With heart and soul. Teachers’ meetings then and now

Christof Wiechert

These words were spoken by Rudolf Steiner to a small group of people in Stuttgart on 20 August 1919. The next day, the lectures on The Foundations of Human Experience started for these few. Full individual responsibility and teachers’ republic. At the end of the first teachers’ meeting on 8 September, Steiner added: “Teachers’ meetings are free republican discussions. Each person is sovereign in them.”

What is this about? It is about making the principle of individuality (“our own full responsibility”) work in the community. It is – almost – like squaring the circle. The participant at the meeting must have the ability to resonate in the choir of coming to a judgement in such a way that they see themselves reflected in the joint decision. That, however, assumes a number of things. For example, self-knowledge. Not the kind which says, that’s simply how I am, but the kind which says, I can and want to change. Only the latter is social, that is to say community building.

When innate counsel began to weaken

A hundred Waldorf years have passed and the question remains the same: how does the community live in me, how do I live in the community? The founder generation managed their schools in the way described above, often in exemplary form. In Germany and the countries occupied by Germany in the Second World War, a second founder generation started after the war which also “administered” the schools in this sense. This continued until the early 1970s. Then enormous growth started in the school movement. Forms were adopted which could only be understood and lived over the course of years.

The teachers’ meetings – when they were filled with life – generated a guiding force: solutions were found which were needed to manage the school’s affairs. Steiner referred to this as the “innate counsel”. This innate counsel however began to grow weak. Rational considerations in management questions, understood in a thoroughly nominalistic way, had the effect that many schools in the 1980s began to founder with regard to self-governance by the teachers’ meetings.

The attempt was made to counter this by dividing the teachers’ meetings into subject areas. In some such meetings the only thing that was done was to report what had been discussed in other bodies. Different rhythms for the meetings were tried out, for example being held once a month. Others experimented with delegations. There was also an attempt to do without teachers’ meetings altogether and instead set up management bodies. Or teachers’ meeting-like gatherings were organised outside school at which “real work on content” took place because there was allegedly no time in school for that.

The attempt was made to use an army of consultants which went well for as long as they were present. But the innate counsel was silent. The meetings were not able to access it. The latest development in the Waldorf world is schools led by principals, directors or head teachers. People say it has a calming and relaxing effect finally to know precisely where one stands. At last, a well organised school (after all, there is nothing to stop teachers’ meetings still being held).

The teachers’ meeting as heart organ

Steiner spoke about the importance of the teachers’ meeting on a great variety of occasions and then used two metaphors: the teachers’ meeting was “the heart” or “the soul” of the school. Let us consider the heart. The heart does indeed manage to let two types of blood which do not “get on” work together. This collaboration ensouls everything. A wealth of information comes together with fresh energy. The heart perceives this exchange, it is an organ of perception for soul and spiritual processes. (Luke the Evangelist already knew that when he reported the effect of the shepherds’ visit on Mary after the birth of Jesus.) But the heart not only perceives but also judges, it perceives the light and darkness of our thoughts. And it remembers. Thus we can refer to four qualities of the heart: perception, judgement, remembering and forming impulses. The heart must not become ill otherwise the whole organism falls ill. Schools suffering from heart disease are miserable, something we should not expect our pupils to put up with.

It is part of the soul constitution of hundred-year-olds that they think back to their roots. Thus it is evident how a need is awakening among teachers at schools worldwide to see one another regularly, perceive one another, hear about one another, speak with one another. It is as if the necessity of a healthy school life was being felt, the rhythm of diastole und systole which consists of coming together and dispersing again, and experiencing and cultivating the pulse of the school’s soul life through the weekly rhythm. It seems as if there is an increasingly strong sense from the grassroots that we need one another in order to be equal to the challenges of our time and way of life – to have not just Waldorf schools but free Waldorf schools. And when coming together again in this way happens in all seriousness and cheerfulness, then the voice of the innate counsel is likely to be heard again.

About the author: Christof Wiechert was for many years head of the Pedagogical Section at the Goetheanum. Most recently his book Lust aufs Lehrersein has been published by Verlag am Goetheanum.