Educational quality development in Waldorf schools

By Klaus-Peter Freitag et al., July 2022

Every child, every young person carries their own experiences and abilities within them and looks for people, places and opportunities to practise, develop, nurture, discover and perfect them. Waldorf education offers itself as a development aid for this.

How can teachers perceive and support each other in this demanding task? How can the basic forces of encouragement and security be nurtured and strengthened? 

The issue

The quality of a school depends to a large extent on teaching and the cooperation between teachers. The quality of teaching is determined by a highly complex process. Central to this is the individual teacher's need to continually reflect on and improve their teaching by engaging in a continuous development process that strengthens them and maintains their enthusiasm for teaching. It has proven to be particularly helpful here when colleagues observe each other's lessons and then mirror and support each other. This is where the process for educational quality development comes in, by making firm offers for internal as well as external observation with proven arrangements for reflection.

Experience report I: How it all began in Cologne ...

After the construction of a school building in the mid-nineties and having gained a foothold in the Cologne-Chorweiler district, it became clear to the teaching staff that new challenges had to be mastered in self-governance and also in the core educational area. As a result, a working group was set up to prepare educational innovations. Initially, it turned to mentor training, among other things, which had begun to work successfully within the framework of the North Rhine-Westphalian regional working group.

In the next step, delegates from the school were assigned to participate in various working meetings to develop a Waldorf quality process under the leadership of Richard Landl. Teaching staff and parents were soon convinced that this was an effective and up-to-date instrument of quality development, which – unlike some state quality control systems – enabled the teachers to improve their teaching and cooperation with colleagues in a self-directed way. So it was not difficult to decide to introduce the new process with its three pillars of intervision work – internal observation – external observation for an initial two years (2008-2010) as one of three pilot project schools. The academic monitoring and subsequent evaluation by Prof Heinritz from the department of education at Alanus University was also welcome and – despite the additional time involved – found to be useful.

One month per school semester was available for the intervision meetings, during which the intervision groups met weekly in the context of the teachers' meetings. The intensive phases each led to a joint review and exchange of experiences between all groups. This was subsequently followed by the reciprocal lesson observations. Despite much goodwill on the part of all those involved, it was not always easy to find a sufficient number of colleagues for the external observations by trained Waldorf mentors. However, the positive reports about subsequent evaluation meetings on an equal footing had an encouraging effect, so that some "reciprocal reservations" could be overcome.

Looking back after two years, the overwhelming opinion of the teaching staff was that the benefits of this process can be seen above all on two levels: on the one hand, the exchange in the intervision groups brings about an increase in mindfulness and trust in dealing with each other (not only within the groups), and on the other hand, the teachers can discover their own development potential more easily, especially through the mutual assistance in connection with the observations, and thus enter into a fruitful process of self-directed further training.

These experiences persuaded the teaching staff and the parents in the committees to permanently integrate educational quality development as a fixed component in the school structure. In addition, the opportunity was taken to have the implemented process certified by an independent, external organisation, which was carried out in 2014 by the company SocialCert in Munich, after verification of the measures as practised and transparently documented, and renewed in 2017. In this context, it was important to realise that the certificate does not certify a certain quality standard, but rather confirms that the school has a process to further develop quality through its own efforts – and that this process is practised successfully.

Experience report 2: Accompanying a school in development with elements of the Education Quality Process

Dresden-Neustadt 2013: thirteen pupils are enrolled as "class C" at the free Waldorf school in Dresden. There is one year's time for the parents who want to found a school, then the new school must be "ready". That was the condition. The parents of these pupils really did it!

The Dresden New Waldorf School has been in existence since 2014. The rooms quickly became too small, containers found a space in the neighbourhood. It has always been important to us to be a "school for everyone" and to create good developmental spaces for pupils with special needs. With many practical activities, long breaks, a hygienic daily routine and many social encounters, the space for social encounters was created, which was also to be continued for the older pupils.

But not only did the pupils get bigger, there were also many more of them! When we finally had our property, we even added two classes per year because the decision was taken to have dual classes due to the great demand.

So not only did we enrol new children into our school year after year, but we hired more and more new teachers. Often it was people with some connection to the school, frequently also parents who wanted to get more involved with the school and were willing to work with us. Often they had a lot of courage, good will and enthusiasm for the common goal, but little or no training. From the beginning, we as a school were called upon to train our newcomers for their school duties. We provided them with mentors, asked our sponsor school for support, consulted with the teacher training seminar in Dresden, financed the in-service training and lots of further training, and soon created a familiarisation concept and various forms of support. The task of introducing the newcomers to their work, teaching them basic methodological and (Waldorf) educational skills, and ensuring the quality of teaching or care, was and is a major task for our entire teaching staff.

Meanwhile it is 2022. We are in a sprawling container village next to a huge construction site. The practical area comes to life in the after-school and school club workshops, in optional projects from class 7 onwards and in the weekly practical Friday in middle school, which shows our pupils the way into "real life" with many partners from agriculture, crafts, the university and Dresden companies.

We now have 316 children in 14 classes with 45 teachers. There are only two or three teachers with many years of experience – far too few to provide good support for all the newcomers in terms of time. So we looked for external mentors and quickly discovered that it is not so easy to mentor from the outside in the very dynamic environment of a young school with our profile.

What to do? At some point we became aware of the quality process of the German Association of Waldorf Schools. The approach of enhancing the quality in the system from within the college of teachers was a good fit for us. We enquired and were lucky enough to be one of five schools to have the process sponsored by Association funding and support from the Software AG Foundation. Since 2019, we have now been enjoying the excellent support of several external mentors! They came to us with great respect, presented their process and asked if we would be willing to engage in insights, observation and discussions. The question surprised most people: "What are they on about with 'engage'? – Talking to each other is the basis of our work!" Of course we were ready and the college of teachers unanimously agreed.

Since then we have received training in the technique of intervision, have been observed again and again – sometimes by four facilitators at the same time – and have had many, many good discussions about our work. Colleagues look forward to the external advice and have come to appreciate it very much. Filling the observation times in the tables is always a bit of a hassle at first: "Oh dear, just on the day that I want to, have, must ... !?!", but after the follow-up discussion there has so far been no one who has not expressed their satisfaction and the benefit of the observation with grateful words. Every fortnight we integrate the work of the intervision groups into the teachers' meeting. The discussion technique has now been practised and colleagues enjoy having space to discuss their school-related challenges. Now we are just starting to observe each other in these groups. Our own mentors were professionally trained. Their work is excellently complemented by the visits of the "quality people" who, with great empathy, a high acceptance of the school profile we have developed, and a very professional working technique with our many young and inexperienced colleagues, really support and reinforce the educational work and thus help us a lot.

What next? In the autumn, our class 9 becomes 10 – and thus initiates our upper school. We have a long list of vacancies. The applicants are rarely teachers. They have the courage and desire to build something new and contemporary with us at our young school. But mostly they have no training, no practical experience, little background in (Waldorf) education. But – we already know that. We will employ them. We don't have any others. It is precisely these people who want to build the school of the future with us, and that is what it is all about. The children are there, they need us, they need these future teachers, they want this school.

So – where would we be without the Education Quality Process?

We thank our supporters from the bottom of our hearts and wish that this joint fruitful work will continue for a long time to come!

Invitation

The members of the quality team would like to invite and encourage interested Waldorf schools to systematically connect with the topics of collegial learning through intervision and observation, as well as to open themselves to suggestions from a friendly view from the outside. Further information can be found in the flyer at: https://t1p.de/qualitaetsentwicklung

Authors: Friederun und Hartmut Werner for the Cologne Free Waldorf School, Milena Rentsch for the Dresden New Waldorf School, Heike Rosenthal, Klaus-Peter Freitag and Gebhard Nagel for the Quality Team.

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