Please join usfinser_whidbey on Tuesday evening, March 17, to hear Torin Finser speak about his latest book, “A Second Classroom: Parent-Teacher Relationships in a Waldorf School.”

Torin Finser, PhD., is Chair of the Education Department at Antioch University New England.  He has written extensively on Waldorf Education and consulted world-wide.

More information on the event is here: http://waldorfmoraine.org/event/adult-speaker-series-3/

 

BOOK REVIEW: A Second Classroom: Parent-Teacher Relationships in a Waldorf School|by Kathy McElveen, Austin Waldorf School

The doorway to a classroom is a threshold where teacher and student meet. There is another kind of meeting at this threshold, that between the child’s parents and teacher. This important relationship receives thorough attention and its just due in Torin Finser’s book, The Second Classroom. “How adults work together can be as important as the curriculum on any given day.”  This is true at all levels of work in a school, in what the children learn as they watch adults interacting, in the effective working of the school community, and in the success of addressing the needs of a particular child.  Consciously and carefully cultivating relationships is the hard work of community building and this book is a treasure trove of practical advice, diverse experiences, and a call for action.

There is value here for new and experienced parents, teachers, and school administrators or anyone interested in education.  There are practical tips for improving parent conferences and class meetings, strategies for “hard to handle parents”, as well as chapters on parent volunteers and the value of effective administration. Parents are challenged to be “co-responsible for the social health” of the class and encouraged to become part of an active learning community.  The author does not shy away from traditionally taboo subjects such as burned out teachers, the “uber” volunteer, or Waldorphans, the students of faculty members.

Like a many-faceted gem, a multitude of perspectives and ways of approaching the subject are explored. The chapters alternate between practical advice and inner dimensions that encourage self-reflection and inner work.  Together they form an “outer path thread” and an “inner path thread” weaving together practical application with philosophical foundations, support for personal development, and esoteric considerations.  “Outer challenges are often a manifestation of inner challenges and the more inner work one does, the less likely personal issues will need to be played out in the community.”  While much advice is offered, at least as many questions are raised and left for the reader to consider.

The author is honest, personal, and direct.  He draws on his own experiences as a parent and teacher of over three decades. He shares many personal stories humbly revealing his own blind spots, vulnerabilities, and mistakes. While he could have drawn upon these experiences alone, he is an advocate for research and reached out to current parents, teachers, and others through surveys and interviews.  He also incorporates related work by Marshall Rosenberg, Karl Konig, Martin Buber, Carl Jung, Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, and others.

Voices of teachers and parents ring out in a chapter summarizing the results of the survey and interviews. Questions include: “What do parents need from a teacher in order to feel met and supported?” ,“What advice can you give a new parent in terms of establishing an effective parent teacher relationship?”, and “What makes for a successful parent meeting/class night?” There are also stories of lessons learned when “relationships broke down” and when they worked especially well in service to parents, teachers, and children.  These represent real-world case studies that support the other chapters in the book.

The book includes insights from the work of professionals and academics in communication, parent/teacher dynamics, and education.  From Marshall Rosenberg and collaborator John Cunningham there are the techniques of nonviolent communication.  The author presents Rosenberg’s method of how one can participate more consciously in a conversation then offers examples of what that might look like for a parent or teacher in “before and after” scenarios.  Rephrasing a comment in terms of observations rather than judgment can shift how the other person experiences it and responds.  Effective listening includes checking for understanding, catching errors quickly, as well as developing empathy for the other person.  Parents and teachers carry equal responsibility for rxamining listening habits and working to open clear pathways to understanding.

From Karl Konig there are ideas about the impact of family of origin on social behavior and specifically birth order.  Becoming conscious of these “childhood tendencies,” Finser suggests, can help move us “from reactive behavior to a more proactive, enlightened approach.”  Harvard professor Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot has looked deeply into the nature of parent-teacher conversation bringing greater understanding about why there is so much at stake in these meetings and how participants can become more conscious about the emotions that often arise.  She describes how adults arrive to the parent-teacher meeting believing they are working in the present but suddenly find themselves visited by “ghosts” from their pasts, “filling the spaces with the voices of people who are not there.” Finser comments: “There is a vast sea of drama under the surface of parent-teacher conversation.”  He goes on to offer suggestions for both teacher and parent in working sensitively and respectfully with one another.

“The door of the classroom is the portal through which both child, parents and teachers pass. It marks the threshold of moving from the old to the new, from what we are to what we can become. The doorway of a classroom can be seen as simple lumber, nails or mortar, an “it.” Or it can be crossed with devotion and reverence for a threshold experience, a moment of “I – Thou.” It contains both the ordinary and the loftiest portion of human experience.”  Many of the chapters in the book challenge the reader to become more conscious in the encounter with the other, to struggle to see who is really there to be met. By offering examples of different points of view, the obstacles that can be in the way, and tools for working with them, Finser urges us to improve the quality of the third space, the meeting place in the middle between two human beings. In doing so, we can better serve one another and the children in our care.

While the book is written especially for Waldorf parents and teachers, it is relevant for anyone interested in education.  As a teacher who recently graduated an 8th grade and a Waldorf parent of many years, I know firsthand the critical role that parent/teacher relationships play in the success of a class.  This book will give you much to consider and it is highly recommended.