The most important thing for which we can prepare a child is the experience of freedom, at the right moment in life, through the understanding of one's own being.


Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925)

Self Development
Leadership, collegiate management, college meeting, mission statement, responsibility
By: Valentin Wember, October 2014,

Just where are we heading?

Dear colleagues, The more Waldorf schools you get to know, the more – with all the joy with so many wonderful initiatives – it gets you thinking too: how will the Waldorf movement’s development continue? And: what role do the schools play in Germany – above all, in view of the tsunami- wave of people retiring that is rolling towards a lot of schools? Are we still on the right track? Where do want to be with each individual school in 7 or 12 years’ time? My letter to you has become very long. It will take 20 minutes to read it. However, I hope that despite its daunting length as many of you as possible will find the time to get to grips with the thought-provoking questions. I do indeed believe that we shall have to make important, fundamental decisions in every single school. For if we do not take them, other factors will decide. In this sense I would like to share some thoughts and questions with you. With warm greetings, Valentin Wember

1. ‘School Leadership’ and the ‘Mission’ of Waldorf Schools

‘Running a school’ in the sense of ‘giving it direction’ is something other than ‘management’. Marvin Bower (1903-2003) expressed it through two book titles, ‘The Will to Lead’i and ‘The Will to Manage’ii. Stephen Covey (1932-2012) found an impressive pictureiii for the same distinction: if it is a matter of forging a way through an undeveloped area, it is a management-task to organise it. (Where will roads or ways be built? What sort of work force do we need and how will we recruit them? How and at what cost will materials be acquired? How can the costs be kept down and yet the highest possible quality of the roads be assured?). The leadership, the people in charge of the school, – in distinction from the management – has an altogether different task: they must determine the area concerned and must have good reasons for doing so. In Covey’s words, “Are we in the right forest?” And further, “It is no use making an enormous effort and optimizing the procedures, if you are in the wrong place, just as it is no use climbing up a ladder higher and higher, if the ladder is against the wrong tree.”

What we have been doing for decades in most Waldorf schools in the so-called ‘college meetings’ or ‘inner’ college meetings has been far more than 90 % working on management tasks. And of these – if we look at it self-critically – 90 % have been ‘hand-to- mouth management’.


The failure in Waldorf schools to distinguish between the ‘will to lead’ and the ‘will to manage’ is understandable and also forgivable. Nonetheless, the consequences are regrettable.

The mistake is understandable because we Waldorf teachers are educators first and foremost and – in our view of our position – are at most secondly or thirdly ‘leaders’ in charge of running a schooliv. We are occupied with the daily business of educating and teaching and from time to time these demands push a lot of us to our limits. There is not all that much feeling and space left for fundamental leadership questions. The lack of distinction is also understandable and forgivable because the great majority of us have not been trained in the issues of leadership. We have done the self-administration tasks because they were there to be done. But that was not our main concern. And, of course, we have carried out the self-administration – in the Goethean sense of the word – in an amateurish way, as lay people and sometimes even as enthusiasts; to sum it up, with an immense amount of good will, a high degree of earnestnessv and at times even poetically. Nevertheless, it is unfortunate if the central leadership tasks do not get their due.


According to Marvin Bower, everywhere in the world and in every organisation or company ‘leadership’ has two main tasks;


The first task: to intensify the company mission from year to year.


The second task: leadership means enabling as many co-workers as possible to lead.


If the mission of a company is seen in the shareholder-value principle, as it was once formulated by the chairman of a big car company, then this goal must be striven for year on year. And at the end of each year whether this goal has been reached or not needs to be carefully examined.


The number one leadership task in a Waldorf school is to realise the ‘mission’ of Waldorf education and to strengthen it from year to year. However, the difficulty starts just here: what is the mission of Waldorf education?


The answer to this question can take two basic directions. The one direction consists of each member of the college expressing their own ideas of this mission. The collection of all the ideas can then be distilled into a common denominator.


The other basic direction consists in gaining clarity about which task or ‘mission’ Rudolf Steiner originally gave the Waldorf schools (and actually it is a whole bundle of tasks which Rudolf Steiner imparted to the schools).vi


Now it is an undisputed fact that than meanwhile at numerous Waldorf schools a lot of teachers have little knowledge of this bundle of tasks; for understandable reasons. The consequence of this lack of knowledge, though, is always that people are unable to make free decisions. Without knowledge there is no genuine freedom.


If ‘leading’ or ‘running’ an organisation or enterprise means constantly strengthening the company mission and developing it further, then every Waldorf school and each individual member of it must actually come to realize what they understand as their ‘mission’. Secondly, they must decide through which of the two ways they want to clarify it. And thirdly, above all, they must develop instruments or organs for strengthening the mission from year to year and for examining the success or failure of the process in an honest and objective way.


Must’ really? Do they have to? Yes, they must do so; unless they have a watered down concept of responsible leadership.


1. What is our mission or task?


2. By what means and by when do we want to answer this question?


3. What instruments and organs are we developing in order to improve the realisation of our task/ our mission from year to year and develop it further?


Each college of teachers should find its own answers and, of course, it would be a legitimate answer to say, “We have already developed our own model and according to it we are working on the basis of Rudolf Steiner’s pedagogy. A more far-reaching ‘task’ or a ‘mission’, which Rudolf Steiner gave to the Waldorf schools, is of no further importance for us as a school. We consider it a private matter.” A statement of this kind – blunt in the first part as it may bevii – would at least be clear and honest in the second part.


In other words, those schools that shirk making the above decisions – hard as it may sound – are doing a poor job of leadership. Yet, what does it mean, ‘those schools’? A ‘school’ is not an individual human being and therefore cannot carry responsibility and make decisions. It is only human beings as individuals who can carry responsibility and make decisions. Therefore, the above sentence means “Those teachers, who shirk making these decisions, are doing a poor job of leadership”. The sentence sounds terrible, I know, but the reason for it is that it expresses an unpleasant truth: I am responsible. I cannot hide behind a term like ‘the school’. And just for this very reason, because the truth is unpleasant, the temptation to dodge a decision and responsibility is so great. People forget, though, a decision that has been avoided is nonetheless a decision. And like every decision it has consequences. The consequences may not be immediately apparent, but they will be in the long run. And then they are all the more obvious and more difficult to correct: when two ships leave the port of Biarritz and, to begin with, are set on courses with a few degrees of difference, after 30 minutes there are only a few kilometres distance between them. After 3-4 weeks one ship lands in Boston and the other in Patagonia.


A Waldorf school which evades the question of leadership will be at a different point after 7 years from a school which has made a clear decision and implemented it. It was not without good reason that First Nations Chiefs had to weigh up in their decision- making what consequences a decision – for instance, the moving of their main settlement – will have for the next three generations.


Three generations – that is asking a lot. We do not have the faculties of First Nations Chiefs. But contemplating the next 7 to 12 years is part of the requirements of the directing of every organisation. Above all, in view of the retirement of teachers on a massive scale which is facing a lot of Waldorf schools in Germany what answers will be found to the above questions in the near future is fraught with considerable significance.viii The responsibility corresponding to this, is objectively present; we cannot escape it. Basically we only have the choice of recognising this responsibility or ignoring it.


In earlier decades most schools presumed that the ‘task’ and ‘mission’ were generally well known. There were few instruments for strengthening the impulse year by year. For one thing people believed that the work in the college meetings would have this effect. Secondly, people trusted that the individual teachers would deepen their work. And thirdly, people trusted the effectiveness of conferences and further training courses (and similar events of their own arranged by the school). These instruments had had a powerful effect in the past; thousands of teachers owe a lot to them. And many schools owe their stability at the time to them. However, for years there have been doubts as to whether these instruments are still adequate in the present day. All the more does the college of every single school need to clarify and decide what changed (or new) instruments they want to develop and apply. Only the chief task of those in charge of the school remains constant: how can the implementing of the mission be strengthened – despite and actually in the face of changed frames of reference?


2. Essential Requirements of the collegiate Running of a School

The second task of those running an enterprise is: “Leading means enabling as many people as possible to lead”. Here too the question of how to do justice to this leadership task arises. In earlier decades people thought that the process of qualifying comes about, so to speak, of its own accord, namely within the framework of self-administration through the participation in the inner college meetings and through taking on so- called offices or delegated tasks. In the meanwhile even this must be called into question.

The concept of ‘self-administration’ was for decades synonymous with ‘collegiate leadership’ in the Waldorf schools. However, in the first place the term ‘self-administration’ is a purely political term. Its sense is remarkably simple and only says: the state does not administer the establishment. The term ‘self- administration’, however, has nothing to say as such about the question in which form the ‘self-administration’ is practised.ix The majority of the millions of self-administering establishments in Germany (companies, associations, universities) are run by directors or CEOs. When Waldorf schools practise ‘self- administration’ in the form of collegiate running of the schools, then this goes back to Rudolf Steiner. However, we need to take a closer look at it.


Rudolf Steiner has indeed emphasised a number of times that the first Waldorf school, which was founded in Stuttgart in 1919, had no head. If we look more closely, then we will have to say: no head in the usual sense. For in the first place Steiner himself was definitely the head of the school: he represented the school externally and ran it internally. He set up all the structures from the curriculum to the timetable, he employed teachers and dismissed them.

He changed teachers around, if a class could not manage with a teacher, and, above all, he made very direct demands regarding the teaching methods, and intervened with penetrating remarks, if he saw the educational principles of the Waldorf school being violated: “Thus what I (...) require as head of the Waldorf school is that (…) everything that (...) is fixed science in books (...) should be left out of the school lessons.”x


How does this action fit together with the statement that the Waldorf school is not run by a head teacher?


The apparent contradiction is, in fact, resolved. Strange as it may sound, the anthroposophical understanding of man and its method were seen by Steiner as the invisible head of the school. They – the anthroposophical understanding of man and the teaching method – were addressed by Steiner in 1919 as the spirit of the school, which should fire all those working at the school with enthusiasm.


We are dealing with one of the most strange headteachers in the world: one that is neither physically visible, nor works with command and control, but it expresses itself individually in every individual teacher who seeks it.xi


The invisible educational head, namely the spirit of the new form of education, makes it possible. It lives in an individual way as one and the same in the heads and hearts of the various teachers. It lives in them and they live in it. Only in this manner will the unity of the school, according to Steiner, be established, which would otherwise be assured by a headship:


In a genuine teacher republic we shall not have the bolsters, the directives that come from the headteacher, but rather we shall have to adopt (carry within us?) that which gives us the possibility, gives each one of us the full responsibility for what we have to do. Each person must be completely responsible themselves. The replacement for the work done by a headteacher can be created by setting up this course of preparation and thereby, through working on it, taking in what makes the school a whole entity.”xii


An amazing and fascinating project: the greatest possible uniformity in a school at the same time as the greatest possible individualisation of the individual teachers!


Conversely, it means if more and more people in a school lose the connection to this invisible educational director or fail to find it in the first place, then, according to Steiner, the collegiate running of the school will not function. Then, according to Jörgen Smit (1916-1991), the former head of the Education Section, “then the new educational impulse will vanish after three generations”. Therefore, when Steiner intervened as head of the school with particular demands, then he saw himself in such moments only as the mouthpiece of this invisible head of the school firing the teachers with enthusiasm or admonishing them. He preferred it if this physically invisible spirit of the school could be heard coming from the inner core of the individual teachers.


As with every good head of an organisation, Steiner considered it important to make himself redundant as a head in the course of time. This will then become possible if the head succeeds in developing the qualities of leadership in as many individual members as possible. At the end of the founding course in 1919 Steiner got each one of the 12 individual designated teachers to personally promise that they would get involved in this.


Nowadays people do not have to agree with this very unusual form of running a school. But people should definitely know about it. Above all, the collegiate way of running a school in the sense Steiner intended had a necessary precondition, namely a strong inner relationship of every single member of a school college to the living spiritual basis of the new way of education. If this precondition is not fulfilled or too weakly fulfilled, then collegiate running of a school will become highly problematic.xiii


For this reason the collegiate running of Waldorf schools is no dogma; on the contrary. It is a possibility, which is tied to conditions.xiv Holding on to old forms 100 years later merely out of tradition or habit without fulfilling the necessary preconditions is therefore not a good option. In this case people should look around for alternatives within the self-administration framework. Or else people find ways for each individual member of the college to form a steadily growing connection to the spiritual head of the school. This is – if people want to have this form of collegiate leadership – the task of running a school per se. And this is not the only thing; the resolution of all management tasks draws its strength and its colouring from this dimension.


In the present day people are working on structural reforms in quite a lot of schools or else they are holding on to what is supposedly tried and tested. However, every reform can go astray (and quite commonly what is supposedly tried and tested as well) if the main task of heading every school is not put in the centre.xv And that means the overriding task of heading a school always consists in strengthening the connection to the mission and not leaving it to arbitrary influences or exclusively to private initiative. For the school founded in 1919 this ‘mission’ was what Rudolf Steiner had said about it. 100 years later people will have to reflect afresh how they want to relate to it. And if anywhere a mistake could be made, then it is that of believing in and permitting the possibility of faking this process of reflection and decision-making.


In 2019 there will rightly be plenty to celebrate in the world-wide Waldorf movement. And with the abundance of people with a talent for celebrating, there will be no need for concern about it. However, the celebrations may run the risk of being founded on clay feet if the decisive question of running the school is not raised and answered honestly. And no matter how the answers turn out, the decisive question is: Just where are we heading?xvi


3. The spiritual Dimension

From an anthroposophical side the reproach has been made against the thoughts presented here that they would disregard an important spiritual dimension.


Rudolf Steiner gave – this is little known today – the so-called anthroposophical ‘branches’ an eminently spiritual task: through the common study of anthroposophy a kind of spiritual substance should arise, which is offered to the so-called spiritual masters of the spiritual world. What these spiritual masters then do with the spiritual substance that has arisen and in which way they employ it for world development, this needs to be left to the masters. Common study of anthroposophy in the ‘branches’ was thus established by Steiner as a kind of service to the world. The question was not what the individual would gain by studying anthroposophy or whether it would satisfy him or her. The point was and is what the individual, through working with the other members, puts at the disposal of the spiritual world. To put it in nutshell, an anthroposophical ‘branch’ is not a fitness centre.


In a fitness centre it is a matter of one’s own fitness. With the anthroposophical branch work one’s own spiritual fitness is not even a secondary matter.


Countless people, unknown to us in the present have worked for decades with this inner attitude with great energy. But it is not only that: right into the 1980s there were several people in the colleges of a lot of the Waldorf schools who understood the work in the college in this sense. For them it was a matter of creating spiritual substance for the world. The question of what someone might gain from a college meeting would have appeared absurd. Their question ran the other way, what can we put at the disposal of the spiritual world and the children through our work?


These people knew that faithfulness towards the task that had been understood in this way was of considerable significance. Just this faithfulness towards the spiritual task was taken to be an effective spiritual force. And in so far it is not so astonishing in retrospect that these people were always present with a reliability that can hardly be imagined now; not because they had to be, but because they wanted to be for the reasons given above.


Such viewpoints sound disconcerting for most people today. But whoever has experienced the people described above with their very special inner attitude will remember also what inner power of upright bearing streamed into a school through them. Maybe – but this is only a hunch – these people also drew a considerable part of their often astounding resilience from this kind of work and inner attitude.


If one reads the brilliant study of the late Frank Schirrmacher (who died in June 2014), ‘Ego. Das Spiel des Lebens’,xvii with this background in mind, then it may be more comprehensible why this inner attitude is only to be found occasionally in schools nowadays. Schirrmacher was co-editor of FAZ (Frankfurter Allgemeine Newspaper). With an astonishing wealth of knowledge, an amazing depth of assimilation and unerring clarity he shows in his book the driving forces and impulses that dominate the world today. It is chilling when you get all that presented in such detail; the devil himself in a live concert. Schirrmacher describes it all soberly, objectively and, above all, is deeply concerned about the human being. At the same time we may well realise in the course of reading it that the gigantic forces that are centring everything around the golden calf of the ego will not stop at the gates of the Waldorf schools. We, teachers and parents of the present day, – whether we admit it or not – are just as much affected by these tendencies. Whether it is a matter of putting a monetary value on school tasks, which it would have been grotesque to pay for 30 years ago, or whether it is a matter of the inner attitude to the common college work: what Schirrmacher describes in his book is everywhere.


A spiritual understanding of the common work in a school, as it has always been in previous decades, has a difficult stand in the conditions of modern life. Yet it is not impossible. On the contrary, it belongs to the signature of modern life – or as Steiner said, ‘the consciousness soul epoch’ – that all healthy processes die away or else are attacked. This unpleasant fact will go on spreading continually. As Steiner puts it, there will in future not be any more constructive impulses that will not be fought over. Rather it is the natural tendency of the best forces that they die away if left to their own devices. But that is just the point at which, he continues, consciousness can awaken; and precisely that is something ‘modern’. All natural developmental processes will lead to death in future, according to Steiner. This ‘natural tendency towards death’ will not stop its forward march even or just for the best processes of development. People may be sad and depressed be- cause of it, he tells us; however, we can also reckon with it, be prepared for it and roll up our sleeves. “Yet another wonderful spiritual impulse that is gradually getting lost. A pity, but it was to be expected. The challenge is therefore: wake up! And not just react, but invent a response.


That is definitely not easy. However, it throws a gauntlet down to our creative forces. And deep at heart, if unconsciously, every human being presumably wants to have their creative forces called upon. With the pupils this is no different from with the teachers.


This article is intended to do nothing other than serve as a reminder. And it is intended to encourage people to reflect carefully on their own situation in order to then see ways forward into the future (perhaps even to see it with spiritual vision) and make essential decisions.


Translated by John Weedon


iBower, M. (1997) The Will to Lead. Running a Business with a Network of Leaders. Harvard Business School Press, Boston

iiBower, M. (1966) The Will to Manage: Corporate Success through Programmed Management, Mcgraw-Hill

iiiCovey, S. (1989) The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Simon and Schuster, New York

ivIt had certainly already been discussed at the planning stage of the first Waldorf school that taking on management tasks and tasks of giving the school direction should belong to the responsibilities of the fu- ture teachers. In fact, there was a pedagogical reason behind it: a teacher, who has learnt to take respon- sibility for the school right through to the economic and legal areas, grows through this responsibility and thus stands in front of the children as a different person. He or she is more ‘grounded’ and thus supports the pupils as a model for their ‘grounding’ – via imponderable channels. Collegiate self-administration (as opposed to self-administration with a headteacher) was, therefore, a consciously imposed, strenuous proj- ect for self-development; not only – as with every company – to do justice to the second task, but with the additional pedagogical motivation.

vParent observers in the bodies running schools turn out to be amazed as a rule by the great scope of the work and the earnestness, with which people struggle to reach the best decisions.

vi Between the two basic directions there are numerous and meaningful in-between forms and mixed forms. On what Steiner described as the ‘mission’ of the Waldorf school see: Steiner, R. (1991) Towards the Deepening of Waldorf Education. Pedagogical Section of the School of Spiritual Science, Dornach, or: Selg, P. (2010) The Essence of Waldorf Education. Steiner Books, Great Barrington. or: Kolisko, E. (2002) Vom therapeutischen Charakter der Waldorfschule. Verlag am Goetheanum, Dornach (No English translation available)

viiWhat does “on the basis of Rudolf Steiner's pedagogy” mean concretely?

viiiAccording to where a school wants to go and what instruments it uses for its further development, it will attract new staff or put them off.

ix Universities in Germany are self-administrating organisations, just as business enterprises, doctors’ surgeries and solicitors’ chambers are. It is a different story with state schools, where the state takes on the administration. However, with self-administrating schools too the state can take on the administration, namely in those cases when the self-governing fails to such a degree that a school becomes incapable of acting. In such a case the state intervenes (via the courts), revokes the school’s powers of self-administration and puts it under special measures. The administrator put in by the court is then as head of the school equipped with a complete set of decision-making powers and authority. Quite a lot of things going wrong in a weak collegiate form of self-government (such as high-handed granting of leave for conferences, shirking decision-making, unpunctuality of the teachers and things that are much worse) are then brought to an end in an authoritarian way. (The appointed administrator declares his instructions to be ‘official’ and punishes contraventions with cautions). An unpleasant scenario but one that is instructive.

xThis statement must not be misunderstood. If it is read in context (in GA 310, p61), it will be clear that Steiner was not concerned with keeping science out of the lessons. But what he was concerned with was that the teacher makes science his or her own in a living way and only lets this personally enlivened science flow into the lessons, but does not work with science that is fixed.

xiSteiner was therefore glad when he saw how the teacher of class 5a was teaching in a completely different way from the teacher of class 5b, but in both cases the same new spirit of education was living.

xii From Rudolf Steiner’s address of 20th August 1919, reconstructed by Ernst Gabert. Quotation from ‘Zur Vertiefung der Waldorfpädagogik’ (Towards the Deepening of Waldorf Education). Dornach 1990, p.69. The addition in brackets is a version added by the editors. The emphasis in the last sentence is by V. Wember.

xiii On account of psychological laws collegiate self-administration–without a strong connection to the mission by those in charge – always leads to a weakening of the mission and always to defects in management (even if it only emerges as a general rule in the course of a number of years). Overall it leads to a downwards spiral with occasional upswings in between (which proceed from the initiative of individuals). The deficiencies include among other things: high-handed behaviour (e.g. granting leave to oneself), the tolerating of deficiencies in teaching, because “birds of a feather flock together”, the increased susceptibility of individuals to feeling they are victims (“I am far too badly paid for what I am doing”, “I get too little recognition”, “I am underestimated”), lack of willingness to take on tasks, being prone to conflicts with colleagues, defence of cushy benefits, grotesque self-deception about the actual amount of work (measured as fewer than 1,300 working hours per year with a full teaching load) as opposed to the amount of work ‘felt’ (“I work here 2,400 hours per year”), declining involvement, resignation and defeatism(“we cannot change anything after all!”), blaming others while letting one’s own blind spots grow – and whatever else these kind of pests are called. All these deficiencies always appear as a hairline crack to begin with and are – with collegiate self- administration – systematically underestimated; (whereas every burst dam starts off with a hairline crack). The underestimation of hairline cracks is symptomatic and is part and parcel of collegiate self-administration, which believes it can get along without a constantly strengthened inner connection to the mission. (Above all people underestimate the negative synergistic effects of several simultaneous hairline cracks). The ‘thoroughly researched tendency of collectives to irresponsibility’ becomes obvious when contrasted with airlines: with them after a certain number of flight hours every aeroplane is completely stripped down, examined, repaired and put together again. Something equivalent for the structures of schools exists only exceptionally and is far removed from being standard.

xiv The self-administration of Waldorf schools is not an ‘achievement’, but is a provision of the state. It applies to all independent schools and is in this respect trivial. Though, the state does reserve the right to withdraw the right of schools to run themselves, namely when, for example, a school trust has become incapable of acting. In such cases a school trust is put under ‘special measures’.

xv Sometimes reform efforts–for all that is justified about them–even show aspects of unconscious avoidance of the central task. It is a matter of a quite natural psychological reflex. We can encounter it by asking, “Are we running away from the actual task?”

xviFrom: Ingeborg Bachmann, 'Reklame'.

xviiNo English translation available

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