Waldorf School of Princeton faculty member Elan Leibner recently gave four keynote presentations at the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (AWSNA) summer
conference titled “Responsible Innovation: A Collaborative Approach to Educational Freedom" which took place June 24-27, 2019 in Philadelphia, PA. Mr. Leibner’s first address, titled “Vidar’s Triumph: Useful Leather and Worn Out Shoes” focused discerning what the nature of innovation and of freedom are, and the perils of ignoring unconscious mental habits and the role of sleep in education. The story of Vidar, a Norse god who was able to
defeat a mythical monster with his shoe, crafted from used scraps of leather collected throughout all time, was the central theme of Mr. Leibner’s presentation. Using this story, Mr. Leibner argued that practices, like shoes, wear out their usefulness in the course of time, but that principles and intentions retain their potential like the leather in the Norse saga.” Mr. Leibner’s approach can give direction to educators grappling with modern challenges such as stress, anxiety, technology overload, unrealistic expectations, and increasing social isolation.
The Waldorf School of Princeton (WSP) is part of a movement that has stood the test of time. Waldorf education is now in its centennial year and schools around the world are celebrating this milestone. Waldorf School of Princeton faculty member Karen Atkinson also spoke in Philadelphia, and presented the results of her year-long research project focused on Responsible Innovation entitled "Cultivating a New Path for the Waldorf Educator". At the core of Mrs. Atkinson’s and Mr. Leibner’s work is a question: how do we take cues from the children in our care to meet their needs? Among many elements revealed in Mrs. Atkinson’s study, which included voices from Waldorf teachers across North America, the single most important concern amongst those who responded was their relationship with the students. The faculty at WSP are working together to take up the theme of “responsible innovation”, evolving the curriculum to meet the increasingly diverse learning opportunities in the children, while also considering the context of where they come from.
Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf education, said, “Today our teachers cannot know what will be good in the Waldorf School in five years’ time, for in those five years they will have learned a great deal. And out of that knowledge they have to judge anew what is good and what is not good. Educational matters cannot be thought out intellectually; they can only arise out of teacher experience.” The faculty at WSP, with a combined pedagogical experience of 150 years, have fully embraced the concept of evolving experience. They are not content to rest on the experience of the past to meet the needs of the future. They look to the students in their care, and the surrounding community, to inform the development of the curriculum and to find innovative and creative ways to deliver Waldorf education in the modern world.
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