The Value of a Waldorf-Inspired Public School
Mountain Song Community School is part of a growing movement of public schools incorporating a Waldorf educational model. Mountain Song, authorized by the Colorado Charter School Institute (CSI), is allowed respectful autonomy to employ Waldorf pedagogy, while also being held accountable for student achievement and healthy governance.
Such public schools have been found to benefit students and community alike. An extensive study by a group of distinguished researchers at Stanford University showed that a number of unique qualities of a Waldorf-inspired public school in Sacramento, California, allow students to thrive in the school. In fact, students in the Waldorf public school were found to perform significantly better on academic and social/emotional measures compared to students in comparable district schools.
In addition to strong academics, teachers in the Waldorf-inspired public school were found to focus on preparing children to live personally meaningful lives by introducing them to multiple modes of engagement in the world. Permeating all the school’s practices is Rudolf Steiner’s (founder of Waldorf Schools) “robust theory of child development,” shown to be another key factor supporting the success of the public Waldorf model.
The authors reported that the school is positively and “strongly supported by the sustained relationships formed between and among teachers, students, and families.” For instance, the practice in Waldorf schools of looping, a teacher staying with the same group of children for several years, allows teachers to build sustained and committed relationships with students, enabling them to respond nimbly to students’ learning needs and readiness for challenge. Teachers also develop deep supportive relationships with parents and families who help nurture the school in its organization, structure, and community well-being.
Governance factors helping the Waldorf model flourish include school-level practices and policies that meet standards of public accountability, and district-level practices and policies that support autonomy with accountability.
The report states the following:
“Within the context of sustained relationships, instruction in the Waldorf-inspired classroom is built from several key ideas:
- The teacher teaches the child rather than the subject;
- Every child develops at his or her own pace;
- Children move through different developmental stages in which they need different learning environments to thrive;
- Children access learning through multiple learning modalities: art, music, handwork, movement, speech, reading, storytelling, hands-on experimentation, practical life skills, and connection to nature. These modalities are taught both discretely and through an interdisciplinary approach;
- Teachers monitor and respond to children’s developmental stages and optimal learning modalities by adjusting their instruction, including the needs of special education students and English Language Learners;
- Long-term relationships with teachers support students’ development.”*
Mountain Song is proud to be part of this growing public Waldorf movement. We are fortunate to embody many of the elements identified in the report while continuing to strengthen and develop them. Like the school studied in the report, Mountain Song Community School is a member of the Alliance for Public Waldorf Education.
Links to the full SCOPES report and to the research brief are found below.
–Dr. Teresa Woods
*Friedlaender, D., Beckham, K., Zheng, X., & Darling-Hammond, L. (2015). Growing a Waldorf-inspired approach in a public school district. Stanford, CA: Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education.