My friend Robert tells me, “How we raise and educate our children is a key element in whether or not we survive! That’s why your book is so important! Because civilization is, in Victor Frankl’s term, “running on the wire.”
“But,” I counter, “my teaching memoir is simply life in a Waldorf classroom, moments, conversations, little kids becoming big kids, day after day, from first through sixth grade.”
I think my story shows a better way to reach children, to spark the awe, curiosity and engagement that fuels learning, but Robert thinks I should step back and look at a bigger picture. He thinks A Gift of Wonder isn’t just about showing aspects of the Waldorf approach that are a promising model for teaching in all schools. He thinks my sweet story about children shows part of the transformation we need to survive.
I carry his idea with me, the notion that A Gift of Wonder is a book about transformational future building. Is it possible that what I thought to be a sweet tale about the importance of teaching with love and respect for my students is somehow not just about school as it should be ?
One day, I come across this quote from the Dalai Lama:
So, it seems that the Dalai Lama agrees with my friend Robert. The world we wish for tomorrow depends on how we nurture children today.
Ninety years ago, Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf schools, designed these schools to educate the heart. A Gift of Wonder shows this key aspect of the Waldorf approach.
In contrast, most of today’s educators and writers who seek to influence the future of schooling focus on
creating high acheivers
making the US more competitive in the world
rewarding students for hard work
developing grit in students
As a teacher relying on the Waldorf approach to reach the hearts as well as the minds of my students, I learned that the most effective way to reach the heart is not through the brain. The way to teach love, is to show love. The way to teach respect is to show respect. The deepest lessons in morality are those children see in action. We teach morality through example.
It takes a leap of faith to trust that an approach with empathy and respect for children at the center will help students become adults who are not only warm-hearted but also competent. For ninety years Waldorf schools have shown that competence is not sacrificed when we teach to the heart.
A classroom story comes to mind. One year, as I began my journey with a first grade class, my first message to my young students was that they should not be shy about seeking attention if they needed anything. This was the main thing I wanted them to learn in the first weeks of school: that I was there for them. My first goal was not good behavior, or progress in reading, but that they should not be shy about seeking help.
I strengthened my message by telling a relevant story. Over time we let go of the bells and they learned to raise their hands. Then, something unusual happened. Often, I would call on someone and she would point to her neighbor and say, “I’m raising my hand because she needs help.” This happened for many times each day. They intuitively knew which classmate needed help at that particular moment and would raise their hands en mass to get attention for their friend. These six and seven year olds had learned to imitate my gesture. I had said I was there for them and they showed me they were there for each other.
Upon reflection, I agree with my friend Robert that my teaching memoir — as one might expect from a book that shows central principles of Waldorf schools — does in fact show what we need to survive. We need, more than ever, to be there for each other, to, as Rudolf Steiner said, “Receive the children in reverence, educate them in love, and send them forth in freedom.” For this is how we bring reverence, love and freedom to the world. The way we see children becomes the way they see the world. The way children see the world creates the future.
Kim Allsup taught in Waldorf schools for 25 years. Her teaching memoir, A Gift of Wonder, shows her first six years in the classroom. Click here for more about the book. and for all ordering options (publisher, Amazon, signed copies directly from the author and how to order from Europe and Australia.)