Podcast,  The Waldorf Approach,  Waldorfy Podcast

Waldorf Public Schools

In this episode I learn about Waldorf public schools. I speak with guest Mary Goral, Ph.D. all about this growing movement allowing more and more families to experience the Waldorf approach.

Mary Barr Goral, Ph.D., began her career in education over 30 years ago. After teaching in the public schools in Bloomington, IN for 11 years, she received both her masters and doctorate in curriculum studies and math education from Indiana University. Dr. Goral taught in higher education for 12 years and works with Public Waldorf schools, coaching and training teachers through her educational organization, Transformational Teaching. Currently, Dr. Goral works as the Waldorf Professional Development Coach for Seaside Community Charter Schools in Jacksonville, FL.

Dr. Goral pioneered two Waldorf teacher trainings, Great Lakes Waldorf Teacher Training in Milwaukee, WI (started in 2002) and Kentahten Teacher Training, a regional teacher training in Louisville, KY (started in 2005). She presently serves as Executive Director of Kentahten Teacher Training. Her book, “Transformational Teaching: Waldorf-inspired Methods in the Public School”, tells the story of teachers in Louisville who use Waldorf-inspired methods with their public school students.

Dr. Goral served on the board of trustees of Rudolf Steiner College and is currently on the advisory board of the Alliance for Public Waldorf Education.

Mary found Waldorf education while studying abroad in Scotland. She was there to study math in primary schools and on each weekend she and a friend would take weekend adventures exploring the surrounding countryside. One weekend she found an intentional community in the North called Findhorn. When she asked where the children of the community attended school she was told a Waldorf school. Mary had been studying education for some time and was in fact looking for a topic for her dissertation. Upon returning from Scotland, she decided to pursue Waldorf education for her dissertation and set out to do a study at a Waldorf school in Ann Arbor Michigan. She told me she felt at home as soon as she stepped inside. It wasn’t long before Mary made up her mind that Waldorf education should be accessible for all. This is how she began the pursuit of helping the Public Waldorf School movement.

I asked Mary, "what are the differences between Waldorf education as we know it in the North American private school setting and in the pubic school setting?”

Mary answered that the biggest difference is having to meet state education standards. Firstly this means requiring students to take standardized tests. Sometimes this has to be done on a computer. This will sometimes require a school to introduce academic content at a time that is not when a traditional approach to Waldorf education would deem developmentally appropriate. For instance, where fractions are usually introduced in 4th grade in a traditional private school, a Waldorf Public school may have to introduce fractions at the 1st grade level to meet state requirements. However, Mary told me that this is always done using developmentally appropriate methods. Fairytales are often used in the 1st grade and it’s through fairytales for instance that a Waldorf public school teacher may introduce math. Mary sees this more as an opportunity for the teacher to be creative than being a set back.

How does one go about sending their child to a Public Waldorf school? Mary told me it’s simply applying, visiting, and deciding to attend. Waldorf Public schools can not turn students away. They accept anyone who applies that they have the space for. When a school is at capacity they will start a waitlist. Some full schools will have a lottery system.

How does a Waldorf public school get started? “A very supportive community” Mary told me. That seems to be the most important thing to have to start. The first step is really to figure out who can offer a charter. In some areas this may be the mayor’s office, school district, or university. You just have to figure out who offers the charter and then apply. It’s a big application. Often there is opposition to starting. This is where community support is so huge. You have to know you really have that.

Although there are differences, which we discuss earlier in the episode, there are many similarities between a Public Waldorf school and Private Waldorf schools. Looping for instance (where a class teacher stays with a class for a period of years, three to even eight years at a time) is a practice that also occurs in Public Waldorf schools. As much as possible art is incorporated into the curriculum just as it is in a Waldorf Private school. I also loved how Mary spoke to how much more creative freedom teachers have in the Public Waldorf school setting, compared with a traditional public school approach. One of the things I valued tremendously from my Waldorf education was shaking hands with my teacher. At the start of each day a Waldorf student shakes hands with their class teacher and at end of the day you shake hands. I love the kind of respect this created in our relationship for each other, both teacher and student. It also taught me over time, really how to greet someone you work with throughout the day and how to part ways with them at the end of the day. This is also something that occurs in the Public Waldorf approach.

I loved speaking with Mary for this episode. I noticed myself changing the language I use surrounding Waldorf education. I had been, perhaps even up until the beginning of our interview been referring to Waldorf private schools, as a “traditional Waldorf approach.”. While there is some truth to this, especially speaking to the spread of Waldorf education in the US in the last 100 years, this is not what Waldorf education was founded on. Steiner had four stipulations for starting the first Waldorf School with Emil Molt, the owner of the Waldorf Astoria cigarette factory. One of which was that this was an education for the children of all the factory workers, regardless of their parent's position in the factory. It truly was a choice to offer this education to all. However, as the Waldorf movement spread, the way that process went in many countries was to set up private Waldorf schools. Now however it’s fantastic to see the Waldorf approach return to its roots of social justice and social equity by being offered to all through Public Waldorf schools. Are there compromises that have to me made? Yes. Are those

compromises worth it? I would argue yes they are. I’m happy that there are people like Mary helping to facilitate the growing movement of Waldorf Public Schools.

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