Leading with Spirit
Sensing a new impulse in leadership and governance of Waldorf Schools
We are entering a new phase in the development of Waldorf education in North America: the relationship between the administrative work and the pedagogical work of the school is changing. We can see the signs that the old imagination of what was termed a “teacher- run” school is no longer effective and a new possibility is emerging. Schools are seeking to create a pedagogically and anthroposophically inspired administrative group working in true spiritual collaboration with the teachers, and supported by an anthroposophically inspired, policy-oriented Board.
The social form of the Waldorf School arose, not from Rudolf Steiner’s pedagogical work, but from his lifelong work on the inner aspect of the social question and the true nature of social life - and it came into practice in the Waldorf School through his years of leadership as he worked with the staff of the original school. Both of these culturally transforming streams, the pedagogical and social, have developed and matured over the past 100 years. There is a new possibility and opportunity to weave the streams together in an impulse for spiritual collaboration that could guide the future development of Waldorf schools in our culture. To achieve this ideal, we must overcome several obstacles.
- One of the factors influencing the development of healthy administration in Waldorf schools is the shortage of trained teachers across the continent. A new generation of teachers is not flowing into the schools that would allow experienced teachers, with social and administrative capacities, to step into administration. The lack of qualified teachers creates a situation where experienced teachers are needed in the classroom longer, to teach, to provide training and support for practicing teachers, and to provide pedagogical leadership in the faculty circle. As a result, experienced teachers remain in the classroom and are not able to bring their practical experience fully into administrative leadership positions without draining the faculty.
- In addition, administrative staff with an understanding of the social impulses arising out of anthroposophy and Waldorf education are difficult to find. Many administrative positions are filled by good people who do not have an adequate orientation to the overall spiritual, pedagogical and social dynamics of the school or the necessary support to help them be successful. The result has been marked: significant turnover in administrative staff, growing anxiety at the board level in many schools leading boards to institute reforms that appear practical but have no relationship to the social ideals of Steiner (policy governance, hiring heads of school, as examples), and unreasonable administrative burdens continually placed on teachers. Our schools often experience a lack of human and financial resources to provide the training and support needed by administrative leaders to be highly successful.
- Independent, self- financed schools require significantly more time to manage and operate, and are frequently understaffed, leaving little time or resources for training and professional development. The practical demands and resources required to run a school outweigh the good intentions to provide deepening opportunities for administrative staff and pedagogical leaders. Yet without the inspiration and support provided by an understanding of the guiding principles that inform the pedagogy and our work together, staff often leave in exhaustion or disillusionment.
- Schools often rely on consultants with backgrounds in organizational development that typically lack knowledge of Waldorf schools and culture and the guiding principles informing our work together. Our Schools require organizational development that is rooted in anthroposophy and an understanding of the social questions of our time. General ideas and approaches from outside the movement can be helpful but are not sufficient for long-term success.
- Unspoken expectations of administrative and school leaders, power conflicts, patterns of undermining or sabotaging leadership within some schools, lack of clarity and agreement about roles and responsibilities, all contribute to the revolving door that is all too common in the administrative realm of many of our schools.
Here are a few guiding thoughts for how the Waldorf school movement could support schools in taking this transformative step to a stronger and more integrated administrative life.
- Support everyone working in the schools to understand and see the connection between both the educational and social impulses that Rudolf Steiner brought forth.
- Create and support new, widely accessible training for administrative staff equivalent to foundation studies in teacher training, designed specifically to inform their work in the schools out of Anthroposophy.
- Ensure that existing teacher preparation programs offer a much greater exploration of, and exposure to, the social insights, principles, and practices of Rudolf Steiner and their practical applications in a school.
- Encourage networks for administrative staff to connect around questions of how the practical work of administration and governance can be inspired by, and reflect, the social and pedagogical insights of Anthroposophy.
- Make a significant investment in board resources and development to provide practical imaginations of how governance can work out of anthroposophy.
The seeds of this work have been planted over the last 10 years by independent initiatives that are growing in the Waldorf School movement across the world evidenced by:
- Websites and social media groups dedicated to collaboration between administrative leaders in schools such as Waldorf Admin Central, Waldorf Marketing Group, ANA (Admin Network of AWSNA) Basecamp groups and the LeadTogether.org resource collection
- Increased activities of ANA, the Administrative Network of AWSNA
- Greater focus of activities from AWSNA and other national associations around anthroposophically inspired school administration
- Emerging new anthroposophically inspired training programs for administrative staff such as Antioch’s Waldorf Administration and Leadership Development program and the Leading with Spirit Administration and Leadership Program and summer seminars
- New articles, books and other resources focusing on anthroposophically inspired school organization and dynamics such as Partnerships of Hope by Chris Schaefer
- A new widely read Waldorf related newsletter, Waldorf Today
- A transformed website and resource site for Waldorf Schools through the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America
- A renewal of the shared principles of Waldorf schools based on the anthroposophical Waldorf ideals articulated by the Pedagogical Section Council of North America
- A new anthroposophical and Waldorf centered administrative training program in China
These are all promising developments. The factors influencing the growth and development of collaborative spiritual leadership in the schools are numerous. Identifying and understanding them is an important step in moving towards a more resilient school movement.
In order to achieve successful collaboration, however, we need to develop new competencies that go beyond knowledge of Steiner’s ideas about education or the social sphere. Intellectual understanding is only valuable when it leads to changes in our thinking, behavior and attitudes – when both teachers and administrators feel that their unique contributions are seen and valued – and when building and maintaining trust are priorities within the organization.
Along with deepening the work of administration comes the additional challenge of bringing the cherished goals of the classroom into the Administrative Group, the Coworker Circle, the College of Teachers and the Board of Trustees. In our leadership roles, do we strive to be worthy of imitation? Do we play fair, refrain from gossip, assume the best, and ask questions rather than jump to conclusions? Are we always helpful and kind? Do we practice observation? Are we awake and able to respond to what is living in the school now - or are we focused on a fixed solution, or caught in repeating the dynamics of the past? In order to be successful at collaborative leadership we need to strive for the freedom that is developed in meditative practices; to prefer listening over our own speech, to sense the work of the unseen world, and to draw on imagination, inspiration, and intuition.
We know that anthroposophically aligned boards, Waldorf trained and experienced administrative staff, and administratively capable teachers that understand the social organizational ideals of Waldorf education make all the difference in the health and success of school administrative life. The results of these strengths can be seen in practice in healthy schools across the continent.
The key to success of Waldorf schools in the coming years lies in the in the hands of current school leaders. The economic and social challenges for independent educational institutions like Waldorf schools will continue to become more difficult in the coming years. It is incumbent on us as school leaders to continually strive to find the balance between maintaining the good practices needed to sustain the institution effectively, and heeding the inspirations needed to sustain our mission, which arise out of true collaboration with each other and with our spiritual helpers. Sharing insights and experiences, asking the right questions, and actively supporting one another in a spirit of community, not just within our individual schools but also as a movement, are needed measures for Waldorf Schools to continue to be socially renewing institutions.
“Nothing else will do”, Rudolf Steiner says, “if our courage is not to fail. We must discipline our wills and seek the awakening from within ourselves every morning and every evening.” This inner discipline, self-responsibility, and awakening can lead us to re-imagine our work together as a community of servant leaders dedicated to doing our part in the radical, social renewal of our world.
Leading with Spirit.org