One of the Seven Core Principles of Waldorf education is Relationships. The principle begins, “Human interactions constitute the heart of Waldorf education. The task of teachers at all levels is to support the developing individuality of each student and the social health of the class as a whole. Relationships are strengthened and deepened because they are cultivated over many years in face-to-face interactions that electronic means cannot replace.”
It is the human aspect of our work that is one of the wellsprings of Waldorf education. The special relationship created between teacher and student is paramount (where the subject matter acts as a catalyst to get us into the same room together where the magic can happen!) Equally important is the relationship between the teacher and the parent – the adults accepting responsibility for educating students in a way that offers new possibilities to the individual and to the larger society. Florian Osswald, Co-chair of the Pedagogical Section at the Goetheanum in Dornach, Switzerland, also speaks about the vital significance of the relationships between the teachers. He refers to the “spaces between” the teachers being as important as the actual work in the classroom in Waldorf education.
So what happens now, when an educational philosophy built on 100 years of human relationships is suddenly thrust out of the physical classroom and into the world of the Google Classroom and Zoom? The wording of the core principle on Waldorf education proclaims, “Relationships are strengthened and deepened because they are cultivated over many years in face-to-face interactions that electronic means cannot replace.” I would argue that we are going to need to rewrite that bit!
Certainly none of us would choose digitalized instruction over the beauty of face-to-face interaction in the lovely Waldorf classrooms we are so lucky to have. However, it is those very potent human relationships, cultivated over time between young human beings and committed teachers, that give shape and meaning to our version of distance learning. Forefront in the mindset of the teachers as we plan our online lessons are questions such as: Does this lesson meet the student’s current needs? Is this lesson meaningful in the current context? Does this student or that student need something entirely different right now, and if so, how can I meet that need? What matters now and what is needed now?
In the primary resource for Waldorf teachers, The Foundations of Human Experience, Rudolf Steiner’s series of lectures to the first teachers from back in August and September, 1919, he gives the following charge, a clarion call as applicable now as it was 100 years ago.
Imbue thyself with the capacity for Imagination
Have courage for the Truth
Sharpen thy feeling for Responsibility of Soul
It is this threefold inspiration that allows for relationships to remain at the forefront of our educational work, in the classroom or on the computer. Math, English, history, science or the arts – it is all still about enduring human relationships.
You can learn more about David Barham here.