Waldorf school social work. Recommendations and insights

By Fridtjof Meyer-Radkau, April 2021

I am often asked what a Waldorf school should consider if it wants to implement social work successfully. As a basis for implementation, on the one hand the teaching staff must develop an understanding of what Waldorf school social work entails. On the other hand, professional concept work is indispensable. First of all, the inventory and needs assessment should be done by a delegated working group.

Photo: © giulietta73 / photocase.de

The challenges and topicsas already described in the introductory article – are comparable at almost all Waldorf schools, experience tells us. Nevertheless, a site-specific needs assessment is necessary, as staff requirements, school structures as well as the challenges have an impact on the respective concept development. Only then can the job profile and the number of social workers be determined; they should have knowledge of child and youth welfare, Waldorf education and counselling skills.

Once the position for Waldorf school social worker has been filled, the needs-oriented development of goals can begin as the core of the concept work. The aim is to take everyone’s needs into account and at the same time to avoid misleading expectations of Waldorf school social work on the part of the teaching staff. The guiding, orientation and action goals are worked out for the target groups (pupils, families and teaching staff, network partners) so that the concrete provision and tasks of the daily work can be designed in the next step of “action planning”.

The concept development additionally includes the topics of work organisation (e.g. premises, financing, framework conditions), quality standards (e.g. supervision, documentation of work, further training) and evaluation after one year of practical work. Finally, the written concept must be presented in detail to the school faculty. Only then can the day-to-day work, i.e. the second phase of implementation, begin.

Insights into my concept of Waldorf school social work

My concept of Waldorf school social work combines approaches of school social work, of Waldorf education and the systemic approach with its corresponding methods, which determine my work approach and principles of action. In the systemic approach, the attitude is that it is not the individual person showing symptoms who is ill or has problems. Rather, a phenomenon – such as a child with behavioural problems – reveals the dysfunctional interactions within a system, e.g. the family or class system. The symptom actor thus draws attention to the negative interactions of the system. In the same way, systemic thinking can be applied to the challenges of classes or to the whole school.

Every Waldorf school needs a “child protection officer” and child protection is an essential part of the concept. This task requires professional knowledge that provides a clear roadmap in the event of suspicion, enables conversations and empowers to initiate necessary steps.

Prevention services must be developed and protection measures coordinated and implemented, such as workshops and counselling provision on how to deal with addictive and intoxicating substances, violence and, last but not least, sex education. In addition to an understanding of the task in terms of social work, child protection training is also needed. At our school, sex education is provided by “Prisma Berlin”.

Working together with the pupils

In working together with the pupils in lower, middle and upper school, my focus is on building trust and making my work transparent. I am present during breaks and accompany excursions and class trips. The pupils can come and see me in my former construction trailer, which is located in the schoolyard as a counselling room. They come either individually or in groups to resolve conflicts of any kind with my support. Some come to discuss their worries and issues they have at school or in the family.

As a systemic counsellor, I fundamentally do not give advice or propose solutions. Rather, I enable the students to find their own solutions to their challenges and conflicts through open, respectful questions and resource-oriented work. They are aware of my duty of confidentiality, my independent role in the school and the protected setting. In crises, such as severe symptoms of mental illness or declarations of suicidal intent, I intervene and provide solutions. The aim is to avert danger and show ways out of the crisis.

In addition, my duties include weekly one-hour class discussions, which are scheduled as a class forum in the timetable. The class forum is offered as a subject lesson from class 5 onwards. In these, the class should learn to discuss their topics, conflicts and ideas independently with the help of the “class council” method. In the case of bullying and associated violence, I use the “no blame approach” in consultation with the class council (see contribution by Muriel Singer).

For conflict prevention, I offer the conflict mediation training from class 5 onwards as a voluntary provision. Here the pupils learn to deal constructively with conflicts and to articulate their needs and wishes. When they have completed the training in peer mediation after six months, the entire pupil body benefits.

Working together with legal guardians and families

In Waldorf education, working together with the parents is considered an indispensable part of the educational work. All people working at a school form an educational community with the parents. Working with families is also a central part of my concept. For me, the following principle applies: parents are the experts about their children! With this systemic attitude, I meet them on an equal footing without expert knowledge and advice in educational matters. Rather, I try to meet the families with systemic questions and an unknowing, curious, non-partisan and respectful attitude to enable them to gain new perspectives and ideas for their family system.

My service offering systemic parenting and family counselling is often used by families. Here, too, confidentiality plays an important role because the contents of the discussions may only be passed on to the teaching staff (e.g. members of the support team) if I am released from confidentiality. Thus, families have an independent and low-threshold provision to seek counselling in challenging family circumstances. In the case of more complex family issues, it is my task, in consultation with the family, to refer them to external help such as family therapy or family counselling, child and adolescent psychotherapy, school psychology services, family support, individual case support, ergotherapy and family mediation.

This requires the establishment and maintenance of an external support network. For this reason, external networking and committee work is an additional activity in my daily work (see Dorothee Baumgartner’s contribution). In case of conflicts between teachers and legal guardians or parents, Waldorf school social work can also be used as a mediation service.

Working together with teachers

When working with the teachers at the school, my motto is: “Helping to take the strain through support”. The initial fear of colleagues that I could “take away” the relationship with the pupils from them, the teachers, has not proven to be true. In the partnership with the class and subject teachers as well as the after-school staff, the aim is to jointly gain a broader perspective on individual pupils and the class organism.

The laws of development of the growing young people based on Waldorf education and its understanding of the human being (seven-year rhythm, Rubicon, puberty) find entry to my work. This also includes Waldorf educational methods such as child observation or looking at the class organism. I support the class teams in developing the class community, for example through elements of experiential education or also joint class interventions.

In addition, I accompany the teachers in meetings with parents if asked. I take part in the educational general and class meetings and am a member of the support group. In case of challenging behaviour or conflicts with pupils and families, I offer socio-educational counselling for colleagues in which solution strategies are worked on while encouraging self-reflection.

Thus I see Waldorf school social work as a service to work together on a voluntary, cooperative and collegial level so that pupils are affirmed in their courage to face life and their self-efficacy and are supported in their individual development.

About the author: Fridtjof Meyer-Radkau is co-founder of the Berlin Free Intercultural Waldorf School and has worked there as a Waldorf school social worker since 2016

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