Interview with Lenya Bloom, New High School Chair

SC: For those who don‘t know you, would you like to start with your connection to the school? 

LB: My connection to SFWS goes way back, right to its origins. I was in the classroom even before I was officially enrolled as a student because my parents were some of the school founders, and my mom was one of the first Waldorf teachers here back when the groups were small enough that you could take your baby into the class with you. She likes to joke that I used to take my naps in the dolly cradles in the Kindergarten. So, I’ve been part of the school my whole life, first as a student and then as alumni. And now as a parent as well since I have a 1st and a 5th grader at the school. I went to University High School, before SF Waldorf High School existed.  

SC: How was that transition as a Waldorf grade school student going into what is considered to be an academically competitive high school?

LB: I didn’t know what it meant to be academically competitive in a social setting. It had always been this theme of everyone does his/her best with their best. And that was equally valuable across the board. So I didn’t have this sense of going into a highly competitive environment. I just knew that wherever I went, I had to do my best. Of course, the setting was completely different, the structure, and I realize now that it was really a traditional learning format that I just had to get used to. It is basically like learning a formula and then plugging in the skills that you already have and then having extra that went beyond what was expected in that format. 

SC: Coming from different pedagogies and now entering a high school that draws upon your Waldorf foundation, what do you feel is the advantage of Waldorf education at the high school level?

LB: In high school, I had classmates who were really suffering and making sacrifices to do well academically. I could see that, but my own way of learning was always to maintain that well-roundedness. I think this gift of having basically occupational therapy woven into how students need to live, as a lifestyle, kept me healthy through high school. I can see now that having those elements alive and part of the high school curriculum really does not take away all the pressure but relax it so that it is just part of the high school camaraderie. It is still college prep in that way but without that being the only focus. Here the students are supported in that process at school, keeping all the different intelligences alive and equally valued. And knowing what you need to feel balanced, whether that is movement, being with nature, music, or a craft, anything that keeps you balanced that comes from your own true nature. We have that in our curriculum.

SC: When was the point Waldorf moved from an educational system to something more for you? 

LB: My first glimpse of that was in college. I went to the University of Pennsylvania, graduated in 2002, and majored in Anthropology and Spanish. I realized the gift that had been my early education while in my late college seminar classes, particularly some of the literature and anthropology courses where professors commented on the foundational knowledge that I had, such as mythology and the origins of Western knowledge and even some themes from Eastern knowledge as well that are still active in greats work of literature. Being able to draw on ancient knowledge and bring it into the modern times and weave it back and forth, that was always something professors noticed. This web-like thinking instead of linear thinking is something that I think specifically comes from Waldorf education, where there isn’t a hierarchy of knowledge and it’s all interconnected because it’s all human. Having that in the forefront of college discussions and essays was when I realized was given an education that allowed me to stand out. I actively returned to Waldorf more as a way of life rather than just a part of my education when I became a parent. I realized then how deeply internalized these structures and values were around sustaining a healthy childhood and trying to respect the inner life of young people. And that was when I founded the school in Mexico in 2004, because I needed a place that would do that for my own children and so I could feel that I was working with people that would share if not all of my values at least some of them and we would be able to put the child at the center to allay any of our differences. People have different perspectives, different paradigms, but if we all choose this education, we have something in common to work from. 

SC: What did you learn from that process of starting a school from the ground up that you are applying to this position?

LB: No matter how much you think you know there’s always so much you don’t know. You don’t want to accumulate too much knowledge without being able to bring it into practice. And you don’t want to do too many things that are uninformed by knowledge, especially in a Waldorf school. This is where my own internal checks and balances comes from. Everything that I learn, I try to find a way to bring it into practice. That I think keeps things moving in balance, moving forward as conscientiously as possible, but also making sure that everything is current. 

SC: How do you see your role as the high school chair?

LB: As of right now, it’s this combination of facilitating and serving. They meet where currents of communication are active, making sure that there is a pluralism of voices that are being directed to where they need to go rather than just chatter. That is a goal I have, so that we can construct together with all those different currents. This is the nexus of where faculty, parents, and student voices meet. The serving part is to create a space for the students where the faculties can exercise their vocation with sufficient freedom and where the parents can also have an impact on the social sphere and the health of the community. 

SC: How do you balance the independent, progressive thinking that we value with staying true to a curriculum that has a historical path?

LB: In this regard, the conversation around diversity, equity, and inclusion is a gift to us because it allows us to ask a wider range of questions than what have been asked in the past. That means that we can not only bring more voices into the classroom but to look at the ones that are already there in a new and creative way, almost as if we were turning a three-dimensional object in the air and examining it from different sides, which is something students do in Geometry, an exercise around diversity, equity, and inclusion. We don’t even need to explicitly say, “Hey, let’s do this DEI exercise.” We want examining things from many different perspectives to be part of how students think and live, so they then become arbiters of that. Turning things around and looking at it from another side, that’s how you understand what isn’t being seen, by moving yourself or causing the object to move. It can be a conversation, and it can be a way of life as well. Working with faculty to see where they are in that process is an open conversation. Most of the faculty are already bringing in voices that had been excluded from the curriculum. That is a foundational impulse, and I think that’s what makes this school as big and long-standing as it is. This seems to be a practice that predates the current conversation around social justice. But now it’s a shared expectation and growing.

SC: At the student level, what are you excited about bringing from your unique experience? 

LB: I want to help students practice advocating for themselves and one another. It is unique to the high school that students have the capacity to do that, away from parental influence. They can decide what’s right and wrong and bring that forward. To create as many avenues for them to take the leadership role in that. They also are aware of and in touch with things, that many adults don’t necessarily have contact with, that are pressing for them. Teenagers’ priorities are of course different than adults’ priorities, and we need to hear that in order to be relevant to them so that they feel seen and respected so that their world is enfolded by our world rather than separated from it. 

SC: What is your guiding question, something you ask yourself to reorient your approach?

LB: It would be, “What do we need right now?” That is closely followed by, ‘What do we have to meet that need?” It’s clear that this year and probably the few coming years will be about healing, not living in the loss of the last two years but really overcoming and coming back to a balance as is defined by the world we’re in. Everything has been changed. We can’t ignore that. Internally we’re all a little bit different. The students are. The families are. And I think the school is too. Looking at that fearlessly and understanding what our work is in terms of healing and, in that process, defining what is new.

SC: What would you like to build upon during your time here?

LB: What I am working on now, and see as a priority always, is looking at the diversity, equity, and inclusion that already lives in the classrooms here and bringing that out so everyone can see it. This way we can conscientiously build on what we have. Our teachers have a long-standing exposure to the conversation on a broader scale, and many of them are already working with it directly in their classrooms. We are in the Bay Area. We have to respond. This is a cosmopolitan, diverse setting. We need to be on the forefront of this conversation. ~

Lenya C. Bloom holds an M.A. in Sociology and serves on the Advisory Board of three Waldorf schools in Mexico. She is currently enrolled in the Waldorf Administration & Leadership Program at the Center for Anthroposophy and the Waldorf Teacher Education Program at El Centro de Desarrollo Antroposofico.