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Questions, questions

Have you ever had a day when nothing seems to go right, when nothing seems interesting or engaging? I had one of those days recently. My usual default setting is to knit. I love knitting, and I also love knitting ideas together.

On this day, I didn’t feel like knitting, so I thought I would just distract myself by listening to a couple of podcasts or recordings. The first was Florian Osswald’s keynote at the AWSNA/Alliance/WECAN conference, and the second was a live session with Parker Palmer (famous for The Courage to Teach, but To Know as We Are Known is a far more inspiring book).

Among many wise and insightful points that Florian raised, one stood out for me: that our actions, our choices, what we actually do in our classes, are always a response to something. “How do I address these children in front of me? What do they need? How do I adapt or customize the curriculum to their specific needs, here and now?”

Even the curriculum itself is a response, an answer to a question being asked. Florian stressed how important it is for us teachers to ‘stay in the question’, to ask ourselves, and to discuss with our colleagues, not just the answer (the curriculum), and certainly not to use the curriculum as the answer to everything “Well, I do it because it says so in the curriculum”. More important is to drill down to the question underlying what we do as a response.

I was sunk in thought when my phone alarm went off, reminding me of a live “Notes from the Margin” session with Parker Palmer. I had long admired his work, and without exaggeration, reading To Know As We Are Known: Education as a Spiritual Journey changed my life. I realized I could think about education as well as do education, and that education is in itself a spiritual practice.

Parker’s topic was based around his book A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward An Undivided Life. He writes about living a life ‘undivided’ – integrating soul and work. As a support to achieving this, Parker initiated Circles of Trust through the Center for Courage and Renewal. Related to the consensus process, in a virtual or literal circle, every voice is honored, and silence is also honored as a legitimate and valid element in the group. Experience has shown, and many studies verify, that welcoming silence in a conversation leads to deeper and more meaningful contributions. Conversation and truth-seeking proceed not around the circumference or periphery of the circle, but through the center, where we meet as a community.

Another technique Parker advocates is the Quaker practice of Clearness Committees. These are convened when someone has a tough decision to make. The convener invites a few trusted wise souls for counsel, and they ask open-ended questions only – “no fixing, no advice, no comments” (and “have you considered seeing a therapist?” is NOT an open-ended question!) Slowly and gently, prompted by the honest questions, clearness arises between them.

One of Parker's favorite images is the Möbius strip – where inner and outer are one, and co-create each other – like the ebb and flow of our individual perspectives shared in community, and the co-creative strength of emerging common wisdom unifying each of us. I have been privileged to witness this in some good collegial relationships.

Our aim at Waldorf Handwork Educators is to do just that: to live in the question “what do these particular children need, here and now? How can I bring the essence of Waldorf Handwork education to them? How do I use my own unique gifts and strengths to meet them? How can we achieve a deeper understanding together? How can we discern the underlying question?” We strive to do this, with you, learning from each other, in our conferences, classes, courses, and teacher development. We hope you will join us, as we truly are stronger together.

Florian Osswald, Head of the Pedagogical Section since 2011.

Studied process engineering, curative teacher in a Camphill center in Scotland, teacher training seminar in Dornach, upper school science and math teacher.

Parker Palmer, American author, educator, and activist who focuses on issues in education, community, leadership, spirituality and social change.

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