What’s in a mission?
This school year I will be writing a series for Heart of the Matter based on our board Ends Policies. Ends Policies are written by the board as the guiding light for our school.
They point the way toward who we want to be and where we want to go. Ends Policies may seem lofty because they are meant to be grand goals that we may never fully reach but we are always working toward.
The Executive Director is responsible for implementing systems and programming at Rainbow Community School that work toward our Ends. For this series of Heart of the Matter, I will be sharing my interpretation of each Board Ends Policy so we all know what our intentions are as a community.
The first and most important Ends Policy is our mission. What follows is an interpretation of our mission that is broken down, phrase by phrase. I hope that this feels as alive in you as it feels alive in me.
Reneé Owen, Executive Director
This first verb in our mission is very important. As we often state, an education at RCS is more about development than mere achievement. Learning is the core of education. However, if learning is only instrumental, technical, or social conditioning, it is not sufficient to create humans who will become their highest selves — humans who will help society to evolve to reach its highest potential.
Stages of Development
Human development is a complex matter that, according to science, comes in stages. Children will remain at one stage for many years, but while they are in that stage, we are preparing them to successfully and beautifully transition into the next stage of development when they are developmentally ready.
Additionally, we are helping them lay a foundation for successful development throughout adulthood by teaching them how to think critically, have strong character with positive values, and be integrated “whole” human beings. Achievement comes naturally when humans have been educated to understand and utilize their whole selves.
Note that the term “developmentally appropriate” is often heard at Rainbow. As pedagogical scientists, we understand the appropriate abilities of learners at various ages.
We know, for example, that you can teach a child to mimic advanced academic behavior at an age that is premature for them to truly understand it deeply, therefore stunting their ability to be more advanced at older ages. Likewise, we know that when only one aspect of development is overemphasized at stages of development, it stunts holistic development in other domains.
The most common example in our society is the advanced “false” development many schools try to force onto children before they are ready. Because the children are not ready, forcing such advanced academic work on them requires cutting out other activities that would develop their whole selves such as play, creative activities, and unstructured social time.
When one area of the brain is overemphasized, developmental “windows” of opportunity are missed in other areas. These missed developmental opportunities can never be fully recovered, and can result in a host of maladies, notably mental health issues.
Accomplished, confident, and creative:
Beauty, Truth, and Goodness
In general, this triad is meant to evoke the triad of beauty, truth, and goodness. Although accomplished, confident, and creative don’t match up one-to-one with beauty, truth, and goodness, the concept of health and wholeness coming in triads is important.
Triads create balance that a duality can never achieve. Triads create a dialectic where two aspects of a triad may be working together or in tension with one another, and then the third element is a catalyst for change or evolution/development to a higher level.
Although it is not exact, or one-to-one, as I say above, this triad of accomplished, confident, and creative loosely relates to beauty, truth, and goodness as such:
RCS is not just a learning lab where students will devour knowledge provided by a teacher; it is real life. We want students to have authentic experiences in the world including opportunities to see problems in the world, and to act out of goodness to alleviate them, either through service, service- learning, or creating inventions and design plans that have the potential to help.
“Accomplished” also means that students need to be productive. They need to leave RCS having literal, material accomplishments such as awards and achievements; and they also (or more so) have to establish productive and positive work habits and manners of being, so they are set up for success for the rest of their lives.
“Confident” has to do with the way learners approach the world. We want learners to see themselves confidently as forces of good in the world.
To have this sense of confidence, they need to have worked to find their own personal truth, including understanding that truth is a flowing concept and they will forever be changing and adapting their truth as they confront new realities in life and in their being.
This means they have to be robust critical thinkers who don’t merely consume information, but evaluate and apply it. This means they need to have developed an epistemological stance in life where they can understand complexity, think in systems, and later in life visualize and mentally manipulate systems within systems.
The creative learner has developed their heart. In the triad of head, heart, and hands, they have learned that the heart – not the head – is truly the best “boss;” and when the triad is in balance, the head and the hands are in service to the heart.
Creative learners have had the immense privilege of being allowed to “follow their heart” and have discovered those results experientially. Through taking such risks they have learned wisdom through mistakes, including the wisdom to know that mistakes are necessary, forgivable, and often lead to brilliance. Partly, through their own experience with mistakes, they have developed true compassion for the human-ness of others.
Creative learners are in touch with their intuition. They are inspired by ideas that come from beyond… beyond somewhere anyone can explain. They have access to such inspiration because their conduit to creativity has not been criticized or cut off, but nurtured and encouraged. They have rich experiences of working on the right side of their brain and getting into “the zone.”
“Prepared” looks different for every student, for
every learner has different gifts and challenges.
Therefore, prepared means making sure each student has developed essential learning skills that have prepared them to continue learning throughout life.
Part of this preparedness means being able
to meet the world with one’s authentic self – so by the end of eighth grade students will have prepared themselves through deep personal analysis and inner reflection.
In part, “compassionate” is in contrast to “competitive.” Although there is solid scientific evidence that some humans have the competition gene and need healthy opportunities to compete for proper development, the idea of having competition as the bedrock of society is, according to anthropological evidence, completely misguided.
Humans would not have survived thus far if they were not naturally collaborative – working together and pooling the greater mind of the group to overcome nature. Unfortunately, we became so good at overcoming nature that we have completely dominated it to the point that our very survival now depends on us collaborating in ways that span vast and complex systems.
Now, instead of overcoming nature, we need to overcome greed, misguided individuality, and paradigms of injustice. In short, we need to overcome our compulsion and deep-seated cultural habits to exploit the earth and one another.
Learners who are compassionate have learned from a very early age to sit still and go inward to reflect on their emotions and notice how emotions affect their thoughts and actions (and more emotions).
They have learned how to articulate these emotions, and therefore, recognize emotions in others. They have learned empathy – the ability to relate to the feelings of others and to be connected human beings. This helps learners communicate in a manner that breaks barriers and frees the mind and heart to learn and to learn even more by collaborating and working with others. Compassionate learners don’t just feel, they act out of this compassion.
Note that compassion does not stand alone in the mission, but as a descriptor of the word “leaders.” Compassionate leaders have learned, as mentioned above, that the heart is actually the most appropriate personal “leader.”
They are considerate of others in their decisions. After all, that is what leaders do – they consider others.
The word “leaders” – like all words in our mission – was considered carefully. In this case, the concern was whether or not the term implies forced leadership, or the expectation that every student be a dominant person, when the world has enough dominate people. In the end, it was decided that anyone who is a good role model is a leader, and good role models are what we expect a Rainbow graduate to be.
Whether we are still designing, excavating, or have moved onto laying the foundation or even construction, the point is that Rainbow graduates will be helping the world make positive progress toward becoming a socially just, spiritually connected, and environmentally sustainable world.
They will not take, they will give. They will not rest (except to the degree resting is healthy), they will work. They will not give up because it’s hard, or it’s painfully slow, or because sometimes it seems like we are moving backwards. They will not give up because they cannot do it all by themselves. They will wake each morning with a purpose in life.
This phrase is expounded upon in the interpretation of Ends-4. Here it is enough to say that the world a Rainbow graduate is working toward is one where every human has the opportunity to have not only their basic needs met, but also to become a self-actualized person, to use Maslow’s language.
Every person, no matter what their circumstances or how rare (or common) their perceived differences may be, deserves to be included and cared for by a loving, communal, societal force.
The interpretation for Ends-5 provides an exploration of Rainbow’s spiritual end. We envision a world where human spirituality is recognized as a core aspect of being human, if not the very thing that makes us human – that breathes life into our souls.
In such a world, spiritual development would be understood as an important aspect of education, work life, and family life. It would not be relegated to those who choose to be a part of an organized religion, but instead it would flow through the veins of our civil life.
Rainbow graduates will help create a world where we recognize, honor, enrich, and utilize our spirituality to create greater well-being for all people.
This is expounded upon in the Ends-6 report. Fritz Capra defines a sustainable society as one that “satisfies its needs without diminishing the prospects of future generations” (From the Web of Life, page 4.)
To accomplish this means shifting out of the paradigm that became firmly established during the industrial revolution of linear thinking to one that thinks and operates in systems, cycles, and webbed networks.
This also means shifting out of the current American paradigm where the economic sphere is the most important, or dominating, social sphere — where virtually everything is “commoditized” and economic growth (typically for the few) and competition is the underlying mandate from whence most political and social (and individual) decisions and actions are made.
The new, sustainable paradigm would move us out of our current anthropocentric attitude (where humans are viewed as the center of the world), and put humans in relation to all of nature and as stewards of the natural world. Harmony.
Bringing it to Life
In general, as practitioners of holistic education, we know that the whole is always much greater than the parts added together. For the sake of analysis and greater understanding I have broken our mission statement into parts and pieces, but our mission comes to life when it is whole.
Our mission comes to life every day when we live it — every morning when our teachers arise in thought and meditation for their students; every moment a child expresses wonderment and is embraced in love; every year when we, as a community, come together with awe and appreciation for our human qualities – including (and perhaps especially) our faults; in order to lift one another up so that our children can be better than us.
February 2018 Kaleidoscope
This is the time of year to find cheer. As I write this, it is dark and rainy outside. I’ve been inside for a long while with the flu, and I’m really looking forward to getting back to our beloved school and seeing bright and shiny faces again. We have had many students and teachers out this flu season, and I hope your family has either avoided it or come back onto the healthy side of life.
Health and Safety
I would like to give a shout out to Jessy Tickle, our administrative assistant in the office who also acts as our health and safety coordinator. It is Jessy who sends out information about what illnesses need to be on our radar and suggestions about what to do. She makes sure that our staff gets all required first aid and CPR training. She keeps first aid kits well-stocked. She also diligently keeps track of the latest research regarding health and safety and makes sure we are following protocol. She is very good at applying ointment, gauze, and planting gentle kisses on those cuts and bruises. She is our protector and nurturer. Thank you, Jessy.
A Special Announcement
A lot of you have probably heard this simple mantra that Howard Hanger has made famous around Asheville. The most important thing at Rainbow Community School is the learning experience of your child. That’s what we are here for! With all the things that go on at Rainbow, such as the Rainbow Institute, the More than Mindfulness conference, our equity goals, and parent education, there is nothing more important to us than what goes on in the classroom.
That’s one of the reasons we are going to a two-division-head structure next year. Only a handful of years ago, Sandra and I had about half as many students and families that we cared for, and much fewer staff. As we’ve grown, we recognize that it has been more difficult to forge relationships with all 220 students and their families to the degree that we prefer for Rainbow. Next year, each division will be about the size Rainbow used to be — approximately 110 students.
The head of school position will still preside over the whole school, but Susie Fahrer will become the division head for intermediate/middle school grades, and Sandra McCassim will be the division head for the preschool/primary grades. We hope this will make for seamless, open-hearted communication between parents and administration. All of us who work here are life-long learners and the organization itself is a learning organism committed to constant improvement.
A Very Special Guest
Lisa Miller, author of The Spiritual Child, is doing a two-day visit to Rainbow Community School on Tuesday, March 6 and Wednesday, March 7. She is observing our school and 11 other schools around the country that she considers to be excellent examples of schools that nurture the spiritual development of children.
If you haven’t read Lisa’s book, I consider it a must read for Rainbow parents. It’s inspiring and easy to digest. Lisa is the head of clinical psychology at Columbia University Teachers College, and she has conducted and compiled decades of research on spiritual development in children and teens. Her research at Rainbow will work towards developing resources for educators from a wide demographic on nurturing spiritual development in the classroom.
We have some copies here in the office if you’d like to purchase one at a great discount, or you can even borrow one!
The Annual Ski Trip
Yes, it’s been a very cold and snowy winter. That means great snowboarding and skiing! Every year the 4th -8th grade goes skiing at nearby Cataloochee. It’s a big family event with parents, students, siblings, and teachers all hitting the slopes, and nurturers keeping the hot chocolate warm in the chalet. This trip had the best conditions possible in North Carolina, and a lot of kiddos took lessons and had a great time learning how to snowboard or ski for the first time. In the long tradition of Rainbow ski trips – this one definitely goes down in history as the best ski trip EVER!
A couple weeks ago Sheila Mraz, our admissions director, and I sent out information about re-enrolling for the 2018-19 school year. All currently enrolled rising 1st through 8th grade students are guaranteed a spot as long as you return your contract in time. Also, siblings of currently enrolled children are given any spots before anyone from outside the school. There are times that we have had multiple siblings apply for one spot, but that is rare. We always have some spots open up, and typically, every class enrolls a couple new students each year.
Do you need tuition assistance? This year we had 46 students receiving various levels of assistance. The VET (Voluntary Equitable Tuition) program, the annual campaign, and operating expenses all help pay for this program. For several years we greatly increased the number of tuition assistance awards we gave out and the size of those awards. This helped make Rainbow more economically and racially diverse. We won’t be actively growing the program anymore, so we don’t plan to increase the number and size of awards. However, we will be maintaining the program, so that Rainbow families who need help can get it. If you are one of the people who contributes to VET or the annual campaign, thank you for keeping this important program alive. If you are one of the people who benefit from it, we are so glad that you are here!
The Omega Dance
Everybody dance, now! I have to tell you that if you never chaperone an Omega middle school dance, you are missing out. I chaperoned the Omega dance on February 2, and it was so much fun! If you think of a middle school dance as a bunch of kids awkwardly standing around the edges with a few girls dancing every once in awhile, you have not been to an Omega dance.
Everyone dances, and everyone is included! Acting silly is expected! In Omega you can totally be yourself and act as silly, or as cool, as you want. And the teachers dance with the kids – the kids actually like it! I am so proud to be head of a school with such wonderful middle school kids – their experience is so completely different from the middle school experience I had. After the dance the kids were asking me when the next dance is. It’s not scheduled yet, but we’ll keep you posted.
Substance Abuse Prevention
Last week I started teaching my substance abuse prevention class to 6th grade. I have so much fun teaching this class every year! I know it doesn’t sound like a fun subject, but it’s the kids that make it fun.
Sixth graders are old enough that they certainly have heard about drugs and alcohol, but they don’t know much about the facts or the reality of what temptations may come their way. Typically, they’ve heard a lot of myths. The main point of the class is to help inform students to think about this before they are confronted with these things, so they know how to react and how to stay healthy, while still being true to themselves.
Please come visit me! I now have open office hours every Wednesday from 9am to 10am.
An Open Invitation
We’re in the heart of the school year when teachers can really study a unit in depth with their classes. Students, in turn, create profound work and portfolios. The upcoming Science Fair is evidence of this, adding to the incredible body of work students have already accomplished over the course of the school year. There’s so much learning and collaboration, along with personal growth that characterize where we are at this point in the school year. All parents are welcome to observe any class to see the amazing things Rainbow educators do with students each day. In particular, I recommend visiting and observing the middle school. All you have to do is schedule an observation time through Kate in the office. We welcome you!
A culture that is permeated by a materialist philosophy sees the Earth as a commodity- a resource to bought, sold, quantified and controlled. In this view- humans are separate from nature instead of interdependent. Many of the educational methods at Rainbow aim to shift this paradigm by paying homage to the sacred bond between nature and humanity and connecting children to nature on heart and soul level.
Our model and methods have been inspired by educators such as David Sobel. Sobel an educational theorist and author, is most known for his theories on placed based education- in which the local community, culture, landscape, and environment not only become the classroom but also the teachers.
In Sobel’s educational philosophies the natural world plays a central as a teacher. In one of his most famous works, Beyond Ecophobia: Reclaiming the Heart in Nature Education, he explores the learning needs and characteristics of three primary child development stages and likewise, proposes three nature engagement methods. In early childhood, the focus should be on nurturing an empathetic connection towards nature. In middle childhood, nature exploration is emphasized and in early adolescence, stewardship and environmental action takes precedence.
He suggests that this progression not only supports a child’s “biological tendency” to bond with the Earth but fosters “environmentally aware, empowered students” He goes on to state, “if we want children to flourish, to become truly empowered, then let us allow them to love the Earth before we ask them to save it. Perhaps this is what Thoreau had in mind when he said, “the more slowly trees grow at first, the sounder they are at the core, and I think the same is true of human beings.”
Sobel’s work aims to connect children on that heart and SOUL level.
At RCS, Nature is not only a classroom for every student but also plays a central role as a teacher. The Natural World is highlighted in RCS’s mission, vision, guiding principles, and our Rainbow Seven Domains educational method. However, school’s out for summer…BUT we invite you to consider nature as a classroom and a teacher.
Summertime for many children means being outside. Summertime often yields many opportunities to deepen our nature connection- longer days, warmer temperatures, trips to new places, nature hikes, water play, gardening, summer camp, the list goes on. In what ways have you and your family engaged with nature? In what ways has it become a classroom or been your teacher? What have you learned in it and from it?
Now consider your own childhood, how did summertime offer opportunities for a nature connection? Through play, adventure, inquiry and expression? What about deep observation, a cultivation of awe and wonder, what about meaningful relationship and veneration? Most importantly, can you remember a spiritual moment that occurred while in the natural world? These moments in nature can have profound and lasting effects on a child. This connection if nurtured, has the capacity to become intimate, empathetic and sacred. Children can begin to see the natural world as a divine teacher. Therefore it becomes our role as parents, friends, family members, and mentors to hold space- to nurture- to foster that intimate, empathetic and sacred bond.
As you and your family make summer plans for time in nature, consider how you may invite “Nature as divine teacher” along. Embark on your adventures, but pack these considerations with you:
- How can you approach nature with a robust wonder and awe?
- How can you bring a heightened mindful presence to your activities?
- How can you make time for deep contemplation and reflection?
- How can you show gratitude?
Happy end of year, everyone! You did it!
If you are a parent, you did it all. Through sickness, crankiness, bad weather, and whatever particular trials your family endured, you got your precious ones to school…and most of you got them here on time, with lunch in hand. You made huge financial sacrifices to pay tuition. And on top of all that, you donated and volunteered in order to sustain Rainbow as a healthy community.
If you are a grandparent reading this, you are probably highly involved. According to our information, you have probably paid some tuition, and have most likely donated to keep this school thriving. You understand the value of an extended family – not just the value of providing your grandchild with an intergenerational family, but also the value of surrounding your grandchild with a vibrant community.
If you are a faculty member, a teacher, you are completing another rotation in the grand theme of life – transformation. In your own way you have birthed, nurtured, and raised a new crop of loved ones, only to watch them move away from you. Once again, you remember that when you truly love someone, you set them free.
If you are a student, you are probably not reading this. But whether you are 4 or 14, you will have had the opportunity to reflect upon your growth this year. Who were you nine months ago? Who are you today? So much about you has changed, yet you – the thing about you that makes you indescribably unique, your soul – remains eternal.
And so it is, that each of us with our own perspectives and our own inner lives came together for a year and became as one – one community growing, morphing – each of us unique pieces of something greater than ourselves, something that would have been different were any one of us not a part of it.
Coming and Going
This is also the time of year that we bid adieu to students who are graduating or not returning next year as well as to faculty members who are moving on. Our wish is to send each of you onward full of beautiful memories and feeling prepared for your next adventure. Faculty members who are moving on are Ange Moore who is moving to California, but will be back to help with our More Than Mindfulness Conference on October 6 and 7; Bryan Gillette (preschool), Micah Gardner (preschool), Dave Leflar (5th grade), Gloria Ray-Sheberle (5th grade), Danny Peters (3rd grade), and Itiyopiya Ewart (1st grade) who is having a baby!
Most of you have probably heard that Doreen Dvorscak, one of our revered kindergarten teachers, is retiring from Rainbow this year. Doreen has been here for 12 years. She has taught every current Rainbow student who has been here since kindergarten. For twelve years she has brought the magic of childhood to young Rainbow children with her theatrical passion, clever wit, compassionate spirit, and clear insight. A butterfly garden is being planted in her honor near Max’s Gazebo so that Doreen’s magic can stay with us long after her time here has come to a close. As Doreen always says, “Once a Mariposa, always a Mariposa”! Doreen leaves behind a powerful legacy, one we will cherish and hold dear as we move forward into a new era for the Kindergarten Mariposas.
Looking beyond the 16-17 School year
There is nothing more important than having the right people working with your children.
Someone once asked me what I look for when hiring faculty, and I replied, “I look for inspired educators who are both highly developed in all seven domains as well as master teachers.” Sandra and I truly invest so much of our emotional energy into the hiring process, which can be very intense. So we are very happy to announce that we have completed the hiring process for the 17-18 school year! We hired six new assistant teachers, almost all of whom have lead teaching experience. Because they share and embrace our holistic educational philosophy, they are each extremely excited to be working at Rainbow. Besides our fresh crew of new assistant teachers, we have also hired a new lead after school teacher in preschool – Lauren Levine.
We had one lead elementary teacher to hire this year, and we were flabbergasted when someone who we consider to be a famous teacher applied to teach at Rainbow. Rainbow Community School is incredibly fortunate to welcome Paula Denton as our fifth grade lead teacher. Paula taught grades 3rd – 6th for eleven years in Massachusetts at The Greenfield Center School. As a “demonstration school” that trains teachers in best practices, the Greenfield Center School only hires and retains the finest teachers. Paula holds a PhD in education from Amherst and was on the faculty at Antioch for six years. Paula has trained thousands of educators across the country. She is author of two award-winning books on education, “The First Six Weeks of School” and “The Power of Our Words.” You will find “The First Six Week of School” on many Rainbow teachers’ bookshelves with covers falling off and dozens of dog-eared pages, as it is considered by many holistic educators to be the most important book about teaching ever written. Paula created “The Responsive Classroom” teacher training programs, which have been required for all Rainbow teachers in the past. She is a foremost expert in positive discipline and holistic, integrated teaching. Paula is a “superstar” educator, but most importantly, she is compassionate, loves children, and is very passionate about being a classroom teacher. We are extremely honored that Paula has decided to work at Rainbow Community School.
What goes on during the summer?
By this time of year, the administration has one foot in completing this year, and one foot in the 2017-18 school year. This summer the administration and the board will be doing our own versions of soul-searching. The board immerses itself into a multi-day retreat. They look back on our progress and take a deep dive into divining Rainbow’s future. They recraft the strategic plan and prepare the vision.
Meanwhile the administration pours over data – financial, academic, and performance data. We reflect on the end of year survey that you, our dedicated parents, provide to help us understand what your experience was like as a family, what we need to do differently, and what we need to treasure. (If you haven’t filled out that survey quite yet, go ahead and complete it HERE.) We re-design systems in an ongoing effort to continuously improve. Operations go into full gear, getting everything prepared for the school year – materials ordered, new staff readied, technology repaired and upgraded, and so much more. With the end of the fiscal year on June 30th, the business office calculates our financial standing and prepares for our financial review and annual report, while Max and Shaun give the facilities a makeover. Teachers spend three days together working on curriculum in June, and then they are in and out all summer long, preparing their classrooms, preparing for the children, getting lesson plans ready, and doing professional development. Our biggest push begins around August 1st, as we prepare for the teachers to return on August 14th. Then the whole staff and faculty meets and trains for about 10 days, preparing for your children. Thank goodness preschool is in session all summer long, because those precious preschoolers bring such joy to those of us on administration. We can get lonely on an empty summer campus. After all, we work here because we love children!
The Poignancy of Endings
At the close of the year, when reviewing all we have gained, all the ways we have changed that we could never have predicted, it becomes startlingly clear that the only thing left to say is… thank you. Thank you for raising children we can’t help but love from the moment they enter the classroom to the moment they step up to the microphone to deliver their 8th grade speech at graduation. Thank you for creating these creatures that inspire us with purpose and passion every day. I can speak for each of us who work here at Rainbow when I say that your children are the ones we owe our transformation to this year, and next year, and the year after that. They move us beyond what we could have ever imagined. So now that we’ve arrived at yet another ending, let’s take the time to celebrate, to express our gratitude, to foster our connections, and to bask in each poignant moment as it comes and as it goes.