Sunday, August 29, 2010

growing pains

campus under construction

Like the twelve year old child, the campus is undergoing some major changes! Just as my sixth grade students are entering into a new phase of life, so too is Davis Waldorf School.

Growing in spirit over two and a half decades, Davis Waldorf has built a reputation in the community for the loving embrace that held the children and their families. Now, the school also grows in classroom and office spaces. As new prefab buildings totaling over 4000 square feet are secured to poured concrete foundations, trenches with new utility lines and plumbing are excavated and filled, play strucutres uprooted and replanted, irrigation and drainage lines revamped, lawns and flower beds disturbed and replaced, Davis Waldorf is experiencing some growing pains.

What has diffused the construction discomfort is the support of the community of families and friends. Over the weekend, work crews of volunteer parents, Board members, faculty, and staff worked hard with gloves, rakes, shovels, wheelbarrows, hammers, and assorted power tools to bring the school closer to being ready for Opening Day.

Gloved hands with strong will forces.

The curriculum of the sixth grade is about transformation and the laws of cause and effect, the art is about light and shadows, the inner work is about fortitude and moral resolve. I took the following images this Sunday morning, when the campus was quiet and still. The process of transformation was evident in the materials laying about the campus, the black and white imagery reflected the dance of light and shadow, and I felt the powerful textures of earthmovers and scaffolding, of boards and rubble somehow told a story of hope and resolve.

The campus and the children are growing together.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

mindful and artful

the teaching and learning setting

I will be greeting my sixth grade students at Davis Waldorf School in less than two weeks! With a handshake and a good morning, I will welcome them into the classroom space. It is the space where teaching and learning will meet; it must hold us and support us. With a feng shui background, it was with mindfulness and intention that I designed the sixth grade classroom. The classroom is minimalist and uncluttered. There are living plants that the children will nurture and make grow. There are some decorative objects that are born from nature and crafted by hand. Musical instruments and artwork inspire creativity. Rugs, lamps, and pillows give lightness and warmth. Placement of students' desks and my desk, bookshelves, and file cabinets organize work spaces. I am fortunate to have a large enough room to define a space for my work, where I feel supported and protected. When I am prepping for school, the children are all home, the campus is quiet, and the room is all mine, I can pause and sit at the piano and play. It is my meditation; I breathe, and I will look forward to another day.

Friday, August 20, 2010

west davis pond

a nature walk at the end of the street

A protected wetlands, the West Davis Pond, sits just a few steps away from our home. Designed to offer stormwater space, the West Davis Pond also provides a home for wildlife such as egrets and Canadian geese. We walked to the end of our street and entered into the paths that circled the Pond. Living in Davis is full of simple pleasures that allow family to spend time together in a safe, friendly environment.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

you will know

a verse of feeling and knowing

when you feel the soul of the cosmos

then you will know peace

when you feel the soul of the earth

then you will know harmony

when you feel the soul of the family

then you will know love

when you feel the soul of the self

then you will know

Sunday, August 8, 2010

know thyself

learning to be, and to be a teacher

With a five-week summer training program at Rudolf Steiner College completed, I am taking this Sunday morning to breathe, to fill a request for over easy eggs from my youngest son, and well, of course, to reflect-blog!

I began my teacher training last year, and this summer was the second in a four-year summer program; my cup is half full. Oddly, it feels both too much and not enough.

(Break for making breakfast.)

Steiner's work in anthroposophy and Waldorf education is monumental. His philosophical ideas and ideals are imbued with science and spirituality that reach out to the cosmos. His advice and teachings have an interdisciplinary range that is vast. His work is informed by multicultural forces of past, present, and future. In our training this summer, we are in our average day giving quality to the consciousness soul, then telling a story about giants, fairies, and queens and how to present with reverence the pentatonic flute to a first grader, then doing a tinikling dance with bamboo, then singing in three part harmony in Hebrew, then doing free-hand geometry, then trying to delineate the four temperaments,then proving the Pythagorean theorem, then reciting Shakespearean sonnets, and finally, in a refreshing and joyful out of character experience with Antje Staub, ending the day with a rap song about antipathy and sympathy!

And this is why processing is so important. The students of the program, teachers in training, have received a generous heap of salad greens to digest, beautifully prepared and presented by our caring intructors. We ate up our plates, wishing for more time to enjoy it. But aside from the lingering flavors on our taste buds, all the goodness of the meal is inside us. We must now allow ourselves to process, to metabolize, to let the nutritive forces of the training to find their way into our muscles and nerves.

In so doing, in entering into the digestive phase, we can hear the quiet murmuring of our bodies, and if you really listen, there is one truth, one maxim, one directive: KNOW ONESELF. In ancient Greek, this aphorism was inscribed on the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. It has been the slogan of the enlightened for over 4000 years, most likely even further back when early humans, without speech or the written word, just knew.

Floating in the ether of too much and not enough, it is best to land on the ground of the SELF. One classmate, Hillary, in a moment of clarity we all shared, said, "I am enough." But the feeling of not being prepared, which we also all shared, especially for those of us about to dive into teaching this Fall, makes one doubt oneself. It is not easy to hold back the tides of insecurity, which can rise and engulf the ground of the self. It is not enough to be barely holding one's head above the water. So how do we have the feeling of being enough?

One must find calmness in simply being. To just be. To be in the realm of ONENESS, the core of the SELF. (The SELF is one of the five spheres of Waldorf education.)

Connecting with the inner self, and being so fully at peace with what is there, I believe will give us the freedom to be fully present and fully in the moment with the children. This is what I love about the Waldorf way: my being, which holds the power of the cosmos, is blessed to teach the children. Not to teach the curriculum, or to be tethered to some prescriptive standard. But to be the author and artist, expressions of the self, to be a teacher. On a practical note, choose what works for you. Gather your bag of curriculum concepts, your bag of Waldorf goodies, then create from the self. On an esoteric note, meditate. According to Chelsey, a friend and classmate, "Inner work is our battle cry!"

Whether you will be in a Waldorf classroom, a homeschooling parent, or are in a quest for inner enlightenment, it all begins with the self.

It all begins now.

(Break for finishing my cup of coffee.)

It all begins now.

(Break for unpacking boxes from moving to our new place in Davis!)

It all begins now!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

singing with eva

developing our vocal instruments

Melody finds the deepest places within our bodies and pulls us to float on each note. Harmony weaves the threads that wrap us in color, warmth, and love. Lyrics resound like a warrior god or whisper like a dreamy lover.

But a choir of voices, oh how truly the song of many hearts enraptures the soul!

Morning singing with Eva Cranstoun, enhanced by the acoustics of Stegmann Hall, begins a wondrous, romantic day at Rudolf Steiner College. We enter the room with hardwood floors and plastered walls, and find chairs neatly positioned in a gentle arch with a piano and Eva at the center. Quiet good mornings and hellos and how are yous are exchanged, and with a faint yet purposeful chord from the piano, Eva captures our attention. She smiles, and before even a sound is uttered from her lips, she already appears to be singing. I believe her angels just hover around her, and they are most likely humming perpetually.

A room full of striving individuals, Waldorf teachers, with varying levels of singing experience, most with a mild dose of singing confidence. Eva is smiling because she senses, she knows, that each of us are carrying an instrument that can produce sound, beautiful, rich sound. Like all fine instruments, it needs to be prepared and developed. And the musician, with his or her own vocal instrument, must understand the rudimentary skills to use it well.

Posture is a key element to prepare us for singing. Eva directs us to slouch with half-present eyes, then to shift to an upright sitting position with alertness in our eyes and a smile. It is an effective technique, for the difference in mood and feeling of readiness is apparent – with the proper posture and mindset, we look ready, we feel ready.

We do not sit with stiffness in our bones, or tenseness in our shoulders. We move with gentle rolling motions; we loosen our necks. When we are to sing, we must be aware of the muscles in our bodies and remain supple, yet firm. We must be aware of our breathing, and the muscle of singing, the diaphragm. Air can then travel with ease in and out of our airways to feed the vocal cords.

Eva looks at us and when she sees that we are ready to practice our instruments, she gives brief instructions. She demonstrates how we are to hold our lips, our tongues, cheeks, jaws, and teeth to form the sounds. She sings a few notes. With just warm up scales, she sounds absolutely divine! Where is that voice coming from, penetrating through us, vibrating in our bones and our minds? It comes from Eva’s instrument, no doubt cared for and practiced with reverence. She models how we are to treat our instruments. We sing, and outwardly, it does not sound bad at all. Inwardly, confidence is building.

She gives us a few sheets of music. Shalom Aleichem is one of the songs and clearly, Eva has the confidence that we are capable of singing in three part harmony. She sings each part, she plays each part. We imitate and sing. First, get the melody, she says. In Hebrew, the words are meaningless to us (unless you can read Hebrew), but no matter, it makes us focus on the melody, on the quality of the sound. Now, get the words. Listen to each other; always listen for each other’s voices.

With our vocal development flowing nicely in a week’s worth of Eva’s insights and modeling, we sing a new song, Where is the Moon. Eva mentions that it is a wonderful song to sing for the sixth graders. As a teacher for the sixth grade next year, I am lucky to have a few songs that we practiced for that grade level. I pose a question to her: If I cannot reach the high notes of that song, how am I to teach it to the sixth graders?

Eva addresses my concern. I can certainly play the piano to teach the children the melody and the right pitches. However, as is the way of Waldorf, we teach how to be striving, living, loving individuals. You must sing, Eva says with conviction. And I agree with her, I must show courage in the act of singing, this is key to my vocal development. My class must see that I am not afraid, that I am willing to try, for that is the golden lesson after all. And what better way to learn a lesson than through song.

Eva teaches the class about vocal development, but I am a romantic, so I believe she is really teaching us about love. Our development as a whole human being depends on embracing each aspect of our bodies and abilities. The vocal cords as our instruments deserve to be cultivated. In their cultivation can we share the love in our hearts. Then, as Mozart joyfully sings out, we can live a truly long life with romance and song!