Returning to a Renewed Community Life in Our Schools:
Four Keys to help regain Vibrance
Lisa Mahar is a co-director of the Art of Administration summer training program of Leading with Spirit., offering week-long administrative training focused on the foundations of Waldorf education, explorations in school governance, school communication, meeting facilitation, roles and responsibilities, community building, leadership development, collaboration, and more.
As Longer, warmer days and the tentative emergence of buds and blossoms let us know that spring is underway and we are happily anticipating our return to community celebrations and festival life after many months of limited contact, modified events, and sustained precautions, many school leaders are facing the reality that large portions of their student bodies and their parent bodies have yet to experience the full rhythm and richness of our Waldorf community celebrations, festivals, special events, and school traditions.
While reintroducing a renewal of community life promises the special kind of refreshment, nourishment, and sustenance we long for, we are presented with a unique opportunity and challenge to pause and ask:
How do we best renew our community activities?
What new opportunities present themselves for a full refreshment of community life?
How might we adopt and incorporate our ongoing and meaningful work aimed at broadening circles of inclusion and welcome?
Which traditions still pulse with life, and which are ready to become meaningful memories of a past time?
What new events and celebrations are peeking over the cradle’s rim ready to be taken up?
Each school community will answer these questions in its own way. What follows are some reflections and insights from the work of Jorgen Smit on elements that make up a healthy, vibrant, balanced community life. Schools might find these insights useful as they plan for a full return to community life.
Jorgen Smit, a long time Waldorf teacher and anthroposophist, studied human community and observed human relationships. He developed his observations and experiences into a picture of the healthy human social organism, based on four dynamics of community life: Warmth, Initiative, Form, and Continuity. When each of these four dynamics is present and lively and when these dynamics are actively and consciously balanced and rebalanced, a living and vibrant sense of community carries us all. (See a brief introduction to Jorgen Smit below)
Consider these four elements and your own school community.
Community warmth creates an atmosphere of welcome, of extension toward the other, of striving for connection. Warmth is interest, curiosity. Warmth flows through and breaks down any separation between the long-time members of the community and the brand-new ones. Warmth brings a sense of welcome, comfort, acceptance, enthusiasm. Diversity, and its essential companion, inclusion, thrive in a community permeated by human warmth. In such a community, even challenges are welcomed because they often generate “heat” in our human connections. Warmth is a necessary condition for growth, raying out and engaging those it touches.
Proposing, exploring, and manifesting new approaches demonstrate a commitment to our healthy future. Initiative asks questions, is willing to experiment and takes risks. Balanced with warmth, form, and continuity, it’s the fuel that moves a community forward. Vibrant wholeness and energy characterize communities friendly to initiative. A school community that works to sense the future welcomes initiative from all quarters, including from new teachers, new staff members, and new parents, and from the students themselves. After all, our new and our young community companions bring us the gift of fresh eyes. When balanced with warmth, form, and continuity we find initiative to be an inspiring energizer keeping us fresh and engaged.
Form is the structure of the community and its policies, procedures, protocols. Form reflects our living values, what is important to us. It holds us up and holds us together. If we are committed to professional development for teachers, our budget should support it. If we are committed to financial accessibility for all, our tuition policies should make that possible. If we are committed to diversity and inclusion, our curriculum, staffing, enrollment, festivals, and celebrations reflect these commitments. We experience form in a framework: our values lead to principles; principles lead to policies; policies lead to practices. Form has a sturdiness and durability to it. We can count on it. Form is, of course, open to transform, yet it is, at best, the set of firm yet supple golden threads that weave our school community together.
Continuity embraces and continually refreshes what is valuable, inspiring, what works. It lives in community rhythms, predictability, tradition, and the honoring of history. Continuity is carrying forward what is lively and true. Continuity gives new ideas time and space to work. Continuity is sensing and celebrating what we can rightly rely on: it was, it is, it will be. This is a gift for our children, a source of strength, trust, and security. Dynamic continuity calls us to be attentive, perceptive, and especially awake, avoiding doing a thing because “we’ve always done it”.
Warmth, initiative, form, continuity, these four elements are guiding lights illuminating the path of community health and well-being. We can ask ourselves: Are all of these elements present in our school community? Which element are we especially good at? Does one or another need to be strengthened? How does each manifest in the life of the school? Are these elements well-balanced with one another? Are there groups or individuals especially gifted in holding one or more of these elements? Where do we see opportunities for further growth and development of warmth, initiative, continuity, and form?
In this new moment we are offered a unique opportunity: returning to fuller expression of a vibrant community life. With a nod to the thoughtful work of Jorgen Smit, we look forward to making the most of the compelling possibilities that lay ahead. Kind thoughts to all as you examine, strengthen, and renew your community relationships and deepen your school culture now and for our future. Happy Spring!
Jorgen Smit (1916 – 1991) was a Waldorf Educator—a class teacher, trainer of teachers, international pedagogical leader, and one of the founders of the anthroposophical center in Jarna, Sweden, which now includes a teacher education seminar, a cultural center, hospital, school, biodynamic farm, dairy, and the international Youth Initiative Program (YIP). Jorgen Smit was a warm–hearted, compassionate human being, deeply interested in others. He inspired many young people to pursue careers of service in Waldorf Education and other anthroposophically based initiatives. Stories abound of his interest in others, his humor, curiosity, and encouraging guidance.