Waldorf Education: Breathing Creativity

Article excerpt

By focusing less on obtaining skills and more on children's imagination, Waldorf-inspired practices can boost creativity and independent thinking.


After 10 years of teaching art in public schools, I arrived at a state of query that set in motion my search for alternative approaches to learning. As I was feeling stifled in a seemingly sterile education institution with its overdependence on and pedagogy aimed at standardized tests, I came across a reference to Waldorf Education in Eric Jensen's (2001) Arts with the Brain in Mind. I wondered if Waldorf Education, especially with its seamlessly arts-infused curriculum and focus on children's imagination, could provide public school educators alternate ideas and structures for supporting thinking in and through the arts. Ultimately my wondering led me to a PhD program of study with the sole purpose of allocating time to the exploration of Waldorf Education. I entered my inquiry without any schooling, background, or connections to the Waldorf community. As a practicing art educator and artist, I specifically desired to discover the nature of art experiences in Waldorf Education.

In this article, I take stock of our current public school climate, define Waldorf Education, and propose four Waldorf-inspired pedagogical practices stemming from my research, Art Experiences in Waldorf Education: Graduates' Meaning Making Reflections (Norlund, 2006). I acknowledge that philosophies and cultural structures unique to Waldorf Education cannot be replicated in public schools. Yet, by reflecting on Waldorf pedagogy, educators may implement in their own unique school settings improved approaches to learning that are Waldorf-inspired and may encompass greater opportunities for creative performance from educators and children as seen in established Waldorf-methods public schools.

Taking Stock of the Climate

With directives that have ensued after the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), many public school districts have increased instructional time for English language arts and math while substantially cutting time dedicated to learning in other subjects, including art education, especially at the elementary level (Center on Education Policy, 2006, 2008). Some administrators feel NCLB mandates shortchange students from learning other valuable subjects, squelch creativity in teaching and learning, and decrease activities that might retain students' involvement in school (Center on Education Policy, 2006). Administrators struggle with competing demands on instructional time, the result of state or district accountability actions to meet NCLB proficiency standards (United States Government Accountability Office, 2009). Although data from NCLB accountability policies informs instruction and spurred educators to improve practices and focus more on student achievement, some evidence has suggested that state tests have led educators to teach in ways that run counter to their ideas of effective pedagogy (Hannaway & Hamilton, 2008). Teaching to skills with predictable outcomes has limitations for public schools, educators, and students; due to budget constraints and a focus on high stakes testing, in many schools the arts have been losing ground (President's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, 2011).

From a recent survey of art educators, NCLB: A Study of Its Impact on Art Education (Sabol, 2010), 84% of 3,412 respondents felt that there have been no benefits for their art programs since the enactment of NCLB. Yet, some participating art educators cited positive effects from NCLB such as: becoming more reflective, spending more time on curriculum revision including emphasis on national and state standards, using more varied instructional methods, increasing types of assessments, and conducting more assessments. Some participating art educators reported that they are teaching fewer art classes due to the restructuring of education priorities under NCLB, including being required to teach or provide remediation in the areas of language arts and math. …