Inclusive Education & The Social Mission of Waldorf Schools

Inclusive Education & The Social Mission of Waldorf Schools

The benefits and positive outcomes of inclusive education (where a variety of students are welcomed and attend the same school and work together in age-appropriate, regular classes and are supported to learn, contribute and participate in all aspects of the life of the school) are now well recognised world-wide.

The possibility of including students with certain disabilities enriches the learning experience for them, for the class as a whole, for the other students in the class as individuals and for the teacher. The inclusion of some students who learn differently within the whole class context can and does provide a wonderful opportunity for all to learn about each other and grow together. It may be that some students are better placed in remedial classes where particular programmes address their specific needs. There are some very well respected remedial schools and remedial units within a mainstream school in the greater Durban area. Where possible, however, it is considered of real benefit and worth to practice inclusive education.

But inclusion is much wider than a consideration of varying learning abilities – for such a variance exists in every classroom. Practicing inclusivity in education has a very valuable contribution to make to a peaceful and co-operative plural society.

As the school year begins, we would like to pause to reflect on the social mission of Waldorf education in the context of our times. As an educational institution, we are aware of our important role to educate children to grow into engaged and compassionate adults. The foundational principles of Waldorf education demand that we take our citizenship in the world seriously, and assume that the context of current society will both impact our students and in some way inform the approach and content of our educational programmes.

Two of the foundational goals of Waldorf education are: 1) to recognize the unique and equal value of every human being and 2) to foster social renewal by cultivating human capacities in service to the individual and society. Out of these founding ideas, Waldorf Schools, which exist all over the world, have historically sought to include and defend marginalized populations and to build bridges between people.

Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf education, advised the teachers in the first Waldorf School in Germany in this way:

“…we as teachers must be interested in everything that is going on in the world and in all the concerns of (hu)mankind … We should take an interest in the affairs of the outside world, and we should also be able to enter into all the concerns, great or small, of every individual child in our care … The teacher should be one who is interested in the being of the whole world and humanity.”

This dual task, to being fully awake to the world while dedicated to the care of the individual children whom we serve, is a driving force in the work of every Waldorf school.

Waldorf schools in South Africa and across the globe continue to work to promote: multiculturalism and diversity in the curriculum, an inclusive festival life, a welcoming and inclusive physical environment, and equity in all walks of school-life. In addition, they continue to work together, as teachers, staff and parents to attend to the social-emotional health of students, and to consider ways in which they can engage students in projects that ignite hope and build inner strength.

The Rose Ceremony – First day of school welcoming traditions.

The Rose Ceremony – First day of school welcoming traditions.

At Roseway Waldorf, like our fellow Waldorf schools around the world, The Rose Ceremony takes place on the first day of School. In all Waldorf schools, effort is made to observe significant moments in childhood and to celebrate these with rituals that have meaning for the children. The Rose Ceremony in Waldorf schools has a long tradition reaching back to the very first Waldorf school. This special assembly opens the school year by drawing a parallel between the Class One beginning their educational journey and the Class Seven who are drawing their Primary School journey to a close.

Entering into Class One as a child is a big step. Most children have spent some time in Kindergarten and after this wonderful period are striving to move on, to learn. This transition is an important threshold for every child and their family. It is one step further away from home, one step into the world and towards independence. It is the beginning of a 13-year path after which we endeavour to release these young people into the world as free individualities.

Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf Education so aptly gave us the ideal :

                                                          “Accept the children with reverence, educate them with love, send them forth in freedom.” 

As the assembly begins, after all the other grades have taken their seats and the Hall falls quiet, the new Class One children are escorted into the School Hall hand in hand, pared with a Class Seven child as we welcome them into Roseway. The Class Sevens lead the young ones to their seats and as their name is called out by their guardian teacher each Class One child is presented with a single rose by their Class Seven companion. The Class One guardian teacher then tells a story to the whole student body but is specifically intended to resonate for the first grade. The story has significance of the child and the joinery into and are welcomed into School.

The Rose Ceremony is a milestone for both grades. The rose serves as a promise of the growth and development that the student will experience in the coming years and symbolises the budding awareness and capabilities of each child as they grow and move from Kindergarten to Class One and throughout Primary School. The young children are entering a new phase in life — where schooling and community will support their budding sense of self, learning and individuality. The older children are entering into young adulthood and are ready to be leaders and guides in their own life and in their community. This reverent event is a reflection of the beauty, kindness and care given to all students, each year, at Roseway Waldorf.

Understanding Eurythmy in the Classroom

Understanding Eurythmy in the Classroom

The inclusion of the subject Eurythmy through all grades is an essential feature of Waldorf schools. Eurythmy is a highly refined movement art which nourishes the children’s sense of well-being and aids other learning areas by strengthening expressive capacities, improving balance, coordination, concentration, rhythm, and awareness of patterns. The group forms help foster healthy class dynamics while the speech and tone work heighten the children’s appreciation for the finer quality in literature and music.

Eurythmy is not dance. It is music or speech translated into movement and calls for a deep artistic feeling and understanding. The gestures in the eurythmist’s movement repertoire relate to the sounds and rhythms of speech, to the tones and rhythms of music and to “soul experiences”, such as joy and sorrow.

The gestures for the vowel and consonant sounds are not arbitrary but rather artistically reflect the way the larynx moves in shaping the current of breath so that one or another sound is produced. Movements of the arms and hands show the pitch, the intervals between the notes, and major and minor modes, and even individual chords and notes. The meandering of the melody and its stresses are usually expressed in the form being moved. The feet can emphasize staccato notes or other aspects of rhythm. Individual eurythmists will present the same piece in different ways, but each will aim to manifest the intrinsic elements of the music rather than his or her own feelings about or reaction to it.

In the early years the lessons follow an extensive set of exercises based on successively more complicated geometric figures and choreographed forms. Each exercise is chosen specifically to correlate with the developmental stage of learning the pupils are in and works in harmony with our wider curriculum. Rods or balls are sometimes used in exercises to develop precision in movement, and extend the pupils awareness. The rods are usually approximately the length of an arm; the balls are of a size to fit comfortably in one hand. Both are generally made of copper, a material receptive to warmth.

In later years, once the basic forms and gestures are well known, they can be composed into free artistic expressions and the subject develops into a performance Art.

During performances the element of colour is also emphasized both through the costuming, usually given characteristic colours for a piece or part and formed of long, loose fabrics that accentuate the movements rather than the bodily form, and through the lighting, which saturates the space and changes with the moods of the piece.

 

The Role Of Drama – In A Waldorf School

The Role Of Drama – In A Waldorf School

Speech and drama achieves one of the essential goals of Waldorf Education; to integrate thinking, feeling and willing. With this in mind it is not surprising that this art form is present in every stage of our curriculum . One encounters it in Kindergarten where creative free play makes use of drama, children become kings, queens, animals and more to complete their imaginative play. In Primary School the class teachers work with a deep understanding of the work of Rudolf Steiner and Marie Steiner on speech formation and drama as part of their classroom activities.

Class teachers may also introduce opportunities for the class to deepen their main lesson learning  with a thematically linked play. In such cases, every child in the class participates, uniting the class artistically and socially. Teachers have shared the tremendous transformations they have witnessed in students through class plays. Students gain self-confidence, admiration, appreciation and acceptance among their peers. Completion of the performance leads to a shared experience of pride in the accomplishment, an experience that strengthens the bond among the students of the class. Exceptional care and insight is used to determine which part might benefit a child and how the casting of a play might serve the healthy development of the class dynamic. Drama in a Waldorf School is never about exhibitionism and while talent is fostered it is not the focus of our activities.

Regardless of their temperament or natural inclination, every child moves and speaks and care is taken to ensure that the stage is a safe and welcoming space. While the presentation of the work is often shared with parents the emphasis is always on the pedagogical process that the children have experienced and not solely on a polished production.

By High School pupils begin to address the world with the growing capacity for reflective thinking and learning. This quest is met with a more formalised Drama curriculum. Speech work continues and pupils have several opportunities for both public speaking and debating. Aspects of theatre history, stage craft and play production are explored and a yearly play performed. The plays chosen investigate individual characters within the context of a complex theme. Students are faced with performing roles and deepen their understanding of character development. Such characters give them the chance to wrestle with their opposite, highlight themselves, or in a perfect situation, offer them the chance to gaze into their own souls. Observing their cathartic effect drama has on students, and listening to their candid responses, more than justifies the enormous effort that goes into the production of a successful play.

In Class 9 the play is drawn from the works of William Shakespeare. Shakespeare offers a beautiful command of the English language and engages pupils in the ideal beauty of theatre. Class 10 pupils tackle Ancient Greek tragedies and medieval mystery or morality plays thereby enjoying a hands-on experience of the origins of Western theatre. These plays explore ancient yet relevant themes of destiny, freedom and moral truth.

In some measure, each performance works to bring the young person towards full awareness of who he or she is and to give awareness and control that will eventually allow the child to take charge of his or her own destiny in life, a destiny that is a particular and unpredictable, yet as universal as the destiny of the heroes and heroins, the gods and the goddess of the ongoing human drama.

In Class 11 pupils workshop their own play. This gives them an opportunity to express their hearts  deepest questions, fears and hopes about the world they will soon inherit and the futures they must author. This main lesson particularly can serve as powerful medium for public outreach and if the needed depth is attained / can mirror all aspect of human life, effecting the students to their core.

In Class 12 the pupils take a much greater level of responsibility for the entire production. The teacher takes on the role of supporting guide as the class choose and produce a 20th or 21st century play, in essence a play written from a modern consciousness. Their choice to play must confront the audience with modern questions. Roseway has over the years enjoyed plays such as Rosecrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, Death of a Salesman, The Cocktail Party, The Crucible, Our Town, Waiting for Godit and The Royal Hunt of the Sun.

The pupils who chose these plays would have been expected to cast themselves, design the set and consumes as well as manage the promoting of the performances. With this world of theatrical experience behind them, the students are able to develop a well-rounded theatrical life so that students can take in the human and technical parts of the world they live in and begin to see how they fit together.

Some of our students have gone of to use the skills gained as the starting block for successful theatre practitioner careers others may never occupy a stage space again but will undoubtably have gained a deeper understanding of themselves and human development along with a healthy dose of self-confidence.

 

Written By

Lauren McGuire

St. John’s Festival at Roseway Waldorf School

St. John’s Festival at Roseway Waldorf School

Festivals At Roseway Waldorf School

Our festivals are a time of joy and thanksgiving; a time of mutual appreciation of every member of the school community; a moment of showing gratitude both for the time we’ve been granted together, and anticipation of the gifts of time that lies ahead.  We customarily focus on four festivals, as cornerstones of the year. They are Easter, the Festival of St John the Baptist, Michaelmas, and Christmas.

These festivals are integral to the rhythm of life in a Waldorf school.The goal is to develop in the child a sense of the rhythm of the seasons and the passage of time and a sense that there is something bigger than himself/herself. Festivals bring the school community together not only in shared purpose but also in the supportive cycles of life. Students sense joy and gratitude in the community around them. They experience a historical continuum, celebrating the earth, humanity, the cosmos, and their connections. This fosters reverence, through acknowledging something greater than oneself, allowing a deep experience of gratitude and harmony.

 How We Celebrate St. Johns 

The celebration of St. John’s marks the end of the second term at Roseway Waldorf and the winter solstice in South Africa. The St, John Festival is one of the favorites among those in our school community. It celebrates the fire of the spirit within the human mind and heart. Each child goes on their own journey while making their lantern. You can see the joy and pride in their faces when they come out of their classes into the circle to show everyone else their special lantern.

In the Primary School, parents and family are invited to join us on this festival night and it is traditionally celebrated with the whole school community. Preparation for the festival begins in the classes with stories, songs and crafts. The day of the festival is then set as close to the winter solstice as possible. Festival celebrations begin in the evening, with performances by the classes in the primary school. Festival songs are sung with the classes and community after which we make our way to the bonfire area. Children remain with their class teacher to light the lanterns they made in the weeks leading up to the festival, whilst parents proceed to the area around the unlit fire to await the children’s lantern walk, which is a magical and heart-warming sight. Once the primary school are gathered around the unlit fire, the Class 7 torch-bearers speak a ceremonial fire-lighting verse and light the fire. The children remain with their teachers until the fire has burned and fallen after which they may go spend the evening with their families.

In our High School, the festival celebration is freshly re- envisaged each year with the goal of capturing the essential motif. The power of the light in each human being can be expressed and shared in many different ways amongst young adults and their teachers.

Jumping Over The Ashes

One highlight of the event for both Primary and High School is when the flames die down, students, teachers and parents jump over the ashes of the fire to signify leaving behind past troubles, overcoming our weaknesses and celebrating the strength of the human spirit. Hot, nourishing bowls of soup and fresh bread is served. It is a memory-filled festival for everyone involved.

As we head into this time of peace and celebration, we wish our Waldorf families and friends peace, and we look forward to welcoming everyone back safely into the third term.

 

“Celebrating festivals can bring us consciously to what we all experience instinctively in our daily lives, the changing cycles of the seasons and of life itself. Through various festivals and rituals we acknowledge and celebrate our connection to …
each other and the world.”

– Marilyn Pelrine