Charting the inner landscape. How a surveying field trip can help us to grow socially

April 2021

Christian Boettger in conversation with Ivonne Krüger (social worker) Volker Altmann (class guardian) and Freia Arncken (pupil) at the Schopfheim Free Waldorf School.

When we discussed the subject of Waldorf schools and social work in the editorial meeting for this issue, I immediately remembered the common experience during one of my surveying field trips at the Schopfheim Waldorf School. For many years now I have been allowed to accompany the school as a specialist during the twelve-day trip, which we usually go on near Lesna in Poland, staying in very simple accommodation. Now I am very happy that the four of us have come together for this interview and can share our questions and answers with the readers. (Christian Boettger)

Christian Boettger | How did it come about that the school’s social worker was asked to accompany the field trip?

Volker Altmann | In our upper school it is customary that all upper school classes complete their field trips at the same time, so there is often a lack of staff. In addition, it is largely men working in this age group so the idea of asking Ivonne Krüger was initially born out of the need to find a female person to accompany the group.

CB | What motivated you finally to say yes and accompany the trip?

Ivonne Krüger | I have been connected with the school for a long time as a mother through my two daughters and knew about the surveying field trip and the challenges it brings. What was particularly appealing to me was that by taking part I hoped to get away from the “fire brigade situation” in which I often find myself as a social worker, and to be able to have in-depth conversations with the young people in real life.

CB | And what was it like for you, Freia, and your classmates, that a social worker but no teacher came along as a female person to accompany the group?

Freia Arncken | I experienced this as hugely positive: suddenly there was a completely different kind of trusted person, we all noticed that she also had more knowledge and experience in dealing with social processes than many of our teachers. Social questions and problems, which always occur on school trips, could be discussed with her and solved together. An unusually high number of people also fell ill during the time; they could feel in safe hands and cared for with Ivonne Krüger.

CB | What were the first surprises?

IK | For me it was particularly amazing how quickly a community which lived, and indeed suffered, together came about on the long train journey – we travelled with the “Cross-Country Ticket” for about 14 hours on seven different regional trains – above all through the shared stressful experiences when changing trains, which made wonderful conversations possible.

VA | Yes, that was my experience too: based on the stories from the previous class, there was considerable resistance and reservation about the surveying field trip in this class 10 and the journey with delays and missed connections was outwardly not a good start. What was surprising was how already on the journey – I think thanks to the many good conversations – the mood flipped and the class finally arrived tired but cheerful at their quarters after midnight.

FA | Due to the cramped sleeping quarters and the constant intensive work in groups, it was socially very exhausting as there was rarely time to be alone or places to retreat. This meant that conflicts were inevitable, but also a strong sense of community. The latter clearly outweighed the former in my eyes. I had not expected that beforehand.

CB | Let’s now look at the central experiences over the course of the total of twelve days: what emerged for you?

IK | By living and working together, a real and shared reality of life emerged in contrast to the situation at school. The serious and clear tasks of the field trip itself were complemented by the social challenge of working together in groups and being dependent on each other. You can only reach the goal if everyone plays their part. This can be very satisfying, lead to conflicts or make smouldering conflicts visible. Friendships and couple relationships in particular were also severely tested. Here I experienced how good it was to have a lot of time to talk with the individuals and to open the young people’s horizons for the complexity of the situation when thinking about these things.

FA | For the class community it was a new experience to be able to solve conflicts with professional support. The fact that Ivonne Krüger had time to devote herself to the discussions and did not at the same time have to take on the role of teacher also created a new kind of trust. The relationship between the class and Mr Altmann also changed for the better during this time.

VA | If surveying always demands an active change of perspective from individually, personally, subjectively being in the landscape to an objective bird’s-eye perspective, this step also always challenges the young people to determine their standpoint in the world and in the group. The particular place, the extreme situation – twelve days in such a large group with situations that are demanding in many respects – represents a social challenge; applying the mathematics to the survey work and its verification a technical one. All this inevitably leads to a social maturing process of the individual and the group. Both processes were now professionally supported, which led to an intensification and deepening of these processes.

CB | How would you summarise the work together on this field trip?

FA | During this very intense time, in terms of learning and work, it was a relief that the pupils could rely on Ivonne Krüger in social or emotional matters. This resulted in a positive, relaxed atmosphere overall and we were able to concentrate fully on the content and the work. Without being aware of it, everyone had the opportunity to get to know themselves and the class from a whole new side. For me personally, I was able to take a lot away from the time and I’m sure many of the class felt the same way.

IK | When I tried to recall my central experience for this conversation, the following image came to me: while during the field trip the landscape is surveyed externally, in the conversations with the young people their own inner landscape was looked at and opened up as if anew. I think this has a grand effect on their further years at school.

VA | The cooperation with the school social worker has become an indispensable part of my work as a class guardian. Working together now as a team was something new which in my view led to synergies for all involved and it would be worth considering making the support from the school social worker on the school trip part of the whole concept. It would be exciting to look back on this field trip with the pupils in 20 or 30 years.

CB | I experienced the support of the surveying tasks through the goal-oriented and supportive discussions with Ivonne Krüger as extremely important. Especially when you come from outside as a professional, it is difficult to really assess the situation of the individual young person correctly. It goes without saying that pupils cannot be expected to trust an unknown person. But I could rely one hundred percent on the fact that if a pupil could not get into the work, they were given a helping hand by talking it through with Ivonne Krüger. I also very much appreciate the cooperation with Volker Altmann as a colleague because we try to tap the educational possibilities of the surveying field trip for the inner development processes of the young people.

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