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 athttp://www.janushead.org/8-1/index.cfm 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.

Mentor in Greek Mythology

In Greek mythology, Mentor was the son of Heracles and Asopis. In his old age Mentor was a friend of Odysseus, who had placed Mentor and Odysseus' foster-brother Eumaeus in charge of his son Telemachus, and of Odysseus' palace, when Odysseus left for the Trojan War.
When Athena visited Telemachus she took the disguise of Mentor to hide herself from the suitors of Telemachus's mother Penelope. As Mentor, the goddess encouraged Telemachus to stand up against the suitors and go abroad to find out what happened to his father. When Odysseus returned to Ithaca, Athena appeared briefly in the form of Mentor again at Odysseus' palace.
Because of Mentor's relationship with Telemachus, and the disguised Athena's encouragement and practical plans for dealing with personal dilemmas, the personal name Mentor has been adopted in English as a term meaning someone who imparts wisdom to and shares knowledge with a less experienced colleague.
The first recorded modern usage of the term can be traced to a 1699 book entitled Les Aventures de Télémaque, by the French writer François Fénelon. In the book the lead character is that of Mentor. This book was very popular during the 18th century and the modern application of the term can be traced to this publication.


from the internet

Mentoring in Waldorf Early Childhood Education, WECAN

About mentoring . . . to begin with . . .

Mentoring is a collegial relationship which contributes to the personal and professional development of both the mentor and the student, teacher, or caregiver being mentored (called the “mentee” in this handbook). Mentoring is a process of mutual adult learning.

The mentor, an experienced teacher, supports the growth of the mentee through observation and the mentoring conversation, sharing the fruits of her experience in a way that helps the mentee to see her own work more clearly and to feel encouraged in her striving. It is important to keep in mind that mentoring is distinct from evaluating.

The mentee, who may be a student in a training program, a new teacher or caregiver, or an experienced professional seeking renewal, offers the mentor an opportunity for new insights on her own path.

In mentoring, the experienced educator serves the Waldorf movement by helping to insure that programs are rooted in a strong Waldorf early childhood offering; a mentored teacher or caregiver is able to enhance the health of the setting where she works. In a fundamental sense, the mentor serves children and their parents through her work with their teacher or caregiver.

The work of the mentor grows out of an understanding of, and gratitude for, the insights of Rudolf Steiner. Keeping these insights at the forefront in the mentoring work—in a way that is thoughtful, not dogmatic—fosters the development of a Waldorf movement with integrity, true to its essential qualities.

The quality of the mentoring visit will be heightened by communication in advance to ensure clarity of purpose, expectations, and process. The follow-up record of the visit and conversation will contribute to the usefulness of the experience for the mentee.

In Mentoring in Waldorf Early Childhood Education, we have enlarged on these key aspects of mentoring, with chapters on the essentials of Waldorf early childhood work, the paths of self- education and adult learning, the “nuts and bolts” of mentoring, and the nature of a fruitful mentoring conversation. Our hope is to follow this publication with a companion handbook on teacher evaluation.

Each chapter retains the voice of its author, but was written after thorough work among the Task Force members and other experienced mentors. We hope you, the reader—whether a mentor, mentee, or member of a school committee—will feel free to read chapters in whatever order seems most useful.

We gratefully acknowledge the Waldorf Educational Foundation for providing support for the work of the WECAN Mentoring Task Force over the past two years.


Table of Contents

Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

I. Self-Education as the Basis for the Art of Mentoring
Andrea Gambardella . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3

II. The Role of Mentoring Early Childhood Teachers and Caregivers: Context and Purpose
Connie White . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .7

III. Laying the Basis for the Mentoring Visit
Nancy Foster . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11

IV. The Essentials of Waldorf Early Childhood Education
Susan Howard . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .15

V. The Mentoring Observation: What Do We Look For?
Nancy Foster . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .25

VI. The Art of Fruitful Conversation
Carol Nasr Griset & Kim Raymond . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31

VII. Pearls of Wisdom: The Role of Advice in Mentoring
Nancy Foster . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .39

VIII. Accountability: Written Records
Nancy Foster . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .43

IX. Meeting at the Eye of the Needle: Mentoring on the Path of Adult Learning
Susan Silverio . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .45

References (listed by chapter) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 51

About the authors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .55


Along with a growing interest in Waldorf education, and the proliferation of new initiatives, comes the need for more early childhood teachers and caregivers. And along with the preparation of these professionals—through early childhood education programs and individual inner work—comes the need for collegial support. Such support is of value not only to new teachers and caregivers as they launch into this vital work, but also to those with experience who are seeking further professional development.

One of the great gifts of Waldorf education is the stimulation of the human capacity for life-long learning. This capacity is nurtured in both the students and their teachers. Rudolf Steiner admonishes us never to become stale, and certainly the children who come to us are asking—indeed, demanding—that we continue to grow and learn. We are grateful to Rudolf Steiner’s insights which provide the substance for our work and enkindle our enthusiasm.

Through the mentoring partnership, professional growth of both mentor and mentee are encouraged and supported. Early childhood education is a challenging profession, and having a supportive colleague can be a crucial factor in a teacher’s developing competency, pedagogical artistry, and self-confidence. There is a wonderful passage from Ecclesiastes (4: 9-10) which expresses the essence of mentoring:

Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall one will lift up his fellow. Woe to him who is alone. When he falls he has not another to lift him up.

The Mentoring Task Force of WECAN was formed in 2004 in recognition of the essential role of mentoring in the healthy development of Waldorf early childhood education and Waldorf early childhood teachers and caregivers. Our mandate was to find ways to offer support and guidance to those who are mentoring others. In consultation with other experienced Waldorf early childhood
mentors from all over North America, we have created a document which we hope will be informative and helpful to mentors, to those who are being mentored, and to schools and other settings which may be establishing in-house mentoring practices.

We offer practical guidelines for clarity in the mentoring process, thoughts on the role of
self-education, and a look at the underlying essentials of Waldorf early childhood education, We also include chapters on the nature of advice and on the art of fruitful conversation, which is the heart
of the mentoring relationship. The final chapter, an examination of the path of adult learning and self-development, could be a valuable resource for faculty study. A list of references concludes the handbook.

Our intention is to provide a working handbook for the mentoring partnership. Such a handbook is necessarily incomplete, a work-in-progress. Mentoring, like teaching, involves continual growth, questioning, and learning. We hope this book may play a part in that process.

—Nancy Foster, for the WECAN Mentoring Task Force

Mentoring Task Force: Nancy Foster, Andrea Gambardella, Susan Howard, Carol Nasr Griset, Kim
Raymond, Celia Riahi, Susan Silverio, Connie White

Click here for the entire booklet:  MentoringWaldorfECE


Working Together: An Introduction to Pedagogical Mentoring


Table of Contents

Foreword .     .     .                7

Introduction .     .     .     .                       11

Considerations for Schools .     .     .           15

An Example of Mentoring Practice in the

Elementary Grades .     .     .        15

Working Together Towards Excellence in

Waldorf Education   .     .     .             15

One School’s Experience with Mentoring .     .   16

Effective Mentoring .     .     .     .              17

Examples of Mentoring Styles

or Approaches .     .     .     .       .18

Implementing In-House Mentoring .     .           20

The Difference between Mentoring

and Evaluation .     .     .     .     .              20

Considerations for the Individual Mentor   .     .    .      22

The Mentor .     .     .    .     .     .                    22

Why Become a Mentor? .     .     .     . .              24

Basic Criteria for Mentoring .     .     . .           24

Taking the First Steps Towards Establishing the Mentor/Mentee Relationship .              25

Preparing for a Visit:

Before Entering the Classroom .     .              26

The Visit: Entering the Classroom .                 27

The Visit: In the Classroom .     .                  28

Two Essential Questions for the Mentor .            29

Interventions and Demonstrations:

When and How .     .     .              29

The Post-Observation Conversation .     .                   30

Why the Socratic Method?   .        31

For Further Information   .     .             35


Bibliography .     .     .     .                       36


A . Criteria for Healthy Waldorf Classrooms .     .     .     39

B . Seven Questions .     .     .                  43

C . Capacities, Skills and Support .     .      .         45


Rudolf Steiner had a strong vision for the future of humanity .   His every indication was for us as students of anthroposophy to continually strive to create cultural institutions where true individual freedom and diversity can live . Waldorf schools are a testimony to Steiner’s picture of an ever-alive and developing cultural community . Waldorf schools do not have the usual checks and balances found in educational institutions where school principals, headmasters/mistresses or department heads oversee the quality of the teaching .   Instead, each Waldorf teacher strives individually in the classroom and works with colleagues in a learning, educational community . This is done in accordance with his or her conscience and will . We Waldorf teachers are grateful to be able to work in freedom, a freedom where our own initiative and capacities allow us to be humanly creative .

What does this mean? Beginning with a thorough study of the Waldorf curriculum and then embracing the principal of “working out of anthroposophy,” a path of self development, the Waldorf teacher realizes one can never fully reach the ultimate or top level in one’s work . There is always more to learn . Each child, class or even decade changes previously known ‘ways’ of teaching . The Waldorf teacher continually strives to “read the moment” and create a lively class atmosphere for the students, where they feel known and challenged . Inherent in Waldorf teaching is working with the unfolding child in a conscious, open mode allowing the rigors and excellence of the class curriculum to develop capacities . With the help of working with the anthroposophical picture of the unfolding human being, Waldorf teachers try consciously to teach not for immediate results, but for the future, where lasting capacities and skills will serve the student for life .

Rudolf Steiner described teaching as an art . Waldorf schools respect and encourage differences in “styles” of each teacher . But, as with all fine artists, basic skills must be mastered and understandings become “second nature” before interpretation and inspiration take hold .

This sounds good in the ideal, but given the Waldorf school community without a hierarchical structure, where individual “freedom” in the classroom reigns, many questions arise .

  • How can we be assured in our school that the quality of the teaching and the depth of understanding of Waldorf education grow stronger each year?
  • How do we know what our colleagues are doing in the classroom?
  • What is the best way to support a new teacher?
  • Where can we go with our questions and inevitable struggles as teachers?
  • Are there agreements we can reach as an Association on best principles of mentoring and basic benchmarks for each grade?

It was out of this thinking that the regional leaders of the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America back in 2002 recognized the need to bring together, from all over the continent, experienced teachers who mentor for collaboration on professionalism in teaching in Waldorf schools .   There were then, and are now, schools with excellent mentoring and evaluation programs . There were and are schools that are struggling to exist . The Pedagogical Advisors’ Colloquium was founded to raise the awareness for the need for networking in strengthening mentoring and evaluation in all schools . In keeping with Steiner’s indications, mentoring, like teaching, is an art requiring certain basic understandings for a foundation .

It is our hope that the regional seminars and workshops on mentoring and evaluation that have grown out of the Pedagogical Advisors’ Colloquium will provide new enthusiasm for supporting and expanding programs in every school . Such programs assure parents and colleagues that a level of professionalism lives in the school .

We hope this booklet, written from our findings, will serve mentors and school faculties in “raising the bar” and deepening the support for Waldorf teaching .

– Virginia Flynn

find the whole booklet here: WorkingTogetherMentoringAWSNA

Alignment: LeadTogether Highlight #12 11-24-14

Alignment: LeadTogether Highlight #12

Alignment is an important element in any organization, school or business. How people are aligned with the whole of the organization and understand both how the parts work together and how they can be successful in the parts and the whole is vital to the ongoing success of any organization. More often than not, the practical realities of an organization’s life draw people into positions of responsibilities without allowing for time to help them prepare with a proper orientation. This is especially true in small organizations that rely on volunteers to make up for the lack of resources.

There are many elements to a good orientation, but these three are perhaps the most essential:

  • Developing alignment with the ideals, values and culture of the organization;
  • Establishing clarity about an individual’s roles and responsibilities and how these fit into the whole organization, and;
  • Providing a mentor to assure support for a successful beginning.

In Waldorf Schools, alignment is the most important. A spiritually oriented organization requires an active conscious connection to its spiritual foundations for all participating members of the community, not just for individuals at the core or in leadership positions.

Every activity, from faculty meeting to board meeting to parent meeting to committee meeting is an opportunity to explore and renew one’s connection to and understanding of the spiritual foundations of the education and the organization. If this is done consciously, it makes a huge difference in the success of the institution. But the alignment with the impulse cannot take place only in the meetings. Each individual must also work on it by himself or herself.


One of the best ways to assure this work on alignment happens--whether it is for a family entering the school, a new board member, a volunteer or a new teacher -- is making sure it is a part of every person’s orientation.