Reflections from the National Teachers’ Conference

Dear Parents and friends of Gaia

Around 200 Waldorf teachers attended the National Teachers’ Conference at Stellenbosch Waldorf School during the Easter holidays. The conference began with a brilliant performance by the Sisonke Social Circus. Sisonke brings together children from the school, local farming communities, home-schooling nodes and Kyamandi. What a dynamic way to set out upon our conference journey.

The  conference theme was the ‘ART OF BALANCE – Working in Unfolding of Human Potential’ which we explored during the five days. After a warm welcome, we were divided into colour groups and met daily for orientation, conversation, questions and a Goethean experience. In Goethean observation we are trained to observe in nature “what IS” as opposed to “what pleases us”. This sharpens our perception for working with the weekly child study.I found this an enlivening activity and looked forward to it each day.

The daily lectures were given by our fellow South African colleagues, unlike the past where there was the perception that we needed to have an overseas guest speaker. The topics and speakers were as follows:

  • Incarnation of the Child by Matthew Stodel (Gaia)
  • Breathing by Martin Wigand (Stellenbosch Waldorf)
  • Musical & Sculptural Forces by Anette Bestwick (Michael Oak)
  • Craft Through the Developing Years by Jonathan Stodel (Constantia Waldorf)
  • The Waldorf School as a Total Work of Art by Michael Grimley

The themes were varied and all of the speakers gave us rich ‘food for thought’.

Johnathan spoke about the harsh challenges facing our teenagers. He emphasized the need for questions. How do we develop ourselves so that we can support the children in their development? He further pointed out that ‘explanations kill questions’. He continued with the question “What is the point of woodwork in the curriculum in this day and age?” He explained how making a wooden spoon is a profound process. It is a revelation when the children draw this symmetrical object and then cut in a continuous line creating the handle (like a bridge) and the scoop. In grade 7 when the children make a wooden bowl, they experience and grapple with the concave and convex forms and striving for this balance is an excellent exercise for their capacity to think. He pointed out that in this world of mass produced, machine-made objects, you take away the individual. He emphasized the immense value of hand-crafted items where you give attention to the human being and the individual. No bowl will ever be the same! He made the analogy that as a crafter needs a sharpened chisel to perform his task well, so we teachers need to develop ourselves and ‘sharpen our chisels’ so that we can worthily perform our task of being custodians who support the children in their ongoing development,  in the best possible way.  He concluded that crafting teaches the ability to make beautiful things and this in turn becomes the capacity to do good in the world, (which becomes as easy as breathing).

The daily workshops were another enriching aspect of the conference and I will list some of those attended by the Gaia teachers:

  • Music and Singing as Healing Forces
  • Balance through the Art of Mandalas
  • Balance through the Art of Juggling
  • ‘Parzival’ as Imaginative Knowlegde
  • The Importance of Play in Child Development as a Possibility of Achieving Autonomy

As this was the Stellenbosch Waldorf Schools’ first time to host the annual Teachers’ Conference they asked the Gaia and Zenzeleni Waldorf Schools to assist. Matthew Stodel and Kristal Willemse were part of the organizing team, Matthew delivered the opening lecture and Kristal led the singing each morning, in addition to being group leaders and facilitators. I would like to acknowledge their valuable input and all the time they spent on this project. It was wonderful to see the smiling, familiar faces of Thandeka, Lindele and and Neo helping out at the conference. It was heart-warming for me that the Gaia Community contributed by generously supplying the tea, coffee, biscuits, etc. Thank you parents of Gaia!

I purposefully set out with little expectation for the conference. The content was enlivening and inspiring, the food was delicious, the atmosphere warm and welcoming and the setting beautiful and relaxing. The conference was ‘poised’ with balance. On the third day we could choose an outing. Some went to the sea, others up the mountain and others went to see the museums. It was business as usual with the South African Waldorf Federation holding the AGM. My personal highlight was the singing and also connecting with colleagues from far and near.

I offered to write this Editorial to show my thanks to all who contributed towards this exceptional conference and also to share some insights as all the teachers who attend are enriched for the year to come. The Stellenbosch Waldorf School needs to be commended for their sterling effort. ( I taught at Stellenbosch Waldorf in the early days from 1998 – 2004 and was encouraged to see how the school has grown).

With gratitude and thanks,

Rowena Bell

Kindergarten teacher