Starlight Rays in Darkened Times: Seminars on Contemporary Topics

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Starting September 2024

Empower Yourself to Shape the Future of Waldorf Education

This online series offers a rare opportunity for Waldorf high school teachers, administrators, staff members, and parents to come together and explore a fresh round of new “hot topics” with one another as well as share the latest current observations with seasoned colleagues from CfA’s Waldorf High School Teacher Education Program (WHiSTEP).

Join us as we delve into critical issues facing Waldorf education today, such as:

  • The developmental tasks facing young people in the modern world
  • Diversity, sexuality, and humanity in the classroom
  • The role of math education in the age of AI
  • The inner work and biography of the teacher
  • Fostering pedagogical creativity and innovation
  • Teaching towards deep understanding
  • Navigating the past and future of Waldorf education

By engaging in these vital conversations, you will gain invaluable insights, strategies, and connections to help you meet the evolving needs of your students and school community. Don’t miss this chance to be at the forefront of shaping the future of Waldorf education.

Registered participants will receive login information and links via email in advance of the first seminar, as well as periodic reminders through the fall and winter months.

Tuition for this series: $360.

Register now to secure your spot in this transformative series!

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Sarah SchreckCamphill
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The various topics were well thought out and prepared thoroughly by each presenter. Thank you for providing this series for us teachers. It was absolutely helpful to have conversations with other teachers from other schools and get new ideas, insights and new questions. Thank you!
César MurgaColegio Waldorf Guatemala
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Starlight Rays for Darkened Times is my international reference point for Waldorf Education. I recommend everyone to attend these thought-provoking and soul-engaging seminars. Starlight Rays is my jam!
Jane ChristensonWashington Waldorf School
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This series truly is a touchstone experience keeping me up to date with the Waldorf movement and driving new thoughts, ideas, and discussion points. Thoughtful and refreshing - continuing education at its best.
Deb Merroth AholaKimberton Waldorf School
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Inspiring, affirming hopeful, and wonderful.
Christopher YoungHalton Waldorf School
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The Starlight Rays sessions are thought-provoking and very relevant to my day-to-day work. Outstanding!
Eszter PigottHalton Waldorf School
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Starlight Rays is a thoughtfully put together and masterfully delivered seminar series that was very useful for me as a high school teacher. No matter what level of knowledge you have entering the virtual space, the subject field is made readily accessible to all and approached in an engaging way. I left all the sessions attended feeling like I added new tools to my toolbox to tackle the challenges both inside and out of the classroom.
Jacquelynn KolenkoYuba River
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How often have you heard, "I wish we had a Waldorf High School in our area?" How many of you are lucky enough to have one? Whether you fit into one or the other category, Starlight Rays in Darkened Times is true to its name. The expertise of the presenters sheds light on some of the difficult topics facing our teens today and provides applicable tools to rise and meet them.

Related Courses:

Earn a graduate-level certificate to teach in a Waldorf High School.

2024-2025 Schedule:

All seminars take place online on Saturdays from 3:00 – 4:30 pm ET

Waldorf education is based on Steiner’s pedagogical anthropology- his account of the changing relationship between the person, their body, with other people and with the world in the interaction of spirit, body and psyche. On the basis of this Steiner framed certain pedagogical principles and applied these in practice. I refer to these principles as generative because we can use them to create (and evaluate) practice. In this talk I outline some of the key generative principles for education post-puberty. 

Martyn Rawson

The most important human quality is our humanity. Education plays a role in helping us in becoming mindful of our own needs and those of others. In our schools and in ourselves, do we allow equal space for the perception of human beings as spiritual and sexual, individual and social entities? Modern, sometimes challenging parameters about bias and equity can provide important learning opportunities for educators. Can we allow them to help us grow?

Sven Saar Sven Saar gained his Waldorf Teaching diploma as a very young man. After moving to England, he worked as a class teacher for 30 years, eight of those in Germany. He also taught in the High School, specialising in history and drama. Now he works full time in Teacher Education and is on the faculty of several courses and universities in the UK, Germany, Australia and the US. Sven gives lectures and seminars internationally and works as an active mentor and advisor to schools and teachers in many countries. He is a co-founder of The Modern Teacher: Education as Art (UK) and co-ordinates the Waldorf 360 platform for High School teachersh

Generative AI raises urgent questions about the purpose and methods of teaching. Now that essays can be written and problems solved with a few keystrokes, how must we differently engage adolescents in the process of learning? This session will offer both ways to understand our work as teachers, and practical advice on forming meaningful activities for students.

Marisha Plotnik has been engaged with Waldorf education as a student, teacher, administrator, and adult educator. A focus of her work is creating dynamic, collaborative, learning communities where new ways of thinking are developed through meaningful encounters. Marisha holds degrees in Physics, Education, and Private School Leadership, and is a graduate of the CfA’s WHiSTEP program, where she now serves as a faculty member. 2024 finds her concluding her full-time position at the Rudolf Steiner School, where she has taught for nearly 30 years, and joining the research staff of the Nature Institute.

This interactive seminar is designed to offer teachers an opportunity to become conscious of and tend to the intricacies of their inner life through self-reflection, dialogue, and artistic inquiry. It centers questions of self-care, self-healing, and self-transformation in order to become available to students and to free up one's perceptive capacities in the service of the growing, evolving human being.


Alison Davis Dr. Alison Davis has been teaching since 2006 and became a Waldorf teacher in 2014. She hold degrees from the University of Kansas, the University of Notre Dame, Stanford University, and Antioch University, but she sees her willingness to be like Rumi and gamble everything for love as her greatest credential. She is the author of numerous literary and scholarly publications, as well as two collections of poetry: Wild Canvas (Finishing Line Press, 2024), and A Rare But Possible Condition (Saddle Road Press, forthcoming).

High school teaching is a two-way communication between teacher and student. Although adolescents are not always consciously aware of their style and tone, they may look back on it decades later. Why did I say that? How did I express myself clearly and respectfully? A teacher receives these messages, and depending on their biography, may respond in different ways. Teachers also reflect on how they responded. Does the teacher become defensive, curious, aggressive, empathetic? So much depends on the teacher’s temperament and stage of life. During this presentation, I will share ways in which our biography plays into ways we meet adolescents, and participants will contribute their thoughts.

Betty Staley

by Douglas Gerwin

From mainstream empirical studies, we know how much of our growing, our healing, and (according to recent research) our learning we undertake not during the waking day but while we are sleeping.  

At the same time, we see today an alarming decline in the amount––and, perhaps more importantly, the quality––of sleep our students are getting. Some reasons for their shortened and disturbed sleep are familiar, such as their blending screentime with bedtime, “grazing” on snacks rather than “eating” prepared meals at regular hours, foregoing a steady regime of rhythmic exercise. Other more deep-seated reasons, however, go largely unrecognized, especially if we have an incomplete picture of what actually happens when we sleep. 

In many of his lectures on education and other subjects, Rudolf Steiner builds up an elaborate multi-layered picture of how we spend our sleeping hours. Contrary to outward appearances, he suggests, students, as well as their teachers, are extraordinarily active during the night. 

Perhaps unique among educational approaches, Waldorf education embraces the full circadian cycle of waking and sleeping. We will examine sleeping activity at three levels––physiological, psychological, and spiritual––and relate them to Waldorf high school practices.  As part of this investigation, we will explore seven specific steps to improving the quality and the rewards of the pedagogical night shift.

After all, in the final analysis, Waldorf schools are night schools!


Himself a Waldorf graduate, Douglas Gerwin, Ph.D., is Executive Director of the Research Institute for Waldorf Education (RIWE). He has taught history, literature, German, music, and life science at the university and Waldorf high school levels for over 40 years and has helped prepare high school educators to teach these subjects for over a quarter-century. 

In 1996 he founded CfA’s Waldorf High School Teacher Education Program (WHiSTEP), a graduate-level training specifically for high school teachers which he chaired for 26 years. During that time, he also served as advisor or mentor to well over three-quarters of the Waldorf high schools in North America and helped train Waldorf teachers on four continents. For two decades he was also CfA’s Executive Director.

Editor of ten books and author of numerous articles on Waldorf education and anthroposophy, Dr. Gerwin also sits on the Pedagogical Section Council of the School for Spiritual Science of the Anthroposophical Society in America; in addition, for the past decade he was a member of the Hague Circle, an international leadership group of some 45 Waldorf teachers from around the world.

In 2017, the Pedagogical Section at the Goetheanum began a teacher education project (ITEP) with international input to develop guidelines to help ensure consistent and high-quality teacher education to support the need of Waldorf settings worldwide to have well-trained and well-supported teachers. This talk will discuss aspects of the findings of the project. In particular, it will explore how it is often the WHAT of teaching which is prioritized, or the HOW. Both of these are important. However, when studying to be a Waldorf teacher, or be a better Waldorf teacher, we need to be very aware of the WHY and ultimately the WHO of teaching. The talk will look at the qualities identified by the ITEP project and how the selfhood of the teacher informs and influences their teaching.

Neil Boland

Neil has taught in Steiner settings from early childhood to postgraduate. He works at the Auckland University of Technology in New Zealand and is honorary professor at the National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan. His interests include in the contemporization and localization of Waldorf education, meditation as research methodology and music in early childhood.

Intelligence, Artifice and Education

This session will explore the development of the idea of “intelligence” with an emphasis on implications for Waldorf high school education.

Before “intelligence” became an adjective telling us whether or not to feel good about ourselves, it was a noun meaning important information. The idea that some races and classes are inherently superior at gathering and interpreting intelligence led first to 19th century eugenics and from there directly to 20th century “intelligence tests” to sort people and determine who gets access to education.

Access to information and the ability to interpret its veracity have always been central to education. Direct interaction with the natural world and direct interaction with other human beings have both been largely supplanted by interaction with human-built artifacts as the source of our everyday “intelligence gathering.” This has profound implications, not only for educational methodology, but for the health of individuals and communities.

Waldorf schools promise to be a bastion of nature-centered and human-centered intelligence in a world of media-centered artifice. Are we delivering on this promise? Are we prepared, and can we imagine ways to prepare our students, for the oncoming biblical flood of information from generative artificial intelligence systems?

Cedar Oliver Dick “Cedar” Oliver
A science, math, technology, digital arts and design teacher in Waldorf high schools and middle schools for over 20 years, Cedar is also the author and co-author of numerous books and software titles and has worked with scientists, mathematicians, engineers and artists around the world. He attended the University of Maine and the University of Michigan in addition to the HiStep Waldorf Teacher Education program and 5-year Spacial Dynamics training. He currently serves as a visiting teacher and faculty mentor at several U.S. Waldorf schools and is a faculty member at CfA’s Waldorf high school teacher education program.

More Information Coming Soon.

Conscious Innovation: How to work with Rudolf Steiner’s indications of human development as we move into the next 100 years of innovative curriculum in Waldorf education.

Using her 12th grade seminar, Muses of Modernism, as well as the 12th grade elective, Human Development, as examples, Carol will share the process by which new main lessons and year-long or semester-long track classes can be proposed, forming an innovative curricular lexicon that remains committed to Steiner’s unique view of the growing adolescent. Brief texts will be shared beforehand as reading material for the discussions.


Carol Ann Bärtges

Carol Ann Bärtges
As an alumna, Carol Ann Bärtges has long been associated with the New York City Rudolf Steiner School and has worn many hats – as a parent of two graduates, as a class teacher, and for most of her career, as a high school teacher of Literature, Speech, and Drama. Currently, Carol serves as a full-time faculty member in the upper school English department and chairs the Faculty Development Committee; she is also the co-chair of the College of Teachers. An inveterate New Yorker, Carol lives on the Lower East Side, the tenement neighborhood her paternal grandparents always said they couldn’t wait to escape.

More Information Coming Soon.


The Waldorf approach to adolescents requires a Sankofa or Janus-like willingness to look to the past, specifically to the rich inspiration we can take from Rudolf Steiner’s teachings on adolescence. Here we can learn that adolescence is a transitory stage –– like a river flowing between the banks of childhood and adulthood. Puberty marks an end to the beautiful and idyllic paradise of childhood, while adolescence signals the start of a long, slow path toward physical, emotional, social, intellectual, and spiritual maturity.

But for those of us teaching the oldest students in our Waldorf schools, we would be failing miserably in our mission if we were to look only to the past (not to mention being laughed out the classroom door). The Waldorf teacher who works with adolescents must look as keenly to the present and the future as to the past. The adolescents in our care want to know we find meaning, joy, and grace in the world into which they have chosen to incarnate.

Like Janus and Sankofa looking at the old and new year, the Waldorf high school teacher needs to create a bridge between anthroposophical anthropology and the practical life of teaching today: put differently, to bring together a reading of the child and a reading of the world.

We look to what Steiner offered in 1919 so as to be imbued with the power of imagination needed to anticipate the true demands of a young person in 2024-2025 struggling over contemporary issues of equity, power, gender, climate, authoritarianism, artificial intelligence, and the ever-present search for meaning.

A work this big, this powerful, this important––reading the developing needs of young adults and the changing world they are about to enter––requires of us to radically re-till the soil of the past to prepare it for the seeding of an unknowable future.


David Barham, M.Ed.
Director of CfA’s Waldorf High School Teacher Education Program (WHiSTEP) as of 2022, David has worked in four North American Waldorf schools, including one in Mexico, both as class and high school teacher. Before joining CfA, he taught humanities at the Maine Coast Waldorf School in Freeport, ME, for more than a decade. In the fall of 2021, he was appointed to AWSNA’s Leadership Council as Leader for the Northeast/Quebec region.

A graduate with a master’s degree in Waldorf education from Antioch University New England, David recently completed a CfA certificate program in Waldorf Leadership Development. His undergraduate degree at Tufts University was in English and Religion.

An ardent folk singer and guitar player, David came to anthroposophy first as a biodynamic farmer, then as a worker at a Camphill village before signing on as a class teacher.

Related Articles of Interest

by David Barham

Adolescence is and always has been an extraordinarily complicated period of life. Even in the simplest of times, working with adolescents to help them find themselves and the meaning they so desperately seek is deeply challenging.

And these are anything but the simplest of times.

Though we may desire to move on from the endless ruins of the recent past, we cannot outrun the physical and psychic wounds and obstacles we have all experienced together and have not yet fully processed. In a recent piece in The New Yorker (January 16, 2023) on the report issued by the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 th Attack on the United States Capitol, historian Jill LePore vividly reminds us of our collective recent history: Covid-19 deaths, masks, lockdowns, loneliness and loss, joblessness, farm closures, guns and mass shootings, a national mental-health crisis, daily reports of devastating storms and fires, George Floyd, Black Lives Matter, and partisan battles over election integrity. She remarks that “so many felt, and not always for the same reasons, that a great deal was being stolen from them: their jobs, their co-workers, a sense of justice and fairness in the world, predictable weather, the idea of America, the people they love and human touch.” She describes a national mood of “vulnerability, fear, and sorrow.”

While we in the Waldorf world strive for the equanimity to keep these forces of chaos and dissolution at bay, we know we must meet the needs of adolescents—our vulnerable canaries in the coal mine—in new ways. We cannot simply move on from the recent past. We must come to understand how it has changed us, adolescents, and the classrooms and communities where we serve the future. The world is not the same as it was, and we cannot continue educating our students as if nothing has changed.

Educating the next generation of Waldorf high school teachers continues to build on the deep wellsprings of wisdom we were given by Rudolf Steiner and on more than a century of pedagogical research in Waldorf classrooms all over the world. With that powerful history as a foundation, the real work is to look to the questions coming at us at lightning speed and needing responses if Waldorf education is to fulfill its true mission.

What do adolescents need today to face their future with courage? Which classroom practices build the capacities and skills needed to face an ever-changing present and unknowable future? Which aspects of our current Waldorf high school curriculum still speak to the essential human qualities we all share? What can be drawn from new sources that speak a language that can be understood at the cellular level by modern adolescents?

Through our series of “Starlight Rays in Darkened Times: Seminars on Contemporary Topics for Waldorf High School Teachers,” we are attempting to tackle the enormous questions of the world. Essentially, every speaker we bring in to engage with our participants is asking some version of the archetypal Parzival question, “What ails thee?” And equally importantly, “How can I help?” We have just completed the  third cycle of this series, during which time we have explored questions of

  • helping adolescents cope with climate change without growing cynical or shutting down
  • meeting neurodiverse learners in the classroom
  • re-examining the Waldorf high school literature curriculum
  • supporting students through anxiety, depression, and addiction
  • determining the rightful place of technology in the Waldorf high school

We have given free rein to our guest presenters without claiming to endorse or agree with all that they have said. Rather our intention has been to open up topics in a gesture of open discourse. It has been so rich and rewarding to work on these enormous topics with participants equally devoted to the fragile world of high school students.

We already have a stellar global line-up of speakers for a fourth round of “Starlight Rays” seminars. Starting in September 2024, we will revisit a number of the themes listed above, while also diving deep into questions such as:

  • Why study mathematics in the age of AI?
  • What ar ethe developmental tasks facing young people today?
  • How can teachers deepen their inner work and inner life to more deeply reach their students?
  • How to work with sleep in this age of insomnia?
  • How to develop the qualities needed to be an effective educator?
  • How to consciously innovate the traditional Waldorf curriculum?

We hope all will join us for this high-quality professional development opportunity.

Our three-year Waldorf High School Teacher Education Program (WHiSTEP), which resumed meeting live and in person last summer on the gorgeous campus of High Mowing School in Wilton, NH, as well as through virtual sessions, internships, and independent study, is ever evolving to meet both the moment and the eternal. We are eager to launch new cohorts in the humanities and the arts—and especially in science and math, given the acute shortage of trained Waldorf teachers in these disciplines.

In this context, we are excited to be welcoming new instructors into this program: Marisha Plotnik will take on the teaching mathematics from Jamie York (both graduated from CfA’s inaugural WHiSTEP Class of 1998); Michal Noer will be guiding students through clay modeling and sculpture, a position Patrick Stolfo has held since the beginning of this program in 1996; Cedar Oliver, another graduate of WHiSTEP, will assume the teaching of the physical sciences from Michael D’Aleo, who taught this subject among others for the past 20 years; and Debbie Spitulnik will join the program to bring creative speech, an assignment previously held by Craig Giddens, a founding adjunct of the Waldorf Program at Antioch University New England as far back as 1982.

We are incredibly grateful to those faculty members who have carried this program for so many decades and to those  colleagues who are now stepping up to carry it forward. Its combination of self-transformation through the arts, deep study of the anthroposophical underpinnings of Waldorf education and human development, and subject seminars that give teachers the tools to teach their discipline in profound ways, is powerful. In this way, becoming a Waldorf high school teacher is both a vocational path and a way to find meaning in the madness.

“While outside the whirling wind heaves and twists and roars,” (J.LePore/January 16, 2023), here in WHiSTEP, we are steadfastly keeping our eyes on the prize: providing true, human care to meet the true needs of our students, families, and communities, as well as our own battered selves.

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