The Unfolding Inner Teacher: Applying Holistic Ideas from Kenneth Beittel & Henry Schaefer-Simmern

  • Sally Armstrong Gradle
  • Barbara Bickel


Historical art educators Kenneth Beittel’s and Henry Schaefer-Simmern’s teaching practices contribute much to our understanding of how one might nurture, develop and then teach from the inner teacher outward, thereby developing wholeness as a natural occurrence in students. To better compare holistic teaching in contemporary art education with these exemplars, we began by examining Parker Palmer’s educative work on transformative teaching and wholeness. In The Courage to Teach, he writes, “The power of our mentors is not necessarily in the models of good teaching they gave us… their power is in their capacity to awaken a truth within us…. If we discover the teacher’s heart in ourselves by meeting a great teacher, recalling that meeting may help us take heart in teaching once more” (1998, p. 21). 

When we examined the teaching practices and theories of Schaefer-Simmern and Beittel, we discovered their passionate, although differing abilities to awaken heart—in the form of what Palmer refers to as the inner teacher or whole teacher. We define wholeness within this paper as an ever-evolving relationship between the many parts that make up a whole (Miller, R., 2000; Wilber, 1996). The characteristics of the whole teacher are; awareness of multiple perspectives, such as the intellectual, emotional, physical, social, aesthetic and spiritual (Miller, 2000); the ability to nurture and develop relationships between these perspectives in individuals and within groups; and the awareness of human connectivity with the Cosmos. The interior presence that a whole teacher carries is further cultivated through developing a deeper understanding the self, connecting with a domain of knowledge that one is passionate about, and weaving one’s whole identity into a vocation. Through our research, we sought to clarify how two exemplars contributed to the unfolding of the inner teacher-- whether this teacher-presence emerged in their students as the confident voice of an artist who explored new ideas, and/or surfaced as the reflective teacher who applied new understandings of the artistic process/experience.