Before I started my work at the Waldorf school, I had no contact with Waldorf schools. In the course of my work there, I noticed that communication between the adults was problematic. At this point I should point out that due to the pandemic, my start in October 2020 consisted less of natural face-to-face in-person encounters with the faculty and more of online meetings. Here I observed a phenomenon that communication was difficult when it was a matter of differing opinions. A few would then argue in monologues, and many remained silent, even if they did not share the same opinion. Moreover, I failed to understand why in some discussions, topics remained unresolved and thus partly unaddressed. My attempts at an explanation ranged from fear of the contentious discussion of opinions, through entrenched cultures of togetherness which younger colleagues do not want to challenge, to partial resignation on the part of some of the staff. Probably these as well as other reasons, some of which may be individual, play a role in why some of the communication does not go well.
Good cooperation needs an appropriate culture of criticism. And this is where school social work can make a contribution. A good culture of communication includes both expressing criticism appropriately, but also receiving and tolerating it. In other words, a culture of discussion in which differences of opinion can be exchanged without fear, taboo topics can also be named, and criticism is understood as constructive rather than as personal rejection or devaluation. The aim should be a culture in which self-reflective insecurities can be taken seriously and may in part also be overcome in dialogue.
Important prerequisite for relationship work
Be it as a teacher or as a school social worker: at a Waldorf school, the child is at the centre of everyday work. Communication is the most important means for successful collaboration within the teaching staff, but also with the pupils.
Modern educational attitudes, such as those of the New Authority, focus on relationship work. Accordingly, a positive relationship is an important prerequisite for supporting and accompanying adolescents in the best possible way.
And in order to reach such a level of relationship, good communication is needed above all. This should not only exist in the school context in relation to the pupils, but should also be reflected at the adult level. This is especially true at Waldorf schools, which aim to work in close cooperation with parents.
Overcoming challenging behaviour
Only through communication, that is, maintaining contact through dialogue with the individual pupils, can the danger of assumptions and hasty pathologising be avoided. The risk of being too quick to judge or even to label a certain behaviour can be overcome by talking to the respective pupils in order to look for solution strategies together. Most of the time, the failure to meet needs is behind conspicuous behaviour. This can be explored in a joint discussion and, in the best case, overcome.
Not only can pupils be helped out of such situations, but successful communication also addresses an important aspect of resilience building. In this way, pupils can experience how to overcome their own crises through communication. This gives them another strategy for coping with stress: that of self-efficacy. And this precisely lies at the heart of why favourable communication structures are an important part of violence prevention.
In the sense of Marshall B. Rosenberg's concept of non-violent communication, the latter can be understood as non-judgemental and neutral. Criticism is thus formulated as a constructive contribution and feedback is carried out in stages of observation, feeling, need and request. Always with the aim of finding a common solution.
Addressing preventive measures and educational methods is indispensable to ensure the welfare of pupils. And to put it even more clearly: it takes these discussions to counteract potential cases of abuse, to react effectively but with appropriate sensitivity to incidents of assault, and to recognise unfavourable risk structures in the first place.
Here non-violent communication is only one contribution, but an essential one.
What can school social work do?
The general shortage of teachers is unfortunately also evident in Waldorf schools. Here, too, this increasingly leads to overworked teachers who find it difficult to meet the needs of the school community. At the same time, the idea that school social work is only needed in schools in deprived areas is fortunately becoming rarer and rarer. School social work tries to counteract this growing shortage. Communication includes not only pure dialogue as such, but also the culture of criticism and thus also the area of conflict management. Conflicts inevitably arise wherever different interest groups meet. However, in order for these conflicts to be constructive and not simply to be terminated, but in the best case to transform the experiences of conflict to strengthen the ability to relate and build character, it is advisable to work through them with the help of methods of social education.
There are many instruments that make a successful communication culture possible. They include intervision, well-managed crisis talks and other methods of social education and social work. The experts can support the teaching staff in agreeing on transparent procedures, developing a code of conduct and reflecting on a common mission statement. In this way it would, for example, become clearer for all those involved in the school community whom to contact in which cases. The creation and introduction of safeguarding concepts was also carried out by the respective experts at the Waldorf schools that already possess school social work.
The field of communication is a complex one. There remains the imponderable of engaging with new methods and opening up to things from outside. For only in doing so, can we succeed in engaging with a new generation of children who need new answers.