Berkshire Waldorf School Distance Learning Bridges Social Distancing
Imbue yourself with the power of imagination,
Have courage for the truth,
Sharpen your feeling for the responsibility of the soul.
Rudolf Steiner inspired the first Waldorf teachers with this verse over 100 years ago, and it’s helping our teachers stay true to Waldorf education values—even while they adapt to the sudden and dramatic challenge of distance learning—by keeping the human being central to their work.
“On the Friday we closed, teachers worked together to create a plan we could start immediately,” said school director Lynn Arches. “Students had a recognizable and reliable program to continue learning the following Monday. Teachers were on the phone or email Monday at 8:30 am, wishing their students good morning.”
Waldorf schools are often described as teaching “heads, hands and hearts.” Our teachers strive to engage the whole child through curiosity, imagination and action, and to relate academic, practical and artistic work through a multi-sensory, interactive approach.
With classrooms closed and students across the nation now learning at home, how do Berkshire Waldorf School teachers continue to engage the whole child? What does experiential learning look like outside the classroom?
Community, Courage, Creativity
Teachers from preschool through middle school quickly adapted their Waldorf curriculum into a holistic model that doesn’t just deliver information. In addition, they take care that students continue to feel safe, welcome, supported, and part of a larger learning community. Building on existing partnerships with parents and caregivers, BWS distance learning also includes a new layer of family support. Open lines of communication have grown between teachers and parents, teachers and students, and students with their class family.
“The first day third graders called in separately via video chat, tears welled up when we said the morning verse together, just as we’ve done every morning since first grade,” said class teacher Tracy Fernbacher.
For our youngest students, preschool and kindergarten teachers provide stories, crafts, recipes and songs—via print packages, audio and video—to support parents and help children stay in a steadying, familiar routine.
“My daughter lit up when she heard her teacher’s voice,” said parent Tess Diamond, who runs North Plain Farm in Great Barrington with partner Sean Stanton. “Our teachers set us up for so much experiential learning, and turns out, it’s working. ”
Discovering by Doing
Grade school and middle school students are used to a weekly schedule of integrated learning that includes art, movement, handwork, gardening, music, play and lots of outside time, blended with academic subjects.
“I always wanted to cook with my students,” said seventh grade class advisor Krista Palmer, who most recently taught her students to bake bread via YouTube. “Suddenly I realized, now we have a whole bunch of kitchens!”
While distance learning may seem more suited to short term memory learning such as vocabulary lists or math worksheets, Berkshire Waldorf School teachers continue to focus on linking learning concepts to students’ own experience. This depth of teaching is where creativity in distance learning really makes a difference.
“We continue learning by doing,” Arches said. “We are so fortunate to be in the Berkshires, and to work with a curriculum that isn’t all screen based. This year, we’ll start spring planting ‘in place,’ rather than in the school gardens. We go on working together as a community, and most important for our students and families, the learning goes on, even when we can’t be together.”