Frequently Asked Questions
FAQS: Starting a Waldorf School
How Do I Start a Waldorf School?
Initiative groups follow many different patterns in their development, but in recent years a certain trend has evolved which seems to be helpful to many groups. The initiative groups usually begin study groups for adults, and after a few years start a playgroup for children. After a year or two more they may feel ready to found a kindergarten, and several years later may have grown to the point where a school can be founded. As you can see, it takes time to initiate a school, and it can easily take seven years or longer from the beginning of the first study group to the opening of the first grade. The timing varies from one community to another, but all have found that it is essential to have a strong foundation in Waldorf Education and Anthroposophy if their school is to grow and thrive, and such a foundation is not laid overnight. A Waldorf school is not just an alternative to public schools or another independent school; its curriculum and philosophy proceed from the worldview and the insights into the nature of the child that Rudolf Steiner has given us in Anthroposophy. If there is not a core community surrounding the school initiative that is thoroughly familiar with and committed to that philosophy and pedagogy, then it is unlikely that the initiative will prosper.
Communities also find that while enthusiastic parents are essential for helping to found a school, this same enthusiasm can lead one to decide to found a school too quickly. Just as Waldorf schools are nonprofit organizations that are not created for the financial benefit of any individual, so their founding must also have an element of selflessness rather than being created to benefit certain children and their families. We know this can be a difficult thing to hear, but the pace of development is probably the single greatest factor in determining the future strength or weakness of a school. A weak, hastily built foundation remains with a school for its lifetime, and one sees the effects of it again and again. We all want schools that will flourish and thrive, and it's quite possible to found such schools if one works hard and does not rush.
Many communities have been inventive in meeting their own children's needs in the years before a school is started. They have had regular festival celebrations for families, organized puppet shows, painting classes, or other activities. Some have developed programs for elementary-aged children who are unable to go to Waldorf schools. These programs usually focus on the Waldorf story curriculum, the arts, and festival celebrations. They meet after school or on Saturday mornings. Leaders of such programs do not need to be fully trained Waldorf teachers. Often they are parents who are educating themselves about Waldorf Education through summer courses and other studies.
Returning to the basic pattern, which has evolved in recent years, we'd like to go over the steps one by one, sharing with you some of what the schools themselves have told us.
Establishing Study Groups
A Waldorf study group is usually founded that meets each week or every other week. Books are studied about Waldorf Education and speakers are invited into the community to lecture on the education. Popular books for new study groups include the A.C. Harwood books, or one of the other overviews of Waldorf Education by Francis Edmunds, Rene Querido, or M.C. Richards. Introductory study groups have also enjoyed working with Lifeways; Children at Play; The Incarnating Child; You Are Your Child's First Teacher; and The Young Child: Creative Living With Two to Four Year Olds. Basic books by Rudolf Steiner include Education of the Child in the Light of Anthroposophy (a booklet) and Kingdom of Childhood. Caroline von Heydebrand's Childhood is also a classic among Waldorf books. These books are available from our Online Store and other booksellers. Please see our Waldorf Resources section for additional links.
Communities serious about starting a Waldorf kindergarten or school also establish Anthroposophic study groups. The Anthroposophical work in a community is very important because Waldorf Education arises out of the soil of Anthroposophy. It is into this soil that the roots of the school will grow and derive nourishment. Communities that do not have active study groups in Anthroposophy remark that in the long run their schools seem unfed at a deeper level. Some complain that their schools feel "unsheathed," as if they stand too bare in the community. There can be nothing compulsory about the study of Anthroposophy, for it must live in the realm of inner freedom. Nevertheless, schools do best if Anthroposophy is being cultivated in the community around them in a healthy and free manner. The school itself needs to have a healthy fertile relationship with Anthroposophy if it is to grow and thrive as a Waldorf school. For more information about the study of Anthroposophy or to learn of Anthroposophical study groups in your area, visit the Anthroposophical Society in America (www.anthroposophy.org).
In establishing study groups, it is good to find a mentor. Even if this person can come only once a year, he or she can add much depth to the study, making suggestions about study materials, answering perplexing questions on content and so forth. The Waldorf Early Childhood Association can suggest mentors to you, as can the Association of Waldorf Schools in North America, as well as the Pedagogical Section Council (PSC). The PSC was founded to help cultivate the educational and spiritual life of Waldorf schools in North America. Elan Leibner is the Chairperson for the PSC and may be reached at email@example.com.
Starting a Playgroup
This is a less official step than founding a kindergarten, and many communities find it is a good starting point in their work with children. Generally, there are not such strict licensing requirements, and the curriculum is less demanding than in a Waldorf kindergarten. These playgroups are led by individuals who are serious in their study of Waldorf Education, but may not yet have a full Waldorf training. Playgroups usually meet in a home and often have four to eight children. The person in charge of the playgroup is usually involved in a part-time Waldorf training program.
Creating a Kindergarten
This is an official step that requires legal incorporation, full licensing through the appropriate government offices, rental of space, and so on. Equally important to all the legal requirements is that it should be led by a fully trained Waldorf kindergarten teacher, who has ideally already had at least three years' experience as a Waldorf kindergarten teacher. As you probably know, there is a critical shortage of such teachers in North America (and worldwide.) It is a good idea to help identify individuals from your community who are interested in getting trained and help make it possible for them to take a training, perhaps lending them money for their training and letting the loan turn to a grant if they return and teach in your school for a certain number of years.
Acquiring this kind of financial support may seem like a large task, but it is important to realize at the outset that establishing any independent school in North America, including a Waldorf school, is a very expensive undertaking. Perhaps in the future there will be a government sponsored voucher system for the support of independent education, or some other means of help, but at the moment communities need to raise relatively large amounts of money to transform the wish for a Waldorf school into a reality.
In the actual establishment of a kindergarten there are individuals who can be called upon for help. It's a good idea to work closely with your nearest Waldorf school and see if there are experienced teachers there who can help you with your steps of development. In addition, the Waldorf Early Childhood Association (www.waldorfearlychildhood.org) can help you and can put you in touch with an experienced kindergarten teacher to advise you. At this point, it will be necessary for the initiative to join the Association of Waldorf Schools as a New Initiative Member, a step that will put the initiative in wider contact with the Waldorf movement.
Founding a School
This is a very large step, for once a first grade is founded the school should be able to go on adding a new grade for the next eight years. This requires finding a new class teacher each year, more subject teachers, more classroom space and so on. You can see why a strong foundation is necessary. Without one, you can build for a few years without noticing that the structure is rather wobbly. The larger the structure becomes, however, the more the wobble shows, and cracks begin to develop. In recent years some schools have fallen apart and have had to close, a very painful situation for the school and for the whole of the Waldorf community.
Again, of course, one must also have trained Waldorf teachers. They are in short supply, as evidenced by the fact that each year our training centers do not have enough graduates to fill vacancies in the existing schools, much less new ones. In our meetings to discuss the problem of teacher shortage, one suggestion arises time and time again. That is for each community interested in Waldorf Education to raise money to send one or two of its own members for training, to return to take on the task of working with an experienced teacher in founding the grade school.
As you know, there is an ever increasing interest in the public sector in what Waldorf Education has to offer. If we have weak schools with untrained teachers to represent our education, then we imperil our good name as well as the opportunity of bringing new life into all of education. If all our schools, new and established, strive for the excellence inherent in our philosophy and methods, then we can meet any assessment of our work with confidence. Generally, one should have two or three kindergarten classes with a total of about 50 children before considering opening a first grade. Even then you may not be getting the 20 - 30 children necessary to make a first grade financially, socially, and academically viable. To start with fewer than 20-30 children means you need financially to underwrite the school and the teacher's salary to a large extent. Otherwise, you will pay too low a salary, the teacher may not be able to sustain his or her work without great strain, and you will find yourself with much turnover. Waiting until your classes are big enough, or nearly big enough, is very wise. Some schools start with very small classes (8 or 10 children), but they commonly struggle for years to find enough money to keep going. After a while this is very debilitating for all concerned, and it is questionable whether the children are getting what they need from the situation. There is a general assumption on the part of new initiatives that any Waldorf school is better than none, but our own experience is that this is not necessarily true. A weak school, with too few children, too big a budget deficit, too much strain on the teachers and active parents, is not a healthy environment for children. The school suffers as do the children.
As your group moves forward towards developing a Waldorf kindergarten or school, the Association of Waldorf Schools (AWSNA) or the Waldorf Early Childhood Association (www.waldorfearlychildhood.org) will help you make contact with other, more experienced Waldorf educators or schools. We also provide a list of schools and initiatives to facilitate communication. Ask nearby schools to put you on their mailing lists so that you know of lectures, workshops, fairs, and the like.
We hope you will let us know more about your groups and the progress you are making. Do stay in touch. If your group decides to begin the process of starting a school initiative, please contact AWSNA and WECAN to let us know of your progress. We are here to support and serve your needs.
It is important that you be aware of the fact that the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America is the holder of trademark rights for the use of the names "Waldorf" and "Steiner." If you are starting a school or currently a school with a question regarding the use of the terms "Waldorf" and/or "Steiner" please contact the administrative office of AWSNA at: 2344 Nicollet Ave S. Minneapolis, MN 55404 - 612-870-8310 - firstname.lastname@example.org. This would include the terms "Waldorf inspired" or "Waldorf methods".
Questions for Consideration
The following is meant to help you focus on issues and concerns that should be considered prior to the founding of a new school initiative. Many of these have been raised in the preceding letter.
1. How many people are in your community who are familiar with the philosophy and pedagogy of Waldorf Education?
a. How many years have they studied together?
b. How many are familiar with curriculum requirements?
2. Has your core group defined its goals and objectives?
Are they formally written down, in the form of a Mission Statement and a long-range (5-year+) plan?
3. Plans for the present
a. Will you consider combined classes?
b. What will determine minimum class size?
c. What admissions policy will you adopt?
4. Plans for the future
a. Preschool/kindergarten for 1-5 years initially?
b. When to begin Grade 1, and continue to add a grade yearly
c. Have full 8 grades eventually, including staffing: trained class teachers, special teachers (foreign languages, art, music, physical education, etc)
d. Physical facilities for expansion
5. Have you investigated state/local requirements for:
a. Liability insurance
b. Codes: fire, health, building, etc.
c. Educational mandates, if they exist
d. General requirements for early childhood education
e. Certification of teachers
6. Have you incorporated as a 501(c)(3) under IRS ruling?
a. Have you a board of trustees?
b. Are responsibilities clearly defined in by-laws?
c. Are there provisions in by-laws for eventual transfer of pedagogical authority to the faculty?
7. Have you surveyed your possible commuting area to determine available student pool to draw on?
8. What independent school(s) would compete with this pool?
9. What segments of the population do you hope to draw on?
10. What consideration have you given to your publicity and image to attract those segments? (It's hard to overcome a negative or limiting public image once it's created.)
11. Is there someone in your group with knowledge of or access to good advice on publicity matters?
12. Have you surveyed your potential school community for the extent of financial support, over and above tuition?
13. It is estimated by experienced Waldorf consultants that from $40,000 - $50,000 should be in hand before starting a
school with a reasonable hope of success. How will you raise this?
a. If not this sum, how will you guarantee at least the first two years of operation (rent/mortgage/loans, salaries, benefits, supplies, any necessary alteration of facility used, insurance, safety net for emergencies)?
14. Do the fund-raising activities you envision represent the quality and excellence of Waldorf Education?
15. What opportunities exist for attracting a Waldorf-trained teacher to your community?
a. What is the salary offered?
b. What is the housing availability for salary offered?
c. What are the social opportunities?
d. What is the type of school facility : church, community center, own building?
16. Do you have at least one experienced Waldorf teacher committed to starting the school?
17. Will you make plans to send likely candidates from your interested community to a teacher education center for training?
18. What thought has been given to a support staff? Someone in the school office is essential, as is at least a part-time bookkeeper.
Use of the names "Waldorf" and "Steiner"
The Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (AWSNA) is an association of independent schools working out of the pedagogical indications of Rudolf Steiner. Waldorf Education is devoted to contributing to spiritual, social, and economic renewal. It should be understood by any school or institution seeking affiliation with AWSNA that Waldorf Education is based on Anthroposophy, the philosophy initiated by Rudolf Steiner.
Waldorf is a trademark name in the United States and is reserved for independent schools which meet the membership standards established by AWSNA. Questions regarding schools in Canada need to be addressed to the Waldorf School Association of Ontario (WSAO). Only schools which have been accepted as Sponsored or Full Members of AWSNA may represent themselves as Waldorf schools or use the words "Waldorf" or "Rudolf Steiner" in their names or subtitles.
Guidelines for affiliation with AWSNA are available from the Association.
New Initiative Membership Program A category of membership for new initiatives has been implemented by the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America (AWSNA), effective August 1996. This entry-level affiliation with AWSNA is intended to provide new initiatives, which have an intention to begin a Waldorf school, with greater opportunity to establish a living connection with the Waldorf school movement. This is a significant step in the development of AWSNA toward its mission of serving and enhancing the Waldorf impulse in North America. Further, as the organization responsible for the trademark names "Waldorf" and "Rudolf Steiner," AWSNA now requires that any school wishing to use these names to describe itself in its literature, brochures, or public relations materials must be affiliated with AWSNA in the appropriate level of membership, and that schools wishing to use these names as a part of their school name or subtitle must be Sponsored Members or Full Members (see "Steps to Membership" for full descriptions of each level of membership). When an initiative is ready to affiliate with AWSNA, it will register and pay $200 annual dues. An application form will be distributed each fall.
Guidelines for New Initiative Membership are modeled upon the Associate Member status in the Waldorf Early Childhood Association of North America (WECAN), with the exception that AWSNA is an association of independent, nonpublic schools. Please note that new school initiatives in Ontario will be expected to work directly with the Waldorf School Association of Ontario (WSAO), and may affiliate with AWSNA when they are eligible to join as a Developing School. Waldorf initiative groups, play groups, kindergartens and related activities which meet the following criteria are eligible:
Demonstrable commitment to the ideals and practices of Waldorf Education and Anthroposophy, the philosophy developed by Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925). Wish to support and contribute to Waldorf Education in North America and the worldwide movement.
An intention to begin an independent, nonpublic Waldorf school (at an appropriate time with sufficient enrollment, sufficient funds, and a Waldorf trained teacher or a teacher willing to pursue Waldorf training) in consultation with the AWSNA Regional Chairs and a Waldorf Early Childhood Association (WECAN) representative.
The responsibility for determining who is eligible to be a New Initiative Member will be primarily in the hands of two people for each of the three Regions: AWSNA's Regional Chair and a person designated by WECAN. In the case of the regional chair, the task of working with New Initiatives will take place in addition to his or her work with Developing, Sponsored and Full Member schools. In the case of the Waldorf Early Childhood Association representatives, it is anticipated that the work will be done on a voluntary basis, alongside their regular jobs. Because of this, most of the administrative work will be handled by the regional chair or the AWSNA office, with the support and involvement of the WECAN office and WECAN representatives. Help will also be available through regional committees and WECAN board members who work with kindergartens on a mini-regional level.
A major part of the team's work will be to help New Initiatives lay strong foundations before founding a grade school. They will also assist in locating mentors who can work with New Initiatives. These may be individuals or nearby schools.
New Initiative Members will receive the following services:
1. Connection to AWSNA regional chairs and WECAN representative.
2. Listing as an AWSNA New Initiative Member in AWSNA Directory and AWSNA web site.
3. Invitation to appropriate AWSNA conferences and workshops in each region.
4. Associate Membership in WECAN with twice yearly newsletter and twice yearly (September and January) mailings to kindergartens.
5. One subscription to Renewal, and eligibility for bulk rates.
6. The AWSNA Newsletter, INFORM, twice yearly
7. AWSNA/WECAN Directory and WECAN information sheets (on request)
8. Catalogue of AWSNA Publications
9. In the first year only, a packet containing AWSNA publications Art of Administration and Administrative Explorations and selected WECAN publications.