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Town Meeting – September 21, 2020

Dear BACWTT Students, Alumni and Colleagues,

Here is the Calendar of the Soul for this week:

Verse 24
Ever anew itself creating
Soul Life of itself becomes aware
The spirit of the world strives on
New quickened in self-knowledge
And from soul darkness it creates
The selfhood’s will-born fruit.

What a relief it is to feel the cool morning mist and a cleansing of the air this week! No doubt it will heat up again, as we are only at the beginning of the fire season, but a little cooling and moistening of the air – and an accompanying little cooling of the life of soul – allows us to settle into ourselves.

The beautiful and thought-provoking lines in the verse – soul life becoming self-aware and creating of will-born fruit – point to the end of the summer and the changing mood as we head into the autumn of more self-awareness and the turning towards deliberate, will-based, inward activity.

As we open the BACWTT school year, I would like to think that our timing is aligned with this gesture, that we are in a good position to tap into the gift of summer, to harvest from the experiences and direct our will to the self-developmental work of the program. It was wonderful to experience the willingness of our students, on beginning the new year, to strive forward with the training at this time in spite of the many hindrances.

The Artist on the Road to Tarascon, by Vincent Van Gogh

Here are some of the thoughts that were shared in the Opening Assembly on Friday night:

Opening Evening 2020

Welcome from Ken Smith, BACWTT Director

Welcome everyone,

One year ago, no one could imagine what we have been through in the past six months and that we could manage to work in this way. It is a tribute to the endlessly adaptable human nature that we are here together and determined to continue with important work. We should feel honored that the world has put this work before us, that it has given us a chance to show our character.

My parents were children in England during the second World War. They lived through many challenging experiences. I know that this formed them – it formed their character, their ability to adapt, their trust in themselves.

We are living through a time that is testing us, forming us, challenging our resilience both as individuals and as people involved in the Waldorf movement. It is testing us and, depending on how we deal with it, forming the future. Through the way our character, outlook and responses as individuals are formed, the future of the Waldorf movement will be shaped. Even more critically, how the character, outlook and responses of children living through this are being formed will impact the future – and we need to consider the example that we provide to the young right now.

On Wednesday night, we had a lecture by well-known storyteller Nancy Mellon, and I would like to connect with something that she said as we begin the year. She spoke about our immune system, which is centered in our abdomen around our digestive tract, around the intestines. She brought the picture of this – like a coiled dragon full of fiery energy.

Our immune system in that fiery energy center is active – perpetually ready to meet that which would do us harm. It is ready to meet known intruders, but more interestingly, it is ready for the unknown. That is what it exists for – to meet the unknown, the things never seen or heard before. To new things that have not even existed before, it has to respond quickly and adapt.

We have in our nature an aspect whose sole existence is to protect us – by living in a state of readiness for anything! I don’t want to over simplify the situation, but one thing many of us have had to do is to let go of what we know, what we have known, that which is more connected to our head and thinking consciousness, and trust in our ability to just manage – one way or another.

In the Waldorf setting, I have heard friends and colleagues repeatedly express the need for flexibility and openness combined with an ability to hold onto the essential qualities and purpose – to not give up, even though not being entirely clear about what has to be done. Schools have been trying to listen to, understand and adapt to meet Covid-19 health orders, and restrictions that have been changing on a daily basis! They have been calling upon a type of quality in themselves that are characteristic of our immune system.

The head, the nerve system does not have in its nature this fiery aspect; the nerve cells have to be cool and clear. They become shining vessels to truthfully pass on perceptions and thought. They have very little regenerative or adaptive capacity.

So I would like to put this idea before us as we begin the year – that we are living in a time that requires us to connect more and to value the fiery center of readiness in us. We should use this time to reconnect and learn to trust this aspect of us, and let the aspect in us that builds clarity and comprehension watch and be patient.

From Rod DeRienzo, Board President

Hello, My name is Rod DeRienzo and I am the President of the Board of Directors for the Bay Area Center for Waldorf Teacher Training. And, on behalf of the Board, I would like to welcome you all to our 20th year in operation!

All those past years had their unique struggles and triumphs, but our current times seem to be a convergence of challenges of a different magnitude. We can no longer rely on a tried and true curriculum, or established methods and the comfortable classroom traditions of the past. We have all become pioneers finding our way forward here, in our schools and at home. But these times have proven to us that this BACWTT experience gives us something far more important than curriculum and methodology. Because of BACWTT, we possess a toolbox of inner strength, flexibility, vision and WILL with which we can fill this newfound open space for innovation and growth. This program has prepared us for these times. Our emphasis on the inner work of the teacher is exactly what these times call for. Those of you joining us for the first time tonight will soon begin the process of finding and honing the tools within you that will support and nourish you in all your endeavors.

What we do here is important. Both my children are in a Waldorf school.  My daughter is now in 8th grade and my son has just begun kindergarten. I have seen my children grow and blossom, guided by teachers trained here. Teachers who care enough to do the work and live the words. I know how important it is to prepare teachers in such a way that every child may blossom like mine. So that in the children, we see a better future.

I am a BACWTT graduate, Class of 2016, and I teach in a Waldorf kindergarten. My fellow board members are teachers, parents, graduates and friends who work hard to help make this program the profound success that it is. You, me, all of us, are together tonight, actively working to create a better future. You are in the right place.

From Diane David, Early Childhood Director

As we begin this new school year, I would like to announce a new program at BACWTT that began last weekend, a Birth to Three training.  At this time it is a post-graduate program for 13 Saturdays under the primary vision of Kate Hammond, together with many other teachers, all specialists in their fields.  I will also be teaching “The First Three Years” for 3 weekends for the 3rd year students, so the very young child is much on my mind.

One of the handouts Kate gave to the students last weekend quoted Steiner from the 7th chapter of “Soul Economy,” which is all about the incarnating child in the first 7 years. Here Steiner says, “The very purpose of earthly incarnation consists in bringing to life the impulse towards freedom.” Steiner says that the teacher must ask, “[A]bove all, how can I best educate the child towards human freedom?” 

Of course, this freedom is always in relation to the other.  Today we have to ask, “How does my freedom to decide to wear a mask affect or not affect the other people around us?  What does freedom look like in our political life, and what about the freedom to be able to breathe, so poignant an issue in these times and in this place?” The questions we are facing are endless.

In Waldorf education, we are talking about a personal, inner freedom – the freedom to be who you are meant to be, who you came down to earth to be. In the child’s first 7 years – the realm of early childhood – this freedom draws so much from the environment around the child and from the people who act as their guides.  Steiner tells us that we – the parent, the caregiver, the teacher – deeply affect the being of the child, and science and psychology of course agree.

This can be a mighty, lifelong task. In this light, in looking at the young child, we have to ask then, “How do we nurture the physical body of the child? How do we create the proper environment? How do we become models that the children can imitate? How do we guild the children to develop healthy will impulses? How do we help them to engage with the world through play and through the doing of art?”

Again, a mighty task and a wonderful journey – just starting for some of you, coming to a certain culmination for others – but maybe you can change the world for a small child.


From Kristine Deason, Grades Director

The work of the teacher in the grades is to work with the changing child.  Except for the first three years life, about which Diane has just spoken, there is no other time in the life of a human being so filled with change, so shaped by growth – which means change!  Change and growth are essential to freedom, and supporting each child’s development toward freely becoming who they are meant to be is our work as Waldorf teachers.  Our work is to welcome and meet change.

We hear so much these days about our particular time as an unprecedented time, a time of uncertainty, a changing time.  This is true and human beings have felt this before.  I would like to share a quote with you: 

“We must reckon with change in everything! …” These are the words of Rudolf Steiner on the eve of the first Waldorf teacher training course, August 20, 1919 (a course the Third Year students will begin to study later tonight).  The year is 1919, it is ten months since the end of the First World War, and the social order all over the world is in profound disarray.  It is in such a time that the first Waldorf school is founded – a time of change, uncertainty and upheaval.  Let me share the full sentence, “We must reckon with change in everything; the ultimate foundation of the whole social movement is in the spiritual realm, and the question of education is one of the burning spiritual questions of modern times.”

It has been more than 100 years since Rudolf Steiner spoke those words, and they feel completely relevant.  Last year, at our Opening Night, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of Waldorf education.  Who would have thought we would be starting this year in such an unusual way, with so much change to deal with?  And yet, this is what we are supposed to do.  We are here to work with change.

To support the development toward freedom means that we must understand the growing, changing human being.  It also means that the Waldorf school must be free to meet the children and free to meet the times.  Waldorf education is not here to be “established,” it is here to respect and support change – in the human being, in the world.  This is what makes us free.

This has been a challenging summer for many teachers and administrative staff in Waldorf schools – I don’t think anyone feels like they had a proper break. Somehow we have had to find another way to achieve rest and to have an outbreath than we are used to.

As we enter this school year, we are putting into place a new aspect to the program: daily, personal, inner practice. This is not a new idea at all and, in fact, is an original aspect of Anthroposophical work that has somehow taken a back seat. Studying online, which means studying at home, by oneself, needs new forms of support. What used to be supported through the social life is now left bare – unclothed – and we need to wrap our students and learning process in some supporting sheaths. This we will attempt to do with the individual inner work.

Drawing of the child in the womb by Ernst Haeckel, 1891

I have been introducing Embryology to the students in the Birth to Three program. One key thought I have introduced to them concerns the many layers that are around the embryo; they enwrap, protect and nourish it and are a part of its constitution during that internal growing time. We can have the rather materialistic notion that it is only the body of the child that is “the child” instead of holding the image that all of the many parts that surround it are also part of its “constitution.”

After the child is born, the many visible, physical layers fall away and we have the impression that the child is “reduced” to the body bound by its skin. But, at that point, the “constitution” of the child opens to the world around – the skin opens to receive sense impressions from all of the materials and objects of the world, sight and hearing suddenly meet the world directly without the cushion of the mother’s body and the liquid of the amniotic fluid that has been its home until now. The lungs open to the air, the digestive tract opens to the nourishing substances of the world, and the soul of the child opens to the people around.

This is an image that can help us both in teacher training and in the Waldorf school at this time, as the “social sheath” has been pulled away. We cannot just replace it with technology – with Zoom! If we think of the time we are in – not only as a time of pandemic restrictions, but as a time of birth, as a time of certain sheaths falling away – then let’s watch for the new, expanded sheath that is awaiting.

Kenneth Smith

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