An Interview with Anna Silber

We are looking forward to The Essentials of Waldorf Education with Anna Silber on Tuesday, December 6 at 7:30pm in the Arts Building Music Room. Anna is a GMWS parent, a former Class Teacher at Green Meadow, and now serves as Director of Education at Sunbridge Institute. We caught up with her this week and asked her to share a few things with us prior to the talk.

In a few sentences, what makes Waldorf Education unique?

There are many things Waldorf is known for that are viewed broadly as excellent educational practices, but are not necessarily what make it unique, like teacher looping, experiential learning, and artistic expression, to name a few. To discover why it is unique, though, we need to strip away what we take for granted as the "tangibles" of Waldorf Education and look at the "intangibles:" the view of child development out of anthroposophy, for one. We also need to shift the conversation from what we teach to why, how, and when we teach it.

How did you decide to become a Waldorf teacher?

I was enjoying a career as an analyst in an investment firm in Manhattan and had been studying anthroposophy as a spiritual path for several years. Out of personal interest, I took a tour through the Rudolf Steiner School on the Upper East Side and was deeply moved; I simply knew it was something with which I had to be involved. As cliche as it may sound, it had to do with a wish to contribute in a potent way to changing the world, and I had never seen anything so potent as the work being done in a Waldorf school! 

I quit my job two months later and enrolled as a teacher training student at Sunbridge, then took a class teaching position at Green Meadow, bringing my class from fourth through eighth grade. After that I became a mother, and I'm now a GMWS parent.

As a trained Class Teacher, how do you answer a parent who wonders about teacher looping? How do teachers manage the challenges and personality conflicts that may arise between teacher and student when accompanying a class for 4-8 years? 

The short answer is that we believe a team of teachers accompanying a group of students for a number of years offers many important benefits to a class community and to individual students. The challenges of human relationships are inevitable in life, and certainly school life is no exception. A commitment to looping is successful when it is coupled with an equal commitment to the hard work of tending to relationships with students, parents, and colleagues.

One of our main concerns in educating Waldorf teachers is equipping them with tools to navigate these very human challenges out of love, not power, not fear. We need to approach our students a bit like parents think of their own children in this particular sense: parents don't ask whether they like their children or not; they love them. Teachers in a looping situation can embody the same disposition; our job is to educate through love. That in itself is a whole separate topic which I will take up more fully in the upcoming talk. 

As Director of Education at Sunbridge Institute, what do you feel are the most important things a Waldorf teacher needs to learn in preparation for taking a class?

Part of the preparation is what teachers need to learn, and the other part is who they are or are becoming. I'll take as a given the obvious list of grade level skills and competencies that are required, and go right to the ideas about child development out of anthroposophy. It is the ongoing interest in and digestion of this paradigm that will guide and illuminate a teacher's work with her or his students.

In our teacher education program, we spend a lot of time exploring this theme, along with curriculum work, the arts, and anthroposophical studies. There is of course a long list of human qualities that makes for good teachers, as well as good human beings, like humor, imagination, flexibility, and interest in the world. However, these are qualities you can't teach someone; they are developed, and freely developed at that, if they are to be authentic. As Steiner said to the early Waldorf teachers, it's not just what you know, it's who you are that matters.

Talking to Young People about the Election

The election has been on all our minds for months. We know that many of you are trying to decide how and what to communicate to your children right now.

We would like to offer a few humble words of guidance. We suggest that you provide security for your children, whatever their ages, by reminding them that the world is good. Remind them that, among the capacities their Waldorf Education is working to build in them, there are some we need urgently today and in the future: clear and balanced thinking, kindness and compassion, courage to speak the truth, willingness to listen, and practical skills to work together to make positive change in the world for all people. Remind them that they will be the leaders of tomorrow, and that they are needed in the world. Remind them, as we remind ourselves, to put themselves in another's shoes before judging anyone.

Today at school, we spent the day holding the students and moving forward in positive ways. Lower School teachers reminded the children that the world is a good place. Some students shared experiences about waking up this morning. Despite their different experiences, they found the universal thread was that we all woke up to greet a new day, which will continue to happen every day. One teacher told students that in every moment and in all our actions, we vote. When we continue to act in ways that are good, kind, true, and beautiful, then we are showing ourselves and others what is most important.

At the weekly Wednesday morning High School meeting, we focused on the strong bonds and love in the room. A junior brought Steiner’s Michaelic verse (copied below), which was very powerful. One of our seniors gave an eloquent talk focused on moving forward with empathy and hope. In classes, teachers help students process their feelings through course material. In the Birth of American Literature main lesson, for example, seniors reviewed what the revolutionary voices of the Transcendentalists told their nation in the mid-1800s. Then they meditated on and shared what revolutionary messages people in the United States need to hear today. 

All teachers and advisors are available if you have more questions about how to speak to your children. 

Wherever we fall on the political spectrum, we are a community, united in our wish for a better world for our children, for all children. May we learn from each other every day.

Michaelic Verse

We must eradicate from the soul
all fear and terror
of what comes towards us from the future;

We must look forward
with absolute equanimity to whatever comes, 
and we must think only
that whatever comes is given us
by a world direction full of wisdom.

It is part of what we must learn during this age, 
namely to act out of pure trust
in the ever present help of the spiritual world; 
Truly nothing else will do if our courage is not to fail us.

Therefore let us discipline our will, 
and let us seek the awakening from within ourselves, 
every morning and every evening.

                          Rudolf Steiner


GMWS Teacher Presents in Argentina on Waldorf Education

GMWS Eighth Grade Teacher Elizabeth Hall returned on September 4 from a short trip to Argentina, where she traveled (at the invitation of the country's Ministry of Education) to present about Waldorf Education to educators from across Argentina. Stay tuned: we will be featuring an article by Elizabeth about her trip in the November/December issue of The Bulletin

Here are a few photos from Elizabeth's trip:

Evita Peron's grave

Evita Peron's grave

Teatro Colon

Teatro Colon

Buenos Aires Cityscape

Buenos Aires Cityscape

Teaching 21st Century Skills

Watch this video through to the end (15 well-spent minutes). At about minute 13.5, Lichtman shares three principles for schools: Teach into the Unknown, Develop Self-Evolving Learners, and Be a Self-Evolving Organization. These three principles align perfectly with Green Meadow's mission, and it's exciting to see alignment between mainstream thinking and the wisdom of Waldorf.

Different language, similar ideas
At GMWS, we understand that Waldorf Education prepares students not for the world of today but for the world they will enter when they graduate, the world of tomorrow (Lichtman's "teaching into the unknown").

In our materials, we have used the phrase "lifelong learners" (akin to Lichtman's "self-evolving learners").

And we are committed, through faculty training and regular self-reflection and accreditation processes, to being an evolving organization that changes to meet the needs of the students in our care.

Why Young Kids Learn Through Movement

Read up on this terrific article from The Atlantic discussing children and learning through movementOne of our favorite quotes: "Research has shown time and again that children need opportunities to move in class. Memory and movement are linked, and the body is a tool of learning, not a roadblock to or a detour away from it."