On September 3, 1935, Sir Malcolm Campbell set the land speed record on the Bonneville Salt Flats in his car Bluebird. Having lived my teens and early twenties in England, I knew Sir Malcolm’s story and embraced it as a part of my enthusiasm for all things British. Those images of Campbell grinning widely while leaning against his spectacular, salt-covered car, so cool in his bright white jumpsuit, made an impression on me. The landscape of the salt flats began to occupy a small corner of my imagination. When many years later I saw The World’s Fastest Indian, the story of Burt Munro’s land speed record, the Bonneville Salt Flats officially went on my list of places to visit.
This summer, I made it to the salt flats with my family. Our vacation was a roundabout western road trip that went through Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, more Idaho, and Oregon. The trip centered around collecting my son from his month-long outdoor leadership program in Wyoming. My husband and I knew that the best way for us to hear about our son’s trip would be to drive out and get him and strap him into the car for a multi-day trip home. This vast expanse of unscheduled, captive time would allow his stories to unfold, and his wilderness experience to settle more deeply and thoroughly into him. We knew this would be a much different ending, and perhaps a gentler and more meaningful one, than for him to take a plane back to Seattle alone and plug into his electronic teenage universe upon landing.
So off we went to Wyoming, my husband and I, taking a slow, manageable route of four days and beautiful scenery via the back roads and Yellowstone to Lander, Wyoming. In planning the post-pick-up portion of the trip, I put the Bonneville Salt Flats on the itinerary.
Desert landscape is my favorite. I think it is because I spent much of my life in a deciduous and evergreen world with too much rain or too much snow. There was no big sky, there were no giant red rocks standing stoically alone, and certainly nothing as strange or captivating as cactus or lizards. Such barren landscape is time and space represented in the physical rather than the abstract. Within that landscape, there is enough time to do anything and nothing, and enough space for the same.
It is an offering of nothingness; an opportunity not to fill something, but to leave it empty and to be in the emptiness. This is something I find harder to come by, or perhaps I wish for it more these days.
As I’ve gathered more obligations and constraints on my time, I sometimes feel I have become a human doing and have lost the human being. When I’m not on vacation, it can be difficult to create space or find those moments of solitude that fence out the routine and dry up the drizzle of the day to day tasks. Clearing the clouds of the mundane and sweeping away the detritus of worldly expectations is not easily done. Yet it is often through unscheduled, empty time that creativity, inspiration, and innovation appear. Our usual noise has to stop before a new sound can be heard. I’m sure we’ve all had this experience.
During our driving vacation, I could sense the trail of the trivial disappearing on the road behind us. Our conversation wasn’t about scheduling, cello practice, meeting times, or other responsibilities. It was sometimes meaningful and sometimes not. And much of it was silent.
The rhythm of our lives can sometimes get out of balance, with too much doing and not enough being. Here at school, we talk about the rhythm of the students’ day, and look to balance moments of breathing in with moments of breathing out. It is during these ‘out breaths’ that learning can take root and grow into understanding—the space of the out-breath allows the lessons to unfold. When my son was younger, he would sometimes say, ‘Mom, I’m bored.’ ‘Good,’ I would reply, ‘Boredom is the canvas of creativity.’ He doesn’t report boredom anymore, perhaps because he’s tired of my response. But he does see the value of balance and naturally finds a rhythm to his day and week.
Each year in mid-August our faculty reconvenes to begin preparations for fall. We always start our time together with an out-breath: our faculty retreat, at which we share about a selected topic. This year, we shared stories of our summer activities and talked of how we each might keep some of our ‘summer self’ throughout the year, as obligations increase and our reserves decline. The long days of summer give us time to take a swim in the lake after work, have a late-night dinner al fresco, or give us more energy in general. The shorter days of fall tend to coincide with greater demands on family and work schedules, and it’s easy to lose that sanguine summertime feel. Having a verse or an image for the year ahead helps me keep focus and perspective when the load gets heavy. This year, the image of the wide-open space of the salt flats will stay with me to help me unfold into emptiness to retain my balance and creativity. As you step into the autumn, how will you hold space for yourself and your family?
Well, there’s usually quite a bit on my desk, but what I’m focusing on these days is a book I picked up while at the Special Education Conference this spring. It’s called Learning From Lincoln: Leadership Practices for School Success.
Are Head of School skills similar to Head of State skills? In some ways, perhaps. But more specifically, there are traits and skills that Lincoln developed that made him an effective leader and a memorable communicator. As Head of School, I strive to improve my leadership skills each year. Inspiring leaders such as Yong Zhao and Rosetta Lee have changed not only my thinking, but have caused some policy changes as well, as a direct result of their work. I look forward to similar inspiration from this book, and begin each day by reading a portion of this book or completing one of the writing exercises.
Summer allows me time for reflecting on the year just passed and brings into focus a theme for my year ahead. I generally work with a whole-school theme and at least one professional goal for myself each year. I’ll be learning from Lincoln what I can improve on in the days ahead.
And so, on an overcast morning in March, Chocolate and the third grade students took the ferry to Whitbey Island. Gretchen and Hal Schlomann welcomed the third grade class to their farm. Students met the many alpacas and several llamas of the farm, and even had an opportunity to learn about some of the daily chores involved with caring for alpacas. Under the guidance of our friendly hosts, one group of students prepared breakfast for a group of hungry female alpacas. Another group helped to weigh another adolescent alpaca. These students were surprised to find that all three of them only came close to the total weight of the alpaca. Chocolate used this time to reacquaint himself with some relatives, and to catch up on all the latest llama gossip.
After breakfast, the rain began, and it was time to head to the yurt for weaving, spinning, dyeing and felting. The students from grade three learned how to use a wheel to spin alpaca fiber, and practiced using a loom. They also experienced dying alpaca yarn with a variety of natural sources. The students were surprised to watch how a brilliant red dye came from the crushed shells of Cochineal beetles, and how the yarn took on various shades of yellow from the onion skins they had collected and brought to the farm. And of course, there was needle felting to be done. Students enjoyed working with the alpaca fibers, felting miniature flags, flowers, hammers, and many other things. Chocolate sat out for these activities, as sharp needles and spinning wheels tend to make a very furry creature nervous.
As the rain lightened up, it was time for grade three to say goodbye to all their two and four legged friends. And so, with waves of farewell and llama kisses, Chocolate bid his camelid brethren a fond farewell. As the car pulled out onto the driveway, he was already planning his next visit.
How does Bright Water School teach reading? What is Bright Water School’s approach with students with learning disabilities? These are just two of the questions that came up in our recent parent survey regarding adult education topics. I often answer questions that have a universal appeal on the blog. I find this is a better format than the newsletter for exploring questions in depth. Once I’ve written about a topic, it will remain here for future readers; the newsletter does not allow for that sort of permanence. So let’s talk about reading and our approach to learning disabilities at Bright Water School:
For some students reading seems to come naturally. Yet in the timeline of human history reading is a relatively new human skill.
Taken in historical context, it is only in the last two hundred years that written material has been widely available and that education of more than just a privileged class has been put into place. Given that context, it is understandable that this relatively new skill has to be overtly taught to many students. It’s not an innate skill set. In acknowledging this, we also acknowledge that offering a class specifically for reading is not a sign that anything is ‘wrong’.
The acquisition of reading skills is a vast topic with a wealth of information available in print and online. I won’t attempt an exhaustive treatise, but will highlight a few points about how reading skills are developed and the steps we take to assess skill acquisition and address reading lags.
Reading skills development begins in the early childhood classes. One of the skills teachers develop is visual memory via the use of recall. For example, after a class has been on a walk to the park, the teacher may ask the children what they saw. By recalling things they saw on their walk, their visual memory is strengthened. Another way the teacher might accomplish this is by showing children several objects in succession from a ‘treasure basket’ . Children are then asked to recall what they saw. (By the way, children of this age are much more able to talk about what they saw as opposed to what they did. If you want to hear about your young child’s day, ask them “What did you see today?”, rather than “What did you do today?”) Part of reading is visual memory recall. If you were to think about how you read, you will realize that you are not sounding out words as you see them, you are recalling from memory words you have already learned. However, when you come across a word unfamiliar to you, such as stultiloquy, something different happens and you apply different skills to decode that word. Reading certainly involves much more than just visual memory.
Exposure to language through reading, story, and conversation also helps build reading skills.
A rich use of language and story is a part of our school’s program from Parent and Child classes through Grade Eight. The early childhood programs also employ fine motor activities, such as finger knitting and sewing, to prepare them for writing in first grade. Students enter Grade One with a range of literacy skills. Some are already reading, many are not. The alphabet is presented in stories about each letter, and the teacher provides varied opportunities for students of differing skill levels to participate. As a small example of this, a student who is already a reader may be asked to read the daily class schedule that is written on the blackboard.
In a Waldorf school, academic learning begins in Grade One. Developmentally, this is when children are ready for academic learning in the classic classroom format, but this is viewed as ‘late’ in the U.S. A recent article on the Finnish school system, using the same timeline and an approach similar to U.S. Waldorf schools, ranked the best in the world. Many educators in the U.S. struggle against the trend of bringing academics further into the early childhood years, yet this trend continues despite mounting evidence that such programs are detrimental to students and have a negative impact on their school performance, to say nothing of truncating their childhood experience. At Bright Water School, we support the principal of academic learning beginning in Grade One while also acknowledging that reading is a skill to be taught, not a developmental stage.
To support this conviction and our student’s academic achievement, we screen all second grade students for reading skills acquisition. This screening consists of five parts: oral reading, phonogram knowledge, nonsense words, diagnostic word patterns, and sight words and it aids in determining a need for additional student support. When a student exhibits a delay in skills acquisition, parents of the student are notified and the student is enrolled in reading class with Ms. Rall. We also screen fourth grade students who were in reading class with Ms. Rall in third grade when they begin their fourth grade year.
When students exhibit signs of dyslexia, we recommend off-site screening. We also know that reading skills acquisition can be affected by physical issues such as eye tracking and auditory processing; when we see sign of either of those conditions, we likewise suggest outside assessment or evaluation.
Signs of dyslexia may be detected before formal reading instruction begins. Some of those signs are reversal of sounds, inability to repeat rhymes, difficulty with fine motor activities such as buttoning a coat or pulling up a zipper, and difficulty with colors or shapes. Our school recognizes there is a difference between skill acquisition timelines and learning disabilities. Because much of academic success often hinges on reading, experts recommend that students showing signs of dyslexia should receive intervention as soon as possible. Effective intervention means that students can keep up with their school work and feel successful. To learn more about dyslexia, visit the Washington Branch of the International Dyslexia Association.
We take a team approach to student support.
This means the entire grade school faculty, with parental permission, is informed about any students with learning disabilities at a special group meeting called Student Success Team. Teachers who work with the student are informed about what the student is working on and strategies and techniques for student support and success. Students who are the topic of a Student Success Team are often also working in programs outside the school that address dyslexia, sensory integration, or auditory processing disorder.
Our school has a commitment to being informed about special education topics. As Head of School, I seek out opportunities for teachers to learn about special education topics relevant to their classroom or to their wider duties in the school. The school obtains funding for certain workshops and trainings through Seattle Public Schools. Next week, five Bright Water School faculty will take part in the Special Education Conference in Shoreline. This is Bright Water School’s second year of attendance at this workshop, and is a part of our continued commitment to be informed about student learning needs and continuing to build our list of education support providers. As part of this special education focus, Cindy Lehman of Lehman Learning will make a presentation to the faculty.
Below is a detail of attendees and their respective workshops:
- Nazneen Kateli-D’Souza, Grade Four: Visual Learning in an Auditory World
- Jo-Ann Climenhage, Grade Eight: Intervention Strategies for Older Readers: Issues of Fluency AND Comprehension Teaching Strategies for Middle and High School Students Struggling with Mathematics
- Skye Chamberlain, Grade One and Darlene Rall, Reading Teacher: Addressing Reading Difficulties in Younger Readers: Issues of Phonological Awareness and Decoding AND The Typical and Atypical Reading Brain: Developmental Evidence from Infants, Preschoolers and School-age Children
- Christi Byrd, Math and Reading Tutor: Evidence-based Teaching Strategies for Students Struggling with Mathematics
- Laura Crandall, Head of School: Visual Learning in an Auditory World, AND Behavior and Language: Behavior is not Discipline
Bright Water School is delighted to announce Michael Preston as the Grade One teacher for 2013-14. Mr. Preston has thirty-three years of experience as a full-time grade school teacher; thirty of those years have been spent teaching in Waldorf schools in England and the United States. He is currently teaching Grade Eight at Three Cedars Waldorf School.
Mr. Preston holds a Bachelor of Education, a Master of Education, and a PhD from London University. The majority of his class teaching was at Honolulu Waldorf School from 1990-2005, where he was also responsible for the ukulele program for Grades Six through Eight, and for lyre and introductory violin in Grade Three. Mr. Preston has taught adults in Waldorf teacher training programs; most recently, he taught courses in the summer of 2012 at the West Coast Institute in Vancouver, Canada. He has published numerous articles for the Waldorf education journal, Renewal Magazine.
Team Read is an independent non-profit that works in Seattle Public Schools to help students in grades two and three with reading. The program trains students in grades 8-12 in reading tutoring and then pairs tutors with students. The pairs meet twice-weekly for in one and a half hour sessions at elementary schools around Seattle. Tutors in grades 9-12 can choose to receive pay or community service hours for their work. Eighth grade students may tutor for community service hours only. This year, Team Read began tutoring programs at Lowell Elementary and Stevens Elementary, both of which are within walking distance to BWS. We’re hopeful that next year, some of our eighth graders will choose to join Team Read for their community service project. You can see some of the past projects our eighth graders have worked on in this blog post. Program Developer Bill Eisele will meet with our Grade Seven class in May to talk about Team Read and recruit for next year.
Because they are a non-profit, they need support in the form of books or cash donations. If you’d like to help Team Read with their mission, send an email to info at brightwaterschool dot org and we’ll give you some of the book titles on their list–they have specific requests, so please ask. We’ll collect the books here and deliver them to a Team Read location. You can also donate directly to Team Read on their website.
Not on facebook because you’re not interested in what other people are eating for lunch? Don’t want anything tweeting at you except birds? Then you’re probably not a participant in social media, or at least not an enthusiastic one. But if you’re not plugged in to social media, you might be missing an opportunity to get good information brought to you in an easy-to-access format. I’ve been a facebook user for years and yes, I do post pictures of my food. I’ve used my personal facebook account as a way to interact with people I went to elementary school with on the other coast, and for people I see regularly. Facebook is a two-way form of communication for me in my personal life.
Last year, I decided that it was important for Bright Water School to have an active presence on facebook. I have a professional facebook account that I use primarily to get news and pictures about our school out, and the school has its own page. At this point, my school facebook account is a one-way street: I communicate professional rather than personal information to the facebook world, and facebook is not talking back.
Enter twitter, a form of social media that never made any sense to me, and one that I never wanted to engage in. It seemed confusing, weirdly laid out, and I have seen way too many stories about people tweeting what turns out to be the final tweet of their job. It was fraught with too much potentiality for error. But a while ago, I decided it would be good for the school if I opened a twitter account and started tweeting news, blog posts, and our newsletter. Many organizations do this to engage their audience or customers and to give them information. While I was entering the world of twitter with reluctance, I felt I needed to drag us further into the 21st century.
I was pleasantly surprised with twitter once I started to use it. It is a different experience than facebook, which can be cumbersome when you’re on your mobile device, which most of us are these days. I can put organizations into my feed and have news spoon-fed to me at very little effort on my part. As a Head of School, this means I can keep up with other schools because so many of them are using twitter to communicate to their parents. They are also using twitter as a marketing tool–anyone can ‘follow’ any twitter user and receive their tweets. Another difference between twitter and facebook is that twitter is completely public–all of your tweets can be read by any twitter user, or called up on the internet by anyone. So be careful out there!
There are many places you can learn about social media, so why I am writing about it? I want to encourage you to subscribe to our twitter feed (@BWSTenthAve)! I’m not promising that we can match the way that Seattle Public Schools uses twitter, but I can tell you it’s an easy way to get our newsletter, blog posts, and to enjoy exclusive classroom pictures that you won’t get anywhere else. I’ve found I would rather receive these things via twitter than via email–they’re easier to open up and read (yes, one less click or tap during the day makes a difference!), and you can retweet them to your followers once you have some!
Current and former parents help our school with many events large and small throughout the year. Former BWS parent Jody Pineda conceptualized a recent event for prospective board members, which she and I hosted together. As a part of that evening, we put together some testimonials from current and former parents. Jody and I both felt so inspired by these testimonials that I share one of them with you here.
I do not think I could list on one page the many gifts our family received from our time at the Bright Water School. First and foremost, the education of our children. We were fortunate to have a boy in the lead class (2007), followed by his sister who reentered the school in 5th grade (2010). They experienced in a very concrete way the level of planning, communication, resources, effort and community that were needed to make a new school come to life.
In the classroom, they encountered the great human story, told progressively through little animal stories, myth, comparative religion, formal history and geography and the study of great human beings throughout time. Every week they used music, language, visual arts, movement, crafting and memorization to build their understanding of how humans meet the world. Together with their classmates they stepped over the threshold of science, making acquaintance with botany, physics, biology, and organic chemistry in ways that are fun and affirming. The fruits of our students’ everyday endeavors were catalogued in their main lesson copy books and displayed in the concerts, plays and recitations they provided for each other, friends and family throughout the year.
As a family we gained a lot from the emphasis on simplicity and community. While our school lives began in a sort of cocoon of home and kindergarten, we worked with other parents and teachers to support increasing visibility and engagement in and outside the school, particularly in the middle school years, drawing on and expanding our students’ gifts and training.
For us, the results have been deeply gratifying. Partly, I think, because they never learned they “couldn’t” do something, our two students have performed very well academically and are year-round varsity athletes in high school and college. In art classes they have been deeply appreciated by teachers in music, dance and visual arts, even though these are not areas of strong interest for them. Socially they display an understanding of and compassion for all (well, most) beings, and are capable of expressing divergent views respectfully.
Beyond school, however, there are life lessons. Every student and family leaves Waldorf school knowing that all people can be scholars, athletes and artists to different degrees. We learn (and forget and remember) how to take care of our bodies–that proper foods and sleep truly matter. We learn (and forget, and remember) about the respective realms of work and home, friendship and family, stewardship and industry. We strive to understand and show compassion for all (well, most) beings, and trust we can express divergent views respectfully.
And we learn to be grateful and of service. Thank you, Bright Water School! ~ Catherine P
It seems like setting up the school calendar should be a fairly straightforward endeavor, right? After 15 years, we ought to be able to navigate around some dates and schedule events without incident. Furthermore, our ongoing diversity studies should have made us more aware and a little more culturally nimble. Yet, we are–still, and always– learning, and earlier this year we made a scheduling error. We tried to remedy the mistake and didn’t quite succeed. Fortunately, we worked through it and had a fruitful meeting parents who took the time to come speak with us. As a result, we have built in a few more institutional fail-safes for scheduling our school year.
Diversity studies probably won’t prevent us from making mistakes, but they will help us move to resolution and remedy much more quickly. Undertaking cultural competencies work has opened us up to question and discuss things we haven’t seen as an issue before, such as dress ‘norms’ for students. We do what we can to educate ourselves and yet, we are each most familiar with our own experience. We rely on others to tell us where we’ve gone wrong, and in taking up the topic of diversity, our school has made the pledge to listen and improve.
A picture of a giant slab of butter can induce me to read just about anything. This morning when this New York Times article came through my twitter feed, I moved on over to the big screen desktop to examine that butter hunk in earnest. My hope was that the answer to the article’s title question, Can Exercise Protect the Brain From Fatty Foods?, would be an unequivocal ‘yes’. I was rewarded for the effort of my click, for ‘yes’ was indeed the answer.
Some of us might read the article from the point of view of a person who enjoys fats and hopes to escape the negative consequences of a bacon-laden morning by grabbing the running shoes and heading out to beat the Alzheimer’s back. When I read that article, rather than think of my own less-than-ideal eating habits, I immediately thought of how much movement there is in one of our school days. Morning circle, jumping rope, eurythmy, javelin practice, two recess periods in the grade school, regular walks, twice-weekly movement class, hours of active play in early childhood classes–it goes on. We’ve heard much about how movement helps students learn, and we know it’s important for learning, brain development, and health. This was the first time I had seen something about how movement can counteract the negative impact of fatty foods on the brain. That made me feel good about our emphasis on healthy movement all over again.
Throughout the day, our students take part in movement activities that are designed to help them learn and grow. Jumping rope while reciting the times tables, learning parts of speech through specific movements in eurythmy, or working with body geography while counting by fours, sixes, or eights, work directly on academic retention. Movement classes focus on gross motor coordination and build a stronger body. Circle story activities in the early childhood are comprised of movements that help children develop motor coordination and neural pathways via developmental moves that target balance, crossing the midline, and fine motor skills for writing. We know that our extensive movement curriculum has many intentional benefits. Yet this morning, here was a benefit I hadn’t known about: movement can counteract some poor eating habits. Now if I could just get my teenage son to go for a run after that cheeseburger.