It’s the start of a new school year.
Many of the students are returning to the same building, the same classmates, and the same teachers. In our school cycle, there is so much continuity and familiarity, making the first day of school feel like the first day back from a long weekend. Some have grown a little taller, lost another tooth, have new haircuts, clothes, and backpacks. They run to meet each other ready to start it all over again.
What will be new this year? Am I ready? Are those butterflies because I’m excited or nervous or both?
There are also new students. Preschoolers are being dropped off for the first time as parents hold their breath. Kindergarteners from other schools join together with classmates who are returning for their second year. Even with stability and continuity, a new year always brings opportunity for growth and a fresh start.
It’s a bright sunny day. The classrooms are clean and the furniture is set up just so. The play yard has been unplayed for some time. The garden is in bloom and has a bounty awaiting harvest. The teachers look rested. In the cycle of the school, this year feels really good. There is a lot of positivity and hopefulness. Maybe we’ve moved through the turmoil of the pandemic (knock on wood). Maybe we’ve moved through some growing pains and are ready for a year of stability (knock on wood). Maybe we’ve found ourselves with just the right combination of teachers and staff who have the energy and inspiration to carry us into the next phase (more wood, never enough wood). The knocking is our constant reminder to be grateful.
A fresh start. A new beginning. In the Jewish tradition, this is the time of the New Year, Rosh Hashanah, Head of the Year. A time to reflect on the past year, clean out the spiritual pipes by blowing the shofar to WAKE US UP and step into a clean, new year. It’s an interesting time, seasonally, to make this declaration. We are about to transition into the fall. The brightness of the Earth in the Northern Hemisphere is about to darken. The leaves will start to fall, the days will soon shorten, and our energy will turn inward.
In the Waldorf tradition, we celebrate Courage in a re-interpretation of the traditional Michaelmas festival. The gesture is to gather the strength and power we’ve gained in the summer and steel ourselves for the darkness and for the time of introspection. Imagine your body in a great expansion, standing as widely as possible with arms and legs outstretched like a star, energy radiating out of your fingers. Then pull that energy with muscles held firm into your center. This is the slow progression from Summer to Winter and in this pause, this moment of the new beginning, we take hold of those forces and acknowledge them, honor them, and feel that power.
In the Michaelmas tradition, one often tells the story of George and the Dragon. Teachers, don’t scold my brevity, but the essence of the story is that the knight, George, gathers all of his strength and courage and faces the dragon and either slays him, tames him, or chases him away (pick your age-appropriate ending). George is us. We are the knights, full of strength and courage. And the Dragon? Only you know. What is your dragon this year? What are you facing that requires you to tap into your courage and strength? Who do you need to confront? Who do you need to forgive? Is your dragon a societal ill or a personal life pattern that needs interruption?
Take advantage of this moment of new beginnings, hear that wake-up call, and go forth! You can do it. I believe in you.
As educators, parents, and just as humans in this future-oriented culture, it’s almost reflexive to look at the children before us and ask “I wonder what they will be when they grow up?” The question usually implies “what profession they will take up?” but when expanded might include more details one might find in a MASH/MARCH game - where will they live, who will they marry, how many kids will they have, where will they go on their honeymoon, what type of car they’ll drive. Take that question one step deeper and consider “Will they be happy? Will they feel fulfilled? Will they be surrounded by people they love who love them back?”
In saying goodbye to our first graduates in June, we were offered the opportunity to reflect on our initial impressions of the students when they first joined our school. Was it clear that the Kindergartener who was up for every hike and dirty adventure would end up being an articulate, outspoken activist? Or that the affable and distracted 2nd grader would become a self-driven filmmaker? There were hints, maybe little indications but it’s only in retrospect that we can see the path from there to here.
In the Waldorf world, we practice Biography work to bring insight into our own life rhythms and milestones in an effort to develop self-knowledge. With that self-knowledge we can further develop our intuition, first personal intuition but also a deeper capacity to see the other. The practice of reflecting on one’s past in such directed and meaningful ways creates more grounding for the present and trust in the future.
Teachers and parents who practice Biography work carry this grounding into their interactions with children. Using the lens of Biography - the rhythms of life, 7-year cycles of human development, milestone moments, life themes - one can better observe the child more fully. While we may still consider the question about who they will become, we will have the capacity to deeply and thoroughly see who they are. As the adults in their life, it is then our responsibility to hold the knowledge of who they are in supporting them in becoming who they will be.
I love sitting with the question of what my kids will be when they grow up. I love even more that any answer is possible as long as I stay out of their way.
An exercise offered by Dr. Karen Nani Apana
June has been full of transitions. For one, Golden Bridges School graduated our first 8th grade class. For most of these students, the transition into High School will be their first major school transition. A whole slew of "new" is on the horizon - friends, teachers, commutes, expectations, tests! In speaking with them the week they graduated, they articulated a healthy balance of nervousness and excitement. They are ready for this transition. It's has a date and time and they are prepared.
Also this month, two of my best friends lost their mothers to disease. While each died sooner than anyone had hoped and the grief will ripple and surge over time, they had what was described as a "good" death. There was time for sentimental and earnest goodbyes. Family and friends were able to visit and share good wishes. They were prepared.
And as happens every year at Golden Bridges, we say goodbye to colleagues and families who are packing up their lives and moving out of San Francisco. One family who moved told me they had known they would move out of the city eventually while another said they thought they would see their children grow up in this city where they were born. But circumstances are drawing them away, their bags are packed and after months of planning and preparation, off they went.
Developing awareness and personal practices to move through transitions can bring grounding precisely when the ground is moving.
Do you have any physical or spiritual practices that keep you grounded when you are in the midst of a major transition? Do you tend towards routine as a grounding or do you throw yourself fully into the whirlwind? Do you find that you react differently when a transition is sudden versus decided on and planned?
Personally, I have a find myself revisiting prior transitions as a new one approaches. I recall the impermanence of the transition itself and remember that there is another side to it. In the present moment, it's often hard to imagine what life was like before that transition. The most obvious example for me was giving birth. That transition to becoming a mother took one day. ONE DAY! January 5, no baby. January 6, baby! Of course, that wasn't a surprise but nevertheless, unimaginable.
The past is hard to remember and the future is unimaginable. Standing in between is sometimes so uncomfortable. But it's now. It's where we are. All we can do is take a deep breath and trust that the path we've taken to get to this point has prepared us for what is to come.
See you on the other side.
Summer is around the corner.
While we near the end of the “100 days of May” we sense the approach of the expansiveness of summer. I am referring to the earthly expansiveness of long days, sunshine (as long as you’re not living in the Outer Sunset in San Francisco), and fully blossomed flowers and greenery. The northern hemisphere is leaning back, arms stretched open and hearts are open to the warmth and light of the sun. This is the earthly gesture that exists in stark contrast to the winter with the darkness, cold, and general sense of introspection. We are open, we are energized, and possibilities are endless.
Summer also brings disruption to the rhythm of the school year. All of a sudden our children are untethered and as parents, we take on a new task of curating a summer experience for them. For many that means a scramble to find childcare options with camps, extended family, using vacation time from work, and relying on friends and neighbors. There can be a breathlessness to the expanse. For others, summer may offer an opportunity to leave town and gain perspective from travel or simply distance from the day-to-day life. Reaching a point of boredom may be touted as a victory after a packed school year.
I have a tip. A simple tip to bring nourishment to your summer.
That’s it. It can be going to the beach (local’s tip, bring a sweatshirt), going to Golden Gate Park, McLaren Park or the Presidio. Driving a bit further and going to Pescadaro, the Santa Cruz Mountains, or Point Reyes National Park. Or beyond and beyond to any place where there are dense trees, open meadows, a long horizon, a tall peak, and bad cell reception. INHALE the expansiveness of summer. Take a walk or a picnic. Find nature as much as possible, every evening, every weekend.
Our bodies are building up a store of expansiveness.
At this time of year, we are drunk from spring after the darkness of winter. Notice that you and/or your children are a little wily? That looseness will settle and the next phase is to lean into the cycle of our seasons is to immerse ourselves in beauty and spaciousness, building up those reserves, charging our batteries, to once again cycle back into fall and winter.
Wishing you a lovely and nourishing summer.
Each year I speak to dozens of prospective families about our school. Over the years I’ve fine-tuned how I talk about our school philosophy, ethos, purpose, and the examples of how our ideals are expressed in the classroom experience. A frequent question I get is about how prepared our students are for the future. While families naturally ask about how well prepared students will be for high school I notice that most lean in when we start discussing the emotional well-being of students. Why?
To live among each other, to live in relationship with each other, while trying to tune into our own well-being - it’s part of the human condition at school and in life.
School is an incredible social experiment. Students of all backgrounds are in classrooms led by trained teachers offering an academic, and if they’re lucky, a social-emotional curriculum with consistent assessments of the students' achievement in these various subjects. If we zoom in, we’ll see a classroom of unique individuals who come with talents and gifts alongside challenges and obstacles. And regardless of academic achievements, each student grows up and becomes a person in the world interacting with other people in the world.
Let’s not work to remove obstacles but rather teach children how to face them.
As caregivers, we hold our own children in the highest light. If there is another student in the class who we observe as disruptive or loud or causing trouble, we might reach out to the teacher to ask that the child be removed from the class so that my child can have a more positive experience. What if we challenge that impulse?
Our children must learn to have compassion and understanding for those who are struggling and have curiosity about the differences we notice.
As adults, we do not have the luxury of moving people out of the way if they are creating an inconvenience. Do you like every coworker? Have you ever insisted they be removed? If so, that would be consistent with what most of us witnessed and learned from our own schooling. What if we instead learned to not only tolerate them but see them as a gift? What if you challenged the anger or annoyance you felt and thought about what you could learn? Can you hold both? What if our children tuned into their feelings and also the opportunities presented with each obstacle?
Understanding this basic social nature of humanity, at Golden Bridges School we choose to center the human experience and create a learning environment that acknowledges and supports a balance of the individual well-being and the well-being of the whole. Building these skills is not only essential to having a successful high school experience but is one that works throughout life. Curious about how this plays out in our community? I’d love to connect with you! - how to ask this in any situation
This isn't an easy topic, and it’s just the type of inquiry we love to explore. Thank you for considering this perspective. We invite you to join our exploration within your own daily life and join us for some values-aligned events and offerings below. Until next month!
It’s hard not to notice that spring has arrived here in San Francisco. Beneath the grey skies, under the sheets of rain and hail, are the blossoming bulbs of daffodils.
Observing and celebrating the seasons gives all of us, and especially children, a sense of place in the world and an understanding of time as it passes.
The rhythm of the earthly seasons mirrors the rhythm of our soul seasons. That rhythm allows us to re-center ourselves. We are stepping out of winter, the darkest season where we have to use our internal will to create the light, into spring where light is racing to shine through in our environment.
How do you celebrate the changing seasons in your community?
With the vibrant and lively spring festival Holi? Greeting the spring as a new chapter with Persian New Year? Spring is abundant with cultural traditions and celebrations, including the commemoration and celebration of Earth Day.
Were there any decorations or visual markers in your home, school, or neighborhood that indicated the new season?
One simple way to bring the rhythm of the changing seasons from outside into your home is to carve out a small space for a nature corner. This could be a corner of the kitchen counter, a small side table, a mantel, or even next to the bathroom sink. In the spring the nature corner might include a few fresh flowers, a small bowl of freshly planted seeds that will grow in the coming days, any object that may represent springtime from your religious or cultural traditions, or even something that has a splash of color. The nature corner brings the season inside and creates a bridge for your family between the natural phenomena outside into the home.
With spring upon us, we are watching collard greens flourishing at our school farm. We would love to embrace the changing season with you and welcome you to connect with our community.
Happy Spring Everyone!