“Can we see the inner radiance, the light that shines within each human being, despite all the shadows dancing around the edges?” – Dr. Torin Finser
The beginning of last week at Spring Garden saw our first set of parent teacher conferences for the school year. The relationships between our teachers and our parents represent the health and warmth of our school community. And, like all relationships, consideration, respect, and commitment to enhance the connection is essential in growing the wellbeing of the personal kinship within the community, the success of our children, and the health of our school.
We recently participated in the Parent Enrichment Series webinar on “The Human Encounter: Parent-Teacher Relationships in a Waldorf School Community: A Conversation with Torin M. Finser” presented by AWSNA and the Anthrposophical Society in America. Finser is General Secretary of the Anthroposophical Society and Chair of the Education Department at Antioch University New England. His discussion focused on school community relationships and specifically parent and teacher relations, using architectural images to represent the social architecture of communities and how they operate.
Finser used the first image of the Hammershus Castle as a representation of traditional “in vs. out” social architecture. Finser noted that we are often “haunted” by old ways of working and must be ever mindful of who, in a given social interaction, might be (or feel) they are “out” vs. “in.” While this does not directly represent the ideal social architecture of a modern Waldorf school, it can apply to relations beyond the teacher and parent and include board and council members, administration, and even cliques of parents.
The second image Finser presented was the first Goetheanum, built 1913-15 by Steiner and others. The wooden structure represents both a newer architectural form and a newer way of understanding social architecture within a community. The building is constructed with two intersecting circles, a smaller inner and larger outer circle that come together to make a third space. The value of the architecture lies within this third intersecting space where those presenting a unique expertise, and those receiving it, come together in a spirit of openness. As an example, Finser discussed a talented musician giving a performance. The musician brings his talents into this third space to have an experience with the audience, and the audience also enters this third space to experience the musician’s expertise. But what matters is that both are sharing a unique moment of openness and engagement. This third space represents a healthy metaphor for parent and teacher communication.
Finser also explored another important aspect of the teacher and parent relationship. Just as the structure and social architecture of a school must be considered, so must the inner dynamics of each person be considered in social interactions. Finser discussed personal gestures, or styles, that influence our communication and asked us to contemplate our own gestures, which are all different and yet all essential. Some of us approach life with a heart gesture, focusing on connection, warmth, and enthusiasm, while others approach life from a kidney gesture, focusing on filtering, organizing, and differentiating the useful. We communicate best when we understand what gesture we bring to relationships and how those around us work as individuals.
At the end of the webinar, Finser took questions from parents, which included:
How does the biography of a school affect the parent teacher relationship?
He answered: “Just as we know, in child development, how remarkable a 3, 7, 9 or 12 year old is … so also it matters, ever so much, at what stage a school finds itself.
In the early or pioneering stage [of a school], the boundary lines are very indistinct and there are few separations between people. Multiple roles are characteristic of early schools. The parent-teacher relationship in these schools can be amorphous. And one is perhaps mostly a friend with others and that can be warm and lively.
Jumping forward as a school grows, more people are involved and there are procedures and processes. How do we navigate that necessary form and evolution? Even in a mature stage, the parent-teacher relationship can still exude the warmth and joy because you can share attention in smaller cultural events and opportunities to rekindle a pioneering spirit.”
How can parents get the answers they need from those responsible for the school?
“That’s an important question as parents can feel confused or express frustration about not getting answers right away. Schools must attend to orientation. There must be a real opportunity to outline how a school functions. And there must be questions answered at the beginning. We must also identify clear pathways for concerns and questions.
On a more subtle level, one of the reasons questions are not answered can be due to the way questions are asked. We can all remember examples where an emotional or value assumption is posed as a question. “Why did you not…” questions.
It would be helpful if our schools attended more to inquiry and advocacy in asking questions and listening to what is at the root of a question…. Very often the person answering has a frame of reference that is different from the questioner. We must learn to discern what’s at the core of the question.”
This insightful webinar was a call for us all to consider inner work and insight as we approach one another in communication and relationships. Parents often seek renewal and strength from their association with a Waldorf school, and all the adults in the school must model the social future that we want for our children.
As Finser said, “We must discover each other with a beginner’s mind, a new openness at our parent teacher conference.” And he encouraged us to remember that the relationship between teachers and parents is “not a matter of technique. It’s a matter of learning to work together in the human encounter.”