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Home: Freunde Waldorf

How a school functions without a director.

It is often said: "A school is as good as its head teacher" so what if there isn't one? Then, it could be claimed, a school is as good as its lessons, its festivals, its structures, its achievements, its school life, its atmosphere, its teachers' meetings, its timetable... One could say: every College of Teachers has 62 deputy head teachers, or 43 or 21, or however many teachers, parents or pupils a school has, who are willing to carry responsibility for that school. Responsibility and freedom are two interconnected qualities that permeate and determine how a Waldorf school works, through the principles of autonomy and consensus, rather than through autocracy and hierarchy.

Teachers are free to determine the subject matter on which they will base the educational process. This freedom gives scope to the individual responsibility of every teacher. Unhampered by the pressures which tradition, curricula, school books, state or economic considerations can and will bring to bear, the teacher must derive the direction of his or her pedagogical activity from the study and understanding of the laws of general and individual development of the children and of their specific needs and capabilities. So, in a sense, the teacher limits his or her own freedom by faithful adherence to what he or she has discovered to be the right course of action.

"A school without a director" can also be regarded as a pedagogical principle ensuring that pupils experience their teachers as a group engaged in research and working together to further develop the teaching programme. They also experience the individual teacher's shortcomings. This is always a risk. The teacher may get involved in controversy but he or she can never hide behind the office of the headteacher, school directorate or behind authoritative regulations from "above". When teachers are themselves responsible for what they do, their pupils will be more easily enabled to develop a sense of responsibility for their own work and their own deeds.

The teachers are not left alone with their responsibility, however. They are part of a group, a college of individuals who each bring their work to the discussion of the weekly staff meetings. In a part of this meeting, about an hour and a half, devoted to questions of teaching, curriculum and the study of child development, day-to-day practice is evaluated and continually developed. Thus, the participating individuals carry the responsibility for the education and for the development of the school.

After a trial period, every colleague who decides to stay at the school takes part in the meetings that constitute the management of the school. They take part in the work that is normally confined to the function of a headteacher or an administrator; tasks such as "hiring and firing", putting together the time-table, determining the work load, finding stand-ins, organising programmes of further training and so on. Current problems are tabled for discussion. Both the preparation of these deliberations and the carrying out of decisions made by the staff are frequently delegated to individual colleagues or to small groups.

Parents participate in the school's affairs and organisation in various forms that develop individually in every community. Parents are generally involved in the management of the school as a public institution, responsible for such areas as finance, buildings, maintenance and so on. Whilst the teachers carry primary responsibility for the education, the school as a community is a partnership of parents, children and teachers. In this way parents and pupils experience themselves as part of the whole school organism, an important element of community identification in our time.

"Schools without a director" are not an easy thing to run. They make life difficult, not least for teachers who were originally just looking for a job to do, for parents who want to put their children under the safe wing of the school, for pupils who want to grumble about their teachers. They will be challenged to review their relationship to the education and their responsibilities towards the school. They will have to participate actively, to develop new ideas, to feel the place depends on them... or... go and look out for a school with a good director.Gerd Kellermann