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What did we talk about at the Goetheanum?

It was cold, very cold, at the Goetheanum, and the number of large open spaces and high ceilings did not feel ‘cozy’, not at all! At the same time, on the cold and windy walk uphill in the mornings, there were all kinds of signs of spring, lovely delicate flowers poking through the cold undergrowth. That was heartwarming!

In a similar way, I see that new seeds are blooming in the work of the Pedagogical Section, and new growth and change is evident in the broader Waldorf World. Questions are raised, and there is far less of “I’m the expert and I will tell you what to do.” I experienced a welcoming space for authentic discussion and consideration of what this could all mean here and now – which is over 100 years since the first Waldorf school was founded, and ‘here’ now means all over the world embracing and integrating with so many cultures, diverse not only geographically

Is this reflected in the teacher training institutes? The model of ‘sage on the stage’ is no longer adequate, and we must pivot to being more of a ‘guide on the side’. Teacher training institutes must recognize the value of the life experiences the future teachers bring to this work, and we can learn from them.

In this setting of exploration and reflection, there were four designated topics raised for discussion between the leaders of Waldorf Teacher Training Institutes.

Diversity was the first topic, a self-evident topic running through the whole conference.

Geographical diversity was clearly present in the attendees, and in the conversation and working groups. There were significant numbers of representatives from every continent (except Antarctica!), and the first lecture touched on familiar topics. For class teachers, the questions of teaching history stood in the foreground. The diversity of learning styles, physical limitations among future teachers, gender questions, and other more diverse diversity questions were only lightly touched on. Perhaps this will be a future expansion of this topic.

The place of Anthroposophy was an important discussion topic.

We know that Waldorf education is not only an effective method, but is firmly based on the insights of Anthroposophy regarding the nature of human beings. We were reminded that the time of teaching Anthroposophy may be passed. Current students are more likely to reject being told what to accept, and may well have their own well-developed spiritual paths. However, sharing the concepts and insights won through a study of Anthroposophy will inform and invigorate teaching practices. Instead of asking for (or assuming) belief and acceptance, we were encouraged to ask “How could this be useful in connecting with the students?” – both the TT students and the children they will eventually teach. It’s not an ‘all or nothing’ option. At the same time, Anthroposophy is the foundation of Waldorf education, so it is important to offer these insights and be a role model to the extent we can. Actions speak louder than words!

Social (and ethical) responsibility of the Waldorf movement was a third topic – not only to educate children, but to seed different (better) ways of working together.

Future teachers can become agents of change and catalysts for a renewal in society. Teachers must reclaim their cultural and spiritual standing; they are not replaceable cogs in a production line of ……….. Teachers can teach human ways to relate, and to honor each other and other ways. This talk was given in partnership between a male Caucasian professor in New Zealand, and an indigenous woman from South America. Both acknowledged they were changed by the partnership and preparatory work and highlighted to risk of ‘epistemicide’ – the extinguishing of multiple ways of knowing and learning and teaching by imposing the ‘one right way’.  This concept is broadly applicable.

The impact of digitized life was a very central consideration.

Most children (and most teacher training students these days) grew up in a world unfamiliar to most of us who now lead teacher training institutes. How do we meet their needs? How is today’s world actually different? What do the children truly need from us now? Do we know/ have we actually experienced what life is like in a digitized world? What we meet online is a reflection of our wishes and desires, algorithms almost create a parallel universe.

Content and facts can be found online (in handwork, there are YouTube how-to’s for almost every skill!), but healthy human relationships create security, they are transformative and resilience-building.

Panelists brainstormed a wish-list. Ideally, teacher training in the future:

  • Must form itself according to the environment

  • Can be a place of experience and should not ban, but use and master (not be mastered by) digital tools

  • Can build relationship skills and support the growth of mutual trust between teachers, parents and students

  • Should become places of empowerment and transformation, not so much of knowledge and skills.

Personal connection is paramount. Learning and practicing how to relate to each other (which can also be practiced through many of the arts) is key in our future work. The arts give an opportunity to assimilate, digest and apply what has been taken in, otherwise the danger exists that even the best ideas, concepts, and insights remain unassimilated and indigestible. This is an element of our education and self-development that is equally important for the children, our students, and for ourselves. It was very clear, however, that despite the insistence on art of all kinds, music, movement, handwork, etc, these were missing in the conference (so we left the conference with the conviction of the importance of those activities!)

In the third blog, I will share what I learned in the mentoring work group – a principal concern of both the Waldorf movement currently, and of our All-Subjects conference in July (registration has just opened! - please encourage friends and colleagues to attend).

We look forward to some lively and rich discussions!

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