There are 32 Waldorf schools in Norway, with about 5000 students and 800 teachers. All schools and kindergartens closed for about eight weeks when the pandemic reached Norway in March 2020. Apart from this however, the social ramifications were not as hard as in other parts of Europe; children could still spend time outdoors, meet up and play with classmates and spend their lives close to the way it was before the threat of Covid-19.
Since the Waldorf curriculum is based on storytelling, practical and artistic tasks and human relations, homeschooling required a great deal of creativity from both teachers and students. The schools in Norway tackled the challenges in many different ways. Some schools provided physical packages to the pupils with assignments and materials so they could study at home, with support from their parents for the youngest children of course. Other schools provided lessons over the internet part of the day and assignments beyond that. Some teachers recorded audio files or videos with stories, verses and songs for their students. Others held digital lessons entirely. Teachers kept in touch with their student trough mail, phone conversations and digital meetings. The situation was particularly demanding for students in the lowest grades as older students are more accustomed to work with digital tools and have greater experience of studying on their own.
We have learned that many teachers were challenged to rethink their teaching methods. The Norwegian Waldorf teachers quickly connected online in a Facebook- group where they shared programs, ideas, inspiration, assignments etc. Over 700 teachers gathered on this platform, and it is still active, proving a useful tool also after the lock-down of schools.
This Facebook group gave inspiration to a wide range of creative projects; baking and cooking-assignments, documented nature walks, land-art projects, shadow theater, painting, music and singing, short film projects, book reading and reviews, gymnastics, form-drawing and even eurythmy exercises to do at home were shared.
A lot of effort was put in to creating as high a quality homeschooling as possible for the students in these strange times, but our experience has been that nothing can replace the community of a classroom. The longing for social life is the biggest challenge of these times. There was great joy for most pupils and teachers alike, when the schools reopened in June. We are still fortunate to have this status all over the country, apart from the few classes affected by illness and some upper secondary schools that have limited opening hours to reduce crowding.
Good conditions in difficult times
Norwegian Waldorf schools receive substantial public financial support and have fortunately not experienced a financial crisis, unlike many of the Waldorf schools around the world. Particular support schemes have been distributed; extended sick-leave possibilities and substitute arrangements. This have benefited our schools, allowing them to focus on the most important task at hand: ensuring our pupils´ and teachers´ wellbeing.
Most Norwegian homes have Internet access and many screens available, so connecting between school and home was easy. In addition, many of the Norwegian publishers, libraries and organizations released free material during this time. Some of this was well suited to Waldorf educators and pupils- audio books, films and documentaries, art projects, digital exhibitions and musical work.
Canceled and postponed
Most of the Federations seminars, courses and conferences have been canceled this year. We managed however, to arrange our annual Waldorf teachers conference digitally. We hired a film team to make 19 half-hour films for the teachers and schools. Each film was accompanied by assignments and a conversation topic for further studies. The films covered a variety of aspects of the Waldorf curriculum and anthroposophy.
All the films were sent to the registered schools, and they could choose how to use them. Some have chosen to watch a movie every week during the weekly teachers meeting, others divided in groups and have seen film and done assignments in smaller groups. The material can be used in a wide range of settings over a long period of time. In addition, digital groups were arranged and over 300 teachers participated. The feedback for the annual teachers´ conference has been very good: time and money often limit the participation of all teachers from each school, but this time the conference came to the entire college.
And the future?
It is impossible for us to imagine that digital teaching will replace the traditional Waldorf teaching method. The essential inter-personal relationships, the practical training, the Arts, the music, the storytelling and the conversation cannot be replaced by computers and recordings. Still the digital experience opened up for many positive possibilities, particularly in regard to cooperation between the various schools and teachers across the country. It proved possible to participate and share inspiration between many more without traveling, with no expenses and with time/nature saved. Teachers with shared grade-level and subjects connected easily and fruitfully, and it opened the opportunity to share, develop and refine Waldorf pedagogy and methods in between schools.
We were excited to see how our Waldorf teachers adapted quickly when needed to a world of methods and tools they were not used to handle professionally. To adapt, to explore, to rethink, to develop, to share and to be brave – these are all qualities perhaps needed both for teachers and pupils in these uncertain times and times to come.
Beathe Schieldrop and Ninon Onarheim, The Norwegian Steiner Education Federation