No day like another – chief executive of a Waldorf School

By Susanne Piwecki, June 2022

Waldorf schools are like small or medium-sized businesses. Everything, from teaching to bookkeeping and balance sheets, from building maintenance to waste disposal, has to be managed. The management is responsible for providing a suitable infrastructure so that the educational operation can run smoothly. Meeting the needs of the school community is its challenging and varied, but also exciting task.

7.20 – I enter the school building. I go through the green lazure painted staircase to the first floor of our school, a former furniture store. The corridor widens, I enter the yellow lazure painted hallway of the lower school, at the back on the right are the rooms of our administration. I am usually the third to arrive, after the cook and a colleague in the school office. Everything is still quiet, I boot up my computer and make myself a cup of tea.

7.30 – I take a look to see if any mails have come in since last night.

At this time in the morning, there are only two of us in the school office, so I help out for the first half hour. That's good for me. This way I can also keep in touch with parents and pupils. Parents, for example, need school certificates, want to register their children for afternoon and homework supervision or apply for student cards. Pupils fetch the cash register for the school kiosk or test themselves because they were not there the day before.

Our cook is usually the first one in the morning, today he comes with the bad news that one of the two steamers probably has a damaged motor. He takes care of getting it repaired. The first colleagues come to the school office to collect the tests for the pupils during coronavirus, others come to test themselves. An opportunity to wish colleagues a good morning, discuss important matters: how did the parents' information evening go yesterday? Did your parents agree to the offer of tutoring for your class? Mr Language Teacher had to call in sick at short notice – who will take over as a substitute?

8.00 – The hive transforms into an almost tranquil oasis. The three of us discuss matters. What's coming up, what are the rules for the enrolment check-up, are there registrations for our information day; we tell each other who has heard what.

The caretakers come to see me. We think about what needs to be done in the next few days: in the cellar, a colleague has simply dumped all the props he needed for his play in the middle of it. A new cleaning machine is to be purchased and the French room is due for renovation. The correct term for our caretakers is actually genie – they keep an eye on everything, take care of us, help wherever they can.

I retreat to my desk, leaving the door open at all times. I try to pursue my core business. This includes, above all, the monitoring of income and expenditure. I apply for grants from various pots, draw up a budget and constantly make sure that expenditure does not exceed income. For us, this usually means that additional donations have to be raised, as our concept provides for smaller classes and support for those pupils who need it. That costs extra. But keeping staff records, concluding contracts and writing references as well as calculating monthly salaries (for 60 people in our school) are just as much a part of the job as conducting sometimes difficult staff interviews.

There is a knock on the door frame. "Am I interrupting?" "No, of course not". Mr Sport Teacher would like to purchase new basketball hoops for the playground. We look through the catalogue together and discuss which model might be suitable for our small yard. He promises to check with the company.

I return to my work. Compliance with legal requirements such as data protection, occupational health and safety, fire protection or infection control are probably among the less popular tasks of management. Same here. But I do it conscientiously. I usually seek advice from professionals to be sure that the rules are implemented correctly.

I look out of the window at Mannheim's Messplatz, which is mostly used as a car park. Large lorries are parked in the street, our school is in a commercial area. The phone rings. Our parents' council chairperson wants to lobby the city to allocate us a longer period in the sports hall and, above all, at more suitable times, as we do not have our own. I'm glad he's taking the problem off my hands. We discuss the arguments he might use.

10.00: Break – the hive reawakens, the school office fills up and some teachers are taking advantage of the break to look in. Mrs German Teacher wants to know if I could get hold of the Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs’ spelling framework, Mr Class Teacher checks the current coronavirus rules applying at parents' evenings. I'm pleased when I can be of any help.

Communication with parents, supporters, suppliers, the city or authorities is another large field of work in the management of a Waldorf school. A lot of information comes to me and I bundle and distribute it back to the committees that need it. I save everything, digitally or in binders. The trick is to do it in such a way that I can find the information I need quickly when I need it. Thanks to all the information, I have a good overview of the school and can advise on factual issues. Since there is no director at a Waldorf school, I am often confused as chief executive with the school leadership because I am visible to the parents, in contrast to the school leadership council which has to meet at times when no one else is in the building.

12.00 – Lunch time at school begins, the smell of food drifts through the school to my office. I read emails. The quote for window cleaning has come in, there are enquiries regarding a job reference, a colleague suggests how we could use remaining government funding for supporting IT in schools, there are applications for the newly launched tutoring programme and so on, and so on.

I need the signature of a governor and I go to look for it. I walk across our courtyard, the former car park of the furniture store, now landscaped and equipped with a climbing frame, to class 6 where I hope to find my colleague. It goes through my mind that last week a strange woman was in our school building and stole from pupils, and yesterday someone pressed a button and set off a fire alarm – challenging situations that are not on any to-do list.

As the chief executive, I am involved in various committees on which parents also sit: festival group, crisis team, pupil numbers working group, public relations group, finance group and board of governors. I prepare and chair the advisory board meetings. I maintain contact with our parents' council and the staff group.

As we are lone warriors in our schools, the exchange with other chief executives is precious for me. We are also well networked beyond our own school in the regional working group of Waldorf schools and the German Association of Waldorf Schools, and many take on roles there – often at weekends – to support our movement as a whole.

13.30 – It has become quiet in the school office, my colleagues have finished for the day. I also pack up and drive home to spend my lunch break there. What did I actually manage to do in the morning?

15.00 – Before coronavirus, I would return to school because committee work is usually in the late afternoon and early evening. Now I mostly stay at home. Time for some basic thinking. I enjoy the quiet of my study and the concentrated work. Now I can draft minutes, write detailed emails, prepare meetings and deal with my budget figures. One of my tasks is to initiate processes, such as working on the media development plan or the urgently needed safeguarding concept, the purchase of school software to make it easier for the teaching staff to draw up timetables and substitution plans, and I hope that this will free up the teaching staff.

Staying with a thought, intensively researching processes, being prepared for the next day, that's what I find fulfilling. Of course, there are various online meetings in the afternoon or early evening as icing on the cake: the coronavirus surgery of the regional working group of Waldorf schools, teachers' meetings, crisis team, committee work with parents.

My mobile rings – my husband wants to know whether there'll be time to eat together tonight. Yes indeed, today there will. I shut down my computer and look forward to our evening together.

Author: Susanne Piwecki, born 1963, has been the chief executive of the Free Intercultural Waldorf School in Mannheim since 2004. She studied business administration and has been involved in the self-governance of Waldorf institutions since 1997. She is married and has three adult children. Contact: