Kaleidoscope – January 2021

Kaleidoscope – January 2021

Kaleidoscope – January 2021

We are excited to dig into the Pollyanna Racial Literacy Curriculum where every voice counts, particularly those that are least often heard. We are using this curriculum as a supplement to what we already teach and it so naturally fits into our ongoing efforts for a holistic education. We encourage you to review the Pollyanna Parent/Guardian Guide to get a better understanding of what your student will be learning. – Danae Aicher, Equity Director

 

Dear Rainbow Friends and Families,

I hope that 2021 brings many blessings to you and your family. It marks a new beginning. It is one of many new year cycles that lend itself to reflective and visionary thinking. At the school level this is a midway point. It is a natural fulcrum upon which we balance looking back at what we have accomplished and learned, and looking ahead to the possibilities and intentions for the future. 

Looking back, the gravity of 2020 is powerful in both its own right and in the ways it surfaced for some, and reinforced for others, the collective influence of our nation’s history on our modern experience.  Our obligation to analyze Rainbow’s equity efforts, and to reckon with our evolution of impact, became exceedingly clear during a thriving pandemic and racial tensions. This work is never done, but the more we centralize it, the more it will be internalized individually and systemically. 

Naming a commitment to social justice in our mission statement and establishing ourselves as an Affirmative Action school are foundational efforts. These ideas are continually revisited to ensure their integrity. Additionally, the work of building the structures, systems, and culture of an institution that lives these principles is an active role we all play regularly. This Kaleidoscope is dedicated to surfacing several of the elements that comprise our current progress in offering a humane and decolonized educational experience for our families and children. 

Below Danae Aicher, our Equity Director, speaks to the power of embedding our institutional work within the larger context of national events. 

There’s an old saying that if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. The idea is that the universe will always test our commitment to whatever it is we declare we want to do.

Like so many other organizations, we here at Rainbow, have declared our commitment to equity. Equity is trendy. So much is going on in the world around us that lots of people are getting on board, anxious for some way to affect change. The ideological shift to equity is challenging all by itself. Rainbow has done that. For us, the challenge is (and will continue to be)… How do we live our mission?

The last year has really tested us. COVID put a spotlight on the cracks through which too many of our students and families are getting caught. And even as we work overtime to adapt to the changes we have to make in order to provide the best version of a Rainbow education that we can, we know that our models simply don’t work for those who are most vulnerable. Fortunately, we do not believe that pandemic education will last forever. Inherent in this pause is the obligation that we build back our educational programming with a lens on systemic and institutional norms that are in service to all students, families and staff. For further transparency, our Strategic Plan names benchmarks we are working to achieve in the next five years. 

This summer, another series of murders of Black people, The Black Lives Matter protests that swept across the country, and the political rhetoric we witnessed opposing them, shone another spotlight; a spotlight on a deep racial divide of experience in this country. Many of our white parents woke to a calling for new awareness and answered that call by engaging in honest and sometimes painful discussions with each other as well as with some of our parents of color and parents of students of color. Attendance at events like Talking to Kids About Race and White Supremacy and Me Discussion Groups, and participation in Equity Circle  are examples of this work. Out of this, we are watching families develop deeper relationships and bringing us more into community with one another. Furthermore, some of you are asking profound questions of us and pushing us to have greater imagination about what it means to “develop accomplished, confident, and creative learners who are prepared to be compassionate leaders in building a socially just, spiritually connected, and environmentally sustainable world.”  

That mission feels especially important right now. We witnessed a horrifying scene last week. While we are not a political organization, we are one that collectively seeks to honor the whole body. That is what it means to be holistic. We cannot honor the whole without telling the truth. Terrorism is defined as “the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.” Insurrection is defined as “a violent uprising against an authority or government”.  On January 6, we witnessed a terrorist insurrection. While there’s shock and sadness for many of us, let’s keep in mind that for some in our community there was less shock and more expectation- an understanding that this has been part of the duality of our country. And the fear and worry is not esoteric or theoretical or even political; it is an everyday lived experience of having to always be aware of one’s surroundings, who is around, and who can be trusted if they face physical harm. We live in two Americas and none of us wants to continue that. 

That is why it is so important that we develop a broader curriculum for our students, one that encourages curiosity, sensitivity, cultural awareness, and critical thinking. Our Omega curriculum, and the required Equity Elective offer students the chance to examine our history and our present, find the inconsistencies in our ideals, and find the moments of great leadership beyond the common “heroes”. What lessons can they take from that and model in their own lives?  

We are excited to dig into the Pollyanna Racial Literacy Curriculum where every voice counts, particularly those that are least often heard. We are using this curriculum as a supplement to what we already teach and it so naturally fits into our ongoing efforts for a holistic education. We encourage you to review the Pollyanna Parent/Guardian Guide to get a better understanding of what your student will be learning. 

As we approach re-enrollment season, it is an opportune time to consider what it means to commit to Affirmative Action as a school community. One aspect is weighted admission, meaning preference is given to children and families of color that would like to join our school community.  Of course, this is just the beginning. We need to ensure that once a family or child of color joins our community, we apply every effort to create a climate of inclusion and belonging. Affirmative Action means we exercise the right to interpret and apply policies differently for children and families of color. As Kimberle Crenshaw, author of The New Jim Crow, explains, “Treating different things the same can generate as much inequality as treating the same things differently.” A commitment to Affirmative Action implies that when we build a culture of equity, instead of equality, we all benefit because our needs are met in compliance with our individualized experiences. 

While not a specific example of Affirmative Action, the 6th grade classroom currently provides a prime example of applying a policy differently to a subset of our population. Grade six has been an anomaly this year because a large number of students enrolled in fully remote education. It has reached a point that we are able to defer the cohort model, and offer fully in person learning for the eleven eligible families, until February 26th when the next round of re-enrollment decisions are made. In addition, we are able to offer fully in person learning to the two siblings of 6th graders that attend Omega ⅞ programming. Unfortunately, we are not able to make this same offer for the siblings at the elementary level, because our resources are different. The 6th grade parents consented to this decision, highlighting a community that understands that we should not prevent optimal learning circumstances for some, simply because we cannot provide them for all. That being said, we all experience indirect benefits of this opportunity that will pave the way for further reintegration to weekly in person learning as it is safe and viable for other parts of our institution. 

Kate Brantley and I are participating in Whiteness At Work. It is a four part training series designed to dismantle norms influenced by white dominant culture that impede the success of building a safe diverse working environment. While the Pollyanna curriculum focuses on a ground up approach to equity through educating our children, this type of analysis ensures the equity lens is utilized with a comprehensive, systemic, and long term vision intact. This includes hiring practices, evaluation systems, daily work conditions, and more. Fortunately, this is not the task of administration alone. Our Dynamic Governance structure provides ample opportunity for systemic change to be fostered through collective community action. We are stronger together.

As we look ahead to the 21-22 school year, there is so much hope. Not simply for a comprehensive response to the pandemic and social unrest of 2020, but for the potential of an inspired reimaging of what is possible within and beyond our community and classrooms. Our conversation about equity is ongoing, and we will always be working to create and maintain a more equitable school community. 

On January 26th, we will be hosting a school wide meeting to offer a look at Rainbow’s future. I look forward to engaging in a hope-filled conversation with you all at that time. More details about this event will be shared in upcoming Rainbow Reminders and classroom Newsletters. 

It is my sincerest pleasure to be entering a new year with each of you. May we continue to build trust, dialogue, and community in the journey ahead.

In Love,

Susie Fahrer

Executive Director

Rainbow Community School and Omega Middle School

Kaleidoscope – January 2021

Kaleidoscope- September 2020

The autumn equinox ushers in the final harvest season and delights with warm hues painting the leaves and landscape.

We watch as the creatures of the natural world busy themselves with preparations for the winter months. I find that the pace of our school community often mirrors this vibrant energy with routines giving way to a lively learning culture. Fall reminds us to surrender to the natural cycle of the seasons knowing that rebirth is just around the corner. As we settle into a rhythm for the school year, acceptance for what needs to be released will help us in birthing something new.

Communication is central to the success of our community. In collaboration with weekly publications like Rainbow Reminders and regular classroom newsletters, Kaleidoscope captures the bigger picture of what is happening on campus and exciting news for Rainbow’s future.

Our opening weeks have created a foundation worth celebrating.

This first month of school has manifested a community rising to its full potential. Teachers are designing innovative and dynamic programming while engaging in person and remote learners, coordinating outdoor education, and crafting meaningful content. Parents are fostering social gatherings through video platforms, collaborating with carpooling, and sharing resources and ideas for navigating learning at home. Rainbow’s Board is engaged in critical visioning to help ensure a thriving school in and beyond these unprecedented times. Eckhart Tolle said, “Acknowledging the good that you already have in your life is the foundation for all abundance.” Thank you all for continually surfacing the beauty of this Rainbow community. I am ever grateful and empowered to witness a community aligned in service to our children.

Moving beyond our foundation leads us to a new layer in our programming.

This time of year we are typically preparing to formally assess our students in grade 3-8 with the CTP (Comprehensive Testing Program) standardized assessment. This year, our initial focus needs to be on establishing healthy and robust learning environments for our students. Implementing testing now would unnecessarily disrupt this process. As a result, we have moved  the assessments to a more desirable timeframe. Testing is scheduled to take place from November 30th- December 17th to ensure both cohorts have ample time to complete this experience. In addition, we anticipate offering individualized testing sessions for fully remote learners. We will provide more explicit information about testing protocols and processes in the coming weeks.

We have also discovered the need to more explicitly define guidelines for attendance and participation in remote programming. Teachers will begin working on their narrative reports at the end of October, and it will be important for families and students to understand the frame of evaluation for attendance and participation. An addendum to our COVID-19 Mitigation plan will be released within the week detailing these specific expectations.

Finally, we are exploring the potential for our first on campus community-wide event. Halloween has served as a long standing invitation for festive costuming, family engagement, and joyful gathering.  A team of teachers and administrators are working out the details to design an experience that can safely welcome all learners to campus for some aspect of celebration throughout the day. Details will be shared through your classroom newsletters and in collaboration with the parent council, as the specifics are established.

Fostering depth within our mission is a key aspect of our school’s evolution.

In my welcome letter, I introduced our intention to make our curriculum for racial and environmental justice more visible to our families supporting a partnership in learning. Teachers are exploring the Pollyanna Curriculum this year along with the Teaching Tolerance Anti-Bias Framework as tools for surfacing a more explicit curriculum and approach. Families are encouraged to be a part of this work in collaboration with the school. An upcoming opportunity to engage in conversation and contemplation with our community is the Talking to Kids About Race event, on October 18th from 3:30-5:30pm. This event will include a panel of parents of color and parents of children of color from Rainbow, along with an exploration of the Racial Identity Benchmarks sourced from the City and Country School in New York. We look forward to the rich discussions that abound at this annual event.

Our environmental efforts are best captured in the multitude of student-led projects on campus. Preschool has created a viewing station for a Hickory Horned Devil caterpillar found on campus. This will metamorphose into a Regal Moth. Preschool has also established a connection with the Roots Foundation to plan for edible gardens on campus. In partnership with Max and Shaun, our facilities team, Fourth grade is working on relocating their garden beds to the hill by Omega. Fifth grade has reworked their compost stations for maximum efficiency and will have school-wide composting underway soon. The Omega sixth graders are creating invitational spaces for squirrel observation and the seventh and eighth graders are in the process of designing and constructing a pathway to their outdoor learning center, and so much more. The campus has clearly become an enriching tool for investment in the natural domain.

Even with all of the energy focused on the present, it remains critical for us to look ahead.

In the short term, this involves looking beyond October 22nd, when families will reevaluate their remote learning status. Administration will be reaching out soon with a simple survey to collect data about our communities’ intention for the winter months. There has been some buzz from families that the opening of the school year has given them a sense of comfort and they look forward to continuing or transitioning to in person learning. Other families may have a reason to consider or continue with the remote model. A look at our community data will help us determine the most effective path that takes diverse family needs into consideration At this time, we do not imagine a big shift in our approach unless the family data suggests this is advantageous. We will be sharing this survey with you all very soon.

Another part of visioning is ensuring that we are always taking into account the larger, longer term  goals of the school. During the 18-19 school year, Rainbow hosted a community-wide summit using the process of Appreciative Inquiry to gather data from our critical stakeholders about the direction of the institution. This led to our most recent Strategic Plan. This document guides the administration in evaluating decisions with a long-term lens on impact and alignment with our community values and vision. I look forward to advancing our progress on these strategic goals in the coming months and years.

May the beauty of fall surround you. May the crisp air refresh you. May the season of harvest be a reminder of the great abundance we share when community is ignited and fellowship is at the heart of our experience.

In Love,
Susie Fahrer

Kaleidoscope – July 2020

Kaleidoscope – July 2020

campus sophias garden

The Many Wonderful Things Happening at Rainbow

The Kaleidoscope Communication

As I sit to write my very first Kaleidoscope to you all, I can’t help but pause to reflect on the very nature and context evoked by the name of this publication. The etymology of the word Kaleidoscope comes from the Greek kalos, meaning beauty; eidos, meaning that which is seen in form or shape; and skepeo meaning to examine. So through my words today and into the future, I hope this communication will serve to explore the evolutionary shape of Rainbow. May it surface the potential and realized beauty that exists within, between, and beyond us all.

Our Reopening Plan

Our Reopening Plan has been shared widely and your feedback has been greatly appreciated. We intend to revise the hybrid model proposed for remote learning. Several families shared that this model would create a burden on transportation, and thus become significantly less viable for them. We are working on a revision and will share this with families soon, along with any additional details to the plan. Of course, it was disappointing that the Governor was not yet able to share more specific direction for schools; however, we are feeling confident that we will respond accordingly when guidance is released.

What will school and campus look like?

In the observance of transparency, many families have been wondering about Rainbow’s decision making process as we define what school and campus will look like in 20-21. Specifically, there is curiosity regarding our obligation to follow governmental guidance. While we do have some liberties as a private institution, all of our decisions are being weighed against best practices, health and safety (both physical and emotional), and the ability to achieve our mission. For example, we contextualize how these recommendations will be experienced by Rainbow’s students, families, and staff.  Furthermore, we are a small institution with over 5 acres on our campus. This affords us opportunities to realize physical distancing protocols that can be implemented with developmentally appropriate expectations still intact. In fact, we are building covered outdoor classrooms and by creating these spaces we are advancing the health benefits of being outdoors. In addition, we are supporting our teacher’s capacity to engage inquiry-based discovery and experiential learning.  This is a point of grace that we are grateful for as we continue to develop creative and student-centered approaches to our return.

Spiritual Grounding

Calling in our spiritual grounding and resilience, is possibly our most important work right now. We are being required to process radical shifts in societal “norms” as conversations are centered around public health and racial trauma, and in response to both, the transformation of community systems and agencies. At the root of it all is the question: What does it mean to be in community?  The depth and breadth of processing necessary to reimagine our world is visceral, powerful, and personal. Rainbow has been criticized in the past for being political in the ways we interpret our mission, and yet as a school we are a central element in offering expertise, safety, and leadership to our children and families who deserve support in unpacking these complexities. Our world continues to offer polarizing narratives that our children need to be able to analyze and think critically about. Rainbow seeks to offer this guidance to our students so that they can engage in healthy identity development and citizenship that embraces their family values, personal perspectives, and empathy for others. As a school, we cannot ignore these realities, but rather we must teach them through developmentally appropriate means.

In Partnership

In order for this type of education to thrive, we must be in partnership with you, and each other, to ensure that every family system is honored and valued. A community education takes into account the fact that we will not all agree, but that we will be able to communicate with compassion, listen with intent to understand, and work together in harmony.  I can not overstate the value of being in authentic relationships with one another, that allow us to be vulnerable without fear, so that we may truly realize the power of a united community. Please let this stand as an open invitation to speak with me at any time should you feel tension about Rainbow’s plans moving forward.

May we begin this year, with building connections among us that will realize the beauty that comes from each turn of the Kaleidoscope, adapting and reshaping to find the magic in every moment. 

In Love,
Susie Fahrer

Kaleidoscope – May 2020

Kaleidoscope – May 2020

Time

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.

omega graduation

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.

spirit of rainbow

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.

heart

Full-heartedness

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.

Open-heartedness

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.

Clear-heartedness

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.

Strong-heartedness

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.

owl graduation

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.

November Kaleidoscope 2019

November Kaleidoscope 2019

November Kaleidoscope

Symbolic Events

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.

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.

Interconnectivity

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.

Transitions

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.

november kaleidscope

Open House

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.

Self-Compassion

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.

This simple one-minute exercise was developed by Kristen Neff. Click here for advice for parents around fostering healthy self-compassion.

A legacy of love

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.

november kaleidoscope

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.

As some of you know, The Collaborative for Spirituality in Education (CSE) at Teachers College has been working with Rainbow for a couple of years. Through generous funding from The Fetzer Foundation and The Rockefeller Brothers Fund, they have paid Rainbow Institute quite well to share our best practices.

No Child Left Behind

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.

Kaleidoscope – September 2019

Kaleidoscope – September 2019

Kaleidoscope

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.

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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.”

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Wholeness

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

I wish I got to be in Omega Middle School!

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?

What you need to know:
Blood Drive Info

You are invited: ZOOM at NOON Moved to October 4

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!

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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.

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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