My first visit to a Waldorf school was the Community School for Creative Education. It looked and felt different, weird, good weird, but weird. Families were integrated in classrooms and the halls, young children were preparing communal meals and there was art and movement at all grade levels, with a real focus on adolescent development. It was a stark contrast to the drill and kill, compliance factories we often see that are called schools. And kids seemed happy.
Head Heart and Hands—a focus on well-being and development
“Head heart and hands” was this mantra that was aligned across classes and developmentally as students age. We have gotten so lost in the sauce of schooling that we don’t even know the flavor. We slavishly make schools like the schools we went to, and fall back into a model of “schooling” that is habitual but not effective. I saw this school trying to break that cycle and was worried.
Where do you get your teachers? And how do you break them out of the habits accumulated in 13 years of K-12 education and a few more of “teacher training.”
That’s what I kept thinking.
A Local Solution to Serve Oakland Students
It took a few years, but they came up with and answer—they created their own teacher credential program with Mills College and an international Waldorf partner. This is exactly the type of localized partnerships we need to support students. And it exactly the type of program funders should support, and I know CSCE is trying to scrape up scholarship money for teachers. So anyone with some loose change, please reach out.
I may be going out on a limb, but from what we see in most of our first year teachers—teacher training is crap—and often fails to prepare them for what they really need to do in classrooms, much less if it’s a completely different teaching model, like a Waldorf or Montessori classroom.
I have always been impressed by CSCE, the humanity in the classrooms, the diversity, the community and the results. So I wanted to sit down with Ida Oberman, the founder, and hear more about the program, and also to share it with teachers or aspiring teachers who may want a different model.
Teaching to the Whole Child
Q: Who is Community School for Creative Education and How is Waldorf Education Different
A: Community School for Creative Education is the country’s first Intercultural Public Waldorf School. Spanning TK – 8 , it is located in Oakland’s San Antonio neighborhood on International and 21st Avenue.
It is an Oakland flatlands school with 93% economically disadvantaged, 52% English Learners and 18% SPED, exceeding the district average in English Learners and SPED and rivaling the district in percent economically disadvantaged.
We offer a model thus far reserved in the US for higher wealth communities to ALL of Oakland’s families.
Waldorf or Rudolf Steiner education is grounded in a commitment to social justice and self development; it is focused on educating the whole child and young adult in head, heart and hand or as the founder described it, in their thinking, feeling and willing. To aide students in growing into balance among these three dimensions in themselves, Waldorf focuses on unlocking imagination or the artistic talent of each and thereby empowering children and young adults to be able to create in ways to grow strong in ourselves and at the same time restore and strengthen our local and global social fabric.
Using this focus, the central aim for the Waldorf teacher is the development of that essence in every person that is intercultural and independent of external appearance, by instilling in his/her pupils an understanding of and appreciation for their own and others’ background and place in the world, not primarily as members of any specific nation, ethnic group or race, but as members of humanity and world citizens.
Focusing on Teachers and the Whole Adult
Q: And How is Waldorf Teaching Different, The School Looks and Feels Very Different But What is the Theory Behind All of This?
A: Waldorf education’s focus on the whole child carries over to focusing on the whole adult. This holistic integrated focus brings with it a deep rich and in some aspects counter-normative teacher training.
First some of the skills in unlocking our own imagination are like to what few other teacher trainings ask. Where traditional teacher training asks teachers to master content and teaching skills, Waldorf education asks that the whole teacher become involved: learning to sing, draw, paint, knit, tell stories and learning to think about the developmental stages of the child and how to best serve the child in each developmental stage.
Further, and fundamentally, a key task set by Waldorf education is to be a committed to self-development. The argument is that the child learns more from how the teacher is than what they say or do, and the most important is that the child would experience their teacher themselves as learner so the child could entrust them to guide them in becoming a learner as they advance to adulthood.
Both the individual crafts of teaching and undergirding it the framework of how children learn and teachers teach lends coherence to the Waldorf approach. It makes it all the more important that teachers would be inducted into the framework and strategies. Absent training, individual items such as story telling or water color painting could become mere activities rather than providing instructionally program coherent pedagogy and structures of the day for the teachers to employ and offer the children to enjoy.
A Focus on Social Emotional Learning and Trauma Sensitive Care
Q: So You Partnered with Mills College to Develop a Credentialing Program for Waldorf Training, Can you Tell me Some more About That?
A: Building on the demonstrated strengths of programs in the Mills College School of Education, this new summer Waldorf Certificate program is focused on the philosophy and curricular aims of Waldorf education: prompting a pedagogy that emphasizes the role of imagining in learning, stringing to integrate holistically the intellectual, practical and artistic development of students; taking a developmentally appropriate, experience and academically rigorous approach to education; integrating the arts in all academic disciplines for students from preschool through ttwelth grade to enhance and enrich learning and helping students develop their unique capacities, while also placing a strong emphasis on social emotional learning.
This certificate program is designed for professional development activity for public school teachers. This program will span two summers. Each summer will offer two weeks of intensive course work.
Mills is launching the program in the summer of 2018, in collaboration with Alanus University, Alfter, Germany, the premier university globally to offer Waldorf teacher training and MA’s and PhD’s in Waldorf pedagogy and that offers support to universities around the globe to build programs in Waldorf teacher training and research. Further, the program partners with Community School for Creative Education, Oakland, and the country’s first Intercultural Public Waldorf School.
Classes will be held at the Community School at 2111 International Boulevard, Oakland, CA. The two-week intensive program will offer courses from 9am – 3pm for two weeks. Five academic credits will be earned through this study. In order to earn a Mills College Teaching Certificate, students will have opt attend courses for two summers. A second intensive for returning students will be held in Summer 2019.
With the Mills Waldorf Certificate Program, as part of the Mills College School of Education Teachers for Tomorrow’s Schools program, Mills is partnering with Community School for Creative Education, a TK-8 Intercultural Public Waldorf School in East Oakland, and Alanus University in Alfter, Germany and leveraging the philosophy and curricular aims of Waldorf education with focus on social emotional learning and trauma sensitive care, and building off this pedagogy which emphasizes the role of imagination in learning, striving to integrate holistically the intellectual, practical, and artistic development of students. The program’s aim is to offer practitioners a pathway to clear their credential, or advance to MA or PhD while building their toolkit in a deeply integrated set of strategies for social emotional learning and trauma sensitive education. The program is co-led by Mills Dean of the School of Education Dr. Diane Ketelle and ED and Founder of Community School for Creative Education Dr. Ida Oberman.
Q: I Love the Trauma Sensitive Care and Focus on Social Emotional Learning, How Can Prospective Teachers or Community Members Get More Information?
A: You can see some information in the Mills Course Catalog, the flyer, the registration form, or contact Ms. Natalie Stone, Director of Admissions at Mills College [email protected], and we are always looking for partners and supporters who can help us develop the program and make it affordable for our teachers.
Postscript- I did get some feedback that was relatively critical of some of the historical Waldorf/Steiner practices and what might be called elitism (among other things) that often exists in Waldorf education, so while that was not at all my experience with CSCE, which was working hard to live the creed of a true community school, I don’t want to ignore some of the historical backdrop here of the model or to gloss over it.