“The maturity and capacity for critical reflection among the older pupils remain evident in and beyond the classrooms in the family atmosphere of the school. ” Extract from SIS Report
Our aim, in everything we do, is to bring the children into a relationship with the world.
This means cultivating genuine interest, understanding and an open, questioning attitude. These three things work together. Questioning without interest leads to cynicism; interest cannot be cultivated if questioning is encouraged too early; a wish to understand develops out of interest; questions cannot arise without understanding.
In the Lower School, as the children develop more objectivity, the basic principle becomes ‘the world is beautiful’.
The children gradually move from experiencing the world revolving around them to feeling that they are involved, with others, in something much greater and full of wonder. They are introduced first to the world of nature – as something that has been given to us – and then to human culture – what human beings have created for themselves and each other. We focus on the wonderful achievements of mankind, so that the children between 7 and 12 feel awe and respect for what human beings have achieved, and experience that this is a picture of their own potential.
In this way, when they reach the Middle School, where the principle becomes ‘the world is true’, and look also at the human potential for destruction, this rests on the foundation that has been established: a feeling of belonging to the world; that human beings have created something beautiful and meaningful; that they themselves have the potential to create or to destroy; and perhaps most importantly, that they have a choice about what they do with that potential.
These basic principles underlie Waldorf teacher education. Our teachers must first understand the process of child development with which we work; that the consciousness of each child is in a process of evolution; that being a five-year-old is not the same experience as being a ten-year-old, and that therefore they need to learn different things in different ways. Student teachers learn and practise their observation skills that will enable them to see what each child needs, followed by the practical approaches that can be used in the classroom. In this way, student teachers develop the necessary skills and understanding to create the content and method of their own teaching.
After training, when teachers become part of a school faculty, it is expected that they will continually develop their knowledge and practice through the conferences, workshops and training opportunities that are available within the school and elsewhere.
This, of course, imposes upon [teachers] a great responsibility, but without this responsibility teaching is impossible. A system of teaching which lays down beforehand the teacher’s timetable and every imaginable limitation […] completely excludes the teacher’s art. And this must not be. The teacher must be the driving and stimulating element in the whole being of the school. Rudolf Steiner
There is, of course, a large body of work created by Waldorf teachers over the last century, and many teachers draw on this, as well as on the indications given by Rudolf Steiner, so that a canon of manifestly suitable themes and traditions for each age has become established in most Waldorf schools worldwide. However, this is by no means prescribed. In his lectures on education, Steiner gave many indications for suitable subject matter and approaches to teaching for different ages but always stressed that teachers must be free to interpret these indications in their own way. Indeed, he said, if they did not do so, Waldorf education would become a method as good as, but no better than, many other methods.
In order that we can give our teachers the freedom to be authentic Waldorf teachers and, at the same time, ensure that all of the children receive a rich, diverse, balanced, education that takes account of their individual needs and interests, enabling each one to achieve all that is possible for him/her, it is an essential requirement that all teachers who work at The London Steiner School are trained in Steiner Waldorf Education.
The school has a structured system whereby our teachers mentor, observe, consult and advise each other, so that the College, which is made up of teachers, has oversight of the education being offered across the school, and is accountable to the trustees, and of course also to the children and their parents, for its quality.
Principles in practice
Although teachers are expected to create the lesson content for their own classes, there are some practices which, because they have proved so successful in providing the best possible education for the children, have become established in most schools. This does not mean that they are never questioned, only that they are used because they continue to work. The two aspects of Waldorf Education most prevalent in this category are the Class Teacher and the Main Lesson, both of which apply in our school.
Normally, and as far as possible given exceptional circumstances, Class Teachers stay with the same group of children for eight years, from age 7 to 14. This means that the teachers know their children very well and are best placed to understand what support or challenge each one needs, and to build on what has been learnt in previous years.
… the custom should be followed […] as faithfully as possible of the teacher retaining his same pupils; of taking them over for the first form, of keeping them the next year in the second form, of going up with them again in the third year, etc., as far as this is possible in conjunction with outside regulations. […] For one must sometimes be able to come back years later in a positive way to what was instilled into the children’s souls’ years before. […] the formation of the disposition or feeling life suffers greatly when the children are passed every year to a fresh teacher who cannot himself develop what he instilled into children in earlier years. It is part of the teaching method itself that the teacher should go up with his own pupils through the different school-stages. Only in this way can we enter into the rhythm of life. […] The human organism conforms closely […] to a rhythm; not only the external organism, but the whole being, is rhythmically organised. For this reason, too, it is a good thing […] to be able to attend to rhythmical repetition. [and] we do well to think that even every year is not too often to return to quite definite educational themes. Therefore, select subjects for the children, make a note of them, and come back to something similar every year. […] You teach, let us say, […] addition in the first school year; you come back to addition in the second, and teach more about it, and in the third year you return to it in the same way, so that the same act takes place repeatedly, but in progressive repetition. Rudolf Steiner
This is a two-hour lesson first thing every morning in which subjects such as writing and reading, maths, geography, history and sciences are taught individually in three or four-week blocks. In this way, each topic can be entered into deeply and thoroughly for that time and, through continuity, the children can form a strong connection with what they are learning.
Our whole attitude from first to last will be one of dealing with the same subject of study for some length of time.[…] We do not draw up a time-table according to which we write in the first lesson, read in the second, etc., but we deal for longer periods at a time with things of the same nature. […] so that we keep the children busy for some time at one subject, and then, only when they have been engaged on it for weeks, turn to something else. This concentrates the teaching and enables us to teach much more economically than if we were to allow the appalling waste of time and energy involved in taking one subject first and extinguishing it in the next lesson. Rudolf Steiner
The Main Lesson is carefully and rhythmically structured so that the children have to listen, work independently, participate, collaborate and think at different times. The subjects taught in Main Lessons are broad throughout the school and increase in diversity as the children get older.
We believe that children learn best not by being told things, but through being active. Main Lessons often involve singing, music, recitation, movement, painting and drawing. These practical and artistic activities are not ‘added on’ to the conventional modes of learning; they are the mode of learning, and an integral part of any lesson. The children learn through them in a multi-sensory way, developing practical understanding, imagination and creativity.
As we have seen, the content of the lessons in each class is guided very much by the developmental needs – physical, emotional, cognitive – of the children in the class. The way children see the world and their place in it develops gradually, through identifiable stages, from total immersion to varying degrees of objectivity by the time they reach adulthood.
“It will always be a question of finding out what the development of the child demands at each age of life. For this we need real observation and knowledge of Man. The child up to the ninth or tenth year is really demanding that the whole world of external nature shall be made alive, because he does not yet see himself as separate from it. In the form of stories, descriptions and pictorial representations of all kinds, we give the child in an artistic form what he himself finds in his own soul.” Rudolf Steiner