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)

teacher education, early childhood training, cooperatively organised courses, education which is truly oriented to life, enable to address pedagogical issues independently, language/speech training, study in anthroposophy, research culture, how are adult educators taught or trained
By: Waldorf Resources, February 2018,

1100 Schools and The Challenges of Teacher Education

Currently, there are 1100 Steiner Waldorf Schools worldwide. One of the challenges to do with this development is the education or professional training of new teachers. Waldorf Resources has interviewed five experienced adult educators about their current tasks. We have spoken to Christian Boettger (Germany), Melanie Guerra (Brazil), Susan Howard (North America), Louisa Oberholzer (South Africa) and Angelika Wiehl (Germany).

We are very happy to have found five international educators for this interview. Thank you! Would you please introduce yourselves and your tasks?


Christian Boettger: There are a lot of opportunities for education studies in Germany but still not enough to satisfy the demand for qualified Waldorf teachers at the schools. In cooperation with Michael Harslem I have therefore developed the idea of cooperatively organised, part-time study for teachers at Waldorf Schools. This is based on the idea that the teachers have to be close to the schools and that self-development is crucial in adult education. It should to be planned and organised by the learners themselves. However, to ensure continuity they need to be accompanied by a coach or adult educator who also needs to undergo further study. I teach adult educators and also on the cooperatively organised courses for aspiring teachers, I offer input on topics which the students have chosen. At the moment I am involved in a course on The Foundations of Human Experience in Offenburg / Germany. The students have to manage their programs and finances cooperatively, but they do need some guidance, particularly in terms of curriculum design. However, when they start teaching at our schools we can see that they have acquired excellent social skills and are already familiar with cooperative management.


Melanie Guerra: I have been a class teacher at the Waldorf School in São Paulo, Brazil, for 16 years and for the last ten years I have also been teaching trainee teachers at the seminar there. In 2017, the Brazilian Education Ministry has granted the Faculdade Rudolf Steiner permission to graduate BA students in Education Studies and MA students in Waldorf Pedagogy.


Susan Howard: I have been active in teacher education since 1984, as director of the Waldorf Early Childhood Teacher Education Program at the Sunbridge Institute/USA. I have also taught early childhood training courses in Chengdu, China and worked as an advisor to the Waldorf Early Childhood China Training Program. I am active in the IASWECE working group on training, which surveys and recognizes Waldorf/Steiner early childhood training courses worldwide. I administer a “trainers network” for Steiner/Waldorf early childhood trainers to share questions, research, curriculum descriptions, etc. And we organize international meetings of Steiner/Waldorf trainers every two years. I am also a member of the Waldorf Early Childhood Association of North America Teacher Education Committee. In both of these groups, I have been an active participant in creating guidelines and shared principles for Waldorf early childhood teacher education that are used by both organizations in recognizing Waldorf early childhood teacher education courses and institutes.


Louisa Oberholzer: As a coordinator of the Southern African Federation of Waldorf Schools, I carry the responsibility for helping teachers to strengthen their understanding of the principles of Waldorf education and to apply them in the classroom. I have assisted the council in writing a National Teacher Education Core Curriculum to guide schools in training teachers. I have spent a considerable amount of time training and mentoring state trained teachers who begin working in a Waldorf school. As a coordinator of the Federation Council I carry a responsibility for literacy training of teachers already working in the schools. I provide training modules for teachers, mainly in the Western Cape, as this is where I live. These modules cover grammar, spelling, writing of stories and speech. I mentor teachers by observing their lessons, giving feedback and then helping them to plan lessons. I facilitate the provision of training modules by visitor trainers.


I initiated a pilot language-training workshop in 2016 that is based on the format of the English Week. We have called this Language Week and we have made it open to all teachers of language, including Afrikaans and African languages. I assist with the marking of literacy in the Federation’s annual academic standards survey.


Angelika Wiehl: I am a Waldorf alumni and I have always loved going to school. Even today I still feel that the life-affirming quality of my experiences at school have really strengthened me. In my nearly 30 years as a Waldorf teacher, as as lecturer of Waldorf education and now as a lecturer at Alanus Hochschule, this has always been one of my main concerns: to enable my students to experience a fundamental feeling of being well rooted in life. For Waldorf teachers it is particularly important to undergo education which is truly oriented to life.


What are the current challenges for yourself, your students, your country and worldwide?


Christian Boettger: There are not enough professional and truly qualified teachers at Waldorf Schools. The demographic trend shows that the majority of experienced and active teachers are going to retire in the next seven years. We are approaching a generation change at schools which is going to increase the need for young teachers dramatically. Further, there are not enough people with the capacity to pass on their knowledge and skills in teacher education or seminars. Of course, it is very important to use the right language, language which motivates and inspires others to get involved in Steiner’s lectures and writing. A further challenge is to establish the concept of cooperatively managed, part-time study in Germany.


Melanie Guerra: Oh, there are a lot of challenges, for example to inspire the students to start research projects together. Further challenges are to help the students to approach anthroposophy and how to enable them to address pedagogical issues independently.


Susan Howard: Today, it is difficult for students to be able to afford a Waldorf training. More and more, they need to be working full-time while they are engaged in training. They are often young parents as well, and their lives are quite “stretched”. Many have had very traumatic childhoods or early adult years, and they come to the training courses somewhat “wounded” and needing to regain their own health and well-being while at the same time preparing to care for young children.


As more and more specific fields of early childhood work emerge, for example, caring for infants, toddlers, parent-infant classes, after-care, etc. - more training is needed for each specialization. The danger is that the students lose the “whole”. Early childhood training is also often separate from grade school teacher training, and the future early childhood educators may not have a sufficient understanding of Waldorf School education.


A challenge that I observe on an international level is that although the training courses are working with international guidelines, it is difficult to know what the cultural assumptions of the lecturers are - I worry that a very Euro-centric and traditional approach to Waldorf early childhood education is being fostered worldwide. We need opportunities to really renew our approaches to working with today’s students as well. These are themes we have focused on in international early childhood trainers meetings that IASWECE has hosted in recent years.


I also observe a challenge regarding the licensing of teachers and the recognition by governments of Waldorf teacher education programs. There is a general growing trend toward the “academization” of Waldorf early childhood teacher education. By this I mean a focus on highly conceptual/theoretical coursework and current trends in education rather than course experiences that foster the development of human, social, artistic, spiritual and practical capacities that are needed in those working with very young children.


A main challenge in North America for Waldorf teacher training is affordability for the students, their future earnings will be modest. Our North American teacher education programs are funded mostly through the fees paid by students, so this is very challenging for both the training centres and the students.


Another challenge that I see is that the training courses are increasingly part-time. This means that there are no full-time professional Waldorf early childhood training colleagues in the USA, and only one person in Canada. This weakens the training centres’ ability to do research, publish papers, and engage in the wider educational debate. The training courses also need to include more preparation for collaborative work with colleagues and parents, working with children with particular challenges, and also working with newborns and children from birth to three and their parents. There is a danger that Waldorf early childhood education becomes a collection of methods, rather than an artistic practice in a social context. Such a practice takes longer to develop and is more expensive.


Louisa Oberholzer: Some schools are not able to attract Waldorf trained teachers and thus have the task of providing effective in house training. Sadly, this is often not successful. Teachers stay for a duration, receive training and then leave.


In some of our schools it is often very difficult to reach a good level of real Waldorf teaching where the principles of Waldorf education are understood. Quite often teachers today seem to look for ready made lesson material.


A major challenge to literacy in this country is the poor primary education of teachers who were previously disadvantaged in the apartheid regime. Such teachers enter the workplace with a lack of fluency in speaking the English language. Most of them have a home language that is not English.


Another challenge is the level of ability in children today to express themselves in writing. In our assessment of literacy we find that teachers are able to prepare children to write narrations in a factual way. The skills of description and concise writing are underdeveloped. We hope that the Language Week will make a difference here.


Angelika Wiehl: The challenges are so manyfold that I barely want to answer this question. We need to find new approaches to our work, our education and practice, also in Waldorf education. This is on top of dealing with today’s education which is in all areas mainly oriented to OECD guidelines and thus to economic and technical development. Considering the worldwide challenges, armed conflicts, disasters and refugee crisis, I am sure that Waldorf education can play a considerable role in making life worth living and in facing the future.


Children and adolescents expect of us to provide meaningful orientation so that they can understand their own intentions and assume responsibility for people and for our planet. For a while now I have been pondering the question of the pedagogical ethics of Waldorf education. To put it in a nutshell: it is about doing good deeds – to strive for the best in every educational situation and to put it into action. In the final lecture of the series The Foundations of Human Experience Steiner has given Waldorf teachers three guiding ideals: A need for imagination, a sense for truth and a feeling for responsibility. By adopting these ideals as the motto for the education of Waldorf teachers, we can work together, worldwide, on the skills and abilities connected to it and thus find appropriate frameworks for teacher education.


What are your questions about the education of Waldorf teachers?


Christian Boettger: There are of course countless questions and issues but I am focusing for now on the search for a new generation of people to get involved in teacher education. In our last meeting of teacher education centres and seminars in Germany we realized that the bar is set really high when it comes to teaching The Foundations of Human Experience. This is why I suggest that established centres invite interested Waldorf teachers to observe courses with trainee teachers at the seminars. They could run a course on The Foundations of Human Experience with a senior lecturer and become familiar with this interesting field of work. It would be great if this suggestion were taken up! We need to come up with lots of ideas. We need education for potential educators.


Melanie Guerra: How are adult educators taught or trained? What is essential in the education of teachers? How do we deal with The Foundations of Human Experience in our study courses? How are the students assessed?


Susan Howard: My questions have to do with the concerns I described above. I am particularly interested in how we can find new approaches to Waldorf early childhood teacher education that engage and partner with the adult student’s own self-educational process rather than relying on traditional forms such as lectures and seminar courses.

I am also interested to work more consciously with the universal aspects of Waldorf education as they find their unique expression in diverse cultures.

I am also interested in research that is relevant to and supportive of a real deepening of educational capacities. How do we as adult educators develop a culture of research that is appropriate and helpful to Waldorf education?

And of course, we also need research that supports - and challenges - Waldorf educational approaches. However, it is not clear to me what actual research studies would be most important, or who it is who has the capacity and credibility and objectivity to conduct such research.


Louisa Oberholzer: A first question for me is how to improve the speech of teachers. As a mentor I am concerned about the lifelessness and lack of modulation in the voice of the teacher. I am aware that the sound of the voice acts acutely on the soul of the child and that a mobile and lively voice will stimulate a mobile inner life. In a recent conversation with Geoffrey Norris I discussed the possibility that he could perhaps initiate a speech training for teachers in South Africa. I feel convinced that if we could make this possible we will take big steps in achieving a new depth to the quality of Waldorf education here.


The more I work with teachers the more I see that the transformation needed to build a true Waldorf pedagogy is rooted in the arts. The teacher must become an artist to build the kind of picture thinking that is necessary in the Waldorf teacher. I find that giving the teachers artistic activities is more effective in building this kind of picture thinking than explaining it.


I think we will fail entirely in our efforts to build a Waldorf movement if we do not have a more deeply enlivened approach to the study of Anthroposophy. When the seed of this is carried, by even one or two teachers in a school it makes the world of a difference. My question is how to bring this kind of study into a school as an accepted continuous practice.


Angelika Wiehl: The list of questions is long, I just want to give some examples: How can we successfully cooperate in the area of anthroposophical pedagogy but also in terms of inter-disciplinary research and science? How and where is Waldorf education cared for and developed further? How does Waldorf education affect culture and how is it influenced by culture? In terms of the education of teachers a lot depends on the context: Are we talking about Waldorf education, about didactics etc? At the moment I am teaching on courses to do with the principles of Waldorf education, anthroposophy, developmental psychology, aesthetic principles and artistic processes, sometimes also on subject specific didactics, this is why I am interested in these questions. It is also important to consider the methods of how we practice and deepen anthropology – also for people who have not previously studied anthroposophy – and artistic-social-educational study (I am not talking about art courses here). Connected to all of this is a desire to move away from traditional didactics and teaching recipes but without omitting examples.


For my courses in anthropology at Alanus Hochschule I have further developed one of Steiner’s methods given in a series of lectures called Supersensible Physiology and Balance in Teaching: The reading of the text is followed by “walk and talk” discussions for contemplation and deepening, coloured pictures and finally a creative performance based on the understanding of the content. Recently, a colleague, in referring to the principles of Waldorf education, said, ‘we need nourishment’ - i.e. content which touches us and helps us to personally develop further. This is the source for our teaching practice. The same is true for practical, artistic and social practice. What can inspire us to tackle the pedagogical tasks of the future? It is to be interested and enthusiastic adults, to approach enigmatic questions, to learn something new and rewarding.


Thank you so much for the interview. We are wishing you all the very best! 


English translation Karin Smith

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