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A refection on the AWSNA conference by Marshunda Smith, Music and Strings Teacher

One of the many activities we (teachers) do during the summer months (besides going to the bathroom whenever we want) is keeping up to date with our personal growth as teachers. For some, it’s going to a Renewal course at an Anthroposical School, for some others it’s attending the AWSNA conference.

AWSNA (Association of Waldorf Schools in North America) conference happens every year around the last week of June, and it is hosted by different Waldorf Schools every summer. Last year’s conference was in Washington DC and the theme was “Social Justice: Exploring Place, Race, Class and Gender in Waldorf Education.” This year’s conference was held in Philadelphia and the theme was “Responsible Innovation: Charting the Course for the Next Century.”

I, among my wonderful colleagues, Branigan Reed, Vanya Yoors and Ana Coffey attended this week-long conference and we all left the conference with great ideas as well as some differing ideas. As we listened to the keynote speaker, Elan Leibner, every morning, there were some instances where we all agreed, then there were some instances where we all heard the same thing, but we interpreted it differently. AND THAT IS OK!!!!! Hearing a different interpretation opens up a new dialogue.

Mr. Leibner gave us all an image, and he kept coming back to this image as he spoke about this year’s theme “Responsible Innovation.” The image is as follows:

Imagine you are a parent and your 12-year-old son needs a suit. You go to the department store and the salesperson says, “Ah, another 12-year-old! Here’s the suit for all 12-year-olds.”

What’s wrong with this picture? We know for a fact that not all 12-year-olds are shaped/ learn the same. If we know this, why would we as teachers, (remember he is speaking to about 300 teachers) try to teach a class the same way we taught it long ago KNOWING that today’s child is extremely different than yesterday’s child. Are we really serving/ meeting the child where she/he is at if we are forcing the same suit on different children?

Several teachers whom Elan spoke with, mentioned their exhaustion at the end of the school day. Of course, every teacher is tired, but there is a special type of exhaustion that happens when a teacher is trying to stuff a child into a suit that does not fit. It becomes mental AND physical exhaustion. To those teachers, he asked, “Are you innovating and moving with the times? Are you changing how you teach according to the children you are being tasked to teach today? Or are you teaching them according to how you taught long ago?” ie, Are you trying to stuff them in the suit that fit children long ago?

Elan spoke of other many things, but “The Suit” kept coming around.

For the Waldorf movement to survive the next 100 years, we HAVE to continuously innovate in the most responsible way that is in direct relation to the community we serve. If you are in some type of teaching role, be it at a school or a business, ask yourself “How have/ can I update my teaching style to meet today’s learner?”

I have been a Waldorf teacher for five years and I look forward to beginning my sixth. Within my first six months of teaching in this community, I had already taken a Waldorf teacher training course. Meeting the child where they are, is how my elementary, middle and high school taught me! Every child is a puzzle. My teachers in Tennessee figured out the Marshunda puzzle. Because of that, I thoroughly enjoy challenging myself to figure out each child’ puzzle as well as innovating/collaborating with my colleagues to serve our children.

During the 2019-2020 school year, look forward to other takes on the 2019 AWSNA conference from Branigan Reed, Vanya Yoors and Ana Coffey. Please feel free to reach out to me at msmith@waldorfmoraine.org.