Time, during isolation, has taken on a new dimension. It seems to have life of its own, sometimes dragging us along on its adventures, other times dragging us down into the abyss.
April lasted for months, and suddenly, now it is time to graduate!
Since the beginning of time, humans have marked its passage with ritual. Ritual helps us to set the rest of our life aside and honor the present moment as the most important time. Although we cannot conduct our beloved graduation rituals together this year, my wish is that your family set time aside during graduation day so your child can feel how important this time in their life is. Every child experienced this time of learning in isolation differently. Some resisted, some suffered, some thrived. Your child, in their own special way, accomplished something challenging during this unique time in history, and they will be recognized.
I, too, am ready to graduate. I have been at Rainbow for 13 years, coincidentally, the same amount of time as a K-12 education. Rainbow has been the best education of my life, and it’s time for me to take what I have learned and serve in a new way: I will be a professor of educational leadership at Southern Oregon University.
While it turned out to be an odd time to transition Rainbow’s leadership, I hope you have found the process to be seamless. During these last two months I have been functioning in a consulting/advising role, while Susie Fahrer guides Rainbow through the complex decisions of our time. I am in awe of her ability to attend to every detail, graciously and patiently caring for everyone’s needs, while never losing sight of the larger picture. Susie’s vision is powerful, her intellect supreme, and her integrity is impeccable. She is my hero. The Spirit of Rainbow celebrates her as the new Head of School.
The Spirit of Rainbow
Our Board President, Stewart Stokes, sometimes makes a reference to “The Spirit of Rainbow.” This could mean the personality of Rainbow, or what is special about Rainbow; but Stewart is referring to an actual living entity, a soul. Rainbow is many things. Rainbow is you and me, the teachers, and all the children. It is a holistic philosophy and curriculum. It has a mission and a purpose. It is a physical place with buildings, gardens, and beauty. It is a community. Rainbow is all these things combined into a magical alchemical mixture that is transformed into so much more than the sum of its parts. The Spirit of Rainbow is a living, loving force.
Rainbow’s Heart Beats Strong
A Rainbow education is truly an education of the heart…and certainly not just for the children, but for each of us. Many times, in my tenure as executive director, I have acknowledged that I was learning at least as much as the children. Lessons of the heart. Part of the beauty of Rainbow as a living force, is the reciprocal nature of learning. The more the adults—teachers, parents, staff—are learning, the more the children are learning. We shine a light on one another (sometimes on the places we don’t want anyone to look). We support one another in allowing our hearts and minds to grow.
Dr. Arrien is an indigenous anthropologist who describes the heart as having four chambers: full, open, clear, and strong. Below I use the four-chambered heart as a metaphor to describe the most important lessons I have learned at Rainbow, and what I believe every child learns when they receive a Rainbow education.
This first chamber of the heart concerns “fullness.” When my heart is full, I am giving all of myself to the task at hand. I am present to whomever I am with—fully listening and caring for those who need me. Energetically, I am not holding back, or meting out what I have to give, for there is an abundance, a well-spring of brilliance, labor, and care that flows through me when I give fully. At Rainbow, I learned to recognize when I am being half-hearted, the opposite of full-hearted, a sign that I need to change or refuel until the spirit can freely flow through me again.
Thank you, Rainbow. My heart is full.
When I am closed-hearted, either my heart has shrunken, being too focused on the material world and all of its distractions and demands. Or, I am defensive, hoping no one sees my shadow. Thich Nhat Hahn calls it the illusion of separation: when I am closed-hearted I forget that I am intricately interconnected with all of nature and all beings—and what is good for all is also good for me. Rainbow has taught me that when I am most fearful, most striving, most worried about me—that is when I most need to open my heart—to be love and to allow myself to be loved.
Thank you, Rainbow. My heart is open.
Sometimes life is overwhelming and chaotic. When I forget about the magic and magnificence of life, I try to control it. I think I have the power to accomplish all of my goals as if life is a big machine that needs me, its master, to run it. But it goes faster and faster, and soon it becomes impossible to keep up; fear tells me I can’t let go. However, when I listen to my heart, I have faith that when I let go, my true direction will become clear, creative solutions will arise, and I will move forward with ease. When life is uncertain (like these current times) and when I am confused, I have learned to be patient. Dr. Dan Siegel says that “a synonym for uncertainty is possibility.” Therefore, I wait for clear direction.
Thank you, Rainbow. My heart is clear.
The final lesson of the heart is the most important. I believe that each of us is born with the capacity to be in harmony with the world around us. When we are strong-hearted what we are experiencing on the inside—our values, beliefs, thoughts, and emotions—is in alignment with what we say and how we behave on the outside. But from the day we are born, our physical needs and our social conditioning leads us away from our strong heart. When we are weak-hearted, we say one thing, but mean another. We make commitments that we don’t agree with—sometimes taking our life down a path that is further and further from the sacred. But when we are strong-hearted we have the courage to be our authentic selves. We speak Truth. We act with Integrity. The theme of Omega Middle School is, “Know thyself.” Indeed, your courageous, heart-centered Omega adolescents have often shown me what it means to be real.
Thank you, Rainbow. My heart is strong.
To our parents:
In a world that has gone wrong in so many ways, your children are blessed to be in a learning community where the lessons of the heart are taught—where love is the central component of their education, where they learn to pay attention to what their heart is saying so they “know themselves” before going out into the world. My parting advice is to do everything you can to make sure they complete that journey. As I often point out, heart, whole, and to heal all have the same root meaning. An education of the heart makes the human whole. It is an education of wellbeing. Teach your children well. Give them an education of the heart.
June 5 is my last day as Executive Director at Rainbow Community School, but my connection to the Spirit of Rainbow, like all things of the heart, is timeless and beyond the limitations of physical space. I believe that any spark I have added to Rainbow will continue to be kindled and kept alive after I am gone. Reciprocally, Rainbow, and the lessons I have learned here, will live on in my heart.
I love you.
The many colorful things happening at Rainbow, from the Executive Director
Dear Rainbow Families,
Even since writing this Kaleidoscope a day ago, the circumstances and community sensibility around COVID-19 are changing rapidly. Please note that although the story below talks about “if” we have to convert to online learning, the current sentiment is more “when” we will convert to online learning. Please look for a letter coming soon on how to prepare for this event that is now seeming imminent.
How do we live in community during a pandemic crisis? With compassion, responsibility, creativity, and equanimity.
I open this Kaleidoscope with a true story that captures all these qualities. Last week I had a moment of deep appreciation for our faculty around how they are dealing with the COVID-19. As you know, we have early release on Wednesdays so that our teachers can meet, plan, collaborate, and engage in various trainings throughout the year in order to continually improve the educational program at Rainbow. Last Wednesday (March 4) was supposed to be a time for teachers to work across grades to plan their Domain Day activities. Domain Day is a treasured day, so of course planning for it is incredibly important.
Instead, I and some of our key administrators announced that all staff and faculty would be meeting about the COVID-19 virus during that time, and planning for Domain Day would be cancelled. In fact, Domain Day could potentially be cancelled. We knew this would be a huge disappointment and we were worried about the effect on staff morale. No cases of COVID-19 had been announced in North Carolina yet, so it may have seemed as if we were being extreme.
But the faculty showed up on time and formed a circle in the auditorium. I opened with a centering where we envisioned health, wellness and resilience for ourselves, our community, and all living beings.
Then I announced that we will be using our imaginations to think about what could happen in the future with COVID-19 and how we want to respond. I pointed out that part of what is so difficult about this time is the ambiguity of it. No one knows what will happen, but our spiritual training at Rainbow has prepared us to be able to live with ambiguity gracefully.
As a faculty and staff we spent three hours understanding the facts about the disease and agreeing on our short-term protocols at Rainbow. Teachers are the most safety-conscious people I know. Therefore, I was not surprised at their diligence in making sure they understood everything. There were many questions and ideas on how to improve our safety, and we efficiently agreed on new policies and procedures.
Then, West led a training on Google Classroom, an online learning platform that might be useful if we switch to teaching remotely, and the teachers broke into teams to experiment with Google Classroom and to begin making plans for how they could deliver online learning.
After about an hour, we reconvened in a large circle to reflect, share, and ask final questions. This was a magical moment. Instead of a faculty who was downtrodden, overly-anxious, and negative about the whole situation, our faculty came back to the circle with energy and incredibly creative ideas about how they can deliver alternative education during this time. Some even commented that they see this as an opportunity to use Google Classroom and some other technological learning tools whether we have close or not. Many expressed gratitude for our community and for the forethinking we are putting into responding to COVID-19. We closed our scared circle with blessings for wellness.
I left that meeting in awe of our faculty – their emotional and spiritual maturity, their resilience and equanimity in the face of hardship, their willingness to do almost anything necessary to serve our children, and their genius. I couldn’t believe the great ideas they came up with. It’s hard to imagine any other school or organization having a 3-hour meeting about COVID-19 and walking out energized and hopeful, while still soberly recognizing the seriousness of this situation. These are the people whom your children are looking up to as role models.
I just had a parent ask if there is such a thing as being smart and being calm at the same time. I replied, “Yes, it’s called ‘equanimity.’” That is exactly what our teachers have, and that is what your children are learning. Equanimity is the secret to a good life and a strong community.
If nothing else, when we are faced with a crisis, we can see it as change. Change can be challenging, but especially when it happens quickly and has dire consequences. However, when we have compassion, responsibility, creativity, and equanimity we can survive with our morals intact and with our community stronger, knowing that no matter what happens, we will treat one another with love and respect. I hope we can all look back on this knowing that each of us as individuals were unselfish and cared for one another and the public at large as best as we could.
Like the teachers who decided to approach the idea of remote learning with “higher” ideals, I keep thinking about ways this whole crisis might have some positive outcomes. For example, I was wondering if, ironically, this whole crisis might bring some families closer together. If it turns out that families are quarantined or in semi-isolation at home together, how can families make the most of that time?
I have also been thinking about equity, which involves compassion for all people and our responsibility to think about everyone’s needs. For example, if our school has to close the campus and do learning at home, some families will have a parent who can stay home with their child, while others will not have that privilege. How will we all help care for people in that situation?
Let’s think about greeting one another. As mentioned above, we are all having to adapt to change at lightning speed, and changing social norms is extremely challenging and awkward. In my Rainbow biography it says that it’s impossible to get through a day at Rainbow without a hug. Well, that’s changing. But I would like to bring back an old tradition of greeting one another with a “prayer hands” a namaste motion. It’s a beautiful greeting. I have also witnessed some other unique forms of greetings that involve creativity and cooperation – like making a spiral shape in the air together. Let’s get creative. They say laughter is the best medicine, and we need a lot of good medicine right now.
Thinking about The WHOLE and SLOWING DOWN. Jessy Tickle just shared an article with me explaining public health strategy that would save lives in a way I hadn’t fully comprehended. It takes a mathematical, systems approach to the pandemic spread. The article acknowledges that mathematically this virus is going to spread and a huge percentage of the population will inevitably contract it.
It explains why systemically, it is critical we do everything possible to keep it from spreading too quickly. Why? Because if too many people contract it at one time it will overwhelm our societal systems and medical facilities, and when medical facilities are overwhelmed people die who otherwise could have gotten help. Plus, the slower it spreads, the more time our scientists, government, and other experts and public officials have time to develop cures and strategies to contain and treat the spread. Thinking about the WHOLE is one way to exercise compassion and responsibility.
Compassion, responsibility, creativity, and equanimity: That’s what your children learn every day at Rainbow. Let’s model it for them.
In closing, I want to add a somber note. Yesterday the faculty met again, and we had a moment where we honored the deep sorrow that we as teachers and parents may experience in watching our children process the realities of the world, especially now. We continue to have faith that no matter what the circumstances, we will guide ourselves and our children toward a perspective of love. Through love, we can remember that we are rooted in resilience.
Fourth graders figure out their favorite Greek deity
We headed over to 4th grade recently where our students were immersed in the world of ancient Greece. They learned about mythology and creative arts. Their teacher, Kurt, said they really loved learning about the Greek gods and doing hands-on activities related to their learning.
Because of that, Kurt let them do a special activity that would further their learning with Greek mythology. They investigated their favorite god by reading a story, and created designs using paper shaped like pottery. These designs were based on what they knew about the deity they studied.
Hercules – probably the most famous Greek deity
They started off their lesson with a short video about Hercules. They talked about how the story of Hercules is from long ago when “chaos reigned.” Students realized there were many references to pottery and design, as well as other historical events.
Fourth graders had a chance to look at examples of ancient Greek pottery. They saw references to Achilles, a centaur, minotaur, war and peace, Hercules and more. Once they had a chance to look at different examples, their teacher explained that stories they were about to read would also inform the designs they’d create on their pottery.
Stories about Greek gods
Each student paired up with another and chose their favorite Greek deity to study. They were allowed to read the story to each other, silently, or alternate between silent reading and reading aloud as they liked. Once finished, each student created their paper pottery. Essentially, they created a stencil using one piece of paper, cut it out, and finally glued it onto paper with a brown background.
After students finished gluing their stenciled piece onto the background, they could begin drawing designs. They worked with pencils and black markers. Some designs were quite eloquent and detailed. One requirement was to reference the story they read within their pottery design.
These pottery designs complemented the rest of their unit on Greek mythology. Intricate and detailed, each pottery piece reflected each student’s drawing style. As students concluded the unit, they did further research on their chosen Greek god. This research led to a one-page report, which they later presented to their class.
This one lesson touched on several different domains: the social and emotional, in which students were able to collaborate with one another, and worked together to complete their stories and pottery projects. They engaged in the mental domain in researching more about Greek deities. They were able to use the creative domain with their pottery designs and even touched on the spiritual domain with regard to Greek beliefs and mythology itself. All teachers at Rainbow create units that incorporate the seven different domains at least once.