Saturday, November 21, 2009

five spheres

of waldorf education

Rudolf Steiner created a richly textured world when he developed anthroposophy and laid the foundation of Waldorf education. It would take a lifetime - and perhaps two or three more incarnations - to understand all of it! So, the best I can do in this life, in my striving as a creative spirit, is to make the journey with the help of art. The five symbols here, for me, represent the main concepts of Waldorf education.

The circumpunct is the first symbol of the Five Spheres of Waldorf Education. It represents the singularity of the self. It symbolizes oneness and wholeness. The individual human soul is unique, and our strength to do good in the outer world comes out of working the inner life. This inner development is the core of anthroposophy. Through meditation, practical training of one's internal faculties, and living a life of good intent and genuine striving does a person develop character and presence, valued by Steiner as paramount to a Waldorf teacher.

The second symbol is the yin yang. In eastern philosophy, it symbolizes the dynamics of polarity: male and female, light and dark, heaven and earth. I borrowed it to represent synergy between relationships, how a cycle of growth develops within the particular relationship between individuals. In Waldorf education, the quality of relationships is key in strengthening us and the community. Key relationships for the Waldorf teacher are with the student, the school, and the parents. For the Waldorf school, its relationship with the community is key in its growth.

Between teacher and student: the teacher nurtures, guides, inspires, and models for the student, who grows, and in turn, encourages, motivates, and respects the teacher.

Between teacher and parents: the teacher maintains open and honest communication, offering reassurances for the parent, who grows in the Waldorf philosophy, and in turn, develops trust and faith in the teacher.

Between teacher and colleagues: the teacher contributes, collaborates, and cooperates with colleagues, who in turn offer mentorship and support, and the school grows in its vision.

The third symbol is the triform. In Waldorf education, the familiar head, heart, and hands, or thinking, feeling, and willing, is represented by this simple triangle. Balance of these three areas of human development is carefully attenuated in the Waldorf classrooms. I also like to refer to the three areas as: 1. practical cognition (thinking), 2. creative freedom (feeling), and 3. global citizenry (willing). In the service of the Waldorf student, the dynamic balance of these three areas provides an exciting framework for the teacher in bringing the art of education to the child.

This four pointed symbol, while looking much like the rose cross, is used here as the compass rose. The rhythms of life, in seasonal changes, the seven-year cycle, math concepts, nature, and music, are revered in Waldorf education. I have used the compass rose to symbolize the rhythm of the main lesson.

Beginning with E, East: ENTER the classroom. The children are greeted by the teacher, and begin circle time, which synchronizes the energy of the classroom, and makes them ready to receive the day.

Moving counterclockwise to N, North: NEW content is introduced. After review of previous content, and some mental activities, the teacher introduces the new material of the main lesson.

Now heading to W, West: WORK in the practice books and main lesson books begins. Following two-day or three-day rhythms in learning material, the students work in their practice books or main lesson books, and here they may also be work with manipulatives or other activities to engage the student in a multisensory experience.

Finally, at S, South: STORYTIME closes the main lesson. Now, I don't think there is a hard and fast rule about storytime, as it seems to be different with class teachers and grade levels. However, generally, a story does help conclude the main lesson to help the student breathe out, and also offers the student something relevant to sleep on.

The fifth symbol is the pentacle, which symbolizes many things in different faiths and cultures. Here, it represents the concept of course, with two meanings. One, as a path of discovery, and two, as an area of study. It is about the Waldorf curriculum. If you can picture Leonardo da Vinci's Vitruvian man superimposed onto the star, at the head is language, in the left hand is music, arts, and crafts, in the right hand is math, in the left foot is social studies such as history, including geography, and in the right foot is natural science.

By being mindful of the concepts that each symbol represent, I believe that the Waldorf teacher will have a balanced and fulfilling experience in guiding his or her students to love learning.


Castlequeen said...

Hi Rick,
Firstly thank you for sharing your journey with us, I follow your blog regularly as a feed. Above I wonder why you chose the circle to go counterclockwise as opposed to clockwise (the direction I thought Waldorf circles (i.e. circletime movement) went which moves in the same direction as blood circulates around the body).
I wonder which way Waldorf spirals (eg Advent) flow??? What have you learnt in your travels? Thanks again.
Ali, NZ

Rick Tan III said...

Hi Castlequeen,

Happy Thanksgiving and thank you for following my blog. In the compass rose symbol for rhythm, I went counterclockwise simply because the acronyms for the directions E, N, W, and S fit with the sequence of the main lesson (E=enter, N=new, W=work, and S=storytime). As far as preferences in Waldorf education, I have seen both directions in practice. Teachers have done circle time in both directions when they are doing movements such as counting intervals. In fact, often, one direction balances the other and teachers will consciously do both for the children. In the Advent Spiral, Steiner has used the double spiral as the symbol where there is both inward spiral and outward spiral movement, so both clockwise and counterclockwise movements are again represented equally.

Anatomically-speaking, becuase of our bilaterality, the circulation of blood in humans is also both as it travels through our limbs, organs, and tissues. In the heart, it moves from right atrium to right ventricle to lungs for oxygen then to the left atrium and left ventricle to be recirculated, here the flow appears to me more as a lemniscate. (I have a medical doctorate, and happen to be teaching the cardiovascular system to grade seven this coming week.)

There are many source books and secondary books out there, so as Steiner suggests, we make our own journeys, and ultimately, through the discoveries, we do what we intuitively know and are comfortable with.

Thank you for sharing!

Blessings, Rick

Anonymous said...

Dear Rick
I'm Mum of two boys in Waldorf school in Uk ,holistic midwife, studing Antrophosofic medicine.
I like to tell you THANK YOU to share your knowledge!
You are sharing a lots of greats lesson with your students and with us around.
Go on in this way the cosmo hug you and me too!

Anonymous said...

Hi Rick, I am a student studying at the teacher training Waldorf College in South Africa. I accidently came across your blog and read what you have written about teaching and loving a class. It has inspired me a lot! Thank you for sharing your knowledge and wisdom! Much appreciated.

Anonymous said...

Hi Rick. I am student studying at the teacher training Waldorf College in South Africa. I came across your blog researching information about Waldorf schools. Your words and love forbteaching has inspired me a lot! Thank you for sharing your knowledge and wisdom! Much appreciated

Jake said...

Hi Rick,

Many thanks for what you've shared! Our school is a waldorf-inspired school. we are a waldorf advocate. although waldorf system is not yet well known here in the philippines, there are quite a number of advocates as well. i don't know however if we have a pure waldorf school here.

Would it be possible to use the symbols you've shared as inspiration for a logo?

Your response is appreciated.