At our second on line annual teachers conference we focused on the theme of diversity, equality and inclusion. There were an array of speakers and presenters from the UK and around the world, each thought provoking and poignant taking our learning and personal development a step further.
We were able to welcome over 600 delegates mostly from UK and Ireland but also from other parts of Europe, South Africa, Kenya, Philippines, USA and Bhutan. It was a wonderful opportunity to bring together representatives of the world-wide movement to discuss these important issues that impact us all.
At the start of the conference, was an acknowledgment, that as a school movement we have not sufficiently engaged with the issues of racism and equality in our schools. We recognised that despite our good intentions to be inclusive, in practice we often were not. It was time to change and this conference was the start.
Speakers were open about the problems we need to face including having an overly Eurocentric curriculum, lack of representation of BAME teachers and pupils in our schools, issues around understanding and meeting the needs of learning and behaviour differences and being inclusive of those from the LGBTQ+ communities. It was heartening to see how many around the movement were already working hard to tackle these issues. It was a pivotal moment with almost universal enthusiasm for the need to speak out and acknowledge where there were failings, recognise our intrinsic strengths and to work together for change.
The first big issue was the acceptance that for too many years the Steiner Waldorf movement has been undermined by assertions that it is based on a racist dogma because of a number of statements made by Rudolf Steiner in lectures which clearly read as espousing racist concepts. Although these statements are at odds with the fundamental ethos of Rudolf Steiner’s vision for the world which was to create an inclusive, kinder and whole community where each person is recognised as a unique human being, we have to acknowledge their existence and reject them.
Previously, the response to assertions that these statements were racist has largely been to seek to explain or contextualise the underlying meaning as being different from how they appear. Sadly, this has served to make the movement appear to be an apologist for racism. The mood of the conference was instead to acknowledge any racist statements for what they plainly appear to be and to wholeheartedly apologise for the offence and exclusion they have caused. Then for our energies to be focused on taking steps to examine and self-reflect (as the rest of society must do) on our biases and the reality of practices in schools which may discriminate, exclude and marginalise despite our best intentions; and to work to become anti-racist schools because this is in the nature of who we are.
Evidence that the nature of SW education is to be multi-cultural and inclusive can be found in the fact that our schools are growing at an incredible rate around the world, thriving in an array of diverse countries such as India, Kenya, China, Taiwan and the Middle East where schools bring Jewish and Arab children together. In over 90 countries these schools are a testament to how the SW ethos is about serving and bringing communities together regardless of race or culture.
Inclusion is not just about race.
The conference has also highlighted that the same work needs to be done in relation to providing a truly inclusive environment for the LBGTQ+ members of our community and in understanding children, parents and teachers who may experience and perceive the world and learn in different ways. For these issues to be approached not as “disorders” to be “treated” but as differences to be understood, respected and accommodated within the education we provide.
Of course there is a long way to go in bringing about change. We are just at the beginning but our intention is clear.
For our part, SWSF is committed to supporting schools create the structural change needed to create the momentum that turns intention into action.
We have asked schools to create Racial Equality and Diversity Leads to champion this work in each school and we are supporting them with the SWSF Diversity and Inclusion Network set up last year.
A new curriculum framework will provide a basis for schools to develop a de-colonised curriculum. SWSF is providing practical support for schools in devising new meso and micro curricula that reflect not just the community in their schools but also the wider range of cultures that they will encounter in society and life.
There will also be more opportunities for Continual Professional Development around autism and other social and learning differences.
The Big Conversation
In addition to those actions we want to instigate a Big Conversation around all these issues. To understand how another might experience the world differently, we need to inform ourselves, share experiences and talk about the issues with each other. To assist in this SWSF will be sharing recordings of presentations and workshops so that schools can carry through the discussions from the conference into their own communities. Change is hard. It can be destabilising and frightening, even if it is the right thing to do, and it is important that we create safe spaces for people to express their true thoughts, feelings and fears without worry of condemnation.
As we take these steps and really listen to our colleagues, children and parents (including those who come only to open days) we will start to become genuinely more inclusive, more diverse and move further towards our goal as Steiner schools to truly serve all those in our global community.
Executive Director SWSF.