“Building a Waldorf Community” by Robert Schiappacasse
From one point of view, parents are the founders of Waldorf schools all over the globe. It is the parents who put their faith and their money into the teachers who would realize their goals on behalf of their children. We can ask: To what degree are parents called, like Waldorf teachers, to the co- creation of Waldorf schools?
Do schools acknowledge sufficiently that the origin, unfolding and success of the Waldorf school movement is equally in the hands of parents? Can we recognize that parents too are “called” into Waldorf communities and that the Waldorf schools can only exist effectively when parents answer that “call”? That their answer to that call may lead not only their child, but their talents, expertise and insight into the life of the school? Parents are, among other things, a protective membrane around the school organism. Through parents, the school has a place in the large civic community.
“Parent education” is a worthy and important activity that the teachers can use to create a deeper understanding of the values and intentions of Waldorf education. But the board, teachers and administration also need to be educated by the parents: What they bring into our midst can be no less vital to the unfolding destiny of the school.
In every Waldorf community recognized or unrecognized examples abound of parents making Waldorf education possible. Parents’ social will, in large and small ways, enables the school to grow – in the legal, civic, political, social and economic realities where it would take root. Some parents become involved in the parent council, committees or the board, while others remain on the periphery, contributing independently.
All parents who support Waldorf education are “visionaries” in our contemporary culture. Perhaps a better description of them, as a Shining Mountain parent once shared with me, would be “patrons” – patrons of the “art of education.” It is my experience that the parents recognize the creative abilities and intentions of the teachers. They gather together in groups called “classes” to support the work of the teachers of their children. Without their patronage, the “art of education” would not be funded, and our teachers would be starving artists.
Parents can be very demanding patrons indeed! They often have very high expectations and they often identify problems in the work-in-progress, which is very annoying to the artist. Teachers tell them, “Come back in a few weeks, and you’ll see how it will develop.” And when things don’t seem to be developing, they ask difficult questions and their concerns point to developments that are problematic, even aspects of the school that are painful to face. Who would not admit that much which is problematic in our schools is identified and confronted because of the perception of the parents? Parents are indeed, among other things, a significant organ of perception within and around our schools. To overlook their views of matters that concern the school is to misuse a vital resource. They have important perceptions to share on almost every aspect of the school’s life – students, classes, the effectiveness of the teachers, the college, administration and board. To undervalue parent input in the organization of our schools, to fail to support this significant dialogue in the community in explicit ways, is to undermine the very fabric of our lives.
Can our Waldorf schools be true partnerships between faculty, board and parents? What stands in the way? Dialogue with a person is easier than dialogue with an “organization.” Unless parents are willing to “get to know the school” through becoming active, there will be many opportunities for misunderstanding. Overworked teachers, administration and board, combined with insufficient resources of time and money, don’t allow for many frills. More meetings to this end can be defeating. What’s the solution? Encouraging parents to become part of the solution through volunteering time, energy and support to areas where the school needs support.
Conversely, the board and the college need to actively support a strong and vigorous parent association or parent council through a clearly mandated role in the school and through their own active participation in such a parent group. In a young school, it is apparent that the school actually consists of one-to-one interpersonal relationships. As a school grows, it becomes more and more difficult for it not to be perceived as an organization. Remembering that organizations are the sum total of relationships between the participants, we can ask: “How can we keep the form of the school, its organization, transparent to the relationships that are at every moment creating and sustaining it?” We need to be clear as a school evolves that each constituency maintains, out of itself and in association with the others, its vital sphere of activity. The various bodies need to encourage support and thank each other. Gratitude is the best medicine for the illnesses of our community life. We must never be too busy to find ways to give and receive gratitude.
When one lives in a community, one senses more and more what it means to live on the threshold of the spiritual world. What does this mean, to live on the threshold? It means to experience ever more consciously that we are being “seen.” We are being seen by the spiritual world, by our colleagues, and more and more, thereby, we see ourselves in a new light. We come to know ourselves as like the others, wrestling with our shortcomings and with our insufficiencies, trying to live up to ideals that are just beyond our grasp. This is the self-knowledge we need to be able to work effectively with students, parents and our colleagues.
Without this sober self-knowledge, we are not yet cognizant that our communities only exist because we are carrying others and being carried by others. We carry others on our back and we are carried on the backs of others, more and less. As well, the spiritual world works with our working together, more and less. To this “more and less” we owe the existence of our schools and the communities of families and friends that surround and enable them.
Source: “Waldorf Education: A Family Guide,” edited by Pamela Fenner and Karen Rivers.