Last “End of Week” Update for the School Year

June 09, 2013 in Inside SWS

Writing this last “End of Week Update,” it’s hard to believe the year has come to an end. Wasn’t it just yesterday we were gathering at the grade school for our celebration of Michaelmas? Or sharing in the Harvest Festival at Kinderhaus? Surely we just sent our new 9th graders off on their North Cascades backpacking trip only a few weeks ago. Tonight we bid farewell to the class of 2013, many of whom began their Waldorf journey a dozen or more years ago. These endings and moments of closure invite us to reflect not only on the last nine months, but on what brought us to Seattle Waldorf School in the first place – and why we return each fall with renewed excitement and enthusiasm.

In response to the latter query, I’d like to offer insights I came upon shared by three individuals, all which brought home to me why I will be here come next September. First is an article titled, “Why Do I Teach?” by Gary Gutting, a professor at Notre Dame. A young, new faculty member brought this to my attention, noting that she especially appreciated the following thought:

“We should judge teaching not by the amount of knowledge it passes on, but by the enduring excitement it generates. Knowledge, when it comes, is a later arrival, flaring up, when the time is right, from the sparks good teachers have implanted in their students’ souls.”

The article goes on to acknowledge that, yes, college students do need jobs and employers do need well-trained workers. However, thereal value of education is to awaken in students a vivid awareness of new possibilities for intellectual and aesthetic fulfillment – the beauty of mathematical discovery, the thrill of scientific understanding, the fascination of historical narrative, the mystery of theological speculation. Surely that is the essence of a Waldorf classroom and a Waldorf teacher, who ignites a passion for learning in children that will burn brightly throughout their lives.

Veteran teacher Jack Petrash, with over thirty years of classroom experience (currently teaching his fourth class at the Washington Waldorf School in Bethesda, Maryland), makes a riveting case for Waldorf education in his recent TEDx talk, Educating Children for the Journey. In his view, the best way to educate our children is through the development of three essential capacities: a capacity for vibrant and vigorous activity, a capacity for a sensitive and yet resilient emotional life, and a capacity for clear, focused, original, thinking. For Petrash, key components of this experience are self-directed play and art.

Play is the wonderfully creative work of early childhood. When young children play, they are focused, attentive, and completely involved in what they are doing. Similarly, integrating art throughout our lessons across all disciplines addresses a child’s need to be engaged imaginatively and emotionally in their learning, in every subject area.

When we teach children through a foundation of active play and a solid framework of artistic experiences, we help them develop the third essential ability, a capacity for dynamic, curious, and original thinking, a thinking that enables our children to ask probing questions and creatively solve problems. Waldorf graduates develop new ways of understanding the world – to think beyond what “everyone knows.”

Last, I’d like to share with you “Doodling Between Black and White,” thoughts offered from long-time parent and member of our community, Joel McCullough. Selected to speak to the SWS 8th grade class at the Stepping Up ceremony last week, Joel brought many to tears with his heartfelt perspective on where these young people have been, and where they are headed.

“It’s been a long time since we jumped rope to learn our times tables. It’s been a long time since we’ve walked holding hands. For many years you have been pushing your boat further and further into the pond, away from the dock, and all to soon you’ll be out of sight. Each of you has become, in your own way, an adventurous, creative, articulate person. As you explore and try new things, always know that there are hands to hold, to help. Hands of friends, family, teachers, coaches. And also know that your parents will always be there, waiting back there on the dock.

Be kind and graceful to those you meet; do good deeds; build lasting relationships; forgive your mistakes and those of others; develop and live by your principles; have the courage to follow your heart and intuition; stick up for the underdog and disadvantaged; create beautiful things. It is my honor to know each and every one of you, and we celebrate your future.”

Joel captured the spirit and reality of what draws me – and I believe many others – to SWS, day after day, year after year. It is the people standing on the dock, ready to simultaneously push the boat away yet maintain a gentle hold on the rope should we need the safety of the shore. It is our commitment to kindness, to beauty, and to authentic relationships, even when they are messy and difficult. It is the potential and possibility, through Waldorf education, to send our children into the world prepared to do good deeds and follow their heart. What more could we wish for their future, and for ours?

Thank you for a wonderful year with your beautiful children – we are so grateful for the opportunity to be on this journey with you. See you in September!

With warmest wishes for a joy-filled summer