Effective Practices : Community Life
Annual Meetings and Events
Community Life Section 1
1. What are the meetings and events that are held at your school on an annual basis to which the entire school community is invited? Describe each event/meeting, state its primary purpose, and name the group or body at the school with responsibility for the meeting/event.
2. How effectively do these events and meetings work to create a feeling of community in the school?
3. Are there school wide events or meetings that were held in the past few years that have now been discontinued? What led your school to stop these meetings, and have you been satisfied with the results of that decision?
4. How are these events and meetings communicated to the parent body? What percent of the parent body typically attends each function?
5. Describe the key elements of your school’s philosophy in relation to your annual meetings and events.
6. What about your annual meetings and events is particularly effective?
7. If there were something that you could change in relation to your school’s annual meetings and events, what would it be and why?
What are the meetings and events that are held at your school on an annual basis to which the entire school community is invited? Describe each event/meeting, state its primary purpose, and name the group or body at the school with responsibility for the meeting/event.
Waldorf education uses the strength of regular rhythms to good effect in the classroom, and utilizes this same approach to build a strong community of adults to surround and support the children. When Waldorf schools are asked which events are held on an annual basis there are very clear similarities in approach and purpose that are seen in all school communities.
Back to School
Schools hold several events at the beginning of the school year to engage new parents and to call on the strength of parents who have been involved for a longer time. These back to school events include a back to school meeting, the Rose Ceremony, and a welcome tea or coffee.
The back to school meeting is sponsored by the Parent Association or the Board of Trustees, and is often a joint venture of these two groups. Sometimes the purpose of these events is purely social community building, and the event may feature a pot luck dinner with desserts provided by the Parent Association. At some schools the meal is provided by the Parent Association, and baby sitting is provided for school age children so that it is easy for parents to attend. A feature of these events is introductions of the various leadership bodies at the school and their members.
More typical is a meeting with the purpose of welcoming new parents and faculty, and providing introductions to the leadership bodies at the school. The purpose of these meetings is to encourage participation in the life of the school, and often these meetings have a number of information tables, each manned by representatives of the various committees at the school in which parent participation is encouraged. The various committees share information about their work and their goals for the year, and there is often an effort to recruit new members. These meetings often begin with a more formal meeting-style presentation, and then break into an open session where parents can drop by the various tables to learn more while sampling desserts provided by the school. One school shared that it has been very successful in gaining interest in the committee work of the school by asking each committee to offer a fabulous dessert at their table to share with parents as they stop by to learn about the committee work. There is great competition between the various committees to offer truly outstanding desserts so that parents stop to chat at several tables while enjoying a sweet ending to their day.
The Rose Ceremony is the traditional event for the first day of school in Waldorf schools around the world. At this special ceremony the new first graders are welcomed into the lower school, and are presented a Rose by a special friend in the 8th grade (or 12th grade in schools with a high school). At one time these events were held as assemblies for students only, but more and more schools have begun to open these touching ceremonies up to the larger community. The Rose Ceremony is a faculty sponsored event.
The first day of school is also marked by a welcome tea or coffee in many schools. It is often scheduled to coincide with the Rose Ceremony, and allows parents to reconnect with each other and the school after a summer’s absence. It is usually the Parent Council that sponsors the welcome teas.
Most schools report that their Board of Trustees hold two meetings a year to which all parents are invited. One is usually held in the fall, and focuses on some of the exciting issues and thorny challenges that lie ahead for the school. These meetings may include a session for parents to provide input as part of a strategic planning process, or may be filled with information about the work underway as the school grows and develops. The second session is held early in the spring. At times these meetings focus on the school’s plans for the coming year, the budget and changes to tuition. At other times these are town hall style meetings at which parents are able to ask questions and share concerns on a variety of issues on their minds, and receive answers from Board members and members of other leadership bodies.
Schools often have an annual event each year that is purely social in nature; these events are sponsored by the school’s Parent Council. Typical of these is a back to school barn dance, a gathering with an old time country music feel. The event is for the whole family, and begins with a potluck supper, followed by the dance. Schools report that these events are also open to alumni, and that many families return to school for this special event.
Another social event offered by a school is a Thanksgiving dinner hosted by the Parent Council with the intention that everyone has someone with whom to celebrate Thanksgiving. Another school holds a Spiral of Lights Festival at Advent or during the winter break. This event is also a potluck dinner, followed by seasonal songs and an opportunity to walk a candlelit spiral of greens. The event is intended to remind all participants that just as the plant world rests and develops inner resources during the winter months so that it can burst forth with renewed vigor in the spring, so too the human being is nourished by a time of quiet contemplation and inner growth during the short days and long evenings of winter.
Schools typically hold one large fundraiser a year. At some schools the event is an annual auction, a gala evening with presentations by performing artists in he community, and both silent and live auction offered for consideration. Other schools report they have enjoyed both good times and good returns from their annual golf tournament. One school reported it had had success with an annual giving kick off party, an adult evening to socialize and hear about the campaign. Food and entertainment are provided at a fun location with the benefit of building community while sowing the seeds of support for the annual campaign. At some schools one of the annual fairs is also structured as a fundraiser. Major events such as auctions and golf tournaments are typically coordinated by the school’s development office; fairs are most commonly organized by the school’s Parent Association.
Most schools host both a winter and a spring fair. Typically one of these fairs has a focus on community building, while the second one is structured to be a fund raiser. Schools report that the winter fair is often a holiday market, with vendors offering seasonal gift items and the school store providing many Waldorf oriented toys and crafts for holiday gift giving.
One school described its event this way:
“The Holiday Fair began as a holiday market. It is now a two day event with a Friday night adult-only social with fine desserts, coffee, musical offerings by parents, a tree lighting ceremony and then a dance. The vendors and School Store is set up, as well as a silent auction and a children’s raffle. The Fair begins the next day at ten with the addition of children’s activities, a puppet show, a lunch & student entertainment, as well as tree sales and results of the auction and raffle.”
The spring fair is often held in conjunction with May Day, and features maypole dances by each class as well as an opportunity for community members to join in the fun. There are often crafts for the children and activities such as floral wreath making for adults. Activities include hair braiding, old fashioned games and strawberry shortcake making. Often vendors are in attendance, and the event is open to the larger community.
Assemblies and Festivals
Schools typically hold a few all school assemblies each year. Often these occur the last day of school before winter and spring break, and again on the last day of school. Attendance at these events is very strong, as parents love to come see their children perform selected offerings from the curriculum.
The festivals at Waldorf schools include Michaelmas and Martinmas. Michaelmas is often quite involved, with every class having a role of some sort. The highlight is a Michaelmas play put on by several grades, and featuring the tale of Saint George and the dragon. There is often a pot luck lunch at this festival, followed by a community work day in the afternoon. Martinmas is usually a smaller festival, with the young grades making lanterns and touring through the campus or the neighborhood around the school. Older classes make bread and soup, while others serve the meal around a bonfire (weather permitting). Another event frequently occurring is a Pumpkin Patch. The common elements in each of these events are its spiritual basis and the intent to inform and build community between parents and teachers.
Another common event with a spiritual basis is the offering of one or more of the Oberuffer plays during the Christmas holiday. Often the faculty of the school will offer the Shepherds’ Play and the Paradise Play to the community. In some schools these presentations are augmented by the offering of the Three Kings’ Play by the 12th grade students. Assemblies and festivals are coordinated by the faculty.
Concerts and Performances
Concerts, plays and other student presentations are regular features of the Waldorf school year. There are typically concerts in the fall and in the spring by various instrumental music ensembles, and classes present plays from the curriculum at various times throughout the year. A highlight is the end of the year plays offered by the 8th and 12th grade students.
Another regularly occurring performance is Grandparents Day. Grandparents and special friends are invited to a special assembly held in their honor, and each class presents selections from the curriculum prior to inviting the grandparents back to their classrooms to view displays of student artwork and main lesson books. This event is held at various times in the school year. One school holds the event in conjunction with Michaelmas. Another schedules it in conjunction with the spring fair and the 8th grade class play. Yet another schedules it on the last day prior to the recess held in February for teachers’ conference week.
The 12th and 8th grade graduation ceremonies close the school year. They are an opportunity to mark the students’ and teachers’ accomplishments at this important milestone, and are well attended by the school community. Schools with both an 8th and 12th grade report that the 8th grade graduation is typically a smaller celebration of transition, while the 12th grade graduation is a major event for the community as it celebrates its students and sends them out into the world.
How effectively do these events and meetings work to create a feeling of community in the school?
All of the schools in the study found that the collective impact of all the various events and activities described above has a very positive effect on building and sustaining a sense of community among the adults at the school.
Several schools noted that the assemblies, festivals, concerts and other events which focus on the children were the most well attended and most effective in terms of building community. Meetings with more of a business tone such as Board sponsored state of the school meetings are less “warm and fuzzy”, and are harder to get joyful participation. However, these meetings are viewed as an important part of the schools’ annual rhythm and schools continue to search for the best way to maximize the human connections at these gatherings. As one school noted, “When we miss creating a feeling of community at a meeting, it is often because we run out of time and don’t provide enough opportunities to hear from members of the community or to get back to people that have shared their ideas and perspectives.
The importance of the social element was underscored by another school which noted that when pedagogical and social elements (alumni presentations, biographies of a few Waldorf teachers, or wine, cheese and some fabulous desserts) are a part of a meeting, attendance increases and the positive feelings generated among the participants are noticeable.
Are there school wide events or meetings that were held in the past few years that have now been discontinued? What led your school to stop these meetings, and have you been satisfied with the results of that decision?
Schools often change the frequency, timing or approach to the various meetings and events held each year. The challenge is to balance tradition and rhythm with the need to keep things fresh and inspiring. The amount of human energy required to stage the variety of events and meetings at a Waldorf school is significant, and this can lead schools to changes as well.
One school made the decision to alternate the years in which they staged a Pumpkin Path and the Shepherd’s Play. These events occurred in fairly close proximity and were both sponsored by the faculty, creating an unmanageable drain on the teacher’s forces just prior to the holiday season.
Another school noted that its school picnic had been replaced with a barn dance. This was done because the social events needed to be kept in tune with the interests and needs of the parents. The same school noted that it held a biannual auction for many years, but over time this event seemed to no longer serve the needs of the parent community. The event has since been replaced by a golf tournament, which seems to better match the interests of the parent body. Similarly, one school reported that it had held an annual budget meeting that had been very well attended as tuition increases had been quite high for a period of time. Over time the financial situation at the school stabilized, tuition increases and the budget became fairly predictable, and attendance dropped to the point where the meeting is no longer held.
At times a special need or project may require additional meetings for a period. One school noted that during the time it was planning for a move to a new location and for a period following the relocation it was necessary to hold four general parent meetings a year. Once the school had been comfortably settled in its new home for a period of time the special purpose that drove the high number of meetings was gone, the school reduced the number of general parent meetings to twice a year.
Other events are less obviously tied to the seasonal calendar, and the best timing for those events is less clear. One school has struggled with the best timing for its annual state of the school meeting, and has alternated between holding it early in the year as a kick off and holding it in the spring as a part of the school’s budgeting and planning cycle. Although the school has tried both approaches, neither seems to necessarily be better than the other.
Another school traditionally included a community potluck luncheon for the parents as part of its festival celebrations. However, teachers reported that it was increasingly difficult to hold the children’s attention after lunch on these special days, and the decision was made to move the festival celebration earlier in the day and then to dismiss school early on those days. This eliminated the parent potluck, a change that was felt as a social loss by many.
How are these events and meetings communicated to the parent body? What percent of the parent body typically attends each function?
The school’s annual calendar and the weekly bulletin are the primary vehicles for alerting parents to the various events and activities at the school. Often times the school newsletter will feature a two week calendar at the top of the page with all of the important upcoming events.
The notification of special all school meetings is usually supplemented by a separate letter or postcard that goes out in the mail. Postcards are also frequently used for cultural events such as special performances and lectures. Major fundraising events such as auctions and golf tournaments typically use a separate high quality invitation.
School web sites are also becoming an increasingly effective means of giving parents current information about upcoming events, and are a convenient place to check for details such as the exact time and location on campus for an event or meeting. Room reps are also using email more frequently to pass along this sort of information, rather than using the telephone trees that were so widely used in the past.
Every school noted that events such as festivals, assemblies, and performances by the children have the very highest attendance of any activity at the school, reaching virtually 100%. Similar attendance levels are seen at class parent evenings. Fairs and major social events such as the annual barn dance are also well attended, with 70% or more of the community in attendance. Other meetings which are open to the entire community are of interest to a smaller group of parents and are less well attended, but important to hold nonetheless. For example, only 20% of the families might choose to attend a back to school general parent meeting, but attendance is high among new families and the value of the event is high for those who attend.
Describe the key elements of your school’s philosophy in relation to your annual meetings and events.
The school is a whole school community, and all areas of the school must work together in partnership to effectively educate the children. All of these events have the effect of working to bring the school together. The events give us a common understanding of the impulse of Waldorf education, particularly through the festival celebrations.
The school tries to be open and up front about the issues it is grappling with.
We try to make the events fun. The social aspect is very important at the school.
We try to make sure that meetings are well planned, and that they start and end on time.
A point is made to have virtually all faculty members present at meetings and events. This is an important aspect of the faculty’s role.
We try to make all of our meetings interactive in some way, using breakout groups and other small group activity to create active participation.
We try to balance the various all school meetings and events throughout the year. We are conscious of not overtaxing the community, having too many events in close succession, and of having too many similar events one after the other. We have a good balance between events designed to entertain, as work days at the school, and to inform.
In addition to the basic events described above special meetings will be held as needed. For example, there were several meetings scheduled one year around a reorganization of the office and several more a few years ago when the five year plan was completed.
Our focus is on inclusion and education.
It is important to embrace a diversity of views. Try to find out what people are thinking and work with these ideas so they can be brought into the decision process. Embrace conflict. People are amazed and pleased when they see that a school can handle and work effectively with this kind of pressure and inclusion.
Have something social in every meeting. Perhaps begin with a song or a verse, a biography question, or provide an opportunity for people to speak with the person next to them for two or three minutes.
Don’t be afraid to repeat the basics. It’s amazing what people don’t know despite our best efforts to communicate and provide information.
Having things well organized and clear is essential to a productive meeting. Be well organized, publish agendas, and start and end on time. People don’t want to come if they can’t count on us to do what we’ve promised.
We like to include teachers in our meetings. It’s wonderful when they can do or share something - lead a song, tell a story, or present an artistic exercise.
All of our events strive to be consistent with our values. For example, the Holiday Fair de-emphasizes commercialism and emphasizes time together and the beauty of the season. We strive to give people a glimpse of who we are as a school - our love of children, the use of age appropriate activities, no media, wholesome foods, and beauty.
What about your annual meetings and events is particularly effective?
The sum of our annual meetings and events gives most parents ample opportunity to connect with the school community and volunteer their time to a measure that they wish.
The school is sure to share the presentation between enough people so that the meeting doesn’t feel like a monologue by one person.
It’s important to have an interactive portion to each meeting.
It’s important to be very organized and yet be able to be really responsive in the moment at our meetings.
Cookies and drinks are always provided at the end of meetings so that they can end on time and yet people who wish to can stay and continue their conversations.
We have a good balance of sharing the students’ work and involving parents in the work of the school and in giving information.
The festivals and assemblies really build the community, and help people see beyond their own child and his or her class.
The mix of social and business aspects at the general parent meetings works very well.
The moment that children are involved or there is a group of parents who are very enthusiastic the event is a success.
The trick is to find a balance between establishing traditions that people look forward to and ensuring that events do not become stale because they are repeated just for tradition’s sake.
The community building aspect of these events is their most effective aspect. There is a really good spirit about the events. People feel good about the events and about the school after they’ve worked on them and after they’ve attended.
If there were something that you could change in relation to your school’s annual meetings and events, what would it be and why?
Festivals in particular are in transition at our school. We value the spiritual significance of these events, but it is hard to get people to rally to make them happen, on the one hand, and there is not the heart to scale back/simplify on the other. I would like to see us be more open to parent help with the creation and running of festivals. Our middle age leaning faculty simply don’t have the stamina or willingness to “do it all” any more.The meetings that work best are the ones in which we make time to break into small groups and then come back together to share as a large group. This allows a greater opportunity for people to be heard, to learn something and to incorporate new ideas.
The quality of the meeting facilitation is critical. We need someone to facilitate important meetings so that we stick to the agenda and achieve the desired results.
We need to review our meetings and make sure that we are offering things that are really helpful for parents and that build community. Things have been working well, and we need to make sure that we don’t get too comfortable.
The beginning of the year meeting still needs work. It is expensive and still doesn’t draw everyone in.
Our general parent meetings could still be better attended. We have not found the magic for making this happen.
It would be good for the class teachers to be more involved in inviting parents. This took place in the early days of the school, and could make a great difference in attendance.
The annual Board meeting at which the Board is reaffirmed is just a formality. There is an opportunity to do a more thorough review in the context of this meeting and to gain valuable perspectives through our time together at this meeting.
It is not quite clear as to who owns the general parent meetings. Is it the responsibility of the Parent Association or the faculty? This is a reflection of a larger question living in the community about the role of the parent.
It would be great to bring in more volunteers to support these events. We don’t want to keep turning to the same people year after year, and allow them to exhaust themselves in service to the school.