“The heart of the Waldorf method is that education is an art – it must speak to the child’s experience. To educate the whole child, their heart and will must be reached, as well as their mind.” – Rudolf Steiner
Steiner and research: an encounter of the world
At the British Educational Research Association conference in Liverpool this last week, David James asked the astute question as to why, with regards to education, there was so little public money spent on evaluating the impact of such a vast commitment of public money.
This uncomfortable relationship between the political and populist influences on education and its ethical and evidence-based elements was a central theme for the BERA conference as a whole, and I suspect will also present itself in New York next week at the Transforming Education summit.
For Waldorf educators, the tradition founded by Steiner contains insights and practices that have held incredible foresight in terms of what constitutes research in the context of healthy human development alongside an effective and efficient education: the beauty of the classroom / learning space; the quality of materials; the meditative presence of a teacher; the physical foundation for emotional balance and intellectual curiosity. Equally, there are elements of contemporary educational research and practice that certainly upgrade and enhance our practice, as well as placing it within wider cultural movements and conversations: de/colonialisation; feminist new materialism, posthuman object pedagogies. Academic jargon perhaps, but jargon that demands to be unpicked and translated so that our classroom practice and our support of schools brings full circle the innovation of our educational model into the cutting edge of contemporary social justice and evidence-based policy.
Conditions for schools to thrive
In this support for schools, we are looking forward to welcoming participants to the first of our Listening Posts in a few weeks’ time. We will be suggesting a round table of sharing, following a brief introduction where we will be summarising the progress already made in working to change the conditions that will make a Steiner Waldorf school local to Stroud both viable and sustainable. This includes our work on teacher training as well as our promotion of how Steiner Waldorf Education is well placed to make a significant contribution to the development of the new educational model now emerging from the contradictions of a predominantly test-based system that Pasi Sahlberg has characterised with the intentionally descriptive acronym of GERM, the Global Educational Reform Movement. This new educational model is clustering around the themes of creativity, critical thinking, interconnectedness, and social justice, not as one model, but a discourse of values-led practice.
The return of pedagogy
One of the unfortunate key trends of educational research both in the UK and globally is the tendency to research the impact of interventions that are disconnected from the wider philosophy and values of any school and its community. For instance, whether to set homework in any particular year group might be examined according to its cost efficiency and how it contributes to the speed of children’s academic progress. What it will less frequently do is look at how that intervention is part of a wider ecosystem of culture and learning within a school, part of its educational philosophy, its pedagogy.
The interrelated quality of a school’s culture and curriculum is something that Ofsted nodded to in their renewed framework that asks schools to reflect on their Intent, Implementation and Impact. This opened the door in a meaningful way for schools that were principally values-led and this return of pedagogy is something that we are engaging with, not only as we continue to develop our work with Bath Spa University, but in the promotion of Waldorf Education as part of a wider movement of creativity, critical thinking, interconnectedness, and social justice in education.