Brussels, 15 December 2019

What happened at the Waldorf 100 conference in Brussels?
Inspiration, beauty and vibrant energy are some of the keywords describing the mood of the conference

On 7 Novem­ber 2019,  ECSWE host­ed the inter­na­tion­al con­fer­ence “The art of edu­ca­tion: Empow­er­ing our chil­dren to shape their future” in the beau­ti­ful Roy­al Flem­ish The­atre of Brus­sels. A diverse pub­lic of 180 par­tic­i­pants attend­ed includ­ing EU rep­re­sen­ta­tives and offi­cials, rep­re­sen­ta­tives from ECSWE part­ner organ­i­sa­tions, ECSWE rep­re­sen­ta­tives and mem­bers of their nation­al asso­ci­a­tions, edu­ca­tors, stu­dents and par­ents from around Europe, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of inde­pen­dent or free school asso­ci­a­tions and oth­er stake­hold­ers active in the field of education.

The event was very well received by par­tic­i­pants describ­ing it as a “tru­ly won­der­ful con­fer­ence that felt like a vision of Wal­dorf edu­ca­tion into the future” and that it was “fes­tive, chal­leng­ing and full of move­ment”, and “inspi­ra­tion that leads to action”.


The morn­ing pro­gramme includ­ing warm wel­com­ing words, a bril­liant keynote address by prof. Gert Bies­ta and a rich pan­el dis­cus­sion with four experts in dif­fer­ent fields of edu­ca­tion evolved around the first two key ques­tions of the day: How can edu­ca­tion empow­er chil­dren to build mean­ing­ful rela­tion­ships with the world? and What does edu­ca­tion need to focus on in a soci­ety with instant access to vast amounts of information?

Ilona de Haas
Michael Bloss

Words of welcome

… and a full mem­ber of the Com­mit­tee on Indus­try, Research and Ener­gy as well as a sub­sti­tute mem­ber of the Com­mit­tee on the Envi­ron­ment, Pub­lic Health and Food Safe­ty, then gave a wel­come address filled with per­son­al mem­o­ries of his time as a Wal­dorf pupil in Ger­many and how that is part of who he is and what he has achieved today. Detlef Hardorp closed this sequence with a speech on the his­to­ry of Wal­dorf edu­ca­tion that not only cov­ered the his­to­ry of the Wal­dorf move­ment but also put empha­sis on the ori­gin and essence of Steiner’s ideas on education.

… and parts of edu­ca­tion­al his­to­ry we should con­nect with. Build­ing on Diet­rich Benner’s the­o­ry accord­ing to which nature and nur­ture make up 100% of who we are, he explained that edu­ca­tion does not influ­ence iden­ti­ty but rather what we do with what we have become and how we live our lives. There is a need for world cen­tred edu­ca­tion, that encour­ages chil­dren to be A SELF, an “I”, in the world and helps them achieve sovereignty.

Gert shared his view on Wal­dorf edu­ca­tion in that con­text, explain­ing the inter­est of its bio­graph­i­cal rather than devel­op­men­tal per­spec­tive. More­over as we live in an impulse soci­ety that gives us what we want but not what we need, school in its ety­mo­log­i­cal def­i­n­i­tion of free space and time from the soci­etal agen­da is a very impor­tant place where you can try, fail, try again and fail bet­ter. As long as it does not get lost in trans­la­tion, Wal­dorf edu­ca­tion responds to the chal­lenges of edu­ca­tion post Auschwitz as it is about free­dom and incar­na­tion. Gert con­clud­ed by refram­ing the ques­tion link­ing school and today’s soci­ety: what kind of soci­ety does the school need to be able to be what it should be?

Gert Biesta
Irmeli Halinen
Morning Panel

Pan­el dis­cus­sion, Tomor­row’s edu­ca­tion: how it could be

…In order to suc­cess­ful­ly design a future ori­ent­ed and nation wide frame cur­ricu­lum, it is nec­es­sary to rethink edu­ca­tion as a whole. The pur­pose of this reform in Fin­land is to focus on the growth of the human being and improve oppor­tu­ni­ties for stu­dents to expe­ri­ence the joy and of learn­ing & being and devel­op agency. This over­ar­ch­ing pur­pose has been declined in 7 com­pe­ten­cies that are to be reflect­ed in all school subjects.

School cul­ture and the capac­i­ty to exem­pli­fy the goals we want to achieve is key. The cur­ricu­lum reform process itself had to be an exam­ple of this and was a col­lab­o­ra­tive, inclu­sive process so that all could take own­er­ship of the changes it implied.

Strong belief that school is an impor­tant place for chil­dren to ful­fill their need for coher­ence, that is the feel­ing that they can com­pre­hend part of the world around them, man­age their dai­ly life and feel mean­ing­ful and impor­tant to oth­er people.

…Sue Palmer embarked on an 8 year research project in the late nineties to under­stand teacher’s wor­ries about chil­dren not being able to con­trol the focus of their atten­tion, hav­ing behav­iour­al issues and year on year decrease in lan­guage skills. Main prob­lems iden­ti­fied were the decline in out­door play, the increas­ing­ly seden­tary lifestyle, the com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion of child­hood and an increas­ing­ly com­pet­i­tive school­ing system.

Our cul­ture has evolved faster than our biol­o­gy and it is urgent to go back to the essen­tials enabling healthy human development.In the first 7–8 years the two most impor­tant  ingre­di­ents are sim­ply love and play. Sue is author of Tox­ic Child­hood and founder of the cam­paign in Scot­land to push back school start­ing age to 7.

…The core aim of dia­log­ic learn­ing is to acti­vate the sec­ond and ver­ti­cal dimen­sion of teach­ing for every­one in the class­room. It is the dimen­sion of sin­gu­lar­i­ty and dia­logue between the I and the you (teacher or peers). As opposed to the lan­guage of the under­stood, this is where you find the lan­guage of under­stand­ing and look for devel­op­ment with an indi­vid­ual norm.

A sim­ple method­olog­i­cal exam­ple of how to work with this is to start with a core idea in a sub­ject, give an assign­ment based on that idea — not a task but an assign­ment that should be open and easy but chal­leng­ing — let stu­dents write their thoughts and feel­ings about the assign­ment, col­lect the jour­nals, give a quick feed­back based on the lev­el of inten­si­ty and engage­ment and then let the con­tent of these writ­ten pieces inspire the next core idea you will present to them.

Tech­nol­o­gy is an oppor­tu­ni­ty to move away from stan­dard­ized tasks that were pre­vi­ous­ly laboured and acquire knowl­edge in a faster and more dynam­ic way. School can then become a time and space to reflect on the spir­i­tu­al and eth­i­cal ques­tion of what WE want to be. It is time to reset focus on the qual­i­ties that make us human and that give pur­pose to skills and com­pe­ten­cies. What is the point of learn­ing lan­guages if there is lit­tle care about oth­er peo­ple and cul­ture? It is time to rede­fine learn­ing based on human val­ues and connectedness.

  • Impor­tance of sup­port­ing teach­ers in their devel­op­ment. To cre­ate envi­ron­ments that make it easy to learn and devel­op, teach­ers need to feel respect and trust as well as have a good sense of self efficacy;
  • It is time to stop the math­e­mat­i­cal injury;
  • Val­ue what comes from the chil­dren in the ear­ly years and do not inter­vene too much until they are 7;
  • Cre­ate schools that focus on well-being for stu­dents, teach­ers and all involved;
  • Give more impor­tance to consciousness;
  • Facil­i­tat­ed dia­logues between stu­dents about things that they are con­cerned about, com­bined with indi­vid­ual time with a men­tor — with only a total of 2h per week/student can do magic;
  • Gov­ern­ments and pol­i­cy mak­ers should respond pos­i­tive­ly to the body of knowl­edge about edu­ca­tion that exists and act upon it;
  • Open edu­ca­tion to cit­i­zens assem­blies to build a man­i­festo upon which gen­uine edu­ca­tion­al reforms can be based;
  • The cur­ricu­lum is a map and a com­pass — a com­pass that shows the direc­tion we want to go in as a nation and a map that gives us some indi­ca­tions on cur­rent cir­cum­stances and challenges;
  • What exam­ples do we want to be for our children?
  • Involve­ment of par­ents is key.
Rhythm and movement
A full room


After lunch we moved on to the third ques­tion, what con­tri­bu­tion can Stein­er Wal­dorf ped­a­gogy make to edu­ca­tion poli­cies, cur­ric­u­la design, assess­ment and the imple­men­ta­tion of the EU Key Competences?

The audi­ence split in 15 work­ing groups that each dis­cussed a key com­pe­tence or an over­ar­ch­ing theme. Wal­dorf pupils from Bel­gium and the Nether­lands par­tic­i­pat­ed in the event and shared their impres­sions in the stu­dent pan­el that followed.

The end of the after­noon brought this all togeth­er with a pol­i­cy pan­el fea­tur­ing Michael Teutsch (EU Com­mis­sion), Arjana Blaz­ic (Croa­t­ian min­istry) and Julie Ward (EU Par­lia­ment), an inspir­ing con­clud­ing con­tri­bu­tion by Flo­ri­an Oss­wald and music that was deliv­ered with a vir­tu­os­i­ty that stunned the whole room by a quin­tet from Stuttgart.

Policy Panel
Julie Ward at the Policy Panel
Michael Teutsch at the Policy Panel

Stu­dent panel

… Luna, Gitte, Maxime, Pierre-Louis and Michael, 10 and 12 graders from Stein­er schools in Lei­den, Nether­lands and Gent, Belgium.

    • The main idea about hav­ing pupils on stage was to make their voice heard among all experts who speak up at edu­ca­tion con­fer­ences. Pupils are the first who are affect­ed when it comes to edu­ca­tion, no mat­ter if direct­ly by their teacher or indi­rect­ly by edu­ca­tion­al laws which apply to their school. It became vis­i­ble that already before the con­fer­ence, the stu­dents were not only high­ly moti­vat­ed to learn more in the field of edu­ca­tion in gen­er­al, but also deeply curi­ous about the work of ECSWE and their role in the conference.

The pan­el:  impres­sions on the day, edu­ca­tion in gen­er­al and their wish­es for future education.

Key ideas shared on stage:

  • The exis­tence of indi­vid­u­als has an impact on oth­ers, peo­ple matter;
  • To be on an equal foot­ing with experts;
  • To be heard, to under­stand that stu­dents play a major role in dis­cussing education;
  • The per­cep­tion that teach­ers have to face the same dif­fi­cul­ties as stu­dents when learn­ing new sub­jects -> put one­self in some­one else’s position;
  • Realise that edu­ca­tion is not only about what hap­pens in school, but that there is a whole world of experts behind it who gath­er ideas, devel­op concepts…
  • What is learn­ing? Is it more than just study­ing maths and his­to­ry at school?
  • Stein­er approach: think crit­i­cal­ly. Per­ceive oth­ers holistically;
  • How much free­dom to give to stu­dents, the inter­play of free­dom and bor­ders when it comes to per­son­al development;
  • Wish­es for the edu­ca­tion of tomor­row: school is not about grades, it’s not about com­pe­ti­tion, but about equal­i­ty: stu­dents don’t need to be perfect;
  • Approach to knowl­edge in the tech­no­log­i­cal world of today: it is not about know­ing all the facts, but rather about a deep­er under­stand­ing of how to apply them;
  • We have all our lives to study Maths and under­stand Geog­ra­phy but to find your­self in order to under­stand who you want to be in the world, is some­thing you have to do now.”

Pol­i­cy Panel

…how edu­ca­tion poli­cies can empow­er chil­dren to build mean­ing­ful rela­tion­ships with the world and how Wal­dorf edu­ca­tion can inspire pol­i­cy reform at Euro­pean and at nation­al lev­el. The pan­elists were Michael Teutsch, Head of Unit “Schools and Mul­ti­lin­gual­ism” at DG EAC, Euro­pean Com­mis­sion and Arjana Blaz­ic, Min­istry of Sci­ence and Edu­ca­tion, Croa­t­ia and sur­prise guest Julie Ward, MEP and Vice-Chair of the Edu­ca­tion Com­mit­tee of the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment. The pan­el built on the results of the pre­vi­ous stu­dent panel.

Issues cov­ered were:

  • The need for a child-cen­tred approach and a more per­son­alised education;
  • The need for a holis­tic approach to edu­ca­tion, that allows learn­ers to devel­op a broad range of com­pe­tences and devel­ops their crit­i­cal thinking;
  • The need for school and teacher auton­o­my and the impor­tance of flex­i­ble school cur­ric­u­la that give flex­i­bil­i­ty to teach­ers and schools;
  • Empow­er­ing teach­ers through high qual­i­ty pro­fes­sion­al development;
  • The need for more per­son­alised and for­ma­tive assess­ment to com­ple­ment or replace stan­dard­ised tests;
  • The need to bal­ance school auton­o­my and accountability;
  • The need to focus assess­ment more on chil­dren’s well-being and their engage­ment in peer- and self-assessment;
  • Giv­ing play and the arts a more cen­tral role in edu­ca­tion, that are cur­rent­ly too often marginalised;
  • How ICT and media edu­ca­tion can be imple­ment­ed in an age-appro­pri­ate and devel­op­ment-ori­ent­ed and flex­i­ble way at school level;
  • The need for more stu­dent par­tic­i­pa­tion in school governance.
Student Panel
Student Panel

Con­clu­sion by Flo­ri­an Oss­wald, leader of the ped­a­gog­i­cal sec­tion in the Goetheanum

…The per­son­al expe­ri­ence of a for­est kinder­garten where chil­dren between 1,5 and 7 spend their days in the for­est with their teacher gives insight on this space of atten­tion that the chil­dren feel secure in and on the lev­el of knowl­edge the teacher needs about where and who the chil­dren are. The for­est school offers incred­i­ble infor­mal learn­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties and helps build resilience.

Com­ment­ing on the con­fer­ence: This is the fes­ti­val of the Euro­pean Coun­cil, born out of the Hague cir­cle, whose task is to build a con­scious­ness for Europe. The chal­lenge and task for the next 50 — 100 years is to work togeth­er in a healthy and respect­ful way, to build an under­stand­ing of the dif­fer­ent cul­tures and real­ly sup­port each other.

There is too much of a split between knowl­edge and activ­i­ty. We know so much, but what are we going to do about it to change the world? He chal­lenges  each par­tic­i­pant to do at least one con­crete thing inspired by what they have heard or felt dur­ing the day.

Florian Osswald
Musical performance
Musical performance

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Georg Jürgens