Between Our Demons and Our Gods: Human Encounter in the Light of Anthroposophy – Elan Leibner

Between Our Demons and Our Gods Human Encounter in the Light of Anthroposophy Elan Leibner

AWSNA Summer Conference

June 26, 2017

When Melanie Reiser asked me if I would speak at the opening of this conference, she read me AWSNA’s Shared Principle #7. It begins with the words “Waldorf schools are self-administered. This work is strengthened by cultivating a shared anthroposophical understanding of social interactions.” She said, “Talk about what that means.”

My mind quickly turned to my earliest days as a Waldorf teacher. There were two teachers in the school I joined, and every week during the faculty meeting a strange ritual would unfold: some topic or other would be up for discussion; sooner or later, one of the two would take a stand, usually in strong, confident words. With the predictability of a Swiss watch, the other would take the opposite point of view. It didn’t matter whether we were talking about a child, a festival, or where teachers should park their cars in the morning. Sometimes it even seemed that one of them would try to take the point of view that the other was usually espousing, as if to make nice. No matter: the other would contradict his usual approach just for the occasion, as if saying, “I usually stand for X, and you stand for Y, but today, since you suggest X, I must advocate for Y.” It became clear to me that the topics   were not really what mattered; rather, it was the encounter between these two that had its own special signature gesture. Two consequences of these weekly events were that the meetings often felt both predictable and exhausting. I can even say predictably exhausting. I would like to leave this little image, surely not one that is entirely unfamiliar to many of you, as an example of one kind of encounter.

The other example I want to present is from a College of Teachers meeting several years later. The context is a review of the work of the College during the previous school year. A colleague said something deeply significant: “Two things really strike me about our meetings: the first is that they always surprise me. We find new ideas and solutions that no one seemed to have when the meeting began, and I personally often leave feeling that I have more energy than I had when I came in.” So that’s a different kind of encounter, with radically different results. I would like to posit that surprise, in the good sense, and renewed energy are two hallmarks of the encounters we should foster.

Back to Melanie and the shared principle: I pondered the wording, particularly wanting to focus on the “anthroposophical understanding of social interactions.” In the end, it struck me that anthroposophy has one essential contribution to make to the study of social interactions. It is strikingly simple to articulate: spiritual beings interpose themselves between us as we meet. Whatever techniques, practices, policies, and structures we can find helpful from the world outside of Waldorf education, this essential insight will always form a dimension that must be taken into account. Spiritual beings interpose themselves between us as we meet.

Mainstream psychology and sociology books that have looked into the area of social interactions have not been able to explore this possibility, for three reasons: first, because the requisite conceptual framework that would allow for this contribution is missing. Second, therefore the language that would allow for an articulation of insights is missing or ignored. And third, the capacities that would need to develop in order for meaningful research to unfold are nowhere to be found, since no one recognizes that they are needed in the first place.

When we undertake the task of leading an organization as a team, clarity about, and a conscious cultivation of the relationship with spiritual beings is an ever-urgent pair of challenges. We will first look at the historical development of our relationship with certain spiritual beings and then consider   a few suggestions   for cultivating healthy human encounters in light of the presence of those beings.

Soul Encounters as a Particular Challenge

The image of the human being in anthroposophy is of a threefold being: body, soul, and spirit.

Physical encounters are not usually overly challenging in the context of a Waldorf school. Our body odors or sloppy attire don’t commonly rise to existential levels of crisis. Spiritual aspects can sometimes create crises, for example around differing interpretations of pedagogy, but it is not very common. In this article I will focus on the third aspect of the human constitution, namely the soul.

Because they are often shrouded in the miasma of emotions, difficult soul encounters challenge us in ways that can feel overwhelming and insurmountable. They lack the clarity of spiritual principles, so they remain nebulous, but they carry a powerful surge of emotional intensity.

Rudolf Steiner describes two phases in the relationship of the “I”, the Self, to the lower members of the human constitution. The first phase entails an unconscious, the second a conscious set of transformations. The first phase produces an elaboration of the lower members (developed for us by spiritual beings) into three soul layers. The second phase produces three layers of spirit. I would like briefly to describe the stages of the first phase, and to characterize the resulting soul layers. In anthroposophical nomenclature, all of these layers have particular names. My language here, as possible, will avoid these names in favor of signature gestures. This is not to deny the validity of the usual terminology, but in order to encourage both you and me to avoid familiar  words that we, too easily, assume we understand, perhaps more than we actually do.

Historical Context

At the outset of the transformational process just mentioned, the human constitution included three facets that Rudolf Steiner called physical, etheric, and astral “bodies,” as problematic as that English translation can be for the second and third of them, since they lack obvious physical characteristics. (The German “Leib” is not as problematic; it is used as the word “body” is used in expressions such as “body of knowledge”.) The first was a physical body. We can think of it as the material level that we share with all mineral, living, and sentient beings. The second was the life “body,” which we can think of as the level we share with living organisms that grow and reproduce, namely plants and animals. The third Steiner called the astral or soul “body.” It is the level we share with all sentient beings, namely animals. Its signature gestures are movement, both inner (as in a response to stimuli and circumstances) and outer (in autonomous movement such as plants cannot achieve); another way of saying it is that beings endowed with an astral body exhibit some degree of consciousness.

When the human Self, or “I,” was introduced into evolution, it began interacting with the existing “bodies.” These interactions were completely unconscious initially. And although they have produced increasingly conscious results, as we shall see, they only recently began, themselves, growing more wakeful within us.

The Desiring Soul; The Spirit of Fun and Freedom; Illness, Suffering, and Pain

At first, during a period that Rudolf Steiner calls Lemuria, the Self began interacting with what we have termed the astral body. The mere instinctual, animal-like responses to stimuli grew more individualized. People could begin to like and dislike aspects of their environment in ways that differed from their peers. Rudimentary personality began emerging. At this point, an important spiritual intervention took place. Up until then, only benevolent spiritual beings were involved in earth evolution. But now, spiritual beings of an adversarial level equivalent to what Western traditions call angels developed a different relationship with humanity. Collectively, we can refer to these sprits in the singular as The Spirit of Fun and Freedom. Genesis depicts it as the serpent; elsewhere it is called the Devil, or also Lucifer. It introduced the possibility of error into human conduct. The result was, on the one side, a greater level of separation from the divine origins of humanity, and therefore freedom for the human being, and on the other the development of desires, cravings, and lust for sensations. It was the first elaboration of the human soul, and we can call it the Desiring Soul. Think of the moment when you meet a person and feel either an irresistible desire or an equally strong repulsion towards that person. On a more trivial level, you open a catalog that just arrived in the mail, or surf the website of a merchant, and suddenly you cannot live another moment without owning an item that five minutes earlier you did not even know existed. Or you see something that someone else has and you really, REALLY want it.

An important characteristic of the Desiring Soul is that it is inherently insatiable. No amount of goods, food, or pleasure is ever enough for more than a brief interval of time.

In order to mitigate the results of what The Spirit of Fun and Freedom wrought, the benevolent spiritual forces had to introduce illness, suffering, and pain into the life of humanity so that we would not utterly succumb to the temptations of the senses. This may sound cruel to the modern mind, but we can also think of it as being given the opportunity to learn to live with consequences. Other terms for that are growing up, or maturing. Like a young person coming into adulthood, one has to learn there is a price for bingeing on anything, and sometimes even for trying just a little taste. A hangover after a night of drinking is one small example of how our desire for sensations can result in adverse consequences.   Addictions of all kinds are further examples.

The Explaining/Planning Soul; The Spirit of The Machine; Karma The next step in evolution involved the Self-penetrating and unconsciously transforming the life body. This took place in the period that Steiner terms Atlantis. Living organisms grow in lawful ways, which shows us that there is an intelligible pattern governing their life cycles. This pattern is coded, so to speak, into the life body. When the Self-finished “working through” the life body, the result was a second layer of the soul, one that we can designate The Explaining, or Planning Soul. To get a feeling for it, we can imagine that the Desiring Soul wishes for some item or experience. It is the role of the Planning Soul to figure out how to satisfy the wish of the Desiring Soul. For example, we can plan on buying it, stealing it, or killing our neighbor in order to get it. All three would achieve the desired result, and for the planning soul there isn’t yet a particular preference for one over the other, except expediency. In the realm of knowledge acquisition, the Explaining Soul does just that: it explains things, which means replacing mysterious phenomena (e.g., nature’s) with models that are easier to comprehend. The entire edifice of natural science is the glorious, and problematic, triumph of the Explaining Soul, essentially replacing the mysteries of nature with mathematical formulations. It is immensely satisfying to feel that we know what something “really is,” even if, for example, we are not much closer to understanding the nature of pleasure when we say that pleasure “really is nothing but” the body secreting certain hormones (e.g., serotonin, oxytocin, or dopamine). We have just turned our gaze to where the street lamp is lighting a section of the sidewalk, though it isn’t where we lost the keys, or at least not most of them. But we are left with the satisfying illusion of knowing. In effect, we made the world into math, and now a blind person understands color as well as a seeing person because “color is nothing but an angle of refraction, or a wavelength, that can be expressed mathematically.” The same goes for all other senses and even for consciousness itself. We think that we have explained them, but we have really only explained them away. The world disappears, and all that’s left is math.

When the Explaining/Planning Soul came into being, there was a second intervention of spiritual beings, this time of the adversarial level equivalent to that of the archangels. We can name them, in the singular, “The Spirit of the Machine.” The Persians, and anthroposophists,   name it “Ahriman.” Others call it Satan. Initially, this spirit’s influence led to the possibility of what we call sin. Sin differs from error in being deliberate. Human beings could now know in advance that they were violating the intended order of the universe. A second consequence of the presence of the Spirit of the Machine was that knowledge of the spiritual origins of existence was gradually lost, and people could not see beyond the senses. We can see, therefore, how materialism could develop.

To mitigate the influence of the Spirit of the Machine, the benevolent forces introduced death and the law of karma. We shall return to death a little later. But karma is really a wonderful thing! We usually think of it as the source of all manner of difficulties, but we should be eternally grateful that it exists, for it allows for the balancing of sins. Imagine if your sins were written into your being in such a way that it would be impossible to make matters right. Next time you find yourself in a karmic knot, be glad and thankful for it. You may not be able to untie it yet, but at least you have the opportunity to try.

The Understanding/Empathetic Soul; The Spirits of Darkness;


The third chapter in the Self’s unconscious transforming of the lower members was its penetration of the physical body. It is still ongoing, and has been bringing a third soul facet into existence. This facet we can designate “The Understanding or Empathetic Soul.” Its chief attribute is that it can serve as a moral compass. In the example I gave earlier, the Planning Soul can find different ways of satisfying the cravings and wishes of the Desiring Soul. How would one choose which of these ways is best? For the materialistic-thinking Planning   Soul, expediency is the only arbiter. But what of ethics? If the former can say “true or false; fast or slow,” the Understanding Soul can tell, and FEEL, good from evil. It is the soul facet that can understand, rather than merely explain, and that can empathize with another human being. After the increasing distance from the phenomena that the Desiring Soul and Explaining Soul produced, the Empathetic Soul can re-connect with phenomena, this time without disappearing completely into a dreamy or sleepy state of consciousness. “I” can understand “you,” rather than merely feeling attraction or repulsion, as with the Desiring Soul, or explaining you (using extrinsic measures) to myself as with the Explaining Soul.

There is also a third intervention of adversarial spiritual beings that is beginning, and this one has a particular twist. These beings are       the adversarial equivalents to the spiritual hierarchy designated        in Christian esotericism as the “Archai.” The benevolent Archai are the ones that bestowed the Self on humanity, while these adversarial counterparts work in precisely the opposite direction. They encourage human beings to use the understanding capacities that the Self has been developing in order to manipulate others in purely egotistical ways. Sociopathy and psychopathy are examples of this type of action, and orgiastic behaviors, for example, point towards a future in which some people will arrange their entire lives to gear towards incessant sensual pleasure. The sociopath has a keen understanding of others, but does not care about their wellbeing. The psychopath is similarly insightful, but goes even further by actually enjoying the pain he can inflict. The twist in the narrative here is that, according to Rudolf Steiner, the benevolent spiritual powers cannot help us find redemption for acts committed under the influence of these new adversarial forces, which he names (using an old term for the Archai) the Asuras; every time we choose the path of pure egotism, a sliver of our divine Self is lost to darkness. This is a new reality in human evolution, and means that we are now increasingly capable of self-annihilation. It is darkness, the likes of which humanity has never encountered before.

But where great darkness appears, a great light must also be present. This light I would like to designate AHAVA, as the acronym for the “Archetype of Human Amity, Verity, and Altruism.” Conveniently, AHAVA means, “love” in Hebrew, and we can think of “the archetype of the human capacity for love” as another name or designation for AHAVA. I will use “the Love Impulse” to describe what AHAVA is trying to help us develop. Rudolf Steiner referred to it, in a term that was less problematic for his milieu than it is for our time, as the Christ Impulse. According to Steiner, there was a moment in history when AHAVA joined the earthly, human stream of being for a brief period. It penetrated the lower sheaths, or bodies, of a human being and, as a human being, shed blood into the earth as it died. This love- infused blood turned into life forces (ether), and the earth itself began, for the first time, to radiate light into the cosmos. AHAVA moved its sphere of action into the sheaths surrounding the earth, and the light associated with Love began radiating as the earth’s own emanation. This light was not yet physical, but if human beings take this Love Impulse into themselves, it will increasingly condense into physical light until the earth itself will become a new sun!

The Etherization of Blood and the Love Impulse

As if the idea of helping to make the earth into a new sun is not inspiring enough, Rudolf Steiner also says that every human heart turns a portion of the blood that passes through it into a fine stream of life (or etheric) forces that flows upwards into the head. When human beings take up the Love Impulse into themselves, the individual stream of etherized blood joins the etherized stream of the Love Impulse, and completely new capacities can arise in the soul. Those capacities are key elements of any potential progress for humanity, and, I suggest, for the potential survival and success of Waldorf schools. They entail, among other things, direct perception of spiritual realities and an ability to act out of the highest moral ideals.

.Human Encounter on the three levels; Proposed Practices

Thus far we have surveyed an evolutionary process and followed the appearance and influence of various spiritual beings, both benevolent and adversarial. It is time to “get down to brass tacks,” as it were: what can we do in  a school context in order to facilitate healthy human encounters, knowing that our demons and our gods, as the title suggests, are both eager for our cooperation?

I would like to take each of the three soul facets, or members, characterize its typical appearance in human relationships, and propose a salutogenic approach.

The Desiring Soul

The two archetypal gestures of the Desiring Soul are attraction and repulsion. A new colleague or parent comes into view, and one feels a strong attraction towards this person, or perhaps a strong revulsion. In our culture, it is not acceptable to express these sentiments. I don’t think that school communities would benefit by encouraging verbal expression of the animal-level desires and revulsions that we feel towards one another. The point here is not to externalize that which is ordinarily expressed only in anonymous online chat rooms. There are not only humane grounds for the idea of restraint but legal ones as well.

But I also think that suppressing the lower impulses of the Desiring Soul is not a good practice if it remains the only thing we

  1. Suppression leads to repression, and repression leads to illness. You can sit in a faculty meeting and find yourself wondering why on earth tensions run so high when the topic is seemingly so benign. The same two or three individuals seem intent on clashing with one another regardless of the topic, as in the example with which I started. The opposite can also happen: people agree with one another based on sympathy, or even attraction, and yet the root of their agreement is not the topic at hand or the wellbeing of the school. And when people manage to sublimate their attraction and repulsion completely, that, as noted above, can lead to physical and/or emotional illness. We don’t overcome a lower aspect of ourselves by pretending it does not exist.

So the two extremes of repression and expression are not healthy for us or for the school. What I would like to suggest is that ther is a way of processing the impulses of the Desiring Soul that can be healthy: engagement with the arts, specifically in what I would call chamber arts: eurythmy, chorus, speech chorus, drama, music making, and so on. There is a whole field of artistic endeavor, some extent and some waiting to be developed that would allow teams to work through the impulses of the Desiring Soul so that beauty can emerge out of the process. Since The Spirit of Fun and Freedom is also a key inspiration for artistic creativity, we would be using his gifts to neutralize his malevolent influence!

Another essential benefit of chamber arts is that they provide a strong impetus for recognizing the spiritual in our fellow human being. Artistic processes, when done well, move people through obstacles and long-established patterns, and allow them to grow. When we witness someone growing we know that we are in the presence of a “human becoming” entity. This experience should always leave us hopeful: what is problematic today may change in time. As long as we are hopeful, progress is possible. The main problem with our patterns of desire and revulsion is that, especially with the latter, we assume permanence. But when our “enemy” has overcome an artistic blockage or, better yet, helped us overcome one of our own, a layer of enmity is shed. Over time, enough of those layers can be shed so the two of us can see the better aspects of each other that were hidden from our view before. Real conversations, verbally or through correspondence, are another way of overcoming these impulses. They are seeds of the future social art of conversation. A striking and very moving example is the late-life correspondence between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. So I would like to throw down something of a gauntlet here to my art-teaching colleagues: there is a whole field of exercises that you can develop to help teams process the lower impulses of the soul healthfully. I want to be clear that individual artistic work can also be helpful. I have written a lot of poetry to process my life’s events. But individual work helps an individual. Chamber work helps those who are in the chamber, which in our sense is the relevant group within the school. It helps, in part, by inviting the spiritual beings that support harmony and collaboration to be active for the time people strive together artistically.

The Planning/Explaining Soul

The signature gestures of the Explaining Soul have in common that they are past-oriented and replace genuine encounter with analyses and prescriptions of all kinds. Since the birth of the Explaining Soul was accompanied by the possibility of sin, policies, and procedures are introduced in order to prevent sinfulness. This leads to a safer environment, but also to a stilted and warmth-less one. Every bureaucrat says, “That’s the policy; I did not make it, I just administer it.” The policy was no doubt created because someone did something that had the “flavor” of sin, so there was some justification for it. I do not suggest that policies and procedures have no place in a school. But they do present a new kind of challenge in that they eliminate the human being as a complex and individual reality in favor of a species-wide, one-size-fits-all approach.

A second common gesture of the Explaining Soul is the dissection of another person in psychoanalytic language. This language is invariably past-oriented. Parents or food or some trauma are held responsible for something that a person did or is doing. Again, there is some justification for this approach, but it comes with the danger that we distance ourselves from the other, and most importantly that we feel superior. Since we think we know why she behaves in this particular way, we could respond with empathy, but all too often we remain with the self-congratulatory mood of seeing the other “from above.”

I would like to suggest three practices that can help us work with the gifts of the Explaining Soul in order to neutralize its deleterious aspects:

  1. The first is enlivened study of inspired texts. The hallmarks of enlivened study are that it is experiential, context-rich, and deed- oriented. When we merely read a text in a faculty meeting, the effect is minimal and sometimes even negative. Study is best begun by bringing an experience, just as we know from the classroom that beginning with the will and proceeding through feeling to thinking is the best way to go, so also in the faculty study.

Secondly, healthy study is context-rich. It arises out of and in turn creates context and relationships. Anything, even anthroposophical concepts, studied in isolation is a lie. For example, the cultural, political, and location-specific circumstances of Steiner’s lectures are important; we can also follow up a reading with a discussion of how the themes he develops might need to be articulated in our own circumstances. It is inconceivable to me that Steiner would be saying the same things in the same language a hundred years later. He was the consummate innovator and revitalizer of culture; how would he develop his themes in light of what has transpired since he first brought them forth?

Thirdly,   the study should be deed-oriented. We should ask ourselves what is indicated by this study for our work. How do we translate the inspiration of the text into action?

  1. The second “cure” for the Explaining Soul is a study of nature as a text. In the works of our contemporaries Craig Holdrege and Denis Klocek, for example, we have instances of research into the meaning of natural phenomena. When we seek for meaning, as opposed to explanation, we learn to read nature as a text. A text implies a creative force, an author, and this sense helps us overcome an ailment that the Spirit of the Machine has infected us with: the estrangement from our divine origins.


  1. The third “cure” is the study of projective geometry. The Explaining Soul typically traffics in mathematical explanations that replace the phenomena with numbers. Projective geometry is a mathematical field that requires imaginative capacities to unfold. It is, if you will, the redemption of our relationships with mathematics.

The Empathetic Soul:

Encounters that originate with the Empathetic Soul are most easily characterized as the experience that someone else sees us. Beyond gender, race, age, appearance, status, and all the other veils that hide us from one another, we are, each one, a human being, a species onto ourselves. When another person can see us, we are neither simply attractive or repulsive, nor are we explained through some pre-existing model (not even the anthroposophical one). While these interpretations will, no doubt, play into what another sees, he or she can see something else. It is an exhilarating moment. It is also interesting that it is also exhilarating when we manage to see another human being, really see. On the few occasions in my life when that’s happened, I felt like Adam in the Garden of Eden. There is such simplicity and purity in an encounter that leaves your heart open and receptive, sans the veils that customarily come between people.

The question then becomes: what happens now?

When one person sees another, there are usually only two basic choices to be made: to love, or to hurt. I don’t mean sensual love; I mean that you have seen another human being, including his or her golden qualities and less-than-golden needs. To the needs you can respond with whatever it is you have to offer. To the other’s golden qualities you respond by calling them forth. Or you can put a hook into the need and begin to manipulate. You can also ignore, remain indifferent, but that is just another way of hurting. And you can try to undermine the golden qualities.

We have all met people of both kinds of resolve. In the presence of someone who has seen another and chosen love, we feel peace.

With those who lust for power and who utilize their insights for control and manipulation, we can feel helpless. They are far too clever and skilled to meet head-on. We can sense that ultimately only love can counter their power. It cannot redeem it, but it can serve as a countermeasure within individuals and communities. The opportunity for love to build momentum in our situation may take time. In the meantime, they can do a lot of damage.

As I mentioned before, there is no direct remediation of the dark impulses we are talking about. But if love is ultimately the antidote, there are a couple of practices that we can take up in order to strengthen our relationship with the Love Impulse. There are others, too, but we are focusing now on collegial relationships.

  1. The first is biography work. This is a fairly well developed field of study in our circles, with people who are skilled at facilitating excellent processes. Entering attentively into the images of another’s life and then taking those into our sleep life for several days can go a long way towards building a real feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood.
  2. The second is meditation. The path towards the Love Impulse needs to be taken up within each one of us. As Steiner develops this work, an essential aspect of it is that we first build up a picture, and then we allow what we have achieved to disappear, to die, as it were. Only the force we had built up in the process of forming the image remains. Apart from the value of meditative work as a spiritual path of knowledge, the practice of letting something die within us is a profound step towards Love.

When death is approached without fear, anger, or resentment, it can be the most amazingly graceful moment in the whole of life. We can “gift” our dying to those around us as their opportunity to care. In the realm of ideas, death means renouncing our ownership and attachment to what originally came to us, allowing it to be owned and revised by the group. And when we see another person, with their physical, emotional, karmic, or any other illness, we can ask ourselves: “Were she on death’s bed, would I love her?” If the answer is yes, and few of us would choose to attack or ignore a person on death’s bed, the next question is: “Why should I wait until she is on death’s bed to love her?”

We find, approaching our fellow human being with the mindset that “Love shouldn’t wait” that the twin experiences of surprise and invigoration meet us all the time. Just like a good College meeting!



The Deed of Christ and the Opposing Spiritual Forces (GA 107)

The Etherization of the Blood (GA 130)

From Jesus to Christ (GA 131)

The Gospel of St. John and it Relation to the Other Gospels (GA


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.



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.




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.

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


Healthy Conversation, Communication and Agreements

We just finished our second week of school. It is a mystery that even if everything is the same as the year before, the new year unfolds differently, usually in unexpected ways. It is an equal mystery that when one new person enters the organization or school, the whole school is changed. We all know this if we have children. When a child enters our life, our life is changed. It is not a matter of fitting the child in to our existing life, or the new person into the community or organization but of accommodating the way that our life has changed as a result of the presence of a child or new person in it.

During the first week of school it was clear how much joy people experienced in reconnecting with each other. There was also a palpable sense of anticipation around what was going to be new and unique to the coming year.

The presence of newness requires us to change, to be more conscious and to take renewed interest in the ways we interact in the community. A new year, or a new beginning is an opportunity to be present and to take a renewed interest in those around us, to further develop our skills at dialog and communication and to renew our agreements.

This month’s newsletter focuses on these three essential aspects of the social life in an organization: practicing healthy communication, forming and following agreements and meeting one another with interest.

The Art of Community Building by Marjorie Spock was written in 1983 as a guide to conversation and community building. Marjorie Spock was a eurythmist, Waldorf teacher, biodynamic farmer, writer and environmentalist who was a devoted student of Rudolf Steiner’s social ideas.

Personal Readiness for Communication, from Building Regenerative Communities, by Mary Christenson and Marianne Fieber is a checklist that provides a tool to assess one’s listening and communication skills in our preparation to be more effective in our group or organization.

 The Art of the Perfect Apology is taken from the website and is a wonderful exploration of the role and practice of the apology in work, organization and professional settings. It provides a simple guide to a somewhat overlooked aspect of our work together. It goes along closely with the four basics of social grace: assume positive intent, ask questions before forming judgments, apologize honestly when you make a mistake and forgive others when they do.

The Art of Feedback is a short description by the Center for Creative Leadership of an approach to giving healthy, meaningful, supportive, judgment free feedback that leaves you and the one you are giving feedback to free and safe. It is a simple and widely used approach that is effective and that builds strength is everyone involved.

 -Michael Soule

Feedback that Works

A Feedback Model that Works
Knowing how to create and deliver effective feedback is a key leadership skill. Effective feedback motivates the receiver to begin, continue or stop behaviors that affect performance. In addition to accomplishing its direct purpose, an effective feedback message is a self-development tool for the receiver, and it often has benefits for other members of the team.
Not knowing how to give feedback can result in messages that are hurtful, confusing, and counter-productive. Many feedback messages leave the receiver unsure of what to do with the information. "You are good as a leader" or "you could be more strategic" gives the receiver an idea of how he or she is seen by the sender, but such a message doesn't tell the receiver what behavior to repeat if he wants to continue being a good leader or what to do or what action to avoid in order to be more strategic.
• Effective feedback is based on observed behavior and tells the receiver the impact of a specific behavior on you.
• Ineffective feedback often is vague, indirect, and exaggerated with generalities. Ineffective feedback often judges the person rather than his or her actions.
A valuable resource to illustrate this skill and provide a three-step technique is the guidebook Feedback That Works: How to Build and Deliver Your Message by Sloan Weitzel (available for purchase from the Center for Creative Leadership online at
Weitzel's feedback technique is called SBI (shorthand for Situation-Behavior-Impact). Following these steps can help the receiver more easily see what actions he or she can take to continue or improve performance or to change behavior that is ineffective or even an obstacle to performance. An effective feedback message tells the receiver the impact of a specific behavior on the sender. Here is an example of how to use the three-step model:
Step 1: Capture the Situation
("Yesterday morning in staff meeting,...")
Step 2: Describe the Behavior
("you had a number of side conversations and at times were joking during my presentation.")
Step 3: Deliver the Impact
("When you were talking to others while I was speaking, it was very disruptive to what I was trying to accomplish. I felt frustrated and annoyed by it.")
The recipient of well-intended and well-delivered feedback receives a two-fold gift. First, there is the almost immediate benefit of hearing what others think. Second, there is the afterlife of feedback. We often replay in our mind what we've heard, review written feedback privately at a later date, and check out perceptions with family and others we trust. Often we'll make some changes immediately and then make more significant changes with deeper reflection and consideration.
Constructive feedback is a most valuable tool — useful to repair a poor working relationship, improve a team's productivity, help a co-worker be more successful in his or her career, and demonstrate your own growing abilities as an effective leader. Yet, it is a skill many managers regard as underdeveloped. A recent CCL survey of managers showed that only 5 percent reported they were very effective in providing feedback; and 98 percent said they considered strong skills in providing feedback important or very important. More than half said they had the most difficulty giving feedback to bosses. Nearly 30 percent indicated that they find it most difficult to give feedback to peers.
Ask yourself if you consider yourself very effective in providing feedback. Next, consider if strong skills in providing feedback are important or very important to you. If you fall in the majority of managers who view effective feedback as important and regard their own skill level as needing improvement, put a higher priority on developing this essential leadership skill.
Working Dynamics™
Providing coaching, support and assessment tools related to conflict for leaders

Meeting Each Other: The Human Encounter, a lecture by Heinz Zimmerman

Dr. Zimmerman gave the opening and closing lectures of the 2005 conference to early childhood educators from 40 different countries. The following excerpt is from the end of his opening talk, where he spoke about the art of education as an art of human encounter. In early childhood education today, working together with other adults is often the most challenging aspect of our work. Dr. Zimmerman describes how we can cultivate our ability to truly meet each other, “I” to “I”. It is this human encounter that creates the vessel of community in which our children develop.

In his book How to Know Higher Worlds, Rudolf Steiner writes the following words:

When one practices listening without criticism, even in cases where an opinion is brought forward which is entirely contrary to one’s own, one will gradually learn to become one with the being of another person, and to fully enter into that person’s world. One will learn to penetrate below the surface and hear the soul of the other behind the words.

“Behind the words. . . .” Every human being has a unique voice, and by entering into that voice a communion takes place; a connection is formed with the being of the other. In another context, Rudolf Steiner calls this the “mystery of compassion.”
The best place to start practicing is to choose the one who annoys you most, or to pick a person to whom you don’t normally pay much attention. By doing this, we build up a connection that will become fruitful in the future. We have some encounters that are brought about by the past; our legs simply carry us to the people concerned. But there are also encounters that I can consciously cultivate and make fruitful that way. In exactly the same way I can learn from encounters and in doing so make future encounters fruitful as well. Digesting the experience will make future meetings more fruitful.
I would like to conclude my contribution by telling you two little stories. The first story — both have been changed a little bit — stems from India.
After God had created the whole world, including the human being, he sent the human beings down to earth. But they didn’t enjoy the earth all that much and soon came back again. They returned to heaven much too early, and God really didn’t want to have them come back that soon. So he thought to himself, “What can I do now?” and after pondering this he came up with the following idea. He thought, “I simply have to close heaven. Only the question is, where should I hide the key? For people are smart, and they will look everywhere. Even if I sink it to the bottom of a vast ocean, they would find it.”
Finally he had the splendid idea to put the key in the heart of the human being. Within every human being there lies the key to heaven, and it can be found when one seeks the way to the heart. This is what self-transformation from out of the future means: it has to come from the heavenly being within each human being.
The second story is the story of a dying monastery (or perhaps to make it more current,
we could say an anthroposophical “branch”). The members are all over 70, and only five of them
are left in this monastic community. A friend arrives, and together with the abbot he laments the situation. “We are doing what we have always been doing, but no new people are coming.” We know how this is, it is a familiar dirge, which might sound somewhat like this: “We are doing the same thing, only the students have become so different.” So the two of them are complaining together about the terrible decadence of present-day civilization, and how the end is in sight.
On leaving, the friend says, “I can only wish you luck, but one thing I would still like to say to you. There is one among you, who is blessed by God.”
(In the anthroposophical branch one would perhaps say “an initiate,” or that this person “had special spiritual gifts.”) With that, the friend takes his leave and the five are alone again.
Now all of them are beginning to think. “Now who could that can be? The abbot? Could it be
I? Who knows? It isn’t out of the question. But I don’t really think so. Maybe it is Brother Felix? Or someone else?” And while they are all thinking about this, they begin to meet each other with a very particular quality of respect, because after all, anyone could be the chosen one! Through this, they build up a cohesion and relationship among one another that radiates from the community to such an extent that new people are attracted. The result is that the monastery blossoms again and acquires new members.
So this second story is also wonderful. What it implies is that we can discover that a divine source dwells within every other human being, and when we actively cultivate this fact within ourselves, we will also be able to work together in a different way instead of only seeing one another as acting in “typical” ways, this way or that way. Instead, we can say, “No, it is not “typical”; within this person’s “type” something unassailably divine expresses itself, something from out of the future — a seed, which
is the child within every human being, just like the child which comes into the kindergarten to us in the morning.”
This discovery is wonderfully expressed by the philosopher Martin Buber. He says, “On the way to becoming I, I say: You.” On the way to becoming myself, in the process of becoming I, I see the other.

The full lectures by Dr Zimmerman, as well as those by Joan Almon, Christof Wiechert, and Dr. Michaela Gloeckler, will appear in a volume called Playing, Learning, Meeting the Other, available through WECAN Books this spring.

Speaking, Listening and Understanding by Heinz Zimmerman

A review and introduction to the book

All human activity, whatever the size of the community-whether in business, the family, schools, or politics-is group activity. Such group activity depends upon the ability of human beings to work together consciously in language. Speaking, Listening, Understanding is a book about group conversations, especially those intended to arrive at decisions and/or insights. Various types of conversations are described. In the process, we learn how individual participants, context, and mood can affect the overall process, Exercises, both group and individual, are provided for different kinds of conversations. Rather than the dynamics of group psychology, however, the author starts from the artistic aspects of conversation: namely, language and consciousness. Using examples and anecdotes drawn from many years of work with groups, Zimmermann shows in a straightforward way what can go wrong and why. Then, through a step-by-step articulation of the processes involved in conversation-speaking, listening, and understanding-he shows what kinds of awareness an practices can strengthen the group processes that facilitate creative conversation. This is a valuable resource for any group or community, and it is directed especially toward Waldorf school communities.

Here is a chapter from the book exploring the stages of conversation

Stages of Conversation Speaking, Listening Understanding, Zimmerman CH 4