communication and Agreements: More Resources2014/09/152014-09-15 03:57:14
Remembering Marjorie Spock: LeadTogether Highlight #5, 9-15-142014/09/142014-09-14 17:09:09
Marjorie Spock: Eurythmy, Biodynamics, Waldorf Education, Anthroposophy2014/09/142014-09-14 16:39:46
New Meeting Forms: LeadTogether Highlight #3 9-1-20142014/09/012014-09-01 03:05:59
New Meeting Forms: Open Space and World Cafe2014/09/012014-09-01 03:04:06
Building Regenerative Communities: Strength in Collaboration2014/08/292014-08-29 01:30:16
How Spiritual Organizations Develop – LeadTogether Highlight #4 9-8-142014/08/242014-08-24 22:51:16
LeadTogether Highlight #2 8-25-14, Core Principles of Waldorf Education2014/08/242014-08-24 22:20:14
Core Principles of Waldorf Education from the PSC, 20142014/08/242014-08-24 22:15:07
Highlights: an Introduction Aug 18, 20142014/08/182014-08-18 04:14:12
Sustainability: Associative Economics2014/08/142014-08-14 03:44:39
The Basics of Consensus Decision-Making by Tim Hartnett, PhD2014/08/142014-08-14 03:36:45
Creating Effective Board Agendas by Judith Lindenau, JWL Associates2014/08/112014-08-11 05:11:52
Meeting2014/08/112014-08-11 04:53:56
Working Together to Improve Meetings2014/08/112014-08-11 01:41:31
The Art of Planning and Preparing for Meetings2014/08/102014-08-10 10:35:03
The Art of Creating an Agenda2014/08/102014-08-10 09:20:57
Working Together2014/08/102014-08-10 08:28:27
The Artistic Meeting: Creating Space for Spirit2014/08/102014-08-10 07:21:34
More Resources for Creating Effective Meetings2014/08/102014-08-10 06:44:35
Using Consensus to Enlighten, Not Limit, Decision Making2014/06/302014-06-30 04:22:57
Making Good Decisions2014/06/302014-06-30 04:21:42
On The Use of Consensus, Committees and Mandates 2014/06/302014-06-30 04:20:31
Affirming decisions 2014/06/302014-06-30 04:19:20
More resources for Consensus Decision Making2014/06/302014-06-30 04:17:32
Leadership and Self Administration, Michael Harslem2014/06/292014-06-29 23:20:52
A SHORT GUIDE TO CONSENSUS BUILDING, the Public Disputes Program, Harvard2014/06/292014-06-29 23:10:28
Consensus – Simple Steps Handout2014/06/292014-06-29 23:08:02
Consensus Summary, Seeds of Change2014/06/292014-06-29 23:06:17
Consensus Briefing, Seeds of Change2014/06/292014-06-29 23:04:06
On Conflict and Consensus, by LT Butler and Amy Rothstein2014/06/292014-06-29 22:58:22
Training Opportunities for Waldorf School Organization and Leadership: Summer 20142014/05/162014-05-16 19:42:59
Learning in Organizations – theory and practice2014/05/152014-05-15 19:40:17
Sociocracy, a creative approach to organizational development2014/05/152014-05-15 18:41:30
Theory U: two views on the work of Otto Scharmer2014/05/152014-05-15 18:27:34
Organizations as Living Organisms by Magda Lissau2014/05/152014-05-15 17:33:52
The Living and Learning Organization – May Focus2014/05/152014-05-15 06:43:25
Basic Principles of a Living Organization2014/05/152014-05-15 06:18:34
Phases of School Development2014/05/152014-05-15 06:10:58
School as a living Entity : Emerging Hypothesis2014/05/152014-05-15 06:08:10
Organizational Integrity2014/05/152014-05-15 06:06:11
Other Resources on Living Organizations2014/05/152014-05-15 06:04:38
Seven Keys to Sustainability, full version2014/04/172014-04-17 06:10:18
Sustainability2014/04/082014-04-08 02:43:55
Seven Keys to Sustainability2014/04/082014-04-08 02:42:59
Sustainability Resources2014/04/072014-04-07 23:29:17
Intimations of a New Economic Story, John Bloom2014/04/072014-04-07 21:21:36
Creative Approaches to Tuition: The Free Education Group at Michael Hall in England, 1977-802014/04/072014-04-07 20:20:16
Sustainability: History of Funding for Waldorf Schools2014/04/072014-04-07 20:17:09
Waldorf Tuition: Gift or Investment or Something In Between?2014/04/072014-04-07 19:43:17
Funding for Australian Steiner Schools: Benefits, Challenges and Lessons of Government Support2014/04/072014-04-07 19:40:47
The Free Education Group at Michael Hall School in England : 1977-802014/04/072014-04-07 19:38:11
Centre for Associative Economics, UK2014/04/072014-04-07 19:13:14
Sustainability: Enrollment and Fundraising2014/04/072014-04-07 05:01:34
Fundraising 101, AWSNA2014/04/072014-04-07 05:00:41
Independent Schools and School Choice 2009, Gary Lamb, AWSNA2014/04/072014-04-07 04:44:02
Sustainability: School Finances and School Choice2014/04/072014-04-07 04:42:20
Sustainability: Rethinking Tuition2014/04/072014-04-07 04:14:15
The Genius of Money, a book by John Bloom2014/04/072014-04-07 03:40:05
Creative Approaches to Tuition: Accessible to All Tuition, a review by Beth Henderson2014/04/042014-04-04 22:30:11
Sustainability: Government Funding2014/04/042014-04-04 20:09:20
How to Run a Waldorf School: Notes from a Conference in UK2014/04/012014-04-01 02:29:53
Creative Approaches to Tuition: Accessible to All Tuition Model2014/03/312014-03-31 19:58:47
Funding Education: A review of Freeing the Circling Stars by Christopher Houghton Budd (review by Arthur Edwards)2014/03/312014-03-31 19:21:52
Creative Approach to Tuition: Three Tiered Model at Brooklyn Waldorf School2014/03/312014-03-31 18:40:39
Associative Economics by Gary Lamb, AWSNA2014/03/312014-03-31 18:32:07
Underlying Themes in the Economics of Waldorf Schools, Werner Glas2014/03/292014-03-29 02:41:27
Parent Associations, Effective Practices, AWSNA2014/02/052014-02-05 09:25:27
Welcome Orientation2014/02/042014-02-04 17:57:52
Communications Flow for Increasing Enrollment, from NAIS Independent Educator2014/02/032014-02-03 23:56:04
Preparing for Crisis Communications, from NAIS2014/02/032014-02-03 23:31:32
9 Steps to Stronger Board Performance, from Associations NOW2014/02/032014-02-03 23:14:19
Global Trends Affecting the Capacity for Organizations (including Waldorf schools) to practice collaboration2014/01/272014-01-27 23:02:20
A Guide to Full Enrollment, Siegfried Finser2014/01/262014-01-26 04:41:17
Forming School Communities, The Renewal of the Social Organism, M Karutz, AWSNA2014/01/252014-01-25 22:22:17
Empowerment in Organizations: The Theory and Practice of a Mandate System, C Pieterse2014/01/242014-01-24 18:06:41
The Mandate System, C Pieterse from Administrative Explorations, AWSNA2014/01/242014-01-24 18:02:49
Starting a School, A Summary of Suggestions from AWSNA2014/01/242014-01-24 17:47:25
Meeting the Financial Crisis, AWSNA2014/01/232014-01-23 22:36:06
Healthy Organizational Practices, WECAN2014/01/232014-01-23 22:30:54
WECAN Resources for EC2014/01/232014-01-23 22:27:48
Governance, Effective Practices, AWSNA2014/01/232014-01-23 22:21:57
Mentoring and Professional Development, Effective Practices, AWSNA2014/01/232014-01-23 22:15:18
Pedagogy, Effective Practices, AWSNA2014/01/232014-01-23 22:12:58
Pedagogical Operations, Effective Practices, AWSNA2014/01/232014-01-23 22:11:01
School Operations, Effective Practices, AWSNA2014/01/232014-01-23 22:07:11
Community Life, Effective Practices, AWSNA2014/01/232014-01-23 22:05:29
Finances, Effective Practices, AWSNA2014/01/232014-01-23 22:03:25
Working With Parents, Effective Practices, AWSNA2014/01/232014-01-23 22:01:12
Report Writing and Documentation, Effective Practices, AWSNA2014/01/232014-01-23 21:59:13
Long-Range And Strategic Planning, Effective Practices, AWSNA2014/01/232014-01-23 21:07:35
Enrollment, Effective Practices, AWSNA2014/01/232014-01-23 21:04:47
Human Relations, Effective Practices, AWSNA2014/01/232014-01-23 20:59:32
Development, Effective Practices, AWSNA2014/01/232014-01-23 20:51:09
Lessons from Jazz Bands and the New Conductor-less Orchestra for Organizations Practicing Collaboration2014/01/232014-01-23 06:40:18
Excerpt from The Faculty Meeting as Heart of the School, Jorgen Smit2014/01/232014-01-23 06:37:52
Review and Comments on “Collaborative Leadership”, an article by Arnoud DeMeyer of Cambridge, UK, about the trends affecting modern day organizations and the need for collaboration.2014/01/232014-01-23 06:31:39
The Conductor less Orchestra, H Seifter2014/01/232014-01-23 06:30:27
Jazz and Collaboration, A Cho2014/01/232014-01-23 06:28:50
From Co-Creation to Association, John Bloom2014/01/232014-01-23 05:32:17
Building a Culture of Leadership, Learning and Service in a Waldorf School Community (Chris Schaefer PhD)2014/01/232014-01-23 05:18:55
Misconceptions about Waldorf Education, G Lamb from The Social Mission of Waldorf Education, AWSNA2014/01/232014-01-23 00:16:12
The Waldorf Movement as Potent Social Force, G Lamb from The Social Mission of Waldorf Education, AWSNA2014/01/232014-01-23 00:14:08
Working Together, G Lamb from The Social Mission of Waldorf Education, AWSNA2014/01/232014-01-23 00:12:01
Broad Based Funding for Waldorf Schools, G Lamb from The Social Mission of Waldorf Education, AWSNA2014/01/232014-01-23 00:01:30
Private Funding, G Lamb from The Social Mission of Waldorf Education, AWSNA2014/01/222014-01-22 23:58:57
Self Administration, G Lamb from The Social Mission of Waldorf Education, AWSNA2014/01/222014-01-22 23:56:52
Waldorf World School Assn, G Lamb from The Social Mission of Waldorf Education, AWSNA2014/01/222014-01-22 21:04:01
Founding of the First Waldorf School, G lamb from The Social Mission of Waldorf Education, AWSNA2014/01/222014-01-22 21:00:56
The Threefold Nature of Social Life, G Lamb from The Social Mission of Waldorf Education, AWSNA2014/01/222014-01-22 04:58:38
The Social MIssion of Waldorf Education, G Lamb2014/01/222014-01-22 04:25:14
Wellsprings of the Art of Education- Three Reversals, C Wiechert2014/01/222014-01-22 02:29:16
Administrative Forms and Lists, D Mitchell et al from The Art of Administration, AWSNA2014/01/222014-01-22 02:04:47
Board of Trustees, A Dancy from The Art of Administration, AWSNA2014/01/222014-01-22 00:40:53
Working Together, C Pieterse from The Art of Administration, AWSNA2014/01/222014-01-22 00:37:00
Evaluation, D Mitchell, from The Art of Administration, AWSNA2014/01/202014-01-20 23:54:47
Community Relations and Outreach, C Pietzner, from The Art of Administration, AWSNA2014/01/202014-01-20 23:51:16
Admissions and Parent Education, A Mitchell from The Art of Administration, AWSNA2014/01/202014-01-20 23:48:02
Administrative Roles, D Alsop, from The Art of Administration, AWSNA2014/01/202014-01-20 23:45:50
Committee Structure, S Van Sant, from The Art of Administration, AWSNA2014/01/202014-01-20 23:43:56
The College of Teachers, J Pewtherer from The Art of Administration, AWSNA2014/01/202014-01-20 23:34:04
The Faculty Meeting, by T Finser, from The Art of Administration, AWSNA2014/01/202014-01-20 23:22:03
The Art of Administration, D Mitchell et al, AWSNA Publications2014/01/202014-01-20 23:10:17
Work Song, part 2: A Vision2014/01/202014-01-20 21:52:59
The Basic Qualities of Collaboration2014/01/202014-01-20 21:50:53
LeadTogether: The Practice of Collaboration2014/01/202014-01-20 21:48:59
The Art of Administration: Edited by D Mitchell, AWSNA Publications2014/01/162014-01-16 20:13:24
Democracy in Education: Kevin Avison reviews an article by Phillip Woods2014/01/162014-01-16 02:37:18
AWSNA Effective Practices: Contents2014/01/142014-01-14 10:12:26
Useful Links2014/01/142014-01-14 09:58:06
The Spiritual Impulse of Waldorf Education – Jorgen Smit2014/01/102014-01-10 20:04:27
Developing a Culture of Leadership, Learning and Service in Waldorf Schools – Chris Schaefer2014/01/082014-01-08 23:14:19
Quality Considerations in Waldorf Education: An essay by Kevin Avison, SWSF UK2013/12/262013-12-26 18:56:56
Editorial Policies2013/12/012013-12-01 19:12:00
And Who Shall Teach the Teachers? A compilation by the Pedagogical Section Council published by AWSNA Publications2013/11/222013-11-22 19:13:28
From Co-creation to Association: A Social Challenge for the New Economy by John Bloom2013/11/222013-11-22 18:43:52
Waldorf Graduate Study finds Waldorf Grads tend to study and pursue careers in science2013/11/072013-11-07 16:52:16
Austrian Research Institute Recommends Waldorf schools as models for teaching science2013/11/072013-11-07 16:38:01
Vision In Action: Working with Soul and Spirit in Small Organizations: C Schaefer and T Voors2013/11/072013-11-07 03:51:48
Lead Together Interview with Elan Leibner: Working with the Spirit in a School.2013/11/062013-11-06 21:34:31
Nobel Prize Awarded to Waldorf Graduate.2013/10/082013-10-08 17:06:40

Love, Power and Wisdom

This article about the balance between power, wisdom, and love is especially relevant in this season and at this time in the world. While Steiner's terminology is fairly esoteric (he gives names to spiritual beings behind the impulses of love, power, and wisdom), the essential ideas illuminate how in this age we are given the task to find a path of love to overcome the tendency towards over-relying on either power or wisdom. We need both power and wisdom in our lives, but in their highest regard, they need to be tempered and guided by our capacity for love if we are to be in true service to the world and our fellow human beings. Enjoy.

Notes on Rudolf Steiner's Lecture - Love and It's Meaning in the World

The older we grow, the more we begin to love the wisdom revealed by life.  Love is the “moral” sun of the world. Life without love would be both dull and a danger for humanity. Without sense-born love, nothing material comes into the world; without spiritual love, nothing spiritual. Creative forces unfold through love. We owe our existence to deeds of love wrought in the past.

As well as love there are two other powers in the world: might and wisdom. To these two, the concepts of magnitude and enhancement are applicable, but not to love. The all-embracing attribute of the spirit is not omnipotence, not omniscience, but love. Spirit is supreme love, not supreme might, not supreme wisdom.  Wisdom and might unfold in the world, but love is a unique impulse developed by humanity.

In our lives, we learn to accept and to understand love only when we begin to love out of ourselves. Real love cannot be understood by wisdom alone - one must experience it by acting from it. Without a lack of love, we cannot know what love is. As we grow and develop and seek self-understanding, real love becomes possible. The light of the sun that gives brightness to our days and gives substance and sustenance to the world can begin to be reflected back through our loving deeds.

To read Steiner's lecture, go here.

The Art of Facilitation Newsletter, Intro

Leading with Spirit

Facilitating Meetings

Waldorf schools, like many modern organizations, have a culture of collaboration in which much of the work, decision making and planning happens in meetings. How these meetings are planned, prepared for, conducted and followed are essential to the ability of the coworkers to get things done, learn as they go and build strong relationships – all of which are essential to the health of the organization. Meetings may take many forms, and may be more formal and structured or more informal and fluid. Regardless of the meeting style, form or culture of the organization, the understanding and skills of the coworkers to shape and conduct meetings and the overall strength of the relationships between coworkers, there are a few fundamental principles and practices that contribute to healthy meetings.

Overall, in meetings, a few higher goals include to:

  • Create an environment for effective communication (the achievement of mutual understanding)
  • Keep discussion focused
  • Keep people engaged.
  • Advance and deepen discussions.
  • Provide an opportunity for all voices to be heard.
  • Create an environment of trust and support so disagreement and understanding can surface.
  • Leave participants challenged and willing to engage in follow-up conversations.

There are many good resources available to help one understand, plan, conduct and follow up on healthy meetings.

The Art of Planning and Preparing for Meetings is a newsletter at with the following articles:

The Art of Planning and Preparing for Meetings

The Art of Creating an Agenda

Working Together, by Chris Schaefer

The Artistic Meeting: More Space for Spirit, by Holly Koteen Soule

Other related articles: Creating Board Agendas, Planning for Meetings,

Below is a Facilitation Guide developed st Stanford that is a good summary of many aspects of meetings.





Stanford Facilitation Guide


  • Decide who should facilitate the discussion. Consider who knows the topic, can assume an "objective" role, will be accepted by the group and has group experience. Consider what you know about the topic, whether your views are known to students, and whether that makes your role as a facilitator too difficult.
  • Consider co-facilitating with another person. Whenever possible, use co-facilitators who represent different gender, racial or cultural backgrounds, especially when discussing personal or emotional issues.
  • Know yourself before you begin as a facilitator. Consider:
    • What are my personal beliefs, values and stereotypes about the issue?
    • Can I assume an objective role in the discussion?
    • What role should I assume as a facilitator?
    • How do I establish trust and openness among the group?
    • How do I show respect for the opinions of others?
    • How do I tactfully mediate conflict?
    • How do I keep discussion flowing smoothly?
    • How do I encourage the participation of everyone and avoid domination by a few?
    • How do I deal with someone showing disrespect for another?
    • What should I do when I don't know how to respond to a comment or question?
    • Will I feel comfortable facilitating a group discussion on this issue?
  • Identify the goals of the session. What are you trying to accomplish?
  • Plan the format of the discussion. Will it be a small group? a large group? a group of people who know each other well? only somewhat? not at all? Will it be formal (see the suggested discussion models attached in Appendix B) or informal?
  • Schedule tentative time blocks, so that the introduction and key points will be covered before the end of the discussion.
  • Plan the physical environment so that participants can talk to each other (not just to you) without visual or height barriers. Hint: people sitting in circles tend to talk more with each other, rather than focus on the facilitation.
  • Be prepared with some interesting/challenging questions to get discussion started and to keep moving.
  • Plan for any materials or help you will need. Will you need a writing surface such as a blackboard, or newsprint and marker pens. If it is an event where you will be writing down information, ideas, choose someone else to be the recorder. Hint: It is very hard to facilitate a discussion and be the one doing the recording.

Starting Off

  • Introduce the purpose of the discussion and ensure that the participants have the same understanding.
  • Explain the organization and structure (including the time line) of the discussion, when it will end, and whether or not there are formal follow-up plans. ("We'll speak in small groups for an hour then spend a half-hour in general discussion. We will end at 9 p.m. and anyone who wants to continue the discussion can stay in the lounge. Depending on interest we will have a follow-up discussion on Thursday night.")
  • Explain your role as facilitator - a person whose role it is to remain neutral or objective, to keep the discussion focused and energized and to create an environment for all to have a chance to participate. This does not mean that you are neutral and have no opinions, but as a facilitator you need to play an objective role.
  • Set the appropriate tone. Show your comfort with the topic so that others feel comfortable. Create a safe and open environment so that the participants will feel comfortable and share their views openly and honestly.
  • Do introductions. How you do the introductions will help set the tone for the discussion--the amount of information and the degree of self-disclosure that will occur.
  • Establish ground rules for the discussion so that the participants feel the environment is safe to speak about their ideas and feelings. Ground rules should be explicit. You need to take a little time to discuss the cultural relativity of these ground rules. Ground rules may not fit everyone because we have different cultural backgrounds. Ask the group if these rules make sense and if everyone can honor them. The following are some suggestions (add your own):
    • We ask that you speak from your own perspective; personal "I" statements are useful ways for keeping your view points personalized, and keep you from generalizing about what others think or feel
    • We ask that you respect the viewpoints of others--that you listen respectfully and attentively, and that you withhold judgment about other's views. Our goal here is not to persuade each other of our ideas, but to get ideas out on the table so people can make their own decision.
    • We ask that you maintain confidentiality about what is said in the room during this discussion--that you don't talk about what others say here to others who are not part of this discussion.
    • To show your respect for others in the room, we ask that you stay focused on the discussion and avoid side conversations. We ask that you make a conscious effort to listen actively to hear what is being said.
    • We expect that everyone here will try to make this experience a good one; that we are all responsible for how this discussion goes.
    • We ask that you be willing to voice disagreements, but we ask that if you disagree with someone's idea that you criticize the idea, not the person. With sensitive issues, people make take things personally. Please try to be sensitive to each other's needs and concerns. Try to speak up if you feel hurt in anyway. Avoid derogatory or sarcastic comments at the expense of others.
    • We ask that you don't interrupt each other.
    • All questions are good ones. We encourage you to ask questions of each other no matter how simplistic you might think they are. Chances are there are others who have the same question. The goal of the discussion is to learn and explore.
    • We ask that you limit your exchanges with one person to no more than 3 exchanges. If it goes beyond three then others need the chance to express their opinion.
    • We ask that you don't make assumptions about what others think or mean. Remember that others will not always attach the same meanings to words that you do or perceive the world the same way you do.
    • (A useful ground rule for managing hurt) We will establish an "ouch" list as we go along. We ask that you write down any statements that hurt you and post them on the wall. We will agree to discuss the "ouches" at some point in the discussion.
  • Find out if some people are leaving early or coming late and decide how you want to deal with that.

Getting the Discussion Started

  • Pose an interesting question or set of questions. Remember to come to the discussion with some prepared questions.
  • Open questions requiring more than a "yes" or "no" response (as opposed to closed questions which lead to a one word response) generate discussion and stimulate thinking. (keywords: "how", "why", "what", "what if", "tell us about")

"How do you feel about the points made in the presentation?"

"What in your experience has led you to the view that you just expressed?"

  • Group oriented questions encourage group participation and tend to stimulate everyone's thinking. (keywords: "who", "anyone")

"Would anyone be willing to share their reactions to the program?"

"Does anyone have any ideas about how we should start this discussion?"

"Does anyone have an issue or concern that they would like to raise to get us started?"

"What experiences have any of you had with this issue?"

  • Individual oriented questions encourage individual response (but may put people on the spot) and can tap known resources of a "expert" in the group:

"Tom, what do you think about the issues raised in the article?"

"Allison, how do you feel about what is happening in the dorm now, on the topic of X?"

" Eric, you have done a lot of reading in this area, how do you see the issue?"

  • Factual questions seek information. (keywords: "what", "which", "how much")

"What are some of the major pros and cons from your perspective?"

"What statements did you actually hear made during the presentation that made you upset?"

"Who on campus is best suited to talk further about this issue?"


During the Discussion

Checking Yourself

  • Remain neutral (objective and open). This does not mean that you don't have opinions, but facilitators usually do not offer their own views; they help group members share theirs. Your role is to facilitate the group's discussion. If you have valuable ideas or opinions that are essential to what is being discussed, put your facilitator role aside and ask someone else to act as facilitator while you give your input

"How do some of the rest of you feel about that?"

"That may be your experience, but others may see things differently. Do any of you have a counter example or opinion.?"

"I have an opinion I would like to share, so I am taking my facilitator hat off for a comment."

  • Stay off the soapbox. Successful facilitators listen rather than talk. Watch for danger signals:

- Talking too much

- Feeling the need to address all questions

- Talking more than your co-facilitator(s)

- Seeing the group interacting more with you rather than with each other

- Engaging in dialogue with individual members of the group

  • Avoid being put in the position of the "expert". Some may look to you to provide the answers to challenging questions or situations. Refrain from immediately providing "your answer" to the issue at hand. Turn the situation back to the questioner or ask the question of the whole group. If you are stuck or lost, admit it honestly to the group; someone is almost always likely to come to your rescue.

" How would you handle that?"

  • Stay aware of your own "hot buttons". Know where you stand on the issues, where your own prejudices/biases lie and where you are in your own personal discovery. If you feel you won't shut down discussion you could own up to them at the very beginning of the discussion and say that although you have deep feelings about the issue, you are committed to creating an environment where all feelings can be heard and respected.


  • Acknowledge contributions, validate people's ideas, and give credit where credit is due.

"Thanks for saying that Linda. No one had mentioned that before."

"Thanks for that helpful contribution. It is not easy to share such a personal experience. That was very courageous."

"Dave, I appreciate your offering a different view."

"You made a strong general statement, Mary. Is that what you think (or feel)?"

"Could you restate your point using 'I' instead of 'we' or 'you' or 'people think'?

  • Keep the focus on ideas not individuals. Some ways to do this are:

- Ask the group to brainstorm ideas - Ask the group to identify pros and cons of a position rather than having individuals explain or defend a position

- Divide the group in half, being sure each half includes representatives of different viewpoints and ask each group to develop one side of the argument

- Go around the circle asking everyone to say something about the topic and indicate in what ways he or she agree with previous speakers. Then ask a recorder to summarize the primary feelings expressed by the group

- Create small groups, each with a reporter who will bring ideas of the small group back to the whole group

- Redirect people who make personal comments about others.

  • Try to keep the discussion concrete rather than abstract. People tend to talk abstractly especially when dealing with uncomfortable topics. Suggesting that people share real experiences can be effective.

"Can you give an example of what you are talking about from your own experience?"

  • Keep the focus on the subject without restraining free expression of ideas.

"You have made an interesting point, but how would you say that relates to X (the topic under discussion)?"

"It seems that we have started another topic without finishing the first. Should we return to the issue we were discussing before going on?"

  • Get participants to "own" their comments rather than speaking in generalizations about what others think.
  • Summarize or synthesize statements as a way of keeping track and bringing focus on where the discussion is going/has gone.

"Some of the main points I have heard are..."

"What were some of the main themes here tonight?"

"Can someone give a brief distillation of the discussion that we just had?"

  • Be patient with silences. Don't jump to fill in silence. Silence can be an important time for some and may spur others to talk.
  • Know and emphasize the importance of pause time. Encourage each person to be aware of his or her own pause time before jumping in. As a facilitator don't jump in too quickly.
  • Read non-verbal cues. Are a few people dominating the discussion? Are there many interruptions? Observe who is participating and who is not? Are people looking bored? Angry? Impatient? What is the level of energy in the discussion?

"People seem a little restless, why don't we take a break."

"It looks as if people are uncomfortable with what we have just been discussing."

"The energy of this discussion seems low, should we wind this up for now?"

  • Pose disagreement constructively. If there is disagreement and the discussion is stuck, have the participants agree to disagree and move on to another subject.

"Can we explore each of the viewpoints as a group and try to understand them rather than having one or to persons defend each view."

"It's clear that there is not agreement on this issue which is perfectly fine. Can we all agree not to be in agreement on this and move on to consider another facet of this issue.."

  • Minimize attacks. Protect individuals and their ideas from attack by other members of the group.

"Let's remember our ground rule about not attacking each other."

  • Minimize disruptions such as inappropriate humor, people walking in and out, private/side conversations, etc. Confront other problem behaviors that interfere with the progress of the discussion. (See Troubleshooting below)

"It is really hard to focus on what is being said here. There are so many side conversations."

Encouraging Participation

  • Create (and recreate) a safe and trusting environment. Monitor excessive talkers (see Troubleshooting below) and prompt the quieter members. - Consider breaking up into smaller groups or pairs(dyads) or trios for mini-discussions as a way to involve the quieter people

"We hope that you will say what is on your mind. What we say here today is for the group and will not go beyond the group."

  • Set and reinforce a pattern for participants to talk to each other, not to you. Keep reminding the group that this is conversation/questioning focuses on you.
  • Notice silences. Who is talking a lot, who is not talking? Is there any pattern?

"The men in the group have been pretty quiet. We'd be interested in what you think."

"I have noticed that some of you have not said what you think. I hope you will find a way to let us hear from you at some point" (be careful of this kind of statement; it may put people on the spot)."

" I have noticed that some of you haven't said anything. Please feel free to jump in at any point."

"John, you made some good points; let's hear from someone else."

  • Acknowledge the feelings of people in the group.

"Sam, I can see how upset you are. what would you like to hear from the group?"

"I bet you are not the only one here who has that reaction. Has anyone else ever felt the same way?"

  • Ask individuals and the group how to respond to expressions of emotions.

"It seems to me that the discussion has brought up painful feelings for several people. What shall we do at this point? Would you like to talk about feelings that have been expressed? do you want to keep going? Shall we take a break?"

"This seems to be where a lot of discussions on this issue break down--how can we keep going and get past this point?"

"When I see people angry it is hard for me to listen because I am worried about people getting (emotionally/physically) hurt. Could we just take a minute here to breathe, and make sure we can talk about this respectfully"

  • Reaffirm that the group is trying to deal with emotionally difficult issues.

"People are expressing many different and deep emotions here which may feel hard and uncomfortable, but that is the reason we are all here, to try to come to grips with emotionally difficult issues."

"It's not easy to share such a deeply held beliefs"

Advancing and Deepening the Discussion

  • Invite amplification of new points. Encourage the contributors to explain the background behind their ideas/opinions. o Help "fact spouters" get more personal.

"What is your opinion, given the facts as you have said them?"

"When I here those facts, it makes me feel like.....?"

"These are interesting facts; would you like to share how you feel about them?."

  • Encourage people to take risks

- Take some risks yourself, including admitting your mistakes

- Take a risk yourself and be vulnerable by sharing a personal experience or risky feeling

  • Ask open-ended questions. (What?, How?, Why?)
  • Ask follow-up and/or probing questions (if others don't).

"Can you say a little more about that?"

"What do you mean by that?" "Can you give us an example?"

"How did you come to this view?."

"What convinced you of your opinion?"

  • Paraphrase (or getting others to paraphrase) what people say; paraphrasing can help legitimize people's views, and is especially useful in legitimizing an unpopular or risky opinion/idea.

"As I understand what you are saying, ..."

"Let me see if I understand what you are saying, ..."

  • Clarify, without interpreting.

"Can you clarify that last comment, I am not sure that I understood what you were saying."

"Can I try to clarify what I think you just said."

"Can you restate that in a different way?"

"What do you mean by that?"

  • Call attention to alternative viewpoints. Beware of "group think" Sometimes a group will discuss a topic without awareness of a different approach to the same problem.
  • Encourage feelings as well as ideas. Remember that "I feel like..." and "I feel that ..." are not statements of feelings. Feelings are expressions of emotions -- anger, frustration, joy, happiness, etc.

Troubleshooting During the Discussion

  • No one responds.

- Ask for any comments

- Suggest an answer and ask for agreement or disagreement

  • Someone who doesn't take the discussion seriously or gives silly comments.

- Find something in their answer that is close to a serious answer and in a serious tone repeat it to the group.

- Ask them if they can think of another answer

- Compliment them when they give a serious answer

"I think most people are here because they think the topic is a valuable one. Does anyone feel differently about this?"

"Please try to respect other people's feelings here; this is a serious issue."

"I know that laughter can mean that people are nervous or feeling uncomfortable. Does anyone have any special concerns?"

  • People monopolize the discussion.

- Say, "I'd like to hear what the rest of the group has to say."

- Ask another person a question just as soon as they pause.

- Ask for agreement or disagreement from others.

- Explain that you appreciate his or her comments, but it is important for everyone to have a chance to talk.

- Establish ground rules at the beginning (or mid-stream) that one of the goals is to provide everyone an opportunity to share.

  • Someone keeps changing the subject or goes on tangents.

-Say, "That is very interesting but how do you feel about .....?"

-Refocus their attention by saying "I know you are enjoying sharing your experience with each other, but there are some issues I would like to share with you now."

- Say, "In order to accomplish our goal today, we really need to move on. Perhaps we can go back to this topic later."

  • People keep interrupting.

"Could we remember just to have one person talk at a time and let people finish their statements."

"Okay. First Sarah, then Randy, then Marie."

"Jim, you have got a lot of god point, but it is important to let Renee finish, and then I know that Tom is dying to say something as well."

  • Hostile or belligerent group members

-Keep your cool. Try to incorporate negative comments in a positive way. "That's an (interesting, unique, different) way to look at this situation. I appreciate your contributing that different point of view."

-If it continues, try to meet with the person at a break and confront them on their behavior. If it is really disruptive, tell them that if they choose to stay, you would like their cooperation. o Someone puts another person down.

-Remind the group that there are no wrong answers. Everyone has the right to his/her opinion.

  • The group gets stuck (lacks sufficient information to go on) Refer to resources. Suggest the need for further information if you or someone else in the discussion does not know the answer.
  • Inappropriate humor

- Don't let inappropriate humor go by.

" I realize that you may not have intended it, but this is a pretty sensitive topic, and that kind of humor makes a lot of people very uncomfortable."

"I don't find that remark very funny personally. Were you aware that some people might find that remark offensive?"

  • You are running out of time.

- Don't panic or start rushing. Get as far as you can. - Prioritize questions/points. Try to address the important ones

- Decide on a time for a follow-up session o Someone challenges your role as group leader.

- Don't become defensive. Let the group air their dissatisfactions. Express your feelings after they have cooled off. Discuss solutions with the group.

  • People keep addressing their questions to you.

- Redirect the question to the group

- If no one in the group has a response, defer the question by having someone in the group come back with pertinent information at a later time.

  • Conflict occurs

- Don't take sides

- Remind people of the areas of agreement - Ask people in conflict to agree to restate what they heard before they state their arguments.

- Remind people that they are not there to judge others or to persuade others of their views, but to further mutual understanding.

- Summarize the conflict and ask for ideas from the whole group as to how to proceed.

- Acknowledge the disagreement and agree to move on. Tell the group that conflict is a healthy part of group dynamics, and can enhance learning.

- Try to put yourself in each person's position and try to understand the emotional impact that the situation is creating for them. Empathize verbally with each side.

- Acknowledge each persons concerns and needs.

- Try to elicit where each persons ideas may have come from in their experience.


  • Inability to move to another topic because people are overly engaged in a lively discussion

- Try to be flexible about time. If something good is happening, assess the value of leaving that discussion in favor of completing an agenda. Get the group to help make this decision.

- Give a two-minute warning or some other transition time to prepare the group to change direction.

- Acknowledge at the beginning of the session that time will be a factor and that some issues may not be discussed.

- Acknowledge the difficulty of leaving a good discussion and get the group to decide how to proceed, or set up another time to finish the agenda.

  • Something inappropriate is stated, i.e., something offensive, misinformation

- Legitimize dissenting opinions/ideas. Don't let misinformation stand. It implies that you agree with it. Ask for other opinions/ideas ("Are there other views?" "Does everyone agree?"

- Agree to disagree to give people space to object without destroying the discussion.

- Acknowledge discomfort over a comment...but own it as your discomfort. Don't speak for the group.


Wrapping Up

  • Keep to the committed ending time, unless you ask the group if they would like to continue for a specified period of time. (Remember, ending a little too soon is better than discussing a topic to death. Ending on a high note will encourage the discussion to continue at a later time.) Indicate that you will stay around for a while if anyone else wishes to continue the discussion.
  • Summarize (or have a participant summarize) the major thrust of the discussion.

- The major points of agreement and disagreement, if appropriate.

- Issues that were discussed but not resolved

- Where action has been agreed on, the decision should be stated and the next steps and person responsible should be identified.

  • Comment on (or have the group comment on) how the discussion went

- How do participants feel about their own participation? - What was good about the discussion and what could have been better?

- Did people feel free to express their opinions?

- Do they have suggestions for better facilitation?

- Did people feel free to express their opinions?

  • If appropriate, help the group decide what the next steps should be if any. Decide if people want to continue the discussion at a later time. Determine a starting point for the next discussion. Decide if people who did not attend the first discussion should attend the second.
  • Emphasize the commitment to confidentiality and sensitivity to the comments shared by members of the group.
  • Indicate that you (and other residence staff members) will also be available to discuss related issues at another time, especially if this discussion has brought up difficult or painful experiences.
  • Thank everyone for the discussion...for their honest participation, etc.

Post Discussion Review

After the discussion is over, take a few minutes (with your co-facilitator) to reflect on the content and process of the discussion; a few written notes for future reference might be helpful. Consider:

  • How well did the group stay focused on the topic? What contributed to this?
  • How did the structure and timing contribute to the discussion? What changes, if any, would you make?
  • How involved were individuals in the discussion? Were there any individuals noticeably silent, angry or upset? Usually, it is best to avoid questioning or confronting the behavior afterwards, but it may be important to keep your eye on the individual. Sometime the behavior you observed in the discussion might indicate serious personal difficulties. If in doubt what to do consult with your RF or RD.

Seek feedback from others (other staff members present or participants). You will learn much from seeking feedback from others, especially from your co-facilitator or other staff members. Ask what you did that went well (what you did to keep the discussion moving, motivate others to take risks and set the appropriate tone., etc.) and what improvements they would recommend.