Building an Administrative Staff

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The size and structure of a Waldorf school’s administrative staff is a direct reflection of two things—the size of the student body and the unique biography of the school. It is not possible to foresee the unique series of events that will surround the incarnation and growth of a particular Waldorf school, nor to predict how those unforeseen events will shape the order of growth and the size of the administrative staff at a particular point in a school’s life. However, there are some general rules of thumb and common traps on the road to building a full staff that can be shared here.

What do we mean when we say administrative staff?
It is helpful to think of administrative staff members as those whose primary purpose is ministering to the adults in the school community – teachers and parents. By this definition a school secretary is clearly a member of the administrative staff. She handles incoming calls from current and prospective parents, types outgoing correspondence for individual teachers and for all-school mailings, orders office supplies, and many other tasks that serve adult needs. While it is true that a portion of her job may be tending to the injured children who come into the office for care, this is not the primary focus of her job. Her work has a pedagogical aspect and impacts the effectiveness with which teachers carry out the pedagogy, but her emphasis is on serving adults. This same logic suggests that the registrar, business manager, director of development, and the operations manager/administrator are all administrative positions.

However, custodial personnel, grounds maintenance staff and the school librarian are not administrators by this definition. A librarian has as her primary focus serving the reading and research needs of the students in the school, and spends a considerable amount of her time interacting with the students directly. The custodian and grounds maintenance staff serve the needs of the physical plant as their priority, not other adults. (A facility supervisor in a school with a sizable custodial or grounds staff such as might be found in a farm school would be an administrator if his primary focus was coordinating the work and ministering to the needs of his staff.)

Often overlooked, the pedagogical chair is a member of the administrative staff. While he or she may spend some portion of her time teaching, that portion of time spent ministering to the needs of the faculty (staffing, professional development of teachers, curriculum review and development, and so on) is administrative work. For purposes of this discussion a teacher who spends half of her time serving as a pedagogical chair and half of her time in the classroom would be viewed as a half time member of the administrative staff.

Why do we need such a clear definition of administrative staff?
This clear understanding on who is considered administrative staff is important only in so far as it allows us to apply a very useful rule of thumb for setting the appropriate level of administrative staffing for a particular school. Generally speaking a Waldorf school should have one full time administrative staff member for each 30 to 35 students in a school. These needn’t be all full time administrative employees, but the total staffing should add up to the equivalent of one full time equivalent for each 30 to 35 students.

The following chart provides some general guidelines for administrative staff size relative to enrollment:

# of Students     # of Administrative FTEs [1]
1-30 1.0
31-45 1.5
46-65 2.0
66-81 2.5
82-95 3.0
96-112 3.5
113-130 4.0
131-146 4.5
147-160 5.0

The administrative staffing levels continue to grow in line with enrollment. The proper staffing level for a school with enrollment of 320 students is expected to total about 10 full time equivalents. Note that the above numbers are approximations based on observations of many effective Waldorf administrative teams. They are not absolutes and should be adjusted as is appropriate in each school’s operating environment.

It should also be noted that these staffing numbers include the administrative time spent by the pedagogical or faculty chair in pursuit of his or her non-teaching responsibilities.

Is there a proper or preferred order for adding administrative staff as a school grows?
In a very small school it is likely that the school secretary or receptionist will be the only member of the administrative staff. Her position will require her to do a little bit of everything, and often times she may feel that she does just enough of everything to get by but not enough of any one thing to do it really well. At some point the school will grow enough to require an addition to staff, and the question then becomes which tasks can be best carved out of the receptionist’s job to become the core of the new individual’s task. Or there may be some tasks that have been carried by teachers or parent volunteers that should be considered.

With so much to do how can a school decide what’s appropriate?
Most often the first position added to the administrative staff is an enrollment director. Often times this is done by creating a half time job at first, with hours added as appropriate at a later time. The enrollment director’s position frequently has responsibility for advertising and promotion, creation of the school’s first newsletter, and backup support to the receptionist on the telephone. The focus of the position is to serve as a bridge between prospective parents outside the school and the faculty, with additional responsibility for supporting student retention. Properly staffing this position frequently has an immediate and direct impact on the enrollment levels in the school, bringing needed financial resources into a growing small school, and helping the position to self fund within six months.

We have a part time enrollment director and a full time receptionist. What might get added next?
The next addition to staff is often a part time bookkeeper. Again the receptionist is freed from some types of clerical tasks that are growing in number as the student body grows. Some of these tasks require focused attention and expertise, while others can be easily handled between the frequent calls and other important issues that require an immediate, warm response. The ideal candidate for the bookkeeper position has the ability to do the billing and clerical work that needs to get done in the business office, and can work with the school’s accountant to ensure that the books of the school are properly balanced and that the chart of accounts is responsive to the school’s needs. The addition of an in-house bookkeeper can often provide a more personal contact for sensitive billing and payment issues than an outside contractor can manage, again helping to ensure that the school stays responsive to the needs of its families.

The next addition is a half time Community Development chair. This individual will lead the outreach and fundraising efforts of the school, and will work in partnership with the enrollment director to ensure that the school’s image is consistently displayed in all printed material. The Community Development chair is often the team leader for all administrative staff members involved in the realm of brotherhood—including outreach, enrollment, and fundraising—so team building and general supervisory skills are important characteristics for this individual.

And then?
At this point the school has 2.5 FTEs and about 80 students. The next addition should be a half time Administrative Chair. This individual will have responsibility for all of the “rights sphere” activity that takes place in the school, and will lead a team that includes the receptionist and the bookkeeper.

Rights sphere activities in a Waldorf school include all the activities where the school is involved with contracts, the laws of state, and community mores. Examples include benefits administration, legal compliance, insurance and safety, and accounts receivable and payable. More information about the three spheres of activity in a Waldorf school is provided at the end of this article.

What about pedagogical leadership?
As the school’s enrollment grows to about 100 students, the number of faculty members and the richness of the curriculum have grown to a point of far greater complexity than in the early days of the school. At this point it is important to create a position of pedagogical chair. This individual will be responsible for ministering to the needs of the faculty, and providing leadership in the cultural realm of the school. Activities here include teacher training and search, curriculum development, teacher evaluation, and pedagogical budgeting. Quality teaching in a school of this size dictates that a teacher be freed to provide these leadership functions on a half time basis. Only in this way can the tasks outlined be held consciously without compromising teaching. It is an all too frequent mistake in Waldorf schools to ask a teacher that is gifted administratively to carry this role in addition to a full time teaching load, a practice that forces either the pedagogical administrative work or the individual’s teaching to suffer, with the all too frequent result being burnout and the loss of a talented colleague.

So what does the school look like now?
The following chart shows the administrative staffing at several enrollment levels, including the 100-student level just described.

Suggested Administrative Staffing Levels

Enrollment Level
(Number of Students) 100 120 150 180
Position Description
Pedagogical Chair 0.5 FTEs   0.5               0.5               0.5              
Administrative Chair 0.5 1.0 1.0 1.0
Receptionist 1.0 1.0 1.0 1.0
Bookkeeper 0.5 0.5 0.5 1.0
Community Dev. Chair     0.5 0.5 1.0 1.0
Development Assistant 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.5
Enrollment Director 0.5 0.5 1.0 1.0
TOTAL FTEs 3.5 4.0 5.0 6.0

Are there common mistakes schools should avoid?
Perhaps the most common mistake is hiring one individual to perform two part time jobs so that a full time position can be created. For example, many schools have tried to hire someone to do both community development and enrollment work. While this may work in the short term, it rarely succeeds in the long run. Calendar conflicts are a major problem, as when the enrollment director feels compelled to reduce attention to incoming calls during the weeks leading up to the annual appeal or a community-building event, at the cost of failing to enroll new students.

Additionally, success in these two positions calls on different skills. While it is true that both positions have a promotional outward gesture, the enrollment director’s expertise is in helping interested parents learn more about Waldorf education and in coordinating the many details that are related to the work of setting up teacher interviews, classroom visits and enrolling a child. In comparison the Community Development Chair must be expert in encouraging members of the current parent community to volunteer their considerable gifts of wealth, work and wisdom, helping each member of the community to find a way to support their child’s school.

And finally, the continued growth of the school will mean that staff will need to be added in these areas in the not too distant future, causing the combined position to be split. It’s fairly straightforward to ask someone to increase her hours in a job she’s already doing on a part time basis. It’s more complicated to hire a new part time person who the current employee needs to train. And it’s just awful if the current full time employee is chosen for the part time position, or if the school feels the need to place the current employee in a new full time job that does not make the best use of her skills.

Can you say more about the threefold distribution of tasks in a Waldorf school, and their implications for administrative structure?
Through his studies of man and society, Rudolf Steiner saw that there are three spheres of human activity (see Anthroposophical Social Ideals). The first, described as the realm of freedom, is the area where individual insight and artistry are brought to bear. In a Waldorf school this sphere is known as the cultural or pedagogical realm, and is typically supported by a pedagogical chair.

The second area of human interaction is in the realm of equality, where each individual can expect to be treated in a manner equal to that enjoyed by others. This is the area where actions are governed by law, by contract or by socially accepted forms of action. This sphere in our schools is the rights sphere, and its activities are administrative in nature.

The third area of human activity is the realm of economics. This is the area where men work together through association and for mutual benefit to advance their individual goals, typically through the sale of products or services. While some parents would like to believe that they could purchase a Waldorf education by supplying the funds contracted for as tuition, the truth is that education cannot be purchased like a car or a haircut. A parent can only provide funds that make it possible for the education to be offered, but there is no guarantee that with enough money a child could be taught to be a gifted artist or to score 1600 on the SAT. While we don’t have an economic product for sale, our schools do interact with the economic world by contracting with parents to allow the funds that are a byproduct of their economic activity elsewhere to flow into the school as tuition and gift moneys. The sphere of economic activity is often called the realm of brotherhood due to the mutual dependence and associative nature of activities that take place there, and it is this realm that is directed by the Community Development Chair.

The following chart outlines in more detail the types of activities needed to manage a Waldorf school and shows how the activities fall into each of the three realms.

Cultural – Realm of Individual Insight and Artistry (Freedom)
Curriculum development
Student CARE
Teacher hiring/search
Teacher evaluation
Teacher mentoring
Pedagogical budget

Rights – Realm of the State and Community Mores (Equality)
Compensation and Benefits
Legal compliance
Insurance & Safety
Disaster Preparedness
Accounts Receivable and Payable
Tuition Assistance
Government Interaction
Overall budget
Personnel and student files
Buildings and Grounds

Economics – Realm of Mutuality and Associations (Brotherhood)
    Publicity and PR
       Grant writing
       Annual and Capital Campaigns
       Scrip program
       Events (auction, etc.)
    Community Development
       Community Building Events (concerts, etc.)
       Welcoming committee
       Parent education
Parent volunteer coordination
School store

Is it difficult having three chairs? How do things get managed on a day-to-day basis? Schools that have a three chair structure find that these individuals can be particularly effective if the school’s Board of Trustees and College/Faculty Circle allow these chairs to be truly responsible for their work. This means that each chair has a clear job description that spells out his or her area of responsibility, the extent of their authority, and any limitations on that authority that are essential for the protection of the school. Agreement is sought on the priorities for the coming year and this agreement is put in writing – and then the chairs are given the freedom to bring their full creativity to moving the organization ahead in the mutually agreed upon direction.

The benefits of this approach to managing a school are many:

  • The Board is freed to focus on its proper work – ensuring that the school is on track to deliver the ideal vision of those it serves today and in the future. Ensuring that the school has a strategic plan that is regularly updated, that the three leaders have clear objectives and are regularly reviewed, and that necessary limitations are placed on the chairs’ operating authority does this. (Note: The objectives setting and evaluation of the pedagogical chair is generally handled by the College of Teachers in schools that have reached this stage of development.)
  • The chairs are freed to operate in freedom within their respective spheres of influence, maximizing the creative and imaginative potential that can be brought to implementing appropriate operating policies and strategies. The three chairs are on campus daily and should be easily able to meet together on a regular basis to coordinate between them the various issues that the school confronts. This also eliminates the burden on a volunteer Chairman of the Board to regularly attend operating meetings of the staff; in this structure the Board chair can be invited but is not required to participate in operating meetings. Additional information about this approach to management, known as Policy Governance, can be secured at

Is one chair “above” the other two in authority? Who calls meetings and gets things organized? Organizations with this structure have found great benefit in using the “first among equals” approach to leadership. This approach is described in detail in Robert Greenleaf’s The Institution as Servant. In this approach a “first” is selected based on the individual’s ability to build and facilitate a team, and then is asked to call meetings and coordinate the agenda on behalf of the group. However, the “first” has no authority over the other two chairs as far as directing their work or evaluating performance. Selecting a “first” based on team building skills rather than one or another leader’s sphere of responsibility ensures that the group is able to operate at optimum effectiveness. Schools also find that the “first” can be changed from year to year as personnel and circumstances change, a great benefit that is lost if one chair always leads because of his sphere of responsibility.

Lynn Kern
Organizational Consultant &
AWSNA Board of Trustees
June 2004

Association of Waldorf Schools of North America
Effective Practices Research Project
DEV Document DEV 2-1-1

[1] An FTE is a Full Time Equivalent. For example, one FTE could be one full time person or two half time people.

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