The Art of Handling Complaints: LeadTogether Highlight #14 1-20-15

Dear Friends,

Last week our school completed work on a new grievance policy. In our discussions we explored what constitutes a grievance, what is the difference between a grievance and a complaint, and what principles should guide us in dealing with them.

We came to a simple definition that a grievance is a formal complaint usually lodged by an employee, related to an action that was taken (or not taken) that affects the rights of the employee. Something is perceived to have happened that violates the law or the policy of the organization. So a grievance is a specialized complaint. How one responds to a grievance is important because it generally has legal consequences for the organization.

Complaints, on the other hand, are types of feedback provided by anyone in the community who thinks or feels that something isn’t right. Complaints might include “too much homework,” “tuition is too high,” “meetings go too long,” “the place is messy,” “communication is sloppy,” etc. A complaint generally includes two wisdoms – it tells us something about the person complaining (what they are aware of and what they would like to see improved) and something about the organization. While sometimes a complaint is entirely the personal opinion of an individual (“I don’t like the color of the walls”), usually a complaint contains some bit of helpful reflection to be attended to. And it provides an opportunity to strengthen relationships by being responsive, timely and direct.

There are a few core principles for dealing with complaints in general and for dealing with complaints in a collaborative community.

  • Understand that all complaints contain some insight, either about the organization or about the person complaining or both.
  • Have clarity as to what types of complaints should be addressed to different leaders.
  • Provide every complainant with the opportunity to share what he or she wants to see done.
  • Create an environment that embraces and accepts complaints without resistance.
  • Assure there is a clear visible process for dealing with complaints that provides
    • immediate acknowledgement
    • quick response
    • timely follow-through
    • clear communications and
    • thorough documentation.
  • Develop a process so that everyone clearly knows what to do with complaints.
  • Analyze complaints to look for themes and bigger-picture problems.

Here is a checklist developed by One World Trust for NGO’s to assess the strength of your organization’s complaint process. (LINK)

Every complaint is both an opportunity for the organization to grow and for the relationship of the complainant to the organization to develop. This requires active, open and non-judgmental listening and honest reflecting. It is an area where we have a lot to learn in our communities.

Keep in touch,







The Art of Being A Mentor by M Soule

A good mentor is one who can help his/her advisee develop as a teacher and to find his/her way to manage and master the tasks of teaching, including working with the students, parents, curriculum and school. Because all development is self-development, a successful mentor also needs to help his/her advisee develop the capacity for self-reflection and self-discipline. To do this, a mentor must continually work on his/her own self-reflection and self-discipline, while continuing to practice the art of turning experience into wisdom. Finally, a mentor has the opportunity to learn and grow through the mentoring relationship.

The three essential tasks and tools of the mentor are observation, contemplation and conversation.

Being able to observe the dynamics, principles and wholeness of a situation while keeping the parts in focus is the first essential task of a good mentor. In the article by Craig Holdrege on “Seeing the World Whole”, we can gain keen insights into the mindfulness needed to find the principles and meaning in what we observe.

Being able to work with one’s observations with an open mind and to practice withholding judgment are two parts of the second essential task – contemplation. The excerpt from More Precious Than Light, a book on community building by Margreet Van Den Brink, provides a good description of the relationship between mindfulness and what Rudolf Steiner described as the three higher soul capacities. While things are not always what we think they are, when one thinks about one’s observations, what we have observed begins to show us more of its true nature. The article, “From Observation to Conversation,” shares insights gathered from the participants in the NW Mentoring Seminars held in Seattle by Sound Circle Center.

Being able to enter into conversation with one’s advisee in a creative way that meets his/her soul character is the third essential tool. Here there are many resources available, from Marjorie Spock’s essay on Goethean Conversation in Group Moral Artistry (in our resource library) to the suggestions in articles above. The article, “Conversational Wisdom,” explores five aspects of conversation applied to mentoring outlined in the book, Winning Wisdom, by Robert Aubrey.




Mentoring: From Observation to Conversation by Holly Koteen Soule from NW Mentorship Seminar

These notes are the result of discussions among colleagues in the mentoring seminar held by Sound Circle Center in 2011. We explored three steps in the mentoring process – the observation, the inner work of the mentor in processing the observation, and the conversation between the advisee and mentor.


  • Acknowledge the inevitable separation between the observer and observed.
  • Let go of personal agendas and fixed ideas, look with fresh eyes.
  • Be aware that you are seeing a specific moment in time.
  • Be open to observing a class in a particular context, as a single gesture in a larger picture.
  • Look for something the teacher does better than you.
  • Be flexible in your thinking. A good mentor practices and attempts to help the teacher practice the art of characterization. Through characterization, one can connect with and be aware of both the archetypes and the specific individualities in a situation.
  • Look for the gift of the teacher.
  • Try to imagine the genius, spirit or angel of class and teacher.
  • Remember that in all your observations, you are in the picture, too.
  • Take good notes.
  • Encourage the teacher to share his or her observations so that you have different points of view on the same situation.

Between OBSERVATION and CONVERSATION: Contemplation

  • Reciprocity is powerful, and has spiritual activity in it – try to see things forward and backwards
  • Try on the habits of the teacher (i.e. speaking and walking).
  • Naming can be limiting; staying in the unknown can be helpful.
  • Take impressions into sleep life along with a question to seek new inspiration and insight.
  • Let go of what you think you know – practice open-mindedness.
  • Be interested in the whole life of the teacher - their biography, their individuality, their teaching experience and their capacities – and how these all affect their teaching.
  • Commit to doing your own inner work with your advisee over time.
  • Be aware of and sensitive to the most effective communication style and be willing to work in that style (i.e. know the temperament of the teacher and what they are struggling with).
  • Do not be invested in an outcome – be willing to enter into an exploration together.
  • Know when more help is needed, or another perspective could be helpful.


  • Build a safe space and trust between mentor and advisee (withhold judgment, don’t be in a hurry, really make it a genuine conversation and partnership, not a view from outside).
  • Use questions. Listen attentively.
  • Begin positively and speak specifically about effects and results of teacher’s actions – practice good feedback (see feedback article).
  • Be willing to share your own struggles and how you were able to make changes.
  • Be flexible in your own thinking.
  • Pay attention to when the teacher is open and when he/she begins to move inwardly or change outwardly in a positive way.
  • Remember the process is not about “fixing” a problem but about gaining insight.
  • Create a sense of direction together rather than fixed expectations.
  • Consider bringing a question from the conversation with the teacher to the whole faculty to explore.
  • Document the conversation.
  • Anticipate – look into the future together.



Five Strategies for Mentors, from Working Wisdom by Robert Aubrey

 In the book, Working Wisdom, Robert Aubrey outlines five key aspects of the work of mentors. We have borrowed Aubrey’s strategies and annotated them for relevance in mentoring teachers. -ms-


The basis of good mentoring is the commitment of the mentor to be aware of and support the teacher on their path of development. This goes beyond offering advice, suggestions or asking good questions. It requires the mentor to be willing to step inside the context and the story of the teacher and class, and be willing to become a co-journeyer. It also requires the teacher being mentored to be open to being a co-journeyer with his/her mentor. This commitment should be clear up front and the mentor and teacher should have a conversation together about what this means to each of them when they begin their process. This relationship will help the process maintain balance and strength over a longer time. The teacher, mentor, students, class, parents, school and world are all on an unfolding journey. The mentor and teacher can be mutually supportive on this journey so that at any given moment the teacher is growing in skill and confidence in his/her tasks.


The mentor by nature of his/her experience, training and selection as a mentor will be aware of deeper aspects of the teaching situation than the teacher. It is important for the mentor to observe the teacher and the class in a way to see the archetypes of what is happening. While a young teacher may be interested in developing skills to improve certain challenging situations he/she currently faces, the mentor can also provide helpful seeds for the future by illuminating the principles and ideals that will eventually lead to better teaching. After these seeds are planted, especially when the teacher is new or untrained, they will bear fruit in the future. Nonetheless, it is important that the mentor provide insights and share principles with the teacher that he/she can realize as experience grows.


While the use of questions is generally the best strategy for a mentor, there are important times when a more direct approach can be helpful. The direct approach is always a more risky path because the resulting reaction of the teacher cannot be programmed. The mentor should only use catalyzing when the situation in the classroom results in a high degree of chaos and when the mentor has not been able to help the teacher gain control. In chaotic situations one may catalyze action through passionate, angry or forcefully direct means, but rarely are these techniques helpful in mentoring. Before catalyzing, it is helpful for the mentor to be clear about his/her strategy and to have thought about how a stronger more direct action might affect the relationship with the teacher.


While the conversation between mentor and teacher is the heart of the mentoring relationship, there are times when it is advantageous for the mentor to demonstrate what they see as happening. It can be beneficial for a mentor to offer to teacher a short lesson in the class to show what he/she is experiencing and to let the teacher observe the class from a new perspective. Another form of showing is to allow the teacher to visit another classroom, especially of an experienced teacher. This is also an important part of the overall development of a teacher. It provides opportunities for the teacher to see in action what otherwise the mentor has described.


As has been outlined in other posts and articles, an essential key to mentoring is the work that the mentor does to gain a deep insight into the style, nature and skills of the teacher. From the mentor’s observation of the teacher, he/she can develop appropriate questions and conversation that can help draw out the genius of the teacher – to help the teacher see his/her strengths and to follow his/her intuitions. Teaching is a continually unfolding and transforming practice and improvisation that over time becomes more and more aligned with higher principles and ideals. The mentor can help the teacher find a stronger connection to his/her own insights and learn how to act on them in relationship to basic principles and goals.

For a look at Aubrey’s book about mentoring for business, click here.





Goethean Observation: Two Articles by Craig Holdrege

Seeing Nature Whole — A Goethean Approach

An article and resources from Craig Holdrege and The Nature Institute

If we want to attain a living understanding of nature, we must become as flexible and mobile as nature herself. - Goethe

Many of us were introduced to biology — the science of life — by dissecting frogs, and we never learned anything about living frogs in nature. Modern biology has increasingly moved out of nature and into the laboratory, driven by a desire to find an underlying mechanistic basis of life. Despite all its success, this approach is one-sided and urgently calls for a counterbalancing movement toward nature. Only if we find ways of transforming our propensity to reduce the world to parts and mechanisms, will we be able to see, value, and protect the integrity of nature and the interconnectedness of all things. This demands a new way of seeing.

Our methodology is inspired by integrative thinkers and scientists, such as Johann Wolfgang von GoetheRudolf Steiner, and Kurt Goldstein.

We develop ways of thinking and perception that integrate self-reflective and critical thought, imagination, and careful, detailed observation of the phenomena. The Nature Institute promotes a truly ecological understanding of the living world:

We study the internal ecology of plants and animals, elucidating how structures and functions interrelate in forming the creature as a whole. Our interdisciplinary approach integrates anatomy, physiology, behavior, development, genetics, and evolution.

We investigate the whole organism as part of the larger web of life. By creating life history stories of plants and animals, we open up a new understanding of our fellow creatures as dynamic and integrated beings.

Through this approach, the organism teaches us about itself, revealing its characteristics and its interconnectedness with the world that sustains it. This way of doing science enhances our sense of responsibility for nature. No one who has read, for example, Craig Holdrege's paper on the sloth, thereby coming to appreciate this animal as a unique, focused expression of its entire forest habitat, will be able to tolerate the thought of losing either the sloth or its habitat.

As Goethe so beautifully expresses it, all of nature's individual aspects are interconnected and interdependent:

We conceive of the individual animal as a small world, existing for its own sake, by its own means. Every creature is its own reason to be. All its parts have a direct effect on one another, a relationship to one another, thereby constantly renewing the circle of life; thus we are justified in considering every animal physiologically perfect....

Our purpose is to carry out research, produce publications and offer education programs that foster this new, qualitative approach to nature. We also give off-site talks and workshops on this work.

Goethe's Delicate Empiricism

Curious about Goethean science, a special interest group of the New York Academy of Sciences invited Craig Holdrege to speak on the topic in October, 2013. Craig has expanded that talk into an essay, Goethe and the Evolution of Science. It is perhaps the best place to start for anyone curious about what we mean by “Goethean science”.

Also, a special issue of the interdisciplinary journal Janus Head focuses on Goethe's approach to science. Fourteen essays discuss Goethe's “delicate empiricism” from a variety of perspectives. This is the most thorough collection of papers on Goethe's way of science that has appeared in recent years. Nature Institute director Craig Holdrege was one of the volume's guest editors. The volume is available online at and the bound version may also be ordered through the website.

To read Goethe’s seminal essay on the nature of scientific knowing and experimentation, “The Experiment as Mediator of Object and Subject” click here.

The following publications, written by Institute Director Craig Holdrege, illustrate the Goethean approach within the life sciences:

The Giraffe's Long Neck: From Evolutionary Fable to Whole Organism
This 104 page booklet is part of our Nature Institute Perspectives series.

This book provides a comprehensive picture of the giraffe’s biology and ecology and also discusses the complex and controversial issue of its evolution. It gives a unique portrayal of the giraffe while also exemplifying the Goethean approach to understanding animals and evolution. Click here for more information about this booklet

The Flexible Giant: Seeing the Elephant Whole
This 65 page booklet is part of our Nature Institute Perspectives series. Doug Groves, Chairman of Living with Elephants Foundation in Botswana, Africa wrote:

"Your marvelous mini-monograph on "the Flexible Giant" is momentous and inspirational! Please accept my wholehearted congratulations and thanks. For the past thirty plus years I've been sharing my daily life with elephants which I think puts me in a pretty good position to appreciate your fresh, succinct, thoughtful, holistic and principle-centered approach to seeing the elephant. By taking small groups of international visitors, local village children and school kids for interpretive walks in the bush with three habituated African Elephants we try to achieve what you have managed to do very nicely with words in your booklet."

Click here for details about this booklet


"Phenomenon Illuminate Phenomenon" by Craig Holdrege. In Context #26, Spring 2011

"The Story of an Organism: Common Milkweed" by Craig Holdrege. In Context#22-24, Fall 2009 - Fall 2010

"The Forming Tree" by Craig Holdrege. In Context #14, Fall 2005

"The Giraffe in Its World" by Craig Holdrege. In Context #12, Fall 2005

"The Giraffe's Short Neck." In Context #10, Fall 2003

"How Does a Mole View the World?" In Context #9, Spring 2003

"Portraying a Meadow." In Context #8, Fall 2002

"What Forms an Animal?" In Context #6, Fall 2001

"Skunk Cabbage." In Context #4, Fall 2000

"Where Do Organisms End?" In Context #3, Spring, 2000

"Genes and Life: The Need for Qualitative Understanding." In Context #1, Spring/Summer 1999

"Science as Process or Dogma? The Case of the Peppered Moth." Elemente der Naturwissenschaft, Vol. 70, 1999: pp. 39-51

"What Does it Mean to be a Sloth?"

"Seeing the Animal Whole: The Example of the Horse and Lion." In Goethe's Way of Science, edited by D. Seamon and A. Zajonc Albany: SUNY Press, 1998, pp. 213-232

"Pharming the Cow." NetFuture #43, March 20, 1997 (Also published in OrionWinter 1997)
For articles about the methodology of the goethean approach see:

"Learning to See Life: Developing the Goethean Approach to Science",Renewal, Fall 2005.

"Doing Goethean Science" Janus Head, Vol. 8.1, 2005

Learning to See Life - Developing the Goethean Approach to Science

Craig Holdrege

I have often thought that if a teacher wanted to have one succinct motto to hang above his or her bed, she’d have a hard time finding a better one than: _characterize, don’t define. _ In order to characterize, say, an animal, we have to carry within ourselves a vivid picture of its shape, how it moves, the sounds it makes, its habitat and the ways it relates to its environment. We bring alive through our imagination and speech something of the animal’s nature. We learn, for example, how the sloth spends its life hanging in and slowly moving through the boughs of rain forest trees. It recedes into its environment to the degree that it lets algae grow in its fur, which soaks up rain like a sponge, and the resulting greenish tinge makes the sloth nearly invisible in the tree crowns. It is so adapted to hanging that it is virtually helpless on the ground.  Everything about the sloth is slow it moves slowly, it digests slowly (only climbing down to the ground once a week to, as the students would say, pee and poop); it grows slowly, reacts slowly and seems largely impervious to pain (1). When we paint a picture of the animal in this way a process in which the students are involved the animal can begin to live in the soul of the child or adolescent.

Characterization imbues a subject with life. To define may make something clear, but it is the kind of clarity that is all too often void of life. When Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf education, urged teachers to characterize and not define, he did so because he knew that through characterization we form living concepts that can grow and transform (2). A definition, by contrast, is fixed. Unfortunately, it is often within biology classes, with all the rote learning and memorization of definitions for multiple-choice exams, where traditional outcome-based education reaches its unhappy epitome. And biology is supposed to be the science of life.  Charles Dickens gives a lovely caricature of this way of teaching in his novel Hard Times:

_In this life, we want nothing but Facts, sir; nothing but Facts! __.
Blitzer, said Thomas Gradgrind, your definition of a horse.
Quadruped. Graminivorous. Forty teeth, namely twenty-four grinders, four eyeteeth, and twelve incisive. Sheds coat in the spring; in marshy countries, sheds hoofs too. Hoofs hard, but requiring to be shod with iron. Age known by marks in mouth. Thus (and much more) Bitzer.
_Now girl number twenty, _ said Mr. Gradgrind, _you know what a horse is. _

Of course we all need to learn facts, but isolated facts are soon forgotten and are like stones instead of nourishment for the human soul. What the students need is to see how the facts relate to each other, how the parts of an organism interact in service to the life of the whole creature. You could say that all real knowing is ecological knowing - knowing how something is part of a larger, dynamic context. If we can bring students into this way of knowing, we are preparing them for a life in a world that will not offer them pat solutions, but demand from them the ability to grow and form new ideas in relation to new and unforeseen demands.

The problem is that modern habits of thought and academic training, which encourage, above all, analysis and abstract theorizing, do not give teachers the tools they need to bring this kind of understanding to students. In fact, they tend to deaden both the propensity toward quiet and open-ended observation and the concrete, imaginative capacities a teacher needs most in order to build up exact, yet living pictures of the world.

Already over 80 years ago, Steiner saw that teachers came out of the _system_ with rigid, one-sided habits of thought. He saw the Goethean approach to nature and science as a key enabling teachers to transform their own thinking and bring a more vital reality to their students:

Our way of thinking is inclined to place things side by side. This shows us how little our concepts are geared to outer reality. In outer reality things flow together_. We need to think things together, and not as separate from each other. A person who wishes only to think things separated resembles a man who wishes only to inhale, never to exhale_. Here you have something that teachers in the future will have to do; they must above all acquire for themselves this inwardly mobile thinking, this unschematic thinking.
Science will have to wake up in a Goethean sense and move from the dead to the living. This is what I mean when I say again and again that we need to learn to get beyond our dead abstract concepts and move into living, concrete concepts. (3)

In our work at The Nature Institute we are committed to helping teachers and people who want to become teachers work on this transformation. One of the challenges of this task is that learning an approach that aims to reveal life in nature entails both ridding ourselves of ingrained habits of thought and mobilizing new.



More Mentoring Resources 2

There are a lot of resources in the business and education world relating to mentoring. We have tried to capture most of the core principles in the articles in this and the last newsletter. Along with the three pieces below, check out the 26 resources in our resource library.

“Light in the Soul”

from More Precious Than Light by Margreet Van Den Brink

In this chapter of her book on social encounter and conversation, Margreet explores the relationship between conscious conversation and the development of the three aspects of the soul outlined by Rudolf Steiner. For anyone interested in the more esoteric nature of conversation and the soul, this short piece is illuminating. Read more...

“The Art of Fruitful Conversation”

from Mentoring in Early Childhood Education by Carol Nasr Griset and Kim Raymond

Creating a space for honest listening, speaking and building relationship in a mentoring situation are at the heart of this chapter from WECAN's book Mentoring in Early Childhood Education. It also explores practical aspects of the mentoring relationship and the essential work of the mentor. Read more...

“Mentoring vs. Coaching”

from Management Mentoring Inc.

This article explores 25 ways that coaching and mentoring are different. It helps clarify the distinction that one can coach another to help them achieve a goal while a mentor works to help the person grow and develop in their life. Read more...

“Light in the Soul“ from More Precious Than Light by Margreet Van Den Brink

What actually happens to us when we hold conversations and relate to each other in this way? In order to understand this, it is necessary to know a little more how the soul works and how the spirit self develops in this.

Our soul consists of three separate layers of consciousness that developed one after the other during the course of human evolution. The oldest part of the soul, the part that is still strongly connected to the life processes of the physical body, is known as the sentient soul or the soul of experience. Our deep subjective needs, emotions, impulses of the will and so on live in this part of the soul. These form the subjective basis for our perceptions of the outside world. Through the sentient soul we do not experience the world passively but approach it with our personally tinged responses, moods and emotions. This enables us to connect with the events, things and people around us. But also with ourselves because it is as a result of the emotions longings and impulses of the will that are evoked in us by the world around us that we experience ourselves in the first place. This is how we become aware of ourselves inwardly.

All the impressions and experiences, which we assimilate in the course of our lives, take place in the first instance in the sentient soul. Parts of these experiences are retained there. However the largest part disappear deep down into the lower regions of our etheric and physical body and thus into the unconscious regions of our soul.

The second part of the soul, the intellectual soul, enables us through logical thinking to express our experiences in words and arrange them according to their importance. This makes it possible to distinguish what is important from what is unimportant and so we are able to make choices. Through thinking the emotions can become true feelings. The intellectual soul stores these experiences of which we have become conscious intellectually and emotionally.

The third part of the soul is the soul of consciousness or the consciousness soul. It is the forces of this part of the soul that enable us to become conscious of the truth and the essence of things and understand the relationships between them. However, this works only if we come to permeate our experiences and feelings with thoughts and when we experience or feel what we think. Only then can the truth of things become apparent and the essence become manifest. The consciousness soul contains all the truths we have taken into ourselves and of which we have become conscious.

In the previous chapter I said that our spiritual being, the spirit self, for its greatest part still lives concealed within us. Most of it lies dormant in the unconscious regions of our soul: the depths of the etheric and physical body. When however we become inwardly active, that is turn inward into our soul with the consciousness that comes into our higher being, it can step by step be lifted up through the different parts of the soul and be gradually awakened in the I.

First in a more dreamy feeling way in the sentient soul then more clearly in concepts in the intellectual soul until it finally becomes conscious of itself in the consciousness soul and so becomes liberated and free.

When we apply this to the true conversation in which both per partners show interest in each other, ask questions and listen with an active open attitude of mind to what is to be being told we get the following process.

When we ask each other to speak out we recall in our sentient soul that which lives in us as feelings, questions, needs, ideas, impulses, in relation to the subject we are dealing with. That activates the soul. The experiences start to live in us and we become more inwardly lively. It shows that the spirit self begins to awaken in this part of the soul. That is why so much happens already when one person gets the chance to speak with someone else who is interested, listens carefully and goes into the subject with open questions, someone who is inwardly active. When we then name the experiences that are heard, order them with thinking and form tentative conclusions that bring us to the first insights, we lift these up to the level of the intellectual soul.

A further step to an even higher level takes place in this process of awakening when we let that which we have found intellectually connect with the deeper layers of our being in the consciousness soul and let the experience to speak out their essence, their meeting.

Hans Schauder, who in his book Conversations on Counseling also mentions these different stages, speaks in an impressive way about the inner attitude and the quality of mind that is needed to reach this level of consciousness. He says that we should let them let that which we have found so far - the images of the experiences and that which we have thought about it - sink into the depths of our being and let them ripen there. Then after some time, answers and solutions will rise out of the depths of our soul that fill us with feelings of certainty and truth.

That is how we can in true conversations help each other to awaken the higher being living in us. The insights that we receive on the level of the consciousness soul then touch us again because of their truth. We feel liberated and happy that we have found something essentially true. This emotion and happiness brings us back to our sentient soul and from there the acquired insights and truths enrich and enhance our whole soul.

This is the process Rudolf Steiner refers to in his book occult science when he says that we have to raise the spirits self up from the depths of the soul through self reflection, Through our own inner activity it results in self-knowledge which is at the same time spiritual knowledge.

This reveals clearly what the process of spiritual growth entails: every time we first have to experience afresh all our experiences in the sentient soul, then we have to think about them and finally distill or peel the essence out of these experiences. By repeatedly passing through the process of active self-reflection and judgment building the spirit being within us is gradually awakened step by step. At the same time, this process allows us to digest the things we have experienced. Yes there is even a close connection between the extent to which we digest our experiences and the extent to which our spiritual being is released.




Complaint Assessment Checklist from One World Trust

Complaint and response procedures

A self-assessment questionnaire for your organization

Variations on the checklist below have been used by different organizations in the process of setting up a complaint and response procedure. It has been adapted from relevant work undertaken by the One World Trust and the Charity Commission. The questionnaire is meant to be used as a starting point for discussion within your team on: areas where the organization is performing well and not so well (if yes and partly); changes needed to improve current practice (if no); and areas where there is a need for better information sharing within the organization (if don’t know).

Not all statements will apply to all types or sizes of NGOs. For example, an NGO that is simply involved in grant provision may need a less detailed procedure than one that provides direct services to vulnerable users.

1 The basics

1.1 Does your organization have a clear definition of a valid complaint?
1.2 Does your organization make a commitment to respond to all valid
1.3 Do you have a clearly defined policy and procedure for managing
1.4 Does your procedure have set timelines?
1.5 Are potential complainants fully aware of the procedure?
1.6 Have you considered the needs (format, language, etc.) of your
potential complainants?
1.7 Do you try to deal with complaints locally, i.e. where and when they
are first received?
1.8 Does your procedure involve at least two stages?
1.9 Does it include input from an independent person or organization in at least one stage?
1.10 Does your procedure ensure that complaints are managed in a fair
and impartial manner?
1.11 Does it respect confidentiality of the complainant?

2 Governance, management and resources

2.1 Is a named member of staff (independent of potential complainants)
responsible for receiving and handling complaints?
2.2 Does your procedure make clear who is ultimately accountable for
managing complaints?
2.3 Is a leadership staff responsible for oversight
of in this area?
2.4 Are adequate resources assigned for the implementation of the
policy, which cover staff and operational costs?
2.5 Is everyone who may be involved in managing a complaint, at any
stage, fully aware of their role in the process?
2.6 Is your complaints procedure explained as part of the induction process for volunteers, including trustees, and staff?
2.7 Does everyone who may be involved in managing a complaint have
access to training in complaints management?
2.8 Do you have a system for recording the number of complaints you
receive and what they are about (investigation timelines and findings, redress details, etc.)?
2.9 Is your complaints management system integrated with other
systems within the organization, such as your annual report, annual general meeting, staff training, quality assurance, or duty of care?
2.10 Do you review your procedure regularly, taking into account any
issues that have arisen since the last review as well as any changes to best practice in complaints management?

3 Outcomes of a complaint: for the complainant and for your

3.1 Do you analyze and publish information about the number, nature
and outcome of the complaints you have received?
3.2 Do you use this information to review and improve the services you
offer/ activities you undertake / processes you have in place, etc.?
3.3 Are any learning points from complaints communicated throughout
your organization?
3.4 Is your organization clear about the type of responses it offers to
different complaints?
3.5 Do successful complainants receive suitable and proportionate redress?
3.6 Do you seek feedback from complainants about their experience of
your complaints procedure and use this to improve the way you manage complaints?
3.7 Would you be able to offer any support or advice to another organization in setting up a complaints management system and/or managing complaints?

4 Managing expectations

4.1 Do you ask the complainant, at the earliest possible stage, what
they want as an outcome of their complaint?
4.2 Are you confident that your complaints management system will
operate consistently at different times and/or in different situations?
4.3 Does your procedure include information about how to stop a
complaint if it has become unhelpful to the complainant and the organization?
4.4 Do you offer practical or emotional support to complainants?
4.5 Do you offer support to people who are complained about?

The Art of Fruitful Conversation, Griset and Raymond, WECAN

The Art of Fruitful Conversation

Carol Nasr Griset and Kim Raymond


From Chapter Six of Mentoring in Waldorf Early

Childhood Education, WECAN Publications, 2007.


“What is more splendid than gold?” “Light.” “What is more refreshing than light?” “Conversation.” (Goethe, “The Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily”)


When we think of conversation, we tend to focus on what is said. On further reflection, however, we realize that listening is just as essential a part of conversation as speaking. A true conversation is a meeting of two individuals who together have the

possibility of seeing something new arise from their understanding of one another.


The Role of Listening

When I am listened to, it creates me. (Brenda Ueland, “Tell Me More”)

herself available as a guide in the self-development process of the other. As listening mentors, we strive to create a fertile space within ourselves where the other’s words may take root and grow. We open ourselves to them so that their unique way of being in the world and of caring for young children may flourish. We create a space for them to feel whole, valued and understood.


Listen to the new teacher. Listening is perhaps the most important thing you can do. Let the new teacher tell her story and encourage her in the telling. This is the story of preparation, questions, new ideas, struggles, concerns, worries. Be genuinely interested and try

to resist the urge to tell her how you handled those problems or the temptation to sort it all out for her. And when you listen, listen; don’t take notes. (Trevor Mepham, Teachers Helping Teachers)


Trust in the mentor will make it safe for the mentee to speak honestly. According to one experienced mentor, it is crucial that the mentor not have a “hidden agenda” in the conversation such as wanting to bring attention to a specific defect or issue that she thinks is causing difficulties. The mentor’s attitude needs to be one of interest, and of not knowing what the other wants, feels or thinks. The mentor cannot assume or presume what the other will bring. This atmosphere of openness allows the mentee to be vulnerable in her feelings and creative in her thinking as she speaks. In turn, the mentor may hear something profound that she needed to hear at that moment, coming from the person being mentored.


If we concentrate our hearing until we are filled with the sound of another’s voice, then an intimate encounter with the essence of the speaker can come about. (Zimmermann)


Attentive listening means we consciously work to withhold judgment and comparison. We withhold our responses, our thoughts and our expectations. In this process of holding back, we make space for the other and thus become truly available to them. We become aware that another’s approach, though different from our own, does not necessarily need to be corrected or changed. When asked what would be helpful from a

mentor, a new teacher said, “Before you make a judgment, ask us ‘why did you do it that way?’ Even though you may be more experienced, please remain open to our new ideas.”


In committing ourselves to listen, we have a chance to dissolve old forms and prejudgments, to loosen ourselves from our thinking and acquire a different kind of knowing – that which comes through our feeling and willing – our impressionable receptivity. (Georg Kühlewind, Star Children)


. . .The mentor listens with all her senses. With her ears, she hears the words and tone of voice. With her eyes, she perceives the other person’s eyes, facial expressions, body language and gesture. If we listen to another person as though to a piece of music we will get to know their “composing style” and give them space to express this style freely. Through deep, empathic listening the mentor becomes aware of the mentee’s vision and how she is striving.

The quality of the mentor’s listening will draw out and confirm what the mentee already knows. The mentor observes and listens to ascertain the purposefulness in the mentee’s decisions and actions. She may be able to encourage a gift the mentee may not fully appreciate in herself. For example, in listening to the mentee tell a story to the children, the mentor may see through an awkward presentation of the story to experience the mentee’s enthusiasm and real gift for creating imaginative pictures in her storytelling.

Keen listening will allow the mentor to ascertain if the mentee is speaking out of her own understanding, or is borrowing from someone else. Perhaps the mentee is expressing what she thinks the mentor wants to hear; perhaps she is saying what she thinks she “should” be saying as a new teacher, or what she has heard other teachers say. With sensitive questions and empathy the mentor can guide the mentee toward authenticity, self- confidence, and true creativity.


The Role of Speaking


Improving our ability to converse means improving our ability to interact socially. We can give our partners-

in-conversation opportunities to develop themselves, arrive at insights, find solutions and feel supported, or we can use conversation solely to develop and validate ourselves. (Zimmermann)


With this in mind, a mentor’s listening will inform her speaking. Through open and fully attentive listening, our speaking will arise naturally as we seek to clarify what the mentee is saying.   Our thoughtful questions will support the mentee in discovering her capacities and developing herself as a teacher.

In moving from listening to speaking, asking questions is most helpful when the questions serve to develop the themes brought forth by the mentee. Bringing an attitude of warmth and empathy to her questions, the mentor seeks to hear more about the mentee’s ideas. We may be able to remember how difficult it can be for a new teacher to express intentions and impressions to a seasoned teacher.


Remember not to patronize. The new teacher is intelligent, skilled, inventive, sensitive, and she may have something to teach you. Draw ideas and possibilities out of her through questions and observations and don’t give easy answers. Have the tact to let her discover her own answers. (Mepham)


As mentors, we may need to remind ourselves that in order to understand another, we “stand under” them with a respectful and learning attitude, remembering that it takes years of teaching to discover one’s own style and learn to be comfortably oneself with the children. Else Gottgens, a long- time mentor, says, “Before I go into a teacher’s classroom, I first remind myself to look for something which that teacher can do better than I. What can I find to truly admire in the other adult?”


Establishing a Relationship and Asking Helpful Questions

Building a relationship with the mentee is a pre- requisite for having a fruitful conversation. Early in the mentoring process, the mentor will need to ask the mentee, “What do you want, hope for, and expect from the mentoring relationship?” We can then clarify, if necessary, how we see our role as a mentor.

Both mentor and mentee will find it helpful for the mentee to complete a self-assessment before the visit. This should include self-perceived areas of strength and weakness, and any concerns the mentee has in her work. When asking the mentee to prepare such a self-assessment prior to the visit, the mentor may help the process by asking the mentee to consider the following:

“What part of your work gives you the most joy and satisfaction?”

“What do you find especially difficult?” “What are your priorities for this year?” An experienced mentor suggested that if something is hard for the mentee, the mentor can encourage her to narrow down the area of difficulty. For example, if the mentee is challenged by circle time, the mentor may help her pinpoint the challenge. The mentor can begin by asking what parts of the circle go smoothly. From an awareness of the mentee’s strengths, the mentor can better help her approach the problem.

It is important to ask open questions that encourage the mentee to become more conscious of what she already knows. A mentee is likely to appreciate questions that focus her awareness. During the mentoring visit, such open questions might include: “What do you think are your strengths?” and “In what ways have you grown

since you started working with young children?” In helping a mentee to clarify her communication with us, we may offer a comment such as, “Let me see if I understand what you are saying.” Then the mentor may reflect back as clearly as possible what she has heard. Clarity will enable the mentor to validate and support what the mentee is expressing.

In helping the mentee to reflect on the day, the mentor may find questions such as the following useful: “How was the morning for you? What parts of it do you think went well? What parts of the morning were most challenging?” In supporting and respecting the growth of the mentee, a mentor might need to guide her away from labeling or blaming a child or parent in a difficult situation

A mentor may be able to offer a new approach that focuses the mentee on what positive actions she might initiate to help resolve a difficulty. The mentor can help the mentee to expand on her self- observation by asking questions such as: “Can you tell me more about that? Can you think of any way you might be contributing to the problem? Have you thought about a possible plan of action?”

By asking the mentee to describe the areas where she feels most competent, the mentor acknowledges her abilities and reminds her of why she has chosen this work as her vocation. In addition, by allowing her to talk about her challenges, the mentor creates the opportunity for the mentee to place her pride, vulnerability or embarrassment into the chalice of conversation.

Additional Aspects of Conversation

There is another kind of conversation to pay attention to during the mentoring visit: the daily exchanges the mentee has while she is working. How is the conversation between teacher and children;

the conversation/relationship between teacher and assistant; and the conversation/relationship between the teacher and the parents? Are the children being heard and are the children hearing the teacher?

The mentor will be looking for the quality of these “conversations” even though they may sometimes be non-verbal. Is it a fruitful exchange, and is there understanding? Does the assistant feel acknowledged; do the parents feel appreciated? What is the quality of the exchanges between the mentee and the people she relates to every day?

A mentor may be asked for help with the mentee’s relationship with the parents of the children in her class. She may suggest that the mentee approach the teacher-parent relationship as one would approach a conversation: that is, by setting aside pre-judgments and expectations and offering an open and empathic atmosphere for an exchange to take place. The mentor may remind the mentee of the importance of fully attentive listening when interacting with parents, so that she may experience with them, as she does with the children, the love that grows out of interest. The mentee may need to be encouraged in embracing and respecting the parents’ central role in their child’s life. It can come as a surprise to a beginning teacher how much of her work will be with parents. Mentors can have an important role to play in helping new teachers find ways to include parents in the life of the class. Occasionally, the mentor may be asked to help the mentee plan a parent evening. By active listening and reflective feedback, a mentor can encourage the mentee’s enthusiasm and help her focus her plans for sharing her ideas and observations with the parents. The mentor’s experienced perspective is valuable in this area and can serve as a reminder to the mentee about how much she can learn from the parents.

Sometimes a mentor may enter into a mentoring relationship with an experienced teacher who is resistant to feedback or deeply entrenched in particular patterns or habits of relating to young children. The mentor may then approach more deeply the intention behind the teacher’s actions, asking, “What is the thought behind the action? She may pose the question to the teacher, “What are your reasons for doing it this way?” “Is it having the effect you hoped for?” “Have you ever considered trying. . . ?”

Occasionally a mentor will encounter a mentee who is wondering if she should be pursuing teaching as her career; or the mentor might have this question. It might be helpful to inquire about the mentee’s biography and why she chose to enter the field of teaching. The mentor may help the mentee perceive if she is experiencing a temporary difficulty or if a bigger question exists for her. This situation calls for honesty and tact from the mentor. A question such as, “Does teaching nourish you as a life’s work?” may be helpful.

Some Practical Considerations

Just as the children’s activity is nourished by healthy environment, the mentoring conversation is affected by surrounding circumstances. Is the setting private? Is it quiet enough to allow for focus and concentration? What time of day is it? Are the participants hungry, tired, or needing a break? In some teacher education programs, it is the mentee’s responsibility to ensure that the conversation is given the necessary respect within the framework of the day so that a fruitful exchange can take place In this case, the mentee will be expected to attend to the practical details of arranging an appropriate setting as well as allowing for adequate time. For example, the mentee might need to schedule a substitute to cover for her if she has afternoon faculty duties. One mentor noted the difficulty of conducting a mentoring conversation while sitting

at a picnic table on a windy winter afternoon during the mentee’s playground duty.

Sometimes the planning may be the responsibility of the mentor. The mentor will be prepared to ask the mentee to “make time” for the conversation during the school day. Eating lunch together after a morning observation may help the transition into a more relaxed conversation. Ideally, there would be some time between the observation and the conversation to allow both to collect their thoughts and digest the morning’s experiences.

If the mentee has an assistant, or is an assistant, meeting for half an hour with both individuals before meeting alone with the mentee, can be helpful. In this way, the mentor has an opportunity to ask how the morning went for each of them separately and as a team. By creating an atmosphere of trust and empathy, the mentor gives each a chance to speak openly about working together. If there are struggles between the two, the mentor can normalize or provide neutral ground to the struggles between teacher and assistant, likening them to the struggles in any close relationship. She may need to affirm how important it is for the children to experience an atmosphere of respect and caring between the two. The mentor may need to help the pair to have realistic expectations of one another and of their relationship.

It often helps to put a mentee at ease if mentor and mentee are able to socialize outside of the mentoring conversation. They may have a meal together or take a walk, or the mentor may stay at the mentee’s house. The casual time that mentor and mentee spend together outside of the classroom in an informal setting may lead to expanded or enhanced conversation and deeper understanding of one another. If the mentor stays at the home of the mentee, she may have the opportunity to meet the mentee’s spouse or family and gain a greater awareness of the mentee’s life situation. This broader perspective will allow the mentor to offer a greater depth of support, compassion, and encouragement.

The passage of time is a mysterious element in the mentoring relationship. The quality of conversation will change as mentor and mentee come to know one another. As trust develops, conversations will ripen and yield more insight. Another aspect of time the mentor may notice is that often it will not be until the next day or the next week that the significance of a question or comment will surface. The mentor may find an opportunity to mention these insights or

ask additional questions in a follow-up phone conversation or visit.

Qualities to Cultivate; Additional Thoughts

Through the ages, people have sought wise counsel from those who are more experienced. As listener, a guide, and a mirror, our role as mentor is profound. Foremost for the mentor is facility in the art of communication. As experienced teachers, we come to the mentoring role with a wide variety of skills and an abundance of gifts to share. In order

to be truly effective in aiding the self-development of the other, we have a responsibility to hone our communication skills through workshops and study. Often a mentor can spend much time and energy in conversation with a mentee and wonder if there was a positive effect. It may be helpful for the mentor to create a way for the mentee to give feedback regarding the mentoring experience. Such feedback could be sent to the mentor and/or initiating body. This information could provide valuable insight for the mentor’s self-evaluation and bring to light aspects of the mentor’s listening and speaking that need more awareness.

It is worthwhile for the mentor to review the balance of listening and speaking after a conversation, and to ask herself about the quality of connection. “How was the understanding between us?” As mentors, we need to develop the self-knowledge that informs us whether we should learn to listen more or to speak more. What is our natural tendency and how do we cultivate the other capacity? A mentor must be able to practice reflection on her own motives, strengths and weaknesses, asking, for example, “How do I respond to criticism or praise?” Our ability to be helpful as a mentor is grounded in who we are and who we are striving to become. If we remain open to the possibilities for growth, mentoring has the possibility of transforming the mentor as well as the mentee.

This chapter began with the quotation from Brenda Ueland, “When I am listened to, it creates me.” As mentors, let us strive to cultivate the capacity to listen in a way that makes this thought a reality.


Carol Nasr Griset has taught young children for fifteen years and now mentors for Rudolf Steiner College and for LifeWays. Kim Raymond has been involved with Waldorf education for over thirty years, for the past six years teaching at the Haleakala Waldorf School in Maui.