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.
Rainbow Community School and Omega Middle School has been closely monitoring developing information about the new coronavirus, COVID-19. This letter is to share with you the steps we are taking to prevent the spread of coronavirus; and the steps we are preparing to take if there is an outbreak in our community.
Take a moment to read the letter we have sent to our community:
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.
We headed to second grade recently to find students doing classification of…shoes! There is a very interesting reason why.
As students started out this lesson, they began with some silent reading time. These quiet moments helped get them ready for what was next.
It was so quiet you could hear their minds “thinking.” Little did they know, they would need their sharp minds and their shoes for the subsequent portion of their lesson.
Their teacher, Eddy, had them take their paired shoes and separate them. They put one on the checkered green rug in their main classroom, and the other on the green rug in the library/centering room.
Classification of shoes in different ways
The kiddos separated into two groups with the following instruction: to group or separate the shoes according to a system they would create. In other words, students could separate shoes by color, brand, size, or some other determining factor. They brainstormed different ideas of how they might classify their shoes within their groups.
Each group chatted and came up with a plan that all could agree with and implement.
Neither group had any idea how the other was classifying their shoes. However, they each came up with very different ways of grouping and organizing their shoes.
In the library room, students grouped shoes by their overall color. In the main room, students grouped them by how they “closed” or secured to the foot, such as with velcro, slip-on, shoestrings, etc.
Once they did that, their teacher asked them to reclassify their shoes and come up with a second way to group them all. Students in the library decided to group by the “purpose of the shoe,” such as hiking or running. The other group classified all the different shoes by size.
Why classify shoes?
Why would students do this?
They brainstormed about labeling and classifying things to make sense of the world and understand it better. Eddy asked them, “aren’t there lots of different kinds of trees?” All students agreed that there were. He asked them about animals, plants, and seeds. Everyone agreed that, yes, there are many different varieties of each of these. It is in classifying and grouping plants, animals, and seeds, humans can identify what they are and understand what they do and their role in the world ecosystem.
Learning about the animal kingdom
After everyone got their shoes back, they began talking about the scientific system of classification. They learned about the five main kingdoms of living things: plants, animals, fungi, bacteria (monera), and one-celled organisms (protists). Later, they went more in-depth with the animal kingdom. Eddy gave each student a piece of paper with the name of an animal on it. Each student had to determine if the animal they had was a mammal, reptile, amphibian, fish, or a type of bird. Some of them were tricky! Did you know that a whale is a mammal? Or that a skink is a type of reptile?
Students walked away with a broader understanding of why people classify the world around them. They explored a number of ways in which it’s possible to do so. What a fun way to use methods of scientific thinking to reason, deduce, classify, as well as integrate other skills such as collaboration, discussion and reaching a consensus.
We love how Eddy integrated elements of the 7 Domains. Students were able to move around the classroom. They worked together to complete their tasks which reinforced the social domain. This process of reasoning and classification touched on the mental domain. Talking about organisms in nature brought in the natural domain. One lesson with multiple approaches. That is a day in the life of a Rainbow student.
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.
First graders have been studying the rock cycle, and they’re learning it through the seven domains: the mental domain, creative, and natural, among others.
The story of Piedra
Have you heard of Piedra? She’s the main character in the story their teacher, Rachel, told. Students gathered around while they heard the tale of Piedra, whose journey spanned MILLIONS of years.
Rachel told of how Piedra lived in Appalachia, then made her way to a nearby river where she stayed for hundreds of thousands of years. Over the course of that time, she witnessed turtles, ducks and river otters going about their lives. Little by little, Piedra rolled and rolled downriver, eventually finding herself out at sea. Piedra saw sea animals that she’d never seen before swimming all around her.
Millions of years in the making…
Gradually sand and silt from the sea bottom began to cover her up until she was completely buried, taking about 20,000 years to happen. Piedra stayed there for another million years until she felt a warmth coming from the earth. She felt a whoosh and before she knew what happened, she erupted through a volcano as hot lava, and immediately cooled once she hit the air. She emerged once again as a rock upon a mountain. Only this time, she was a rock who had changed.
Through this compelling story, students learned about how a rock might go through the entire rock cycle. They talked about other cycles they might be familiar with: the lava cycle, the water cycle, and the butterfly cycle.
Illustrating the Rock Cycle
After students heard the story, they had an opportunity to create an illustration of the rock cycle. Miss Rachel led them through a guided drawing.
They began with a line.
Followed by a volcano.
Next they erased the left part of the line and replaced it with a wavy ocean line.
They followed that with a “lava ball”…
…that grew into a lava chute.
They erased the top of the volcano to allow the lava to exit the earth, and had some fun drawing globs of lava “splashing out and spilling over the side”.
Next came creative layers that represented millions of years of creation.
The final steps were to go over their pencil lines in marker…
…and fill in their drawings with watercolors.
Our first graders now can tell you all about the rock cycle, starting with a tiny little rock on the side of a mountain.