It’s only the beginning of November, yet we have already completed several cycles and symbolic events at Rainbow this school year. We have welcomed new families and new students, who by now are hopefully feeling a sense of community. We completed our student testing cycle for students in third through eighth grade. At this point, most classes have held their first of three parent class meetings. We have welcomed autumn, the harvest, and the coming days of darkness with the Halloween Harvest Hoedown, the Halloween Day celebration, Día de los Muertos, and a fire circle. Some of these events and transitions are marked with ritual and highlighted in this November Kaleidoscope.
Ritual – Being Present
Why ritual? When I am leading a ritual, I sometimes like to explain the reason for having a ritual by asking, “Your body is here, but where is your mind? Your heart?” Even the simplest of rituals, such as taking three breaths together, helps us to become fully present in mind, body, and spirit.
A second purpose of ritual is to help us connect as humans and to recognize our interconnectivity with all of humanity and nature. For example, in addition to centering, almost every meeting at Rainbow begins with a brief opening round where each person in a circle is invited to share a word, a phrase, or a short anecdote about how they are doing or something significant in their life. This simple ritual helps every person to name what is going on in their life so that they can be more present with the group. Often in opening round we learn that someone is in mourning or they are in physical pain, helping others to be more empathetic. Most of all, ritual helps to connect us, reminding us of our common humanity and creating a spirit of togetherness, which is especially important when we are about to engage in making decisions together.
A third reason for ritual is to honor and aid in transitions. Ritual helps humans to move through change with dignity – giving up and letting go of the past, and moving bravely into the future. For growing children, rites of passage can help children move into adolescence and then into adulthood. In ancient and indigenous societies, rites of passage were/are central to the culture. In America’s current mass culture, the lack of rites of passage often leaves adolescents feeling empty and confused about growing up. Saying goodbye to childhood isn’t easy for adolescents, yet they also desire the trappings of adulthood. When we don’t provide a rite of passage, teens find other rites, that can be risky or unhealthy, such as drinking or sexual activity. Meaningful ritual can help our children and teens to develop a deep sense of connection and purpose in their lives.
Rites of Passage in Omega Middle School
This is partly why the Omega Middle School program is structured to be a multi-year rite of passage. From the ritual around the beginning-of-the-year Omega honor code to the final rituals of eighth grade, Omega students see themselves as important members of their community. They are honored for what they contribute to their community and for who they are and will become. Embracing one’s purpose is the heart of Omega.
I invite you to attend our Omega Middle School Open house coming up on Thursday, November 21. Even if your children are much younger, the Open House will help you understand the whole arc of development at Rainbow and why Omega Middle School students have such a healthy self-image and the confidence and character to succeed in high school and beyond.
The White Pine Tree
The Mourning Ritual
You may have noticed that our large white pine tree in the middle of the playground died over the summer as a result of a native pine beetle infestation. This is a sad loss. When the faculty discussed it, we knew ritual would help our children to say goodbye to the white pine and find meaning in its death. Sue Ford and Susie Fahrer composed a song for the tree, and for one of our Tuesday song circles, we all gathered around it and sang:
Bless this tree for giving us life Bless this tree morning noon and night Bless this tree flower fruit and cone Bless this tree oh see how we’ve grown.
You are a sacred sight You are nature’s light Rest you, return to the Earth Rest you, and bring rebirth.
This beautiful ritual helped us to reverently grieve with one another and to remember the beautiful cycle of death and rebirth. In the coming weeks, Tim Slatton (partner of West Wilmore) will be taking down the white pine with the help of our facilities keepers, Max Mraz and Shawn Fain. We trust they will respectfully put it to rest. Niki Gilbert, Omega Middle School science teacher, is creating a team of staff and students to make a thoughtful plan for the planting several new trees on campus. Rest ye and bring rebirth.
Video credit: Tracy Hildebrand
Authenticity and Wholeness Training
Teachers who love…themselves
Over the past few weeks, the teachers and I have continued our series of training on developing authenticity and wholeness in students through teacher development. For one of our Wednesday afternoon trainings I led a training on Mindfulness. Our theme for the day-long training on November 1, was Openness. In this training we acknowledge that teaching is a challenging profession. Teachers have to make hundreds, if not thousands of decisions a day, knowing that every decision they make could have profound effects on the lives of the children they love and for whom they are responsible. Teachers have to perform with empathy, creativity, and dynamism while under tremendous stress and without being thrown off by their own emotional triggers. Teaching is a messy, complex job that is impossible to do perfectly. Teachers are often very hard on themselves. Yet, if teachers are going to be compassionate toward students they also need to be compassionate with themselves.
Invoking the Sages
The Buddha, said “I have two things to teach. Suffering and the relief of suffering.” Deep within the Puritan roots of American society, there is a tacit belief that self-compassion is the same as selfishness. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Through the new field of positive psychology and with advances in neuroscience research, we now understand that self-compassion, or empathy for ourselves, is the key to empathizing with others. It doesn’t mean we give up or let ourselves off the hook for changes we need to make. It simply means we acknowledge that we are only human. Part of being human is sharing the suffering all of humanity has experienced since the beginning of time.
In addition to learning the science behind self-compassion, I engaged teachers in a simple 3-step exercise that I highly recommend for parents and children, too.
Step 1: When experiencing a challenging moment or being critical of yourself, acknowledge your situation and pain. You may simply say to yourself something like, “Ouch. That hurts.” Or, “this is stress.”
Step 2: Have compassion for yourself by recognizing that suffering is part of life. All of humanity shares a similar experience. You may say to yourself, “I am not alone.”
Step 3: Place your hands over your heart. Say to yourself, “May I be kind to myself,” and offer yourself a gift. It may be patience. It may be strength, or forgiveness.
A few days ago you received an email from Sandra McCassim, P-3 Division Head, that after 20 years at Rainbow, she is leaving at the end of this school year. I cannot possibly convey what this means to me personally. Sandra lifts up others in love as teacher, administrator, and friend. Her gentle wisdom has helped shape the loving culture here at Rainbow. Sandra was here many years before I came to Rainbow, and we have been through so much together. I am going to soak up every minute I have with her for the rest of this year.
Sandra will be instrumental in helping with the hiring of her replacement. Sandra and I have worked together to hire most of the excellent faculty we have on campus, and she reminds me that every time someone leaves the faculty, a new magical person brings new gifts. We are beginning our search for a new Division Head – a process which we are still defining, a process in which faculty will also be involved. Please feel free to contact me if you have any thoughts about the search. If you know a talented educational leader who is interested in joining the Rainbow team in the coming years, you can refer them to the employment page on our website where there will soon be information on how to apply.
Bringing Light to the Spirit of Education
I write this Kaleidoscope while sitting in the library at Teachers College at Columbia University in New York. West Willmore, Eddy Webb, and I presented at the Spirituality in Education Conference there.
Since the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act in 2002, our nation has moved in the direction of “teaching to the test,” or only teaching what can be quantifiably measured. Of course what can be measured is only the smallest aspect of education – the most material aspect. Our politicians, most of whom were not educators, did not understand that such an emphasis on the material would gut our schools of the spiritual – that which is immeasurable and unseen in the literal sense of the word. Nor did they realize that when you gut the spiritual aspects of education, nothing can thrive, certainly not academics, because without spirit there is no life and no motivation to learn. Not surprisingly, 19 years after NCLB, academic achievement is lower than ever and the opportunity gap wider. Furthermore, as a nation, both children and adults are in the midst of a mental health crisis.
Spirituality in Education
The good news is that the pendulum is beginning to swing in the other direction. When one of the highest ranked educational schools in the country hosts a Spirituality in Education conference, it legitimizes a movement. Even the President of Teachers College spoke at the conference, stating that the conference represented the direction education needs to go. As Timothy Shriver (nephew of John Kennedy and an influential educational leader) said at the conference, “It isn’t a fad, it’s a field.”
In this now blossoming field of spirituality in education, Rainbow is a beacon for the world. Let our line shine. As Martin Luther King Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” There is no greater light that the pure light of children. Thank you for sharing the bright light of your child with the world.
A publication by Renee Owen for parents to get a better understanding of what’s happening through her perspective
I believe that every child should feel utterly special. That’s what we are aiming for at Rainbow. Therefore, in early September, when I found myself on stage for Rainbow’s opening ceremony, I told our students that we are all in a special place (Rainbow), and the reason Rainbow is a special place is because each of them is here. I also wanted them to know about their place. I explained that before us, a church “lived” on the spot of the auditorium for 60 years, and before that the venerable Dr. Orr had a “gentleman’s farm” that spread out over this part of West Asheville, and he lived in the Historical Building… and sometime before that the Cherokee stewarded this land for a long, long time. We thanked the Cherokee people for taking care of this land so well before us and we honored all native people. In particular, we thanked First Nations people for sharing some of their most important stories with us — stories to help us learn to live in harmony.
I told the story of the Warriors of the Rainbow who were prophesied by many native legends to be the keepers of the ancient wisdom who would help to heal the earth and unite humankind. I explained that these aren’t warriors of war, but warriors of the heart. The Warriors of the Rainbow would have incredible courage – the courage to tell the truth even when people wouldn’t believe them and the courage to love even when people were hateful.
Warriors of the Heart
I hope we are worthy of sharing that vision with the native people who told the legend. I want all of our children to think of themselves as Warriors of the Heart, or Rainbow Warriors – confident, accomplished, and creative learners who are prepared to be compassionate leaders in building a socially just, spiritually connected, and environmentally sustainable world – as our mission reads. That may sound lofty, but that’s what we show up to do every day at Rainbow. It takes compassionate courage from all of us to be here.
The work before the work
At Rainbow, teaching is considered a spiritual path. Not only do our teachers have to be master teachers by traditional standards, they also have to be highly developed in all seven domains. That’s partly why we spend so much time in professional development, learning from one another and learning from experts. Even before students arrive in the fall, Rainbow teachers have spent many days together learning, prepping lesson plans and materials, and also preparing themselves for the deeply emotional and spiritual work of teaching. Parker Palmer calls this “The work before the work.”
This year, to honor our school-wide theme of “wholeness,” I am leading the faculty in six training modules from my dissertation research. The training is called “The Path of Authentic Learning”, and the six modules are Connection, Aliveness, Mindfulness, Openness, Authenticity, and Meaning and Purpose. We completed the Connection and Aliveness modules before school started. This helped the teachers develop connections with one another and the natural world, and it helped them to build a sense of deep connection and aliveness within their classrooms. The goal is to develop a sense of authenticity, or wholeness, where each teacher feels their inner self is in harmony with their outer self. How do we develop authentic kids? With authentic teachers.
Learning through listening: A Response to the End of Year Survey
Were you one of the people who filled out the 2018-19 End of Year (EOY) survey in May? If so, thank you. The EOY survey is an incredibly valuable tool that helps the Administration and the Board gain a better understanding of family experience at Rainbow and how we can improve. We really analyze the results.
To view the quantitative results of the survey, you can view the preschool results, and the K-8 results. As you can see, the overall results are very positive. Not surprisingly the “Quality of teachers” is the highest ranking response. Right behind that are communication, opportunities for involvement, the Rainbow philosophy, and the quality of the educational program. Some of the lower scoring items were diversity and equity, facilities, and safety.
The RCS Board
While Board leadership didn’t have any scores below “fair,” that item had the fewest “very good” scores. I would like to put in a good word for our Board. There is an old saying that “board leadership is a thankless role.” Our current Board has been through days of training and retreats. They are diligent, wise, and very dedicated. Look for some upcoming messages from the Board in Rainbow Reminders this year.
Appreciations & Comments
Besides the quantitative items, your comments were rich and informative. I spend a lot of time with the survey results and even informally “code” the responses to look for trends. The vast number of written comments are about teachers and an appreciation for the holistic curriculum, the academic program, the community, the emotional safety, character building, and general appreciation. For example, “Nurturing, genuine teachers with a passion for teaching advanced, fascinating curriculum!”
Other than those appreciations, the biggest category of responses was about diversity and equity – both multiple positive appreciations and multiple requests to please do more. Yes, yes, yes! Equity and inclusion will be an ongoing focus for years to come. It’s work that is never “done,” and this is work that all of us – every parent, board member, faculty, and student – is a part of.
Some of the facilities comments expressed longing for a gym. (Wouldn’t that be awesome?!) Also, there were comments about the need for more after school space and a proper space for art and music. There were several appreciations for the aesthetic beauty of our campus. There were a few requests for a high school and a request for improved security. (We agree, and our new security cameras will be installed soon, in addition to all the other safety measures we invested in over the last year).
Beyond that, most of the other comments were singular — many that seemed particular to the family, or particular to a teacher. The most helpful comments are the ones that provide some context.
About the Calendar
There was one comment about the number of days off. While our total number of calendar days is right in range with the other private schools in Asheville, I know the student days off are incredibly inconvenient, especially for preschool parents. We heard you! I hope the new program for child care during some of those days is helpful for K-8 working parents (and we wish we had the space and personnel to offer it to preschool).
Also, I ask readers to please note the high quality of the teachers that is so appreciated is directly correlated with the amount of time teachers have for training, collaborative meetings, planning, and the time they have to meet with parents on all of our conference days, plus the work days they have to write narratives and prepare for conferences. We are trying to find a balance that works for everyone, while ensuring your teachers have everything they need to be at their very best every minute, of every day.
Who is the Administration?
There was also one comment on the end of year survey about the number of people in Administration. The overall quantitative score for administration was mediocre in the survey. So, I thought it might be helpful to provide some more context:
The administrative team is here to serve families, students, and faculty. At Rainbow, we truly see our administrative role as one of service. Some administrative roles are very public, such as hosting events or providing direct one-on-one services–such as a Division Head helping a family navigate a child’s academic or behavioral challenges. These are the aspects of administration that are most visible.
However, most of our administrative work is quite invisible. This may seem counter-intuitive, but invisible is good. The Administration is most invisible when the school is running smoothly and everyone—teachers, family, and students—has what they need. We recognize that it can be puzzling to understand what all those “invisible” people on administration do, but I promise you, if they weren’t doing it, we would all notice it!
Of course, the teachers have the most visible and the most important role on the school staff. And behind every teacher is a host of administrative support—making sure campus is safe and clean, the bills are paid, equipment is working, marketing ensures enrollment is full, communication is flowing, technology is high-functioning, funds are raised, staff is well-trained and cohesive, events are effective, records are kept, laws abided by, staff are hired and evaluated, students and families are supported, materials are purchased, plans are made and disseminated, protocols followed, and on and on.
The administration does all of this so that the teachers can focus on brilliant teaching. To me, the teachers are rock-stars. Behind every rock star is a giant operation. The administration is the business, the promoters, the crew, and the entourage!
The most important thing? Rainbow’s number one top priority is for the children to have an extra-ordinary holistic learning experience. As a non-profit organization, my role as the chief executive officer is to write and administer a budget that uses all of our funds as efficiently as possible, while being fair and equitable and meeting our goals.
Our budgetary priority is for teachers’ salaries to be as high as possible and tuition to be as low as possible, while providing the highest quality of education and service possible. One way we do this is by keeping administrative salaries very low compared to other independent schools and public schools. (Also, about half of our administrative and non-teaching staff work part time.)
While every administrator would make budgetary decisions a little differently, and I certainly don’t expect everyone to agree with all our decisions, I appreciate the good faith the community places in the work we do as an administration in all of our behind-the-scenes service.
Along with a rigorous curriculum delivered by the classroom teachers, Omega Middle School creates opportunities for our students to engage with diverse learning experiences that reinforce a holistic approach to education. This includes a dynamic offering of electives classes that are taught by our highly qualified teachers at Rainbow. These courses are designed so that students can dive deep into a topic that resonates with their personal interests and skills. It also provides an opportunity rich with inquiry and wonder as it connects to new learning and the Seven Domains.
I recommend reading the choice of electives for middle school, especially if your child is in third, fourth, or fifth grade. Personally, I want to take them all! Computer coding, inventing, gardening, social justice, facility maintenance, electronics, religious studies, plus all the great art, music, drama, Spanish choices, fitness choices, and much, much more.
Did you know there is a desperate shortage of blood?
When first grade teacher, Rachel Hagen, learned about the blood shortage recently, she couldn’t imagine the heartbreak of being denied urgent medical care due to a blood shortage. So she reached out to the Red Cross to organize the drive. Are you able to make the sacrifice and help?
Zoom at Noon was scheduled for this Friday, September 20, but that is when the Global Student Climate Strike is happening. So we moved it. Please click on the Zoom link at 12pm on Friday, October 4, or come to my office. We will discuss the value of social emotional learning and how it affects academic learning. Specifically, we will look at vulnerability. Vulnerability sounds scary! Let’s talk it through!
What is the Student Climate Strike?
From the interweb: Since Greta Thunberg’s first school strike for climate a year ago, young people have revolutionized the way humanity perceives the scope of the climate crisis. On September 20, 2019, young people will kick off a worldwide week of action with an international strike. September 20th will be the largest mass mobilization for climate action in human history. This time, adults will be joining the youth-led call for climate action to demand world leaders take meaningful steps to address this crisis with the urgency it requires. Youth and adults will stand arm-in-arm in the fight together for the future of humanity.
Omega Middle School teachers and parents are supporting middle school students who want to strike. Many of Omega Middle School students will be attending the event downtown, where many local students are speaking. Click here for more information, or to join the event. I’m proud to honor the voices of our youth.
A Sacred Invitation
Finally, we honor of our year-long theme of wholeness and the coming of autumn, we are holding a sacred fire on September 20. The fire will be in the outdoor classroom (next to the upper parking lot.) Feel free to stop by the fire to contemplate, celebrate, reflect, and simply “be.” The invitation:
as the wheel turns we come together and mark the time reminding our selves of our connection to the rhythm of our presence in the story of our place within the whole
in humility in gratitude in love we will hold fire
Friday September 20 from ~9 until school day ends the space is open for all
I am the earth and the earth is me. Each blade of grass, each honey bee / each bit of mud, and stick and stone / is blood and muscle, skin and bone. I am the earth and the earth is me! ~One of Rainbow’s May Day songs
The song “I Am the Earth and the Earth is Me” captures the heart of Rainbow’s underlying philosophy: We are all interconnected. I recently heard about a satellite video where one can “see” the earth breathing. We are all a part of one giant organism, and that is the underlying message we hope to convey to every child. It’s a very different message from an educational paradigm that assumes that we are all competing with each other.
The hidden curriculum
The term “hidden” curriculum refers to everything children are learning outside of the stated curriculum. The hidden curriculum includes how the classroom and campus look and feel, how people treat one another, how the teachers speak to the children and so on. Some experts believe that children learn far more from the hidden curriculum than anything else. Our beliefs and values are shaped by the hidden curriculum. In short, we become our environment.
Personally, I grew up in a traditional educational space where we were told to “treat one another as you would want to be treated,” but the hidden curriculum had a different message. The hidden curriculum taught us to primarily “watch out for number one,” which may seem like a simple self-preservation technique; but ironically, when humans try to out-compete one another we end up putting the whole world, including ourselves, in jeopardy. Thus we have racism, global warming, extreme economic injustice, and a host of other human-caused maladies.
How does this understanding of interconnection affect our educational model on a day-to-day basis? One simple example is the three breaths every class takes together at the beginning of morning centering. Many schools that are still operating in the “competition paradigm” are adopting mindfulness practices, which is great. However, often these practices are intended to make kids behave better, or perform better, which is fine, but so much more is possible. Instead of having a group of 20 children individually close their eyes and meditate, we begin the day with students taking three breaths together, at the same time. In the simple act they become as one organism – like one giant set of lungs. This helps set the tone for the whole day. The hidden curriculum is one of being connected.
Sue and Hobey Ford on May Day
Another aspect of the hidden curriculum is the underlying meaning and message in things as simple as the games we play, the songs we sing, and the things we celebrate. May Day is a celebration of Life and all its glory, which includes celebrating glorious you, glorious me, and all of the glorious children. Were you able to attend the May Day celebration? Did you wear wings or a crown of leaves? Sit on the grass? Did you dance to Jai Ma? Eat strawberries and cream? Hug a friend as tightly as possible? I hope you made the most of every minute. May Day also marks the school year coming to an end. We are so grateful for this wonderful year and are looking forward to some new additions for next year.
It’s that time of year when we get ready to say goodbye to friends who are moving on to new adventures and welcome new staff. Over all, we again have very little turn-over, but here are a few of the changes for the 2019-20 school year:
Kurt Campbell is hired to teach fourth grade next year, as Molly Sawyer is leaving that position. Kurt is pretty well known around town as a popular elementary teacher for Asheville City Schools, as well as for the local volunteer work he does. One parent who found out about him coming to Rainbow sent me an email:
“I am so happy for him and for Rainbow, he is such a multi-talented person with so much heart, I’m excited for his future students!…Just wanted to say, great choice. 😀 I know Kurt primarily through Asheville Performing Arts Academy where he does *amazing* work with musical direction and encouragement for the kids, but I’ve also witnessed him as a soccer coach when [my son] played a couple years ago…Whenever we were on the same field, I was so impressed with his ability to really connect with each kid and find both goals and encouragement for them all. So happy to hear this has worked out!”
We look forward to having him on staff next year. He is already busy with our “onboarding” process, which includes trainings, mentoring, meetings, classes to take, and observations. His two boys will also be joining Rainbow.
In Omega, we have some shifting around. Omega’s structure is changing slightly, and 6th grade will be more deeply incorporated with 7th and 8th grade, particularly for elective classes in the afternoon. Therefore, Omega will have two assistant teachers who will also lead elective classes. Justin Pilla will still spend some time in 6th grade, where he is currently Assistant Teacher, but he will more often be in 7/8, and he will teach humanities and art electives.
On a lucky lark we had the opportunity to hire Christa Flores as the other assistant teacher (primarily in 6th grade) and as a STEM educator. Christa has a degree in science education from Columbia University. She is an author and educator who specializes in the “maker movement,” teaching kids how to invent and engineer. Some of you may know her from the “How to Invent Anything” after school club, which she taught here through the Asheville Museum of Science.
Mark Hanf & Kate Folkman
We wish Mark Hanf and Kate Folkman well. Both have held part-time positions in Omega, and both have decided that their position and/or part-time work was no longer a fit for their next phases in life. Mark has been at Rainbow in several different capacities for 11 years. Kate was new to the staff this year, and we hope she will continue here as a parent or in another capacity.
Paris Sigler & Marisa Capablo
Another change is in the preschool after school program. We wish Marisa Capalbo, After School Lead Teacher, many blessings as she moves to Hawaii this summer! Taking her place will be Paris Sigler. Paris is a Rainbow alumnus who first discovered she loved working with preschool children when she was a counselor in training – an Omega Middle School program where students work in the preschool during the summer. Paris is graduating with her early childhood degree this spring, so we finally get to have Paris, the “child whisperer,” full time at Rainbow!
Finally, Shawna Grasty is going to graduate school, and she will not work in after school next year. In addition to being a caring and grounded after school teacher, Shawna has done an incredible job working with Love in Action, particularly with our food bank, which distributes healthy food to over 30 Rainbow families, serving about 100 people weekly. Shawna has a huge heart. I hope you have a chance to wish her well before the end of the school year.
A New Formula for Math
For over a decade Rainbow has instituted “school-wide math,” where all students, 2nd – 8th grade have math at the same time, which allows students who are extremely gifted the opportunity to go to a math class at a higher level. Our “normal” math track has our 8th grade students completing their first year of high school math and receiving high school credit before they leave Rainbow. Advanced students will have already completed two years of high school math by the time they leave Rainbow!
After many months of analysis the faculty and administration have decided to curtail the program back, so that students in 2nd – 5th grade who are advanced in math can stay in their classroom with their peers. (No more missing part of centering while transitioning between classes!) Once students start in Omega (6th grade), they will have many levels of math, including the more advanced classes they can travel to. We decided this adjustment was in the best interest of all students, and the healthiest for the culture of each class.
Our world has become such an anxiety-producing society that almost all of us have more anxiety than we are even aware of. Stress is normal, and according to psychologists, even necessary, but anxiety can be debilitating. If you listen to the news you are probably aware that anxiety in children and young adults has become a national epidemic, a mental health crisis. But there is hope. My recent blog post talks about this and a solution being researched at the Yale Child Study Center.
Screen Free Week
Screen Free week has ended, but feel free to be free! I LOVE this piece of art Mark Hanf did for Screen Free week. The message is clear. There’s a whole world out there.
On a personal note, it feels like I am starting a “new life!” I will still be executive director at Rainbow next year, but I am so excited to have more time. You may know that I have been working on a doctorate degree from Teachers College at Columbia University. Last month I finished my dissertation. The title is, “Learning That Meets Life: The Lived Experience of Teaching with Secular Spiritual Pedagogy.” The dissertation journey was incredibly rewarding, and I learned a lot from the research, which I will be sharing with the faculty. But, as you can imagine, it feels great to be done. However, I will be missing almost a full week of school from May 21-24, to travel to New York with my family and participate in graduation and the 250 year old “hooding ceremony” at St. John’s Cathedral. I promise to share pictures.
Stand Against Racism
For Stand Against Racism Month, Rainbow participated in two events. We hosted the “How to Talk to Children about Race” workshop for parents and educators. The event was so well-attended; we had to slightly adjust our plans for the evening. Participants were divided into the age group they were interested in, age 2 to 13. Each circle learned about stages in children’s development and racial identity, and we discussed how they play out on a day-to-day basis. Rainbow faculty has been using these stages to do a racial equity curriculum audit all year, and it was rewarding to expand the discussion to parents and other educators.
The other event was the Westside Walk for Peace with Hall Fletcher, Asheville Primary, Vance Elementary, and Francine Delaney. Children made signs, marched along Haywood Road; and they gave speeches on the lawn of Trinity Methodist. Several Rainbow students, including children as young as first grade, spoke to the crowd. My husband attended (as a reporter for Asheville FM) and he said, with tears in his eyes, it was “The best thing I’d ever seen!” I was so proud of all the kids who spoke. As always, children are so heartfelt. Their simple wisdom and truthful words cut through any confusion, declaring things like, “Sometimes people are treated different because of the color of their skin. And that’s just not fair!”
The Green New Deal
Also inspired by young people, I attended the Sunrise Movement’s event about the Green New Deal, which was hosted at Rainbow last weekend. The young people and adults at this event helped me understand what the Green New Deal is, and I felt so much hope. I highly recommend you watch this very short animated video to really understand the vision. It’s brilliant.
“A miracle worker is not geared toward fighting the world that is, but creating the world that could be.” ~Marianne Williamson (A Return to Love.)
I chose to be an educator so I could help create “the world that could be.” Just as every child is a miracle – the potential for the world that could be, so is every teacher a miracle worker. We only have a few precious weeks left in the 2018-2019 school year. I hope your family makes the most of it; and I hope you have the opportunity to share you appreciation for all the miracle workers in your life.
In the two decades I have been in education, it has been alarming to watch the levels of anxiety increase in children. Child anxiety has become widespread, often crippling youngsters of the self-assuredness they need to be happy and successful in life. But there is good news. Doctors at Yale Child Study Center think they might have a “cure,” and it begins with parents.
This story from NPR provides a brief look into this new program at Yale that is having demonstrable success by working with the parents of anxious children, rather than with the children themselves. The story investigates one particular family who was struggling with anxiety. The family’s son learned that he can tolerate anxiety through facing his fears. Alternatively, the typical method would have been for the child to attend therapy. Not only can this add a layer of discomfort for any child, but if they are coming home to anxious parents or parents who continue to try to shield their children from discomfort, that would negate the positive effects of therapy. The Yale program has a completely different approach: to only counsel the parents. Parents learn how to ensure their child feels heard and loved, but also learns resilience.
Everyone wants their child to be happy. Rainbow Community School is truly a place of joy, but it is also a very REAL place. As much as we would love to protect every child from hearing hurtful words, being excluded from friendships, engaging in work that feels too challenging, dealing with grief, or sustaining physical injuries – all those things happen here. For example, almost every child hits a point in their education where they don’t want to come to school. Sometimes they are experiencing anxiety that they may not be able to fully articulate. It could be that another student was unkind to them. Perhaps they were absent one day and when they returned to school they felt behind and lost, creating discomfort and dread. Whether this lasts for a few days for a few years, it is heartbreaking for parents, especially at a school like Rainbow. It can be difficult for well-meaning parents to imagine anything other than joy.
The secret is to remember that true joy goes much deeper than emotions. Feelings of happiness, sadness, anger and bliss go up and down with our life’s circumstances. We have good days and bad days; but true joy is a way of being. True joy lies in the ability for us to move toward conflict with compassion, knowing we have the strength and wisdom to flourish. For children with anxiety, moving toward conflict is especially challenging, but ultimately prove successful.
Anxious child, anxious parent
In the two decades I have been a school leader, I have seen many trends. One positive trend is the decrease I have witnessed in autocratic parenting. Simultaneously, there has been an increase in parents using connection and compassion instead of fear, guilt, and other punitive measures. However, many parents find that balancing a desire to be compassionate while building responsibility and resiliency in their children can be a challenge. One way to address this is to draw clear boundaries and require children to do things they are afraid of or that they find uncomfortable. This is in line with what the Yale Child Study Center has found. Shielding children from discomfort is fueling an epidemic of anxiety.
When we protect our children too much, or when we jump in to defend them, or to solve their discomforts or issues we can inadvertently send the message that they are not capable. This can cause tremendous anxiety, as the child’s world feels out of control if they don’t sense they have the capacity to move through problems on their own. When a child comes home upset, they can sense if their parent is anxious about their unhappiness. Like a contagion, this anxiety can grow for each family member. However, if the parent is calm and caring, using statements such as, “I’m sorry, that must be so scary. What did you do to get through that?”, it builds the child’s sense of self-efficacy. These can be challenges that last for many months, and can feel like a lifetime to a child, or even to parents. But every time a problem improves – however gradually – or goes away, children learn they are able to endure. They learn through experience that this, too, shall pass. They begin to understand that joy is something inside them, and rely less on their external circumstances.
We live in an anxiety-producing world, and we all land somewhere on the spectrum of anxiety. Some have high anxiety and some have lower levels. What’s important is that parents recognize anxiety in themselves and their children for what it is – without judgment, without shame – so that they can move toward finding balance.
Ivy League Universities are naming anxiety and mental health issues as the biggest problems they now face with students. Admissions processes are changing to look for students who have a secure sense of social and emotional well-being.
At Rainbow, we want every child to be truly prepared for their future. That’s why social and emotional learning are integral to our 7 Domains program. If you think your child is anxious, we are also here to meet you with love, care, and comfort. You can always speak with your child’s teacher(s) and ask for honest practical advice on how to approach your parenting. Also, Will Ray and our counseling team are trained in best practices and here to help. All you have to do is ask, and remember you are not alone.
Happy Spring, everyone. We made it through winter! I am reminded of the line from the Merle Haggard song, “If we make it through December, everything’s going to be all right.” The thing is, I always wondered why Merle doesn’t mention January and February. With the darkest months now past, our students seemed to have sailed through the winter with great success. Around Rainbow, wintertime is rich with learning.
Flu season was fortunately mild this year. We are also grateful the chicken pox virus (varicella) never spread beyond three students. Some in our community might be under the impression that Rainbow’s immunization rate is low. Incidentally, Rainbow families choose to immunize their children at a rate higher than some of the charter schools and other alternative private schools in Asheville.
It might be helpful to know that some of the families who are exempt from the immunization requirements do get some immunizations. We are relieved that the number of cases of varicella in our community did not reach outbreak status, forcing many children to unnecessarily miss school. We are glad the three children who contracted it recovered well. I am grateful for all you do to be mindful of the health and well-being of our whole community.
New season, new life
As I write this, spring has just begun. New life is emerging everywhere. Our campus is no exception. Have you seen the baby hawks that have taken up residence here? If not, I suggest taking a stroll over to the red oak tree that is near the pavilion and wetlands on the Omega campus. A pair of big red-shouldered hawks are nesting there. It’s been a thrill for the children to watch these hawks fly around campus. It’s a great opportunity to listen to them squeak and squawk. You may know that our campus is a designated wildlife habit, an honor we received because of the many factors that make our campus amenable to wildlife in the city, including over 75 trees on campus of more than 20 varieties. Many of these are old-growth.
Exploration through the Seven Domains
Spring is a great time for outdoor exploration through the lens of the seven domains. The natural domain is often central to our spring activities. Starting in 3^rd grade, all classes go on end-of-year trips, most of which are wilderness experiences. Of course, May Day is our most well-known celebration of the natural domain, in which Rainbow students have a chance to dance around the maypole.
We recently had our annual Domain Day. As an administrator, it’s always a special treat to get to spend an entire school day with students. I helped lead a group in the creative domain and shared my candle-making craft with the children. It was exciting at the end of the day to reveal what the candles looked like as we took them out of their molds and sent them home, a metaphor for discovering the hidden creative potential within all of us.
Creative Opportunities – Imagine!
Still, there are other creative opportunities happening around campus. These include preparation for the Imagine performance on May 17. If you are new to Rainbow, you are in for a treat. It’s a little hard to describe Imagine. Kindergarten through sixth grade students, as well as Omega electives students, perform various vignettes of their choosing. These often include original music and dance. The result is a performance in which faculty and students weave together an original play with an important message and nuanced layers. It’s an explosion of creativity. Some have called it “psychedelic.” Others say it is “brilliant” and “well-coordinated.” This begs the question: is Rainbow a school of the arts? The answer is yes…and so much more.
We have a new member of the family: a bus! We came across a good deal on a 15-passenger gasoline bus and purchased it from the YWCA who was selling off the fleet from their after school program which just closed. We have found that our existing white gasoline bus is easier to maintain, and that faculty prefer this shorter, easier-to-drive bus to the larger diesel yellow one we also own. With the purchase of this new bus, we now have two matching, short, white buses, which will proudly display our Rainbow logo. To that end, are selling our yellow diesel bus. If you know anyone who would be interested, it is for sale at $15,000, obo. It’s a 2006 with 89,000 miles. You can contact Max at 828-258-9264, ext. 145.
Do you sometimes find that you have general questions about the school? My office hours are Mondays from 2 -3 pm. This is a time that anyone is welcome to visit either the division heads or me to ask a question, express an idea, or just to talk. One question that someone asked recently was What happens on early release Wednesdays and staff training days? Many high quality schools around the country have an early release day once per week so teachers can meet, train, and work on planning.
Professional Development and Teaching
There is a direct correlation between the quality of teaching and the amount of professional development a teacher receives, the amount of time a teacher has to plan fantastic lesson plans, and how much time they have to collaborate with their colleagues and administration. Wednesday meetings as well as staff training days address this need. These meeting/training times help keep the school running smoothly, so that every minute spent with the children is of the highest quality possible.
A closer look at testing and data
An example of one of our recent training days centered around student data. We made a long list of all the types of data that inform our instruction and how we work with children and families. Next, we drilled into some of our CTP test data. Throughout the year teachers create dynamic lessons driven by by data and personal knowledge of each student that every teacher has derived over the school year.
This particular training was more of a bird’s eye view of data. In groups, teachers worked together to understand trends of data to help guide our curriculum goals. We posed questions, hypothesized about the data, and bounced ideas off each other. Every year in June, after graduation, the faculty meet for two or three days. During these meetings we reflect on the school year and analyze and adjust the scope and the sequence of our curriculum. Our data discussions are one important part of that reflection and planning.
Looking to next year
Our administrative team is in the process of vetting new candidates for next year’s faculty. Although we typically have very low teacher turn-over, there is always a little bit of change. This year, our fourth grade teacher, Molly Sawyer, is choosing to take a few years off to start a family. Molly is a vibrant teacher who is very well loved. We hope she returns to us as soon as possible!
In the meantime, Susie, Sandra, and I are enjoying our teacher search. We have narrowed the pool of applicants down to a few finalists. These folks will come in to do demonstrations in the classroom, as well as in-person interviews. We already know it’s going to be difficult to make a final decision, but we also look forward to announcing our new-hire in about a month.
Your authentic self
I’d like to close with an excerpt from a letter that really touched me. It was a cover letter from a teacher applying for the fourth grade position, and I found myself tearing up as it read it. Just as I believe every child should be able to express their authentic self, so should every teacher. Rainbow brings hope and inspiration to teachers. The author of this excerpt illustrates this. This candidate also gave me permission to share it with you.
When I clicked on the job listing for the Rainbow Community School the most amazing thing happened, I felt hope. I felt a spark. As the camera moved through the different rooms of your school during the “Life is Better With You” video I cried because I felt incredibly moved and inspired and happy! I am a public school teacher of 20 years who has been considering leaving teaching because of what I believe standardized testing and forced curriculum and pacing have done to the minds and will of my students. I don’t want to give up teaching – I understand children. But I can’t teach any more in a setting I very much consider to be stifling and limited for children’s emotional and intellectual needs. Your school inspired me to hope that the next 15 years of my teaching career can be different…I’ve never seen anything even close to what your school offers children (and educators.) I’m willing and interested to completely change my life to each in a school that honors the whole child.
Rainbow is a special place
We receive letters from teachers similar to this every year, but this one in particular reminded me of the special school we have. I am grateful every day for how lucky we are to be in a place where we – whether children, staff, or parents – can express our authentic selves.
This letter prompted me to remember how my greatest vision isn’t for Rainbow to be special, but for all schools to honor the whole child, and for children to have access to a meaningful education that celebrates the human soul, and develops their highest potential. When that day comes we will have a world that is well on its way to being socially just, spiritually fulfilling, and environmentally sustainable.