The Art of Facilitation Newsletter, Intro

Leading with Spirit

Facilitating Meetings

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

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

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

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

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

The Art of Planning and Preparing for Meetings

The Art of Creating an Agenda

Working Together, by Chris Schaefer

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

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

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





Stanford Facilitation Guide


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

Starting Off

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

Getting the Discussion Started

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


During the Discussion

Checking Yourself

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

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

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

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

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

- Talking too much

- Feeling the need to address all questions

- Talking more than your co-facilitator(s)

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

- Engaging in dialogue with individual members of the group

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

" How would you handle that?"

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Redirect people who make personal comments about others.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Encouraging Participation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Acknowledge the feelings of people in the group.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advancing and Deepening the Discussion

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

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

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

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

  • Encourage people to take risks

- Take some risks yourself, including admitting your mistakes

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

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

"Can you say a little more about that?"

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

"How did you come to this view?."

"What convinced you of your opinion?"

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

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

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

  • Clarify, without interpreting.

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

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

"Can you restate that in a different way?"

"What do you mean by that?"

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

Troubleshooting During the Discussion

  • No one responds.

- Ask for any comments

- Suggest an answer and ask for agreement or disagreement

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

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

- Ask them if they can think of another answer

- Compliment them when they give a serious answer

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

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

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

  • People monopolize the discussion.

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

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

- Ask for agreement or disagreement from others.

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

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

  • Someone keeps changing the subject or goes on tangents.

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

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

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

  • People keep interrupting.

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

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

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

  • Hostile or belligerent group members

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

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

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

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

- Don't let inappropriate humor go by.

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

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

  • You are running out of time.

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

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

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

  • People keep addressing their questions to you.

- Redirect the question to the group

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

  • Conflict occurs

- Don't take sides

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

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

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

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

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

- Acknowledge each persons concerns and needs.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wrapping Up

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

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

- Issues that were discussed but not resolved

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

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

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

- Did people feel free to express their opinions?

- Do they have suggestions for better facilitation?

- Did people feel free to express their opinions?

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

Post Discussion Review

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

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

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


New Meeting Forms: LeadTogether Highlight #3 9-1-2014

Dear Colleagues,

In our latest newsletter we explore ways to plan and prepare for meetings. But are there different ways to meet that facilitate maximum involvement and exchange of ideas? World Café and Open Space are two relatively new ways of meeting that can do this . Here is a description of both of the meeting formats and some tips on how to make them a successful part of your organization meeting life. These and other ideas about successful meetings found in our resource library are from a new booklet, Building Regenerative Communities, compiled by Mary Christenson and Marianne Fieber. This helpful new booklet is available free in our resource section, thanks to the authors and the Mid States Shared Gifting Group. (click here for the article)

Keep in touch.

Michael Soule


New Meeting Forms: Open Space and World Cafe

Excerpt from Building Regenerative Communities: Open Space and World Café. (download the whole booklet here)

Open Space This is an open form of meeting where passion and responsibility are combined to empower participants by allowing agenda topics to arise from the group. A facilitator is only visible when the meeting needs re-opening. There are a series of laws or principles to consider with an “open space” meeting. Two of these are:  The law of two feet: If you find yourself in a situation where you are neither learning nor contributing, move somewhere where you can. This is a law like the law of gravity. You can choose to notice it or not, but it's safer just to notice it.  The four principles: Whoever comes are the right people; whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened; when it starts is the right time; and when it’s over, it's over. These aren't prescriptive—they are the results of thousands of little experiments. The link below will take you to further explanations about Open Space. ~Marianne Fieber

The World Café Using seven design principles and a simple method, the World Café is a powerful social technology for engaging people in conversations that matter, offering an effective antidote to the fast-paced fragmentation and lack of connection in today's world. This approach to conversation creates several smaller, intimate groups within a larger group to discuss one question, thereby giving more people an opportunity to dialogue. Based on the understanding that conversation is the core process that drives personal, business, and organizational life, the World Café is more than a method, process or technique. It's a way of thinking and being together sourced in a philosophy of conversational leadership.

Working Together to Improve Meetings

Creating Effective Meetings – Results of a group exploration of how to make better meetings. This chart was developed years ago by a group of colleagues working on the question of how to become more conscious of the dynamics of their meetings. The process of discussing these aspects of meetings and identifying some agreements helped the group work in a more healthy way. Here is the chart they developed. - MS

View the chart here: Working Together to Improve Meetings

The Art of Planning and Preparing for Meetings

The Art of Planning and Preparing for Meetings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


The Artistic Meeting: Creating Space for Spirit

The Artistic Meeting:  Creating Space for Spirit

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

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

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

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

Meetings as Spiritual Practice

Waking up in the Other

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

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

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

The Reverse Ritual

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

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

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

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

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

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

Space for Spirit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meetings as Art

The Artistic Process

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

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

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

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

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

Social Art

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Artistic Meetings

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

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

Conscious Conversation—An Invitation

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

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

Holly Koteen-Soule


1 Rudolf Steiner, Awakening to Community, p. 97

2 Ibid, p.157

3 Ibid, p.157

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

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


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

Michael Howard, Art as Spiritual Activity; Anthroposophic Press 1998

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

St George Publications 1983

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

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

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

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

Rudolf Steiner, Awakening to Community; Anthroposophic Press 1974

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


More Resources for Creating Effective Meetings

Other Resources

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

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

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

The Stanford Facilitation Guide

Excerpt from The Faculty Meeting as Heart of the School, Jorgen Smit

Jorgen Smit, long-time Waldorf teacher and former head of the Pedagogical section in Dornach, Switzerland, offers his insights into the ways that teachers could focus their group work to create a living spiritual atmosphere that would permeate the school and engender improved collaboration. This excerpt is from the book, The Child, Teachers and Community, a set of lectures given at the annual AWSNA conference in 1989.

Excerpt from Chapter Three, The Teachers Meeting at Heart Organ of the School, from The Child, the Teacher and the Community by Jorgen Smit.

…It is possible to describe some qualities we must look for in this heart organ, the faculty meeting .  I should like to make some contributions, but these are not definitive because it is not possible to describe this and say that the description is finished .  This attitude is always wrong .  Community building is such a great spiritual realm of the future of humanity that we should be very careful . We can only make contributions in order to make conscious some very important aspects of this community building, but we cannot say that we are describing the whole .  One indispensable aspect is that every teacher in this whole community appears in the consciousness of the other teachers .  All the teachers must be interested in recognizing how one teacher is working .  Everyone must be aware of what is going on in the other classrooms .  Of course it is not possible to recognize everything that is being done, that is not what I mean, but the interest in it must be there . If you recognize only one event in another classroom, a door will be opened .  It is not necessary to look at every detail .  One can make a small test after one year to see how it has been working .  Suppose we have worked together in the teachers’ meeting during the whole year . We can ask how many teachers have not appeared at all in the consciousness of the others .  This is a very helpful exercise .

I will tell a short story .  I was visiting a school and was present in the teachers’ meeting . We took up a theme and I made some contributions, after which one of the teachers spoke to the theme .  Then the same teacher spoke once more and then once again he spoke.  After the meeting, I reviewed it for myself .  Almost all the other teachers had been silent the whole time .  One old, very intelligent, very capable teacher had spoken the whole time .  This is not wrong, of course, if this happens once in one of the teachers’ meetings .  He may have had much to say that was worthwhile .  So I asked the others, “This teacher spoke very much this afternoon .  How is it in the other teachers’ meetings throughout the year?” They answered, “We cannot speak at all!” This, then, was the situation .  Of course there will always be some teachers who are more capable, who know more than the others and that is not wrong .  They ought to make their contributions, but it is a task of the teachers’ meeting that everyone should speak out, not at every meeting but at least at some time during the year .  One can schedule such things and say that now we are going to go around and each teacher will tell about one of his activities in his lessons .  He may choose what he likes, but everyone has to share something out of his activities .  In this way, all the others can recognize these things .

In many teachers’ meetings, I have seen it happen that a very few teachers speak while many others are silent until a catastrophe occurs in one teacher’s class .  Then we have to deal with this catastrophe .  Now this poor teacher is spoken about and we must recognize and deal with what is going on in his class .  This is not unusual . We must also deal with catastrophes .  That is not wrong .  But we ought not wait until they come .  Rather throughout the year, we should tell one another, one after the other, what is going on in our lessons when there are no catastrophes .  If this is done, then a mood will be created within which we can deal with the catastrophes . You see, here is a great task .  Of course we are not aiming for perfection but to create the interest in making something like this happen so that we really deal with this human being and that human being and with what is living in this and that classroom . When we do this we are awakening to this higher level where the archangels work at night, and they will pour their forces of courage into the whole college of teachers of the school .  Rudolf Steiner called this process the reverse ritual, or the inverted ritual .  This is a strange expression with the following meaning .  In religious rituals, spiritual beings dive into all the processes of the ritual actions and words, permeating what can be perceived with the physical senses .  The spiritual forces permeate the physical processes, the physical actions during the ritual .  The spiritual beings dive into these and by letting the ritual echo in their own hearts, those who are participating in the religious ritual can unite with these spiritual beings .  This is the usual ritual .

Now what is the inverted ritual? It does not begin with formed physical actions but with free, independent individualities who are working on their own paths of knowledge and who approach, through difficulties, this higher level of the archangels where they awaken to the spiritual activity in other human beings .  They do not awaken to the bodies of the other human beings, nor to their sympathies and antipathies, but to their spiritual activities .  Then seeds are created on a higher level, and they are reinforced by higher beings .  These higher beings are present .  It is a ritual, but one which is reversed, inverted, because the individuals must come up to this higher level .

But does it work? Does this inverted ritual work at all? This is always an inner question . We must test ourselves and look for all the hindrances that are preventing it from working . When we do, we come up against all those anti-social forces that we looked at yesterday .  These have accumulated throughout the whole life of every teacher . We find all sorts of anti-social forces in feeling, thinking and will .  There are many such forces and there must be . These are not bad .  They are necessary because they separate us from the whole world and create the basis for our being free, independent individualities . We have arrived at this century when we are at the height of the consciousness soul, when I experience myself confronting the whole world .  I am concerned about it and must consider what I think, what I feel, and what I will, and this is right .  Of course, it is right . We must reach this height of the consciousness soul . We must confront the whole world .  But it is not necessary to stay at this point .  From this point, it is on the basis of anti-social forces that the consciousness soul, the “I”-consciousness, has been created and exercised .  Here it is possible to ascend one more step to the next level .  The necessary condition to taking this step is to experience and recognize others .

It is a rule, as I mentioned in my first lecture, that there is the center and there is the periphery, and in discovering others, I find myself not only in myself but also in the others at the same time . When I emphasize myself, I can never come to my higher self — never .  I find the higher self in the innermost being of myself but also in others at the same time .  In order to truly meet another person, we must not meet merely in sympathy and antipathy, but we must recognize the spiritual being of the other human being . We must have an interest in doing this, and each of us must take a few steps in this direction .

There is a great meditation recommended by Rudolf Steiner that can help us .  Make a picture of another human being in your inner consciousness .  Not just one picture but also a second and a third, each one in a quite different way .  In the first picture we must embrace all that we recognize of this person . We must try to make a portrait, a painting, or a picture of this human being . We should finish this picture in all its details, as much as we can .  Of course, it will not be perfect, but we must bring all that we can together and create a picture .  Now, a picture, a portrait, is never identical with the spiritual being who is the subject of this portrait .  It may be a good portrait of the spiritual being, but still it is a picture . Now that I have this portrait, I can say to myself: I have a picture of this spiritual being, I do not, of course, have the spiritual being itself .  This is the first picture .

Now you can ask how it is possible to make a second picture when you have taken all that you know and made it into one finished picture .  The second picture ought to be quite different . This first portrait must be finished . The second cannot be finished, not finished at all .  It is always being painted .  If I dive into this second picture, then I will make a very astonishing discovery .  There exists in every human being a tendency, like a heavy gravity or pull, to stick with the first picture .  I feel that I know this person, who he is, and that my picture of him is finished . When he comes through the door, I already know who he is .  But I can never know just what he is thinking now, or just what he is feeling .  I can only know what I experienced yesterday .  Only yesterday is fixed .

For example, yesterday I had a strong conflict, an argument with another person, and I discovered that she was lying .  My picture of this is terrible and it is finished .  The next morning the door opens, and this “liar” comes into the room . At first, when I speak to her, I do not speak to her but to my picture of her, my finished picture from yesterday .  Ghost-like, unreal, unfinished pictures may be true, they may be untrue . But while I speak to the picture, there is a human being standing before me who, in the meantime, has discovered that she was lying and has regretted it very much, and she is now trying to go beyond it .  This is all possible .  I do not know .  My second picture of a person must develop every moment, every second .  It is never finished . If I compare the two pictures I have made within myself of each of the other teachers in the faculty, I will discover how heavy, what gravity there is in the first picture .  This picture is not wrong . We must make this first picture . We must include our experiences exactly as they have happened .  But we must not stay with the first picture but be open to the next, the second picture, in order to see what is happening now .

Then we come to the much more difficult third picture . This picture will be painted in the future .  If I have one picture formed from my experience and a second created in the moment, I still do not know what will come of this human being in his next incarnation . We do not even know what will become of him the next day, not even tomorrow . We cannot yet know .  In every human being, there is a great, unknown future .  A very great, unknown future lies within this spiritual being .  If I am oblivious to this and hold only to the first picture, in reality I am only looking at the past .  In the second I am open to what is happening in the moment . The third is just as necessary . We must also concern ourselves with the future of the children in our classes .  I have pictures of them garnered from many experiences, and I must be open to what is going on in the moment, and I must ask what will become of this child when he is grown and when he is reincarnated .  I must leave this question open and carry it in my consciousness .

Rudolf Steiner recommended another exercise, one that is done by picturing the physical body .  First, one pictures to oneself the head as it is composed of finished forms .  The second picture should be made of the lungs and heart, which are never finished but are changing at every moment . When we look at the limbs, which are the focus of the third picture, what is significant is not their particular forms, for example, the form of the fingers . What is significant is also not, as it is with the heart and lung, the activity within them . What is significant is what a person does with his fingers, what he will do in the future .  Thus the physical body can only be conceived by forming three different pictures in three different ways .  This is also true when we try to conceive the whole existence of another human being . When we

approach other people in this threefold way, in carrying out these exercises, we begin the great task of building a higher level of community within the teachers’ meeting from which may flow a great stream of courage into the whole life of the school .

We must now go into details of the life of the teachers’ meeting . We will look at what happens, what qualities must be found there, and some of the dangers there . We need to deal with the difference between the faculty and the college and ask wherein lies the difference and whether there must be a difference .  Also, we must ask how the college of teachers works together with the parents and how the parents in the school community deal with what goes on in the whole school .  Can the school community develop as a living entity, can it be a spiritual organ with its own biography that develops through different phases? Then there is the much deeper question of how this school community, with its individual biography, lives within society as a whole in the present time .  How is the Spirit of our Time living within the school community? This last question will be the theme of our last lecture tomorrow .

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