Mentoring and Evaluating Terms: Definitions and Clarifications, D Gerwin, M Soule AWSNA

The following descriptions attempt to clarify the uses of the terms relating to mentors and evaluators of individual teachers, as well as terms referring to the mentoring and evaluation of schools as a whole.

 

Mentoring

In-house Mentor – appointed by the school

In-house mentors are experienced teachers assigned by their schools to support a colleague (often a new teacher) in the improvement of his or her teaching. It is necessary for mentors to visit regularly to observe the students and teacher in the classroom, to meet with the teacher regularly, be available for questions and provide support to the teacher. These relationships are confidential and non-evaluative.

Outside Mentor – appointed by the school

Outside mentors are experienced teachers assigned by a school to visit one or more of its teachers when no suitable or appropriate mentor is available within the school. The relationship is the same as with in-house mentors.

 

Peer Support (also called “buddy” or “talking partner”) – chosen by the teacher

A peer support position usually is an experienced colleague in the same school as the teacher seeking help. He or she is a person with whom the teacher can speak in confidence as a way of gaining perspective and insight and share materials.

 

School Mentor – appointed by the school

This term generally refers to those who advise and provide guidance and oversee the mentoring. If they are from outside the school, their periodic visits may include observing individual teachers and offering suggestions in follow-up.

 

School Mentoring Team – appointed by AWSNA’s regional delegates in the school’s region

            As a “developing member” of the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (AWSNA) the regional delegates designates a team of 2-3 experienced teachers, usually from the delegates group and member schools, that provides ongoing support to the school as it progresses towards candidacy. Members of this team may make visits to the developing school to observe and assess progress, and provide support and resources to help the school in its development. These visits are usually focused more on the overall development of the school and while they are not intended to include individual pedagogical mentoring or evaluation to teachers, they may include drop-in visits to classes and conversations with individual teachers.

 


Evaluating

Teacher Evaluator – appointed by the school

Evaluators are experienced teachers invited into a school to observe one or more teachers as part of the school’s periodic review program. Evaluators write reports based on their visits, identifying strengths and areas for growth. Usually evaluators discuss their findings with the teachers they have evaluated before submitting their report to the school.

 

School Evaluators – appointed by the school

From time to time a school may opt to invite one or more colleagues to visit the school to offer outside perspectives. These school evaluators may come in response to a crisis or in the context of a chronic or systemic problem.

 

School Evaluation Team – appointed by AWSNA

            As a “candidacy member” of AWSNA, a school will be visited by a team of evaluators whose task it is to determine whether the school is moving successfully towards full membership in the Association. These visits are largely focused on the overall development of the school but will include drop-in visits to classes and possibly conversations with individual teachers.

Schools undergoing AWSNA accreditation receive similar visiting teams.

AWSNA member schools commit to periodic self-study and peer review, which may include a site visit by an AWSNA-appointed team. (See AWSNA membership guidelines for details.)

 

- - -   Other Forms of Mentoring and Teachers Support   - - -

Supervising Teacher – designated by a teacher education institute

A supervising teacher is a colleague working in a school who agrees to accept a student teacher into his or her classroom as part of an internship of observation and practice teaching. This teacher supervises the work of the student teacher using guidelines set by the student’s teacher education institute. Often this colleague is designated as “cooperating teacher” or “on-site teacher”.

 

Internship/Practicum Supervisor – designated by a teacher education institute

Students enrolled in a Waldorf teacher education program generally undertake an internship or practicum in a Waldorf school as part of their training. In this context a faculty member of the program may visit the school to observe the student who is interning in the school under the guidance of a supervising teacher (see above)

 

Pedagogical Mentorship Network (formerly Pedagogical Advisors Colloquium)

This group of teachers has been working together for several years to deepen its understanding of supportive mentoring practices and the overall role of mentoring in schools. The purpose of this group is not to train or prepare mentors but to build a body of experience and resources that can be helpful to schools in developing their mentoring programs. Participants in the colloquium have taken active roles in offering regional mentoring seminars based on the experience of the colloquium.

 

August 2006

 

 

More Mentoring Resources

More Resources for Mentoring in Waldorf Schools

In 2005, after participating in a national mentoring colloquium sponsored by AWSNA, Nettie Fabrie and Michael Soule initiated a symposium for experienced teachers in Waldorf schools in the NW. The training was three years long (six weekend sessions) and involved 25 experienced teacher from 10 NW schools. After completing two three-year seminars with different participants, Nettie, Holly Koteen and Michael gathered their experience into a collection of resources to help teachers become more effective in school mentors.    Here are a few of the resources we found helpful. (Just click on the title to find the resource in our library.)

Mentoring in Waldorf Early Childhood Education, a compilation of essays published by WECAN. Edited by Nancy Foster

Compiled from the work of the WECAN Mentoring Task force, this book contains chapters on the essentials of Waldorf early childhood work, the pats of self education and adult learning, the "nuts and bolts" of mentoring, and the nature of a fruitful mentoring conversation. Contents: Self-Education as the Basis for the Art of Mentoring • The Role of Mentoring Early Childhood Teachers and Caregivers: Context and Purpose • Laying the Basis for the Mentoring Visit • The Essentials of Waldorf Early Childhood Education • The Mentoring Observation: What Do We Look For? • The Art of Fruitful Conversation • Pearls of Wisdom: The Role of Advice in Mentoring • Accountability: Written Records • Meeting at the Eye of the Needle: Mentoring on the Path of Adult Learning

Working Together: An Introduction to Pedagogical Mentoring with articles by Virginia Flynn, Ann Mathews, Else Gottkins, AWSNA

Recommendations from the findings of the AWSNA Pedagogical Advisors' Colloquium. Included are: Examples of Mentoring Practice in the Elementary Grades; Working Together Towards Excellence in Waldorf Education; Effective Mentoring; Examples of Mentoring Styles among other articles.

 Professional Review and Evaluation In Waldorf Early Childhood Education by Holly Koteen with a contribution by Patricia Rubano, published by WECAN.

A companion volume to Mentoring in Waldorf Early Childhood Education, full of time-tested advice and encouragement for schools wishing to implement or strengthen their professional evaluation process. Chapters include Why Review? Cultivating Review, The Self-Evaluation, The Role of the Evaluator, The Role of the Institution, and Obstacles and Hindrances. Appendixes include Susan Howard’s “The Essentials of Waldorf Early Childhood Education”

Effective Practices Module

A survey of effective practices in Waldorf schools including sections on:

Mentoring: an Introduction        1. The Mentoring Program           2. Mentoring Qualifications and Scheduling          3. Oversight and Review of the Mentoring Program                  4. Evaluations and Mentoring     5. Personal Development and Enrichment

These modules are available as resources on this site and through AWSNA.

If work in an AWSNA affiliated school you can get a copy of this study from their website Why Waldorf Works under school resources using the password 4AWSNA. These modules are intended for people only in AWSNA affiliated schools. http://www.whywaldorfworks.org/11_EffPractices/men_2.asp

Navigating the Transition: A Handbook for Schools Welcoming a New Teacher from A Teacher Education Institute

This handbook was developed by the Teacher Education Network of AWSNA to help schools integrate and support new teachers in cooperation with the training program from which they graduated. The section on Mentoring is most helpful here. This handbook is available here in our resource section in short and long form. The handbook includes: Introduction

  1. The Teacher Education Program – What your new teacher has studied
  2. The Teacher Education Program – Teaching Practicum
  3. Orienting a new teacher to your school policies and practices
  4. Supporting a new teacher in the summer before they take up a class
  5. Mentoring a new teacher
  6. Supporting a new teacher with his or her class parents
  7. Collegial expectations of a new teacher
  8. Evaluating a new teacher
  9. Continuing Education for a new teacher
  10. Individual suggestions for your new teacher

 

Healthy Conversation, Communication and Agreements: More Resources

Communication by Connie Starzynski from the Art of Administration was written as a guide to administrators and Waldorf school leaders to shed light on the dynamics of communication of all kinds in a Waldorf school.

 Speaking, Listening and Understanding by Heinz Zimmerman is a book that goes deeply into the art of conversation in groups and how, by bringing new consciousness into our speaking and listening we can transform our work together.

A Sample Communications Covenant is a document showing how one community created and articulated their agreements about communications.

 Communication in a Young School from the Young Schools Guide is a short article by David Mitchell about the ways that groups involved in creating a school can focus their attention on the topic of healthy communications.

Non-Violent Communication: An Introduction by Marshall Rosenberg is a 35-page booklet that outlines the basics of NVC. Rosenbloom is the founder of the NVC movement and has helped thousands of people and organizations review, understand, refine and transform their skills in healthy communication.

Click on the article names to go to the document.

The Art of Planning and Preparing for Meetings

The Art of Planning and Preparing for Meetings

There are three kinds of meetings – social encounters, meetings to study and learn something, and meetings where people come together to accomplish a task. Each of these kinds of meetings has its own character, but some of the dynamics of each are present in every meeting. Meetings are an essential part of our life in organizations and especially important in the practice of collaboration.

At the end of a meeting we know how successful the meeting was by how we feel. Meetings that flow well, where there are healthy interactions and in which we touch on something important tend to leave us more energized than when we started the meeting. Meetings that are poorly planned, are not well facilitated and where something important isn’t touched on tend to leave us feeling exhausted or frustrated.

While spontaneous meetings can be exhilarating, meetings that are consciously and artfully planned and executed have the possibility of leaving us much more empowered and strengthened. The keys, therefore, to creating more empowering meetings lie in how we go about planning, facilitating and following up. In this newsletter, we explore the art of how to plan and prepare for meetings.

An agenda can be a powerful tool. When the purpose, the process, the content, the flow and the possible outcomes are well thought out beforehand, it is more likely that the meeting will be effective and empowering. Groups waste inordinate amounts of time and energy in underprepared meetings. Does everyone know what the meeting is about, what is going to happen, what is expected of them and what it is hoped the group will accomplish? Are the people leading sections of the meeting prepared? Have materials that participants need to read ahead of time been sent out in time for them to be read?

The three articles in this newsletter and a number of the related resources explore more in depth the dynamics of healthy meetings and the preparation of effective agendas.

This month, we have chosen accompanying images of hands involved in creating baskets - weaving things together to create a useful and beautiful space much like creating an agenda.

The Art of Creating an Agenda is an article that outlines some key elements to consider in planning a meeting.

In the article Working Together from his book Paths to Partnership, Chris Schafer illuminates the dynamics of a meeting, the importance of the various roles in the meeting, and ways that groups can reflect on their meeting practice regularly – all are valuable to continually improving meetings.

In the article Making Space for Spirit, Holly Koteen sheds light on ways that leaders can create space in meetings to allow for the highest in each person and in the group to shine through.

 

The Art of Creating an Agenda

The Art of Creating an Agenda

When teachers create lesson plans, they naturally consider the rhythm of the day, the students’ capacities and their goals for the students’ growth and development. A good teacher is conscious of every little detail and aspect of the lesson. The consciousness put into planning helps the students relax, know what to expect and feel well cared for. Both students and teachers delight in the surprises that will inevitably arise. Planning a meeting requires much of the same consciousness and consideration. Here is a list of key considerations all related to the essential practice of thinking ahead.          

Consider who is participating.

Picture who is going to be at the meeting, what their gifts and needs are. A conscious meeting planner makes extra copies of the agenda for those who may not have printed out their own copies.

Consider how the group works.

Most groups in organizations, like boards and committees, meet on a regular basis. Understanding the patterns of a group can be helpful in planning.

Be clear about what is being asked of the participants.

It is best when participants know why an item is on the agenda (is it a discussion, brainstorming, gathering of information, time for decision, etc.) and what their role is (provide reflections, bring ideas, evaluate proposals, make decisions, etc.)

Make room for creativity.

Make sure that the agenda is not packed too tightly, that items being discussed have ample time, and that time for possible contingencies are built in.

Imagine the flow.

In the same way that we learn how to craft a lesson plan for students and imagine how they will move through it, imagining how the meeting will flow helps in crafting an agenda. The healthiest kind of flow is organic. Like a wild stream, a meeting will naturally have a current, eddies, and meanders that give it life. A channeled river or a too tightly structured meeting tends to lose its liveliness.

Leave time for review.

One of the amazing aspects of being human is the ability to look back on an event to reflect on it  and to learn something in the process. I encourage both individuals and the group to take up a practice of asking three essential questions at the end of every meeting: what was accomplished; what was learned; what relationships grew stronger. Asking these allows for insights that can help in planning the next meeting.

 Avoid typical pitfalls

  • Giving items too little time
  • Squeezing too many items in one meeting
  • Not allowing for breathing space or breaks
  • Getting the agenda out too late for others to prepare
  • Neglecting to notify those who are leading items
  • Not providing appropriate background information
  • Not indicating on agenda what the goals of individual agenda items are
  • Not varying the style of discussion (go around, popcorn, small group etc.)

In the end, forming an agenda is an exercise in conscious imagination. The above suggestions are intended to help develop good habits in preparing an agenda, but the process is ultimately an artistic one. Once the agenda is created and the meeting prepared, there is another aspect of meeting life that is equally important, the facilitation of the agenda. We will take up the art of meeting facilitation in a future newsletter.

 

Working Together

by Christopher Schaefer

Part 1. Conversation

We take a mystery of life for granted, the mystery of conversation. Reflect on how an impression in your consciousness—“the beauty of a San Francisco spring morning with the fog blowing off the Bay”— is translated into concepts and then into audible speech, involving all the complex muscles of the throat and mouth.Your friend hears these words through the membrane of the ear and understands them, internalizes your thought and then speaks. One aspect of the mystery is how we are able to turn consciousness, the non-sensory, into audible speech and visible gesture. Another is how the other is able to take the sounds expressed and make sense of them. A third is how in dialog, in conversation between two or more individuals, something new, an idea, meaning or decision arises.

View the whole article here: Partnerships of Hope - Building Waldorf School Communities-Ch 4- Working Together -C Schaefer

The Artistic Meeting: Creating Space for Spirit

The Artistic Meeting:  Creating Space for Spirit

When Rudolf Steiner brought together the individuals who would become the teachers of the first Waldorf School, he asked them to work in a new way, not only with the children, but also with one another.  He asked them to work together in such as way as to invite the interest and guidance of spiritual beings into their endeavor.

The challenge of creating and maintaining a connection with the spiritual world, as difficult as it was then, may be even more intense in the present time.  Materialism has grown considerably stronger in the 21st century, and with it has come an increasing need to bring a balancing, healing, and renewing element to daily life.

The Waldorf classroom is a place where this renewing spiritual element can be found.  It arises from the children themselves and from how we work with them.  It can also be found in the meeting life of the school, in how the teachers and other adults work together.  There are many resources available today on conducting effective meetings in the workplace.  This article will focus on how we can create a space for spirit in meetings, and how this endeavor can support us in our individual development, in our encounters with colleagues, and in strengthening our groups and communities.

Meetings as artistic activity will be a second focus.  Understanding meetings as an art form and using an artistic approach in planning and carrying out a meeting will more likely allow participants to be refreshed and inspired at the meeting’s conclusion.  While including an artistic activity in the agenda can be helpful, it is more critical that the meeting itself be artistic and display the wholeness, drama, and dynamics of any other artistic creation.  Artistic activity can often be a doorway to the recognition of spiritual archetypes and the building of spiritual understanding.   A meeting that is conducted as a form of art greatly enhances this possibility for the participants.

Meetings as Spiritual Practice

Waking up in the Other

Near the end of his life, after the burning of the first Goetheanum and during a period of upheaval within the Anthroposophical Society, Rudolf Steiner began to speak urgently about the need to build communities based on a shared spiritual purpose that extends beyond our cultural or hereditary ties.  He described physical waking as a response to the stimuli of the natural world in our surroundings.  Our waking up at a higher level happens when we encounter the soul-spirit of other human beings.  He went so far as to say:

We are also unable to understand the spiritual world, no matter how many beautiful ideas we may have garnered from anthroposophy or how much we may have grasped theoretically about such matters as etheric and astral bodies.  We begin to develop an understanding for the spiritual world only when we wake up in the encounter with the soul-spiritual in our fellowmen. 1

On other occasions, Steiner also spoke about a need in our age (the 5th Post-Atlantean epoch) that can only be fulfilled in groups.  He referred specifically to the spirit of brother/sisterhood hovering above us in the realm of the higher hierarchies, which needs to be consciously cultivated so that it can flow into human souls in the future. These statements constitute a strong call for us to create opportunities for more, rather than fewer, encounters with our colleagues, despite the inevitable challenges with which we are all familiar. 

The Reverse Ritual

In considering meetings as spiritual practice, it may be helpful to recall our understanding from anthroposophy that at a certain point in the course of the evolution of the cosmos and humanity, the higher creative beings drew back from the sphere of the earth.  This withdrawal was necessary in order for human beings to develop in freedom.  As a result, the physical earth is in the process of dying.  The human being, having been given freedom and the possibility of spiritual consciousness, has become an increasingly decisive factor in the future of the earth.

One of our tasks is to help re-enliven the earth. We do that with the substance of our human thinking—not our ordinary thoughts and reflections, but spiritual thoughts arising from creative Imaginations, Inspirations, and Intuitions.  These creative thoughts represented for Steiner a new spiritual form of communion for humanity.  He gave many indications for how both individuals and groups could work with creative, enlivening thoughts for their own benefit and for humanity as a whole.

It was Steiner’s deep conviction that the appropriate form for community-building in our time is what he called the reverse ritual.  He distinguished this ritual from a traditional religious ritual in which a mediator is charged with drawing the spiritual hierarchies down to a particular place.  “The anthroposophical community seeks to lift up the human souls into supersensible worlds so that they may enter into the company of angels.” 2

“We must do more than talk about spiritual beings; we must look for opportunities nearest at hand to enter their company.  The work of an anthroposophical group does not consist in a number of people merely discussing anthroposophical ideas.  Its members should feel so linked with one another that human soul wakes up in the encounter with human soul and all are lifted up into the spiritual world, into the company of spiritual beings, though it need not be a question of beholding them.  We do not have to see them to have this experience.” 3

The “College Imagination” or the “Teacher’s Imagination” that Steiner gave to the first group of teachers is an example of such a reverse ritual, in which a group working with a common meditative picture creates the possibility of connecting with specific spiritual beings and bringing back creative impulses for their earthly work. 4

If Waldorf teachers wish to work with these ideas and with the example of the “Teacher’s Imagination,” how can we form and conduct faculty and college meetings in this light?  How can our meeting life be spiritually sustaining for individuals and build a vital sense of community in our schools?

Space for Spirit

We know what it feels like to have participated in a successful meeting. We are enlivened at the meeting’s end.  We also know that what occurred could not have been achieved by any individual member of the group.  These are indicators of spirit presence.  It is possible to learn how to create such meetings—meetings that lift us out of our ordinary awareness and allow us the possibility of working more consciously with the spiritual world.  We can create more space for spirit in our meeting life in the following ways.

I. Imbue the meeting place with a sense of conscious care.  It is often the case that certain individuals have a natural feeling for the need to prepare the room where a meeting will occur.  When we prepare a space with care we are working with the elementals, spiritual beings which, according to Rudolf Steiner, are detachments from the higher hierarchies, sacrificing themselves for the creation of the material world. They have a great deal to do with the physical setting, and also with our individual physical well-being, our thinking, feeling, and willing, and our communication.

In my own experience, how the room is prepared can have as significant an effect on a meeting as it does on what happens in our classrooms when we make sure that they are clean, orderly, and beautiful. Imagine how the arrangement of the furniture could enhance the quality of the group’s interaction.  Consider the effect of having as a centerpiece a seasonal bouquet gathered by a member of the group, rather than one that was purchased at the florist shop. It is especially helpful if all members of a faculty take a turn at preparing the setting, so that more members of the group carry the importance of this aspect of the meeting.

II. Create a threshold mood.   Meetings that begin with a moment of silence and a mood of reverence allow participants to be aware of stepping across a kind of threshold, out of our everyday consciousness into a heightened sense of presence.   An explicit acknowledgment of our spiritual helpers, the spirit of the school, and those persons who have been connected to our institution and are now in the spiritual world, can also shift the group’s awareness. A conscious effort to begin on time helps create the sense of going through a doorway together.  A verse can also represent a threshold and when brought in the right mood, offer a kind of protective sheath for whatever may happen in the meeting.

  1. Re-establish the sense of the group.  This activity has two parts. The first is the recognition of individuals and the second is an affirmation of the purpose of the group. A key to the first part is the interest that we take in one another.  Listening to colleagues share something out of their lives or an aspect of their work with students can wake us up to one another in a potent way.  The sharing can be brief and, in the case of a large faculty, may involve only a portion of the group each week. Sharing can also be connected to the season; for example at Michaelmas, the focus could be, “What in your life is requiring a fresh burst of courage and will?”

This part of the meeting can deepen our understanding of our colleagues and build the level of trust that we need to work together on spiritual matters.  Movement or artistic activity can also serve to strengthen the group’s capacity to work together on issues that require sensitivity to one another.  At this stage of the meeting the “I” of each individual is acknowledged as he or she steps into the work with the group, or the “We.”

The second part of establishing the sense of the group is an affirmation of the group’s purpose or task.  A verse or reading can be helpful, but must be relevant and alive for the group.  For some groups, it may be important to choose a new opening for each year or to work with festival themes in order to strengthen the sense of community and purpose at this stage of the meeting.  For other groups, choosing to work consciously with the same verse for many years may actually bring them to an ever-deepening understanding of its meaning and effect.  While study is often used to bring a group to a common focus, this is successful only if everyone is actively engaged.

IV. Practice conscious listening and speaking.   We know that listening perceptively to another person requires letting go of our sympathies and antipathies and our own preconceived ideas; in fact, we must momentarily let go of our own I to experience the “I” of the other as they speak.  Marjorie Spock wrote most poetically about the effects of perceptive listening.

First, there is what it does to the soul of the listener.  A miracle of self-overcoming takes place within him whenever he really lends an ear to others.  If he is to understand the person speaking, he must draw his attention from his own concerns and make a present of it to a listener; he clears his inner scene like one who for a time gives up his home for others’ use while himself remaining only in the role of servant.  Listeners quite literally entertain a speaker’s thought.” Not I, but the Christ in me” is made real in every such act of genuine listening.

Second, there is what happens to the speaker when he is fortunate to be listened to perceptively.  Another kind of miracle takes place in him, perhaps best described as a springtime burgeoning.  Before his idea was expressed to a listener, it lived in his soul as potential only; it resembles a seed force lying fallow in the winter earth.  To be listened to with real interest acts upon this seed like sun and warmth and rain and other cosmic elements that provide growth-impetus; the soul ground in which the idea is embedded comes magically alive.  Under such benign influence, thoughts grow full cycle and fulfill their promise.  Moreover they confer fertility upon the ground through the simple fact of having lived there.  Further ideas will be the more readily received into such a soil and spring more vigorously for its life-attunement.  And the soul that harbors them begins to be the creative force in evolution for which it was intended by the gods. 5

Brief spaces of silence can also allow thoughts and insights to ripen and fall into the conversation. Can we provide for the seed thoughts of our colleagues, out of our own souls, what the sun and rain provide for the sprouting plant?  It is a rare group that does not need to recommit regularly to practicing this kind of listening and speaking.

V.  Work with imaginative pictures over time.  Imagination is a language that can bear fruit in the spiritual world.  Translating the group’s questions and issues into stories and pictures can enhance the group’s meditative work during the meeting or individual work during the course of the week.  Look for an archetype, myth or fairy tale that can reveal new aspects of the matter under consideration.  Taking time over two or three meetings to explore major questions invites the possibility of richer insights to come forth.  Colleagues will want to hold back from building support for one or another course of action and to be open to new information as it emerges during this phase.  Having worked successfully with imaginative pictures in the child study process can help colleagues trust their use in other situations as well.

VI. Share responsibility.   Individuals who are able to carry the consciousness for a group have certain capacities that are usually recognized by the other members of the group.  Not everyone has these in the same measure, but it is important to recognize talents among colleagues and give one another opportunities and support to develop latent capacities.  Different individuals can lead various parts of a meeting.  A group of two or three people can plan the agenda.  Incorporate means of regular feedback and review for those taking responsibility in the yearly schedule.

 

It is clear that a group is healthiest when individuals are continuing to grow and develop.  Even the most competent facilitator needs to step back or work with a new colleague in order to gain fresh perspective.  Rotating leadership and having several individuals carrying one or another aspect of the meeting facilitation makes it more likely that all members will feel involved. All members are responsible to bring to the group the results of their individual meditative life.  Spiritual leadership requires learning how to create the conditions for meaningful conversations and then helping the group follow up on what arises out of those conversations.

VII. Let the meeting breathe.  In our work in the classroom we need to prepare carefully and also be ready to respond to what comes from our students.  A meeting that has a compelling wholeness and feeling of flow is probably the result of a well-crafted agenda along with some adjustments made during the meeting to an emerging sense of clarity and direction. Having prior agreements about how to deal with new information or agenda changes is helpful.  A rhythmic relation to time in a meeting creates more of an opening for spiritual insights than either an overstuffed agenda or a formless one.

There are a number of simple possibilities for making a meeting more rhythmic.  For example, honor the times on the agenda, but not so rigidly that people feel cut off or topics are truncated.  Vary the conversation from full-group sharing to small-group work and individual reports.  Create a balance between pedagogical and other topics, looking back and looking ahead, exploring new questions and making decisions.  When the group is not moving physically, make sure there is plenty of inner movement.  Remember to invite the spirit of Play and the spirit of Humor into the meeting.

VIII. Expect to be surprised.  There is nothing more uninviting than a completely predictable meeting.  On the other hand, a meeting in which the group is pulled this way and that by personal agendas is equally frustrating.  We must stay awake to the influences of Ahriman (too much form) and Lucifer (too much impulse) as they work in individuals and in our groups.

In order to stay the course in the creative spiritual stream, we need to ask real questions; practice positivity and open-mindedness; be comfortable with not knowing; and expect answers and solutions to come from unexpected places.

IX. Review. During meeting review, we give ourselves feedback on what went well and what could have been better, so that we can improve our work together.  Review serves another important purpose as well.  Just as our nightly review is a conversation starter for the work with our own angel during sleep, our meeting review serves as a seed for the continuing conversation with the spiritual world between meetings.

Running late in a meeting is sometimes the reason that groups neglect review, but review can often capture essential aspects of a meeting in a brief and economical way.  In this regard, poetry is more useful than prose.  Brief characterizations, even one-word or one-image offerings, can illuminate hidden gems.  Hearing individual voices during the review can be a supportive bookend to the work, like the personal sharing at the beginning of a meeting.

Review is not a rehashing of any part of the meeting.  It should bring to light aspects of content, processes, and interactions that can benefit from greater awareness on the part of individuals and the group.  A perceptive facilitator will vary the means of review and offer questions to elicit information that might not otherwise be brought to light.  “Where did we experience gratitude in the meeting?”  “Were there any moments of unresolved tension?” “What did we do that might be of interest to our spiritual helpers?” Review in the form of an earnest question is the best kind of invitation to spirit beings.

X.  Prepare and follow up.  If we recognize our meetings as a kind of ritual, then the preparation and the follow-up are as important as the meeting itself.  Preparation requires more than a quick glance at a copy of the agenda.  When individuals come to a meeting having thought about the issues and their colleagues the night before, the spiritual ground has already been tilled.

How we carry the questions as well as the tasks from one meeting to the next can make a difference in whether the seeds sowed will sprout healthily in the coming weeks.  How each individual carries the group in between meetings will also make a difference.  Working rhythmically with time has both a physical and a spiritual aspect. When we consciously release ideas that have arisen in the group into the spiritual world, it is possible that they will return in a more complete or archetypal form.

These are some of the realities that we may wish to take into consideration as we build a vessel for the spiritual aspect of our work, just as we pay attention to earthly realities in constructing a physical home for our schools. 

Meetings as Art

The Artistic Process

The arts, according to Rudolf Steiner, were experienced in earlier civilizations as more integral to life than is the case today.  Artistic creativity, he said, was experienced as a transcendent spiritual activity, flowing out of the “spirit-attuned state” in which the human being lived in those times.  Only since the rise of materialism has the status of art changed from necessity to luxury.

Rudolf Steiner also observed that in our era a longing for the arts comes out of the recognition of the limits of abstract thinking.  Ideas alone are not able to illuminate the world in its full richness; they can only point the way to a deeper reality. Artistic feeling, Steiner said, arises when we sense the presence of something mysterious, such as certain secrets of nature, which can only be revealed through our feeling. Knowing is a matter for the heart as well as the head.  To discover a whole, living reality, we need to create, to practice art.  He saw the fructification of the arts in our time as an important task for anthroposophy, and he took up various artistic projects himself during the latter part of his life.

The present-day artist engaged in the creative process moves back and forth between sense perceptions and intuitive visions—awake, but in a somewhat dreamlike feeling state.  Steiner described the subtle changes that occur in a person engaged in aesthetic activity (regardless of whether the person is creating or enjoying an artistic creation) such that the sense organs are re-enlivened and the bodily life processes are lifted to soul-like processes.

In artistic activity we use our heightened sense of feeling rather than our everyday sympathies and antipathies. The artist, consciously or unconsciously, approaches the threshold between the sensible and supersensible worlds and brings something back from the supersensible world into the world of the senses.  The resulting creation is a specifically-experienced reality lifted into a universal expression.

As Waldorf teachers we understand the importance of the arts and our own creativity in the work with our students.  Can we also imagine applying a consciously artistic approach and a heightened sense of feeling to our work with our colleagues in our meetings?

Social Art

In the series of lectures Art in the Light of Mystery Wisdom, Steiner connected each of the arts with the various members of the human being.  The laws of the physical body, he said, are expressed in architecture, the etheric in sculpture, the astral in painting, and the ego in music.  The still developing spirit self he connected to poetry and the life spirit to eurythmy.  The highest art, according to Steiner, is social art.

The first three arts—architecture, sculpture, and painting (including drawing)—are the spatial arts. These are derived out of formative processes and past evolutionary cycles.  They are connected to sculptural forces working out of the past and, in the context of education, help children come into their bodily constitution.

In contrast, the time arts—music, speech and poetry, and eurythmy—are connected to impulses coming out of the future.  As Waldorf teachers we work out of our higher bodies and what Steiner called our musical forces in order to guide our students properly into their present life.  Social art also belongs to this group of time arts, but is younger, less tangible, and even less developed than eurythmy.  How can we study and practice this least tangible of arts?

My own experience is that working in any of the other arts can serve as a basic “instruction manual” for social art.  Being grounded in an artistic practice makes it easier to apply the principles of creative activity to any aspect of life, including social situations.

As an early childhood teacher, when I had a particularly satisfying day in the kindergarten, I felt as if the children and I had spent the whole morning moving to an exquisite piece of music.  When I was responsible for meetings, I began to plan agendas as if I were composing or painting and, during the meeting, I tried to pay attention to compositional elements like repetition, variation, contrast, harmony, balance, focus, surprise, and reprise.

In addition to the writings of Rudolf Steiner, we can also learn about social art in certain traditional texts where the renewing or healing spiritual element is represented symbolically:  the “water of life” from the world of fairy tales, the Grail in the legend of Parsifal, the philosopher’s stone of the alchemists, and conversation in Goethe’s tale, “The Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily.”

In North America we owe a great debt to Marjorie Spock, who brought Steiner’s concern for community-building to us.  She translated the Awakening to Community lectures into English and wrote two little pamphlets, titled “Group Moral Artistry,” that are a continuing inspiration for many people.  Goethean conversation was the term she used to characterize the process by which a group could invite truth into their midst like a guest.  She began with Goethe’s framing of conversation as the art of arts and described Goethean conversation as a form of the reverse ritual and an appropriate means of practicing social artistry. 

Artistic Meetings

Our artistic sensibilities and an artistic approach to our work in a meeting can enhance the possibility of lifting ourselves into the company of angels, if only briefly.  Meetings can be artistic in a number of ways.

A meeting can be artistic because we consciously include an artistic activity in the agenda and allow what flows out of that activity to enhance the rest of our work together.  It can also be artistic in the way we use imaginative pictures to enrich our conversations or moments of silence to invite creative inspirations.  When the meeting itself is seen as an artistic process, the facilitator and the group will be more likely to strive for a palpable sense of aliveness and wholeness.  Finally, if we take our work in the social art seriously, whatever we are able to achieve in the special situation of our meetings has the potential to strengthen our relationships overall and may even have a healing effect on other relationships in the community.

Conscious Conversation—An Invitation

We swim in a sea of spirit.  Our matter-bound everyday consciousness, however, easily forgets the reality of spirit living in and everywhere around us.  In this age of Michael especially, we have to wake up in those places where we are sleepily swept along with the materialistic tides of existence.  It is not easy to push aside pressing everyday concerns again and again to make space for encounters with spirit in one another and with spirit beings on the other side of the threshold.

As Waldorf teachers, this is a task that we have taken on, not only for the sake of our students, but also because the conversation with the spirit is the source of our own strength, inspiration, and creativity.  In our meeting life and through an artistic practice of conscious conversation, we have an incredible opportunity to enter as a group into the realm of spirit-sensing.  Our own work as individuals, as well as the whole Waldorf movement, needs this renewing spiritual force as it continues to grow and proliferate in far-flung corners of the world.

Holly Koteen-Soule

Notes

1 Rudolf Steiner, Awakening to Community, p. 97

2 Ibid, p.157

3 Ibid, p.157

4 For a description of the Imagination, see The Foundations of Human Experience,   p.45-48

5 Marjorie Spock, Reflections on Community Building, p. 18

Bibliography

Friedrich Benesch and Rudolf Steiner, Reverse Ritual; Anthroposophic Press 2001

Michael Howard, Art as Spiritual Activity; Anthroposophic Press 1998

Marjorie Spock, Group Moral Artistry I, Reflections on Community Building;

St George Publications 1983

Marjorie Spock, Group Moral Artistry II, Goethean Conversation; St George Press 1983

Margreet van den Brink, More Precious than Light; Hawthorn Press 1994

Rudolf Steiner, The Arts and their Mission; Anthroposophic Press 1964

Rudolf Steiner, Art as seen in the Light of Mystery Wisdom; Rudolf Steiner Press 1984

Rudolf Steiner, Awakening to Community; Anthroposophic Press 1974

Heinz Zimmermann, Speaking, Listening, Understanding; Lindisfarne Press 1996

 

More Resources for Creating Effective Meetings

Other Resources

Creating Effective Agendas is an article offered by the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Urban Affairs in Ontario, Canada that is a helpful tool covering all the essentials of good meeting planning.

Tips for Creating Board Agendas is an article specifically focused on some issues that face only boards, including the difference between policy and operations issues.

Working Together as a Group to Improve your Meetings is a chart of insights and helpful tips developed by a group of colleagues years ago when they decided to try to improve their meetings.

The Stanford Facilitation Guide

Using Consensus to Enlighten, Not Limit, Decision Making

This month’s newsletter focuses on the art of decision-making and particularly the practice of consensus decision-making.

The lead article was written in response to three recent conversations we had with various board members. In one, a colleague asked: “As a new board member, I hear consensus referred to but I don’t really understand what it means. None of our board members has much experience or training in consensus. How do we know when we should push through to consensus or when a majority vote is appropriate?”

In another conversation we heard a colleague say, “We can’t afford to operate under consensus because we can’t take hours and hours to make decisions.” In a third, we asked a colleague who had worked in Quaker schools for many years how they were able to make decisions in a timely way. He responded, “Our decisions didn’t take long at all. We knew what we were doing. We had practiced for many years and we knew each other pretty well. It never took us hours and hours to make a decision.”

In thinking about these conversations, the following question arose: “How can we learn to use consensus so that it is not limiting, but enlightening, and serves the needs of the group?”

We are grateful for the help of Lysbeth Borie from Eugene who provided us with many insights on this topic.  Lysbeth, along with her colleagues, has helped Waldorf schools understand and practice consensus decision making for many years.  She has a deep appreciation of the challenges of reaching real consensus in a collaborative organization.

Along with helping edit the lead article, Lysbeth provided us with a short essay about consensus and mandates, and helped us gather a collection of helpful resources that we will also post on the site.

We have chosen pictures this month of flocks of birds in flight, showing how from a seeming chaotic random flight of many birds, beautiful patterns emerge. If you have ever seen them in flight like this, you will understand the connection with our work in organizations building consensus.

Making Good Decisions

When a faculty or board needs to make decision of major significance, how does the group assure that the decision is well considered and supported by everyone who needs to be involved?

Shared decision making can be a challenging area for a Waldorf school. It involves building agreement for decisions and creating clarity around decision making authority and processes.

A good decision is the result of both having the organizational culture and structure that supports timely and thorough processes, and assuring that various groups and individuals, who have the authority to make decisions in their respective areas, understand and follow those processes.

Consensus

There’s a general agreement in most Waldorf schools that both committees and the school as a whole should operate by consensus and that when consensus can’t be reached an alternative path (usually a vote with majority rule) should be taken for the sake of timeliness.

There’s also an underlying idea in most schools that, since everyone cannot be involved in every decision, smaller groups ought to be given the responsibility to make decisions on behalf of the whole.  The decision-making authority given to a group is usually outlined in its mandate. (Search the resources section for more information on mandates)

Both of these ideas, consensus and mandates, are important.  But they are not always fully understood or practiced.  There are many reasons for this, including:

  • The regular turnover of volunteers and other leadership;
  • The lack of ongoing training in consensus or mandate creation;
  • Confusion about which process might be best applied in a given situation.

Here are some basic guidelines to help every school improve their decision-making process:

1.     Decide before you decide.

Every group will be faced with having to make small or large decisions to complete its work. The most effective groups always decide how they are going to make decisions before they start their work. A reflection on their decision making should be part of their annual review. This sounds easier than it is, which leads to the second point.

2.     Know your tools.

Each group must have a good grasp of the nature and practice of different decision-making processes. Once they understand the various processes, it’s important to provide training to help groups find and adopt the best processes for their organization. Training in consensus and mandates, therefore, should be a part of every teacher’s or major volunteer’s orientation. Otherwise, schools will end up with groups that don’t know how to function well. As a result, decision-making is often, by default, dominated by a few individuals. This leads to the third point.

3.     Decide who decides.

Know the roles and responsibilities of each group and individual in the school, including which group or individual makes which kinds of decisions. This takes time to develop but can greatly help groups avoid spending a lot of time on decisions that are easily delegated or, on the other hand, handing over major decisions to a few individuals when everyone’s input and buy-in should be achieved. (Note: there is a very helpful tool, called the RACI model, developed to help organizations identify which levels of activity need what level of involvement from which individuals. (See the resources section for a good article on this.)

4.    Tough it through and respect the process.

When a decision requires consensus, then use the process all the way to its conclusion. The process of consensus, when used well, is a remarkable tool for building community and making well considered, and broadly supported decisions. By the same token, when a task is mandated or delegated, it is best to be clear about the group’s decision- making authority in the beginning and support the group by trusting them to do fulfill their task. Decisions can always be reviewed later to learn how a process could be improved. Trust can easily be undermined and social harmony weakened if groups are not allowed to exercise their mandated authority and to be responsible for the decisions they make. (The resources on consensus in our resource center have good insights into how to navigate tough situations.)

The path to a good decision is not easy but we can develop our understanding of the processes and get better as we move forward.