By David Barham
Standing in line for lunch and getting lost in an engaging conversation with someone you don’t know very well about a fabulous class you just had. Kicking back on a lovely summer’s eve, listening to a talented young musician sing and play guitar. Gathering together with others, drawn by the nightly ritual of a glorious sunset over the neighboring Frye Field. Taking time away from campus on a weekend to climb Pack Monadnock, see a movie in Peterborough, or get ice cream to beat the Wilton heat. Engaging together with classmates in eurythmy, practicing some exercises in spacial dynamics, or acting out a scene from a John Cariani play.
These are quintessentially human interactions that must play out live, for they simply cannot be duplicated on a Zoom screen.
These activities, and so many more, were all part of what made summer 2022 up on Abbot Hill in Wilton, New Hampshire, such a positive and powerful experience for students and faculty alike. Converging from all over North America and beyond, participants in CfA’s Waldorf High School Teacher Education Program (WHiSTEP) joined with trainees in other programs to form a thriving and vibrant learning community.
As the incoming WHiSTEP Director, I spent my time shadowing the program’s founder and outgoing leader, Douglas Gerwin. I attended classes and meetings, spoke with students and faculty, and drank in the richness of a wide range of offerings. My first thought each day was: Covid has taken so much from us, and this simple act of coming together, in person, is, in itself healing in so many ways. I wanted to shout from the rooftops, “There is life beyond the computer screen! Come out, come out and remember the vibrancy of the irreplaceable real world!”
Paradoxically, to supplement this all-important reality of getting back to live classes, we have added two weekend virtual sessions to the program, one in November and one in March, to deepen the work and keep connections alive between summer sessions. We remain committed to exploring how a combination of live and virtual sessions can make this education more accessible, affordable, and in keeping with the complexities of modern life.
In addition, we have launched another cycle of our Starlight Rays in Darkened Times: Seminars on Contemporary Topics for Waldorf High School Teachers. With over 100 educators signed up, we held our first session on Saturday, September 10, with my presentation entitled, “Teaching in a World on Fire: A Waldorf Approach to Current History and Civics.” Every other Saturday through February 2023, we will feature an array of experienced educators presenting powerful topics vital to our modern moment: helping students with anxiety, depression, and addictions; looking anew at the high school literature curriculum; deepening an understanding of inclusion, equity, diversity, and belonging; examining the role of parents; teaching climate change without inducing cynicism and a sense of defeat; expanding an understanding of differentiated teaching; delineating the rightful role of technology in the classroom; and more. Waldorf schools are part of the modern world, and we are excited to engage with the modern world’s challenges, adding our voice to those striving to bring healing to the modern adolescent.
Our teacher education program prepares high school teachers interested in deepening their teaching of adolescents in both independent and public charter Waldorf schools. We recognize that regardless of the setting in which one teaches, the fundamental principles of Waldorf education and the archetypal path of human development constitute the essential foundation of the Waldorf teacher. We witnessed firsthand how profound it was for teachers heading off to independent schools and those heading off to public charter schools to sit side by side in classes and to discuss and debate approaches to the curriculum and the successes and challenges of the modern adolescent.
We truly believe the best days of Waldorf education and Waldorf high schools are ahead of us, and we remain deeply committed to helping educators bring to their students an education that, while firmly rooted in the fundamentals of anthroposophy, is equally devoted to a more just, fair, and equitable world. That world begins in the classroom.
Images from the in-person week of a summer retreat on the idyllic hilltop setting of High Mowing School in Wilton, New Hampshire, after a two-year absence.
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