Fulfilling Our Promise: Becoming Inclusive Waldorf Communities
Alma Partners is a multiracial, multigenerational group of eleven individuals from diverse backgrounds living in the US and Canada. We launched the organization in the spring of 2020, founded on the belief that institutions are, first and foremost, communities that have an opportunity and a responsibility to build cultures of belonging, courage, and honesty in collaboration with the people they serve. Decades of firsthand experiences have shown us that, in most communities, a gap between ideals and actions often opens over time. We came together to address those gaps, identify them, and take steps to close them.
We do our work so that every individual and community we partner with, and those they serve, can speak the truth, be themselves, feel seen and valued, and develop their capacity to participate in the world with dignity, inspiration, joy, freedom, purpose, meaning, and love. We do our work because we saw for ourselves and heard from schools across the country, many years before we formed as an organization, that it was necessary work for the future of Waldorf education.
The news is hard right now—there is division, polarization, and violence. As we take in everything happening in our country and the world, we are reminded each day of the importance of relationships, of building bridges, and of telling the truth about the past and the present to build a just future. We are reminded of the importance of noticing where we have privilege, ease, power, or access that we can leverage as we forge common causes with those who are most vulnerable or overlooked in our communities.
“Diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice ” has become a weaponized term. We refuse to participate in that weaponization and will continue to work with alma (“soul” in Spanish), depth, and nuance. We do what we do out of respect for children and for all people, in our glorious differences and commonalities, in our complexity and humanity. Our core values, described later in this article, represent what we believe to be the true heart and purpose of DEIJ work. Our guiding principle is love.
Who We Are
Several of us have known each other for over a decade, some even longer. The seeds of Alma Partners were planted during conversations that started in the 2000s. By 2008, several of us were leading diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice (DEIJ) work in our schools. We invited each other to come and speak in those schools. We read what others in our network were writing. We inspired each other, checked in, and stayed in touch. We listened to each other, looked for opportunities to come together, and looked out for each other.
In 2020, the six co-founders – Randolph Carter, Meggan Gill, Keelah Helwig, Katie Ketchum[i], myself, and Linda Williams – came together to launch Alma Partners. Within six months, we were working with more than a dozen clients across North America. We quickly invited six additional associates – Masumi Hayashi-Smith, Renita LiVolsi, Aiyana Masla, Joaquin Muñoz, Heather Scott, and Kenya Strong – who enriched our group immensely. Three years later, we are like family to each other.
A post we made on Instagram in October 2021 sums up who we are:
“We are [eleven] colleagues, learning from and growing with each other every day. We are Waldorf teachers and staff, Waldorf parents, longtime educators and activists, folks without children. We are Black, Indigenous, Latino/x, Asian, multiracial, and white. We are queer, straight, cisgender, nonbinary. We are introverts and extroverts and points in between. We are a wide range of personalities, philosophies, temperaments, sizes, ages, and abilities. We have strong opinions, and we laugh a lot. We live in two countries and five states in the US. We love Waldorf education and want it to transform and serve all children.
We love being a part of this group and this moment, and we are grateful to all the schools that are working with us.
We are not slick or shallow, we are not afraid of messy or uncomfortable, and we are in this for the long haul.”
As urgent daily activities take priority, we find that individuals in every community we work with and know struggle to find the time and energy to connect each day over their shared mission and larger goals. One of the concerns we hear most consistently from our clients is that they don’t have enough time to plan, share resources, or talk to each other about shared interests and urgent needs, in and out of the classroom.
Alma Partners aims to function as a mirror for what is and a window into what could be – for ourselves and for others. We try to provide space for reflection, connection, and inspiration, space for individuals and communities to remember who they are, who they serve, and why they came together in the first place.
To that end, we lead workshops and courses, support reflection on and revitalization of curriculums, offer institutional DEIJ audits, mediation, and conflict resolution, and help clients develop and implement Bias Incident Protocols, strategic plans, and other processes and policies. We partner with schools and organizations to support alignment between institutional ideals and institutional culture, between what clients say they want to do and what they actually do.
We know that education is an integral component of transformation in society. For that reason, we work primarily with schools and educators. A big part of what we do involves integrating DEIJ principles into pedagogy (how teachers teach) and curriculum (what teachers teach) in public and private schools in the Waldorf movement in the US and Canada.
Our Core Values
Our work is built on five core values:
- Working from soul
We approach uncomfortable, messy, challenging, complex, and vulnerable realities with courage and kindness. We aim to be honest, humble, and to work from depth and possibility. Our guiding principle is love.
- Centering relationships
We seek to model the world we imagine. With each other, we build connections, demonstrate respect, and practice care. With our work, we continuously review and adapt what we offer and how we offer it. With clients, we support healing and evolution. We do our best to be authentic, responsive, and accountable.
- Honoring intersectionality
We strive to build a world where all people are seen, treated with dignity, and free to express their full selves. Refusing to oversimplify the subtleties of human experience, we recognize and attend to the compounding effects of oppression on the identities of each person and group. We appreciate differences and work to build shared understanding.
- Embodying integrity
We express our values in our lives, relationships, and communities. We strive to define and articulate the ideals of diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and justice, integrating them into our actions and ways of being. We have been involved in this endeavor for decades and are committed to engaging with this work as a lifelong journey.
- Making change
We are dedicated to having a practical, meaningful impact. We aim to be accessible for a range of budgets and types of organizations and for people of different abilities and learning styles. We ask for and integrate feedback. Offering resources, building capacity, and sharing a lifelong commitment to our own learning, we begin with self-study and inner work as a necessary foundation for collaboration, community education, and transformation.
Alma Partners has had a busy three years and has experienced tremendous learning and growth. Since our founding, we have worked with about sixty clients, including private schools, charter schools, small initiative schools, a YMCA camp, two Camphill communities, and a large international nonprofit with about thirty affiliate communities across the US. We have also worked with Waldorf teacher training institutes and leadership bodies, including the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (AWSNA), the Waldorf Early Childhood Association of North America (WECAN), Alkion Center, and Sunbridge Institute.
We have offered nearly one hundred workshops, serving more than 3,500 participants.
We created a proprietary curriculum mapping tool now being used in more than a dozen schools.
We have helped about ten Waldorf schools create a Bias Incident Protocol to identify and reduce incidents of bias.
Our online course, Fulfilling Our Promise: Becoming Inclusive Waldorf Communities, is currently active in eight schools, and an individual online cohort of the course launches in July 2023.
Another course, Pedagogical Storytelling for Early Childhood, had a successful pilot run last year with about thirty-five participants and featured special guests, including Melody Birdsong-Shubert (River Valley Waldorf School), Nancy Blanning (WECAN), Aimee DeNey (Birdsong Children’s Garden), Keelah Helwig (Waldorf School of Garden City), and Celestine Stadnick (Lakota Waldorf School). The second version of the course launches in July 2023.
Next year, we will be engaged in at least three strategic planning processes. By the end of 2023, we will have completed about ten DEIJ audits, assessing organizational alignment with DEIJ goals and best practices in the areas of curriculum, community life, and policies/procedures.
What Comes Next
As we support communities to develop bias incident protocols, sharpen marketing and admissions strategies, create strategic plans and review governance models, focus on hiring and retention practices that build genuinely and sustainably diverse organizations, and audit their work, we engage in the same kind of self-reflection and ongoing evolution that we aim to support with our clients. Because we work in so many different communities, we can see patterns and respond. We are continuously reviewing and refining what we offer. We design new tools and approaches as needs emerge.
In order to shift perspectives, change mindsets, and engage teachers in the deep and ongoing work of being curricula scholars in their particular time and place for their particular students and communities, we offer seven core workshops. We recently completed a months-long analysis of the scope and sequence of these workshops and made many updates. We are in the process of further refining our online course in preparation for sharing it this summer with a cohort of individual students. As we head into our fourth year of continued growth, we plan to invite others into our work to expand our capacity.
We are deeply grateful for the support and colleagueship of so many these past three years. We remain hopeful about what the Waldorf movement and the world can be and about the role we can play in that transformation.
All photos: Alma Partners retreat, February 2023
IMG ending in 838:
L to R: Masumi Hayashi-Smith, Aiyana Masla, Randolph Carter, Linda Williams
IMG ending in 899:
L to R: Heather Scott, Linda Williams, Meggan Gill, Aiyana Masla
L to R: Kenya Strong, Vicki Larson, Keelah Helwig, Meggan Gill, Heather Scott, Joaquin Muñoz, Randolph Carter, Masumi Hayashi-Smith, Linda Williams, Aiyana Masla
BIO: Involved in anti-racism initiatives and community organizing for social justice for more than twenty years and a Waldorf parent for more than 15 years, Vicki Larson (she/her) has held positions in publishing, resource development, translation and interpretation (English/Spanish), international women’s human rights, marketing, communications, and diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice (DEIJ). She is a co-founder of Alma Partners and a founding member of the Sunbridge Institute Diversity Scholarship Fund Committee. Before moving into full-time consulting, Vicki worked at Green Meadow Waldorf School in Spring Valley, NY, for fourteen years.
[i] In 2021, Katie Ketchum stepped back from Alma Partners to focus on other work and family, but she stays in close touch with us. We are grateful for her support, her many gifts, and her ongoing collaboration.