The time of social work at Waldorf schools has come. From the initial idea to daily practice

Fridtjof Meyer-Radkau

I got the idea for this topic during my social work studies in 2011. The question came to my mind why school social work as a field of action had not yet been a topic at Waldorf schools and why there had not been any academic papers and research on it until then. In my Bachelor’s thesis, I initially investigated the fundamental question of whether there is a need to institutionalise school social work at Waldorf schools or whether its establishment seems superfluous due to the already existing social and educational orientation. My research showed that there is indeed a need.

The reason for this lies in the challenging life situations of the pupils, which are not fundamentally different from the life situations of those at mainstream schools. Bullying (cyberbullying), conflicts and violent behaviour, and media consumption have also increased at Waldorf schools. In addition, young people nowadays live in more complex and diverse family relationships. This requires more intensive work with families on the part of the class teachers. According to the study Ich bin Waldorflehrer (I am a Waldorf Teacher) by Dirk Randoll, they understandably lack not only the strength and time for the additional topics and challenges – just think of the additional work through self-governance – but, just as importantly, often lack specific competence and expertise, for example in dealing with the Youth Welfare Office and relevant legislation, mediation and socio-educational family counselling.

Christoph Doll, director of the Waldorf teacher training seminar in Berlin, asked me if I wanted to contribute Waldorf school social work to the founding initiative of the Free Intercultural Waldorf School Berlin. So it happened that I was one of the co-founders of this school, which started in 2016. Parallel to the founding phase, I wrote my master’s thesis and developed a site-specific concept for Waldorf school social work. In this concept, I combined social work as commonly practiced in mainstream schools (based on Carsten Speck) with Waldorf education, supplemented and expanded by the “systemic” approach and its methods as a central stance in the work and principle of action (see following article).

From these three approaches I developed the concept of “Waldorf school social work”, which differs from the concept “school social work” or “social work in schools” in terms of content. It seemed important to me to be able to start practical work at a Waldorf school with a concrete concept. I succeeded in developing an effective service, so that it has become a matter of course at our school for the pupils to come to me independently when they have problems and that the families make use of counselling. Here the teachers are always the first point of contact for the pupils and their families.

This developed into a trusting, partnership-based, needs-oriented and professional cooperation. The professional boundaries are respected but at the same time the different perspectives are experienced as a gain for the everyday educational life of the school. In the last four years, the self-image and acceptance of this work has grown steadily and meanwhile our Waldorf school is no longer imaginable without Waldorf school social work. At the same time, Waldorf school social work should not be seen as the sole solution but as a new perspective on the present and future questions and challenges facing Waldorf schools, which arise from the life situations of all those involved.

About the author: Fridtjof Meyer-Radkau is co-founder of the Berlin Free Intercultural Waldorf School and has worked there as Waldorf school social worker since 2016.