Courage for quality!

By Stefanie von Laue, July 2022

Working with the quality initiative of the German Association of Waldorf Schools.

Deep satisfaction in the college of teachers: almost twenty well-qualified candidates applied for the vacancy for a maths teacher in upper school with exam authorisation. In addition, there were countless enquiries from parents who wanted to become Waldorf teachers. Just as pleasing: the sickness rate among the teaching staff is at an all-time low. Everyone is motivated in their work, regular staff meetings build courage, appreciation and mindfulness. There is time for this, because self-governance has been replaced by dynamic self-organisation. This has given the teaching staff time again to work on their knowledge of the human being and the curriculum. This has a noticeable effect on the work with the children in class – everything is meaningful again. A utopia? No. It is the result of a working group on the quality initiative of the German Association of Waldorf Schools (BdFWS) in which teachers and parents from all over Germany participated.

What is the Associations quality initiative?

The desire for quality in Waldorf schools is not new. For more than thirty years, people from the most diverse areas of the Waldorf movement have been working to identify essential features of Waldorf education and to make them visible in Waldorf institutions. But never has the need at Waldorf schools been greater than today. Generational change, changing social conditions, changing values, volatility, the impact of the coronavirus period and the war in Ukraine all pose major challenges to our school communities. How can we as a Waldorf movement position ourselves well for the future in the midst of change?

"The success of an intervention depends on the interior condition of the intervenor." Otto C Scharmer, Emerging Future Consultant

An organisation can only be sustainable if each individual in it sees themselves as part of the whole and takes responsibility for it. A school can only develop if the individual is willing to reflect and work on themselves. This is shown by "Theory U" of the anthroposophist and emerging future consultant Otto C Scharmer:

The curve represents the path from the external cause to possible solutions. It leads via a process – often painful – through the deepest point of need and of cognition. The "turning point of need" is also the point to our own inner sources. Here is the opportunity to find new ways with the strength gained. The future is thus creatively seized.

The quality initiative of the German Association of Waldorf Schools wants to transfer the awareness process of the individual to the school organism: in every school there are occasions that enable reflection. It is about noticing challenging incidents and talking about them in a protected setting. By perceiving and naming shortcomings and conflicts, a school community can reach its own inner sources and draw new strength from them. This makes development possible. The newly gained experiences enable us to appreciate existing qualities and, if necessary, to venture change in our schools with confidence. School communities can thus emerge stronger from crises.

The "interview with yourself"

Originating with the board of the Association and the Federal Conference, the "interview with yourself" has been an invitation to every school community to reflect on its school actions in a protected setting since May 2021. The interview serves to set a school on its way in the sense described above. The board of the Association has developed five quality fields in this respect. They are set out in the following sketch in the five-pointed star.

The five quality fields:

1. Understanding the human being – anthroposophy as a foundation

Examples:

  • Foundations of human experience, spiritual image of the human being
  • Making the inner sources clear, e.g. at parents' evenings or in conferences
  • Comparison with the state of the art in science and practical life

2. Orientation towards the child

Examples:

  • Accompanying the child in their development
  • Taking salutogenic approaches into account
  • Implementation of the learning topics in terms of their methodology and teaching methodology

3. Staff development

Examples:

  • Regular staff development interviews
  • Ongoing, regular further training
  • Appropriate salary scale and pension scheme

4. Structures

Examples:

  • Are all stakeholders involved?
  • Transparent school organisation
  • Parent-teacher sponsorship

5. Processes

Examples:

  • How good is the exchange of information between the committees/groups?
  • How are decisions made?
  • Good conflict management

Self-interview practice

A group interested in the interview selects a field from the five-pointed quality star to work on. Then it reflects on the chosen topic using six questions. The six questions are: 1. Why is this area important to you? 2. What effect do you expect it to have? 3. How do you recognise the effect? 4. How do you review the effect? 5. What methods do you work with? 6. Does everyone involved know about it? Depending on the topic, it would be good to involve as many stakeholders of the school community as possible. In this way, the perspectives of parents, colleagues and pupils can broaden the reflection. The results from the interview can be written down in a suitable form of presentation. The project group has prepared an interactive table for each school (so-called Trello board).

The products of the "Association Quality Initiative" project group

Every school organism is individual – and so is initiating and dealing with self-reflection. That is why the project group developed several products to support school communities in the process. It is happy to support the school in person at its request.

Product 1: Informing and awakening interest

A school has heard about the Association quality initiative. It wants to examine whether or not it wants to undertake the quality initiative for itself. The aim is to ask the teaching staff whether the "interview with yourself" is perceived as helpful for further work and whether it seems feasible in terms of time. This requires preliminary discussions, a visit by a project member to the teachers' meeting , follow-up.

Product 2: Experiencing reinforcement from the interview and drawing strength

A school wants to try out the "interview with yourself". Some colleagues may still have reservations, but they tolerate the majority wish in the college of teachers to try it. The aim is to make the benefits of the interview tangible, to create confidence that the interview will improve the situation, and to obtain a sense of and overcome possible resistance. Possible ways of implementations are preliminary discussions, workshop and follow-up.

Product 3: Introduction to interview and development

A school starts with the "interview with yourself". The aim is to discover its own quality issues, to support the desire for change and to accompany the process, as well as to make the results suitable for everyday life. Possible ways of implementations are preliminary discussions, workshop and follow-up.

Product 4: Support & affirmation

The contact persons of the school carry out the process of "interview with yourself" largely independently. Every now and then they might want affirmation of their actions. The aim here is to strengthen the contact persons at the school and to implement and ensure quality. Recommended ways of implementation are discussions, visits and evaluation. The products are currently free of charge for interested schools.

Several schools are already using the "interview with yourself" as test schools. For example, the School Leadership Conference (SFK) of the Rosenheim Waldorf School works in five groups on the different quality fields. At the Munich-Daglfing Waldorf School, interested colleagues took up the idea of the interview and work independently with the teaching staff. The college of teachers of the Leipzig Free Waldorf School saw how there would be an improvement after the interview and supported the thematic work with a steering group. The Waldorf School in Hildesheim has also set out on this path. The common conclusion is: "Why should we do this? So that we are better off afterwards."

Linking with other quality services of the BdFW

In addition to the quality initiative of the Association, there are two other important quality instruments. The process for quality development in education, a programme certified by SozialCert GmbH, is already established. Its aim is to improve the educational quality of teaching and exchange among colleagues. The process is based on three pillars: the first is regular intervision work in the teachers' meeting in small working groups. The second consists of observation between colleagues: one colleague asks another colleague to participate in their lessons bearing a previously posed question of their own in mind. The third is external observation by trained mentors from the Association. A completely new awareness of a person's own qualities is offered by the "Zu.Ma –Zukunft.Machen" (Making the future) project. The goal is to enable changes in the school environment by strengthening the person’s own awareness. To this end the project uses many building blocks and methods from the communicative toolbox and futurology. All three quality endeavours support each other and contribute their experiences to the common goal.

What about commitment?

Quality means reflecting on our own actions and taking responsibility for them. The Waldorf movement is located in the tension between the autonomy of the individual schools and the responsibility of the umbrella organisation BdFWS for the movement as a whole. What kind of commitment do we need as a school movement and as individual school so that we can move forward together strengthened into the future? There are two ways to create commitment: it can be imposed and non-compliance can be sanctioned. Such an approach usually generates resistance and the actual purpose of the regulation often recedes into the background. Or it comes through insight. Every part of a whole recognises the importance and meaningfulness of a measure. Understanding and inner resonance are crucial. When schools feel bound by democratically legitimised joint decisions, it strengthens the community; a selfish attitude leads to the weakening of all.

Quality standards should not stifle but support, encourage and provide structure. Working with the "interview with yourself" strives for commitment in an individual way. What should happen if commitment cannot be maintained? The question arises whether the Waldorf movement will in the long term have insight into the meaningfulness of minimum quality requirements. It would seem to make sense to engage in a sustainable dialogue about the essential characteristics of Waldorf education and the compliance with them in the coming months.

Outlook

Waldorf schools are increasingly becoming aware of quality. Many have already set out on the path into the future on a wide variety of topics using a range of methods. The desire for more quality was also evident at the last members' meeting of the Association on 25 March 2022: an overwhelming majority of the members spoke in favour of revising the "Principles of Cooperation" between the schools and the Association. Important changed items were the commitment to binding quality work and to violence prevention. The quality initiative project described here was recognised as worthy of funding and included in future budget planning.

So that we are better off afterwards: let us connect with each other so that qualitatively good and sustainable ideas are not only the results of working groups, but can also be implemented in schools and lived sustainably.

About the author: Stefanie von Laue, born 1973, is a mediator and business graduate, mediates at work conflicts in companies, associations and schools. She is the spokesperson for the parent council of the Hamburg Waldorf schools, a member of the Federal Parents' Conference (Buelko), the Federal Conference and the "Federal Quality Initiative" project team.

Contact: elternrat(at)vonlaue.com

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