Learning requires a safe learning space that allows everyone to feel seen, heard and understood. Here the relationships with fellow pupils play just as important a role as the relationship with the teachers. Especially when there is a change of teacher, we can observe how important it is to begin by building relationships and developing routines that the children experience as reliable. Someone who is afraid, insecure or feels unhappy lacks the strength to engage in learning. Only someone who feels safe can enter new territory without worry to discover the unknown.
But physical wellbeing also plays a role in the inner willingness to learn that should not be underestimated. Children who are cold or hungry find it difficult to learn. Although it is not a matter of course in Germany either that all pupils start the day with a healthy breakfast in the morning, it is usually not that it is too little but rather that it is the wrong diet that hinders the ability to concentrate. Added to this is the increasingly observable lack of sleep caused by night-time internet consumption and social media activities which means that some young people have to catch up on their night’s sleep in class.
Learning needs dialogue
Once these conditions are in place, teachers are faced with the exciting task of structuring lessons in such a way that they set out with the whole learning community to explore new things, while at the same time enabling all pupils to take the appropriate next step for them on the adventurous journey of learning and growing. In the #waldorflernt podcast Gegenwart hören, Zukunft gestalten (Listening to the present, shaping the future) in the episode “Selbstständigkeit lernen…” (Learning to be independent...) (S4E1), a learning therapist and a class teacher talk about their experiences. It becomes clear that learning requires a precise perception of the individual pupils and is therefore something that is dialogue-based. There needs to be a healthy balance between the shared experience, listening to the teacher’s exposition and phases of independent work in which what has been experienced and learned previously can be consolidated through practice. This not only creates spaces for discussion but the associated experience of self-efficacy also plays an important role in the motivation of the learners.
In upper school, self-directed work offers pupils the opportunity to link learning content to their own reality and thus to experience it as meaningful. At the same time we invite the young people through appropriate tasks to develop their judgement, take responsibility, find their own point of view and in the process become creative and develop their individual voice - as described in the podcast episode “Raum für Kreativität” (Room for Creativity) (S3E10). In the podcast episode “Schule und Welt verbinden – Selbstwirksamkeit erlebbar machen” (Connecting school and the world – making self-efficacy tangible) (S3F4), a history teacher from Potsdam advocates courageously trying out new things and developing them together through a conscious error culture.
As a team we are strong!
The more complex and challenging the tasks become, the more important it is to become aware of the power of community. We don’t have to know and be able to do everything ourselves! This message is important not only for growing young people but also for teachers. Be it that we discuss the situation of a learning group or the needs of individual children in class conferences, lead a class together in class teams as described in the podcast episode “Klassenlehrerin im Team – gemeinsam und geteilt!” (Class teacher in a team – together and shared!) (S3F2), deepen our subject and methodological skills in further training, or address current topics in meetings with colleagues from other schools or in the #waldorflernt online offerings – we can always learn from and with each other. In doing so, we can also practise together to be more attentive with our language: to practise describing instead of being too quick to judge, to develop gender awareness or to practise an inclusive, non-discriminatory way of expressing ourselves.
Preserving wonder most of all
Just as children explore the world in wonder and thus keep learning new things, wonder about myself, others and the world is also the driving force for us adults to keep getting excited about the diversity of new situations and to recognise in wonder in the children the mirror of our own actions. If we succeed in remaining questioners and in motion ourselves, then we will have an educating effect on the children and young people through this alone.