When John Davidson saw the position of Education Director advertised at the Waldorf School, he was attracted by the possibility of working in a school within a university town, and to Armidale itself. He tells FOCUS how he is enjoying the role so far.
Where are you originally from, and when did you first become involved with Steiner Education?
I was born in New Zealand and came to Australia for the first time in 1981 and then to live in 1990. I have five children, and they are the reason I became involved in Steiner Education. With the oldest ones, my wife and I were looking for an education that would meet who they were.
I had just started working as a teacher and the more I learned about Waldorf Education, the more it made sense to me. Once my children started, I just wished I’d had that opportunity myself. I enjoyed seeing what they were doing, how they were learning, and who they were becoming. I could also see the value of teaching in this way. My first visit to Australia was to the Melbourne Rudolf Steiner School, so I could learn about this approach.
Describe your teaching career so far …
After three years in state schools in New Zealand I took a class in Christchurch, through their primary education from Class One to Class Eight. One class for eight years, growing and learning together. This was an extraordinary experience. I also worked as a representative of the Steiner schools in New Zealand towards their becoming state funded. Waldorf Education is a worldwide phenomenon and has been accepted by state authorities in many countries (USA, UK, NZ, Australia, Germany etc.) on the basis of the success of the schools and their students. Research has shown this style of teaching meets what students need in today’s world.
In 1990 I was invited to take a class in an inner city Steiner school in Melbourne and came over to Australia to live. Since then I have taught classes at Primary and Secondary levels, worked in administration, management and governance. For many years I worked to represent the education to government and also as a consultant and teacher trainer, both here and in Europe and Japan. Why Armidale, and what are your enjoying about New England so far?
When I saw the position of Education Director advertised, I was attracted by the possibility of working in a school within a university town, and to Armidale itself. I had been to Armidale several times previously to visit friends and to work in the school. Coming from Christchurch, I have never been afraid of warnings about the cold. UNE has also a long history of connection to Waldorf/Steiner Education, being the first tertiary institute in NZ or Australia to offer courses in this pedagogy. I have made some preliminary connections to staff at UNE, who are interested in Steiner Education.
Stand outs for me about Armidale are the friendliness of the people, the diversity of nationalities here, the breadth and diversity of facilities and resources of a small city, the accessibility to a rich cultural life … in three weeks I had been to two concerts and two plays, all of very high quality, enjoyed two visits to NERAM, and met many people from other schools in the area … but most of all, the warmth and welcoming nature of the people is great. I have met all the neighbours where I am living; there is a strong sense of community. Many people probably take it for granted, but even the way I was met going into the library is different from big city life.
Why is Steiner Education so highly regarded in all fields of education?
Many people actually know very little about Steiner/ Waldorf Education. Some connect it with free school styles from the seventies (like Summerhill in the UK). This is not what we are about. Nor are we a hippy school, nor is what we do wacky. Does it work? Research has now been done in many countries around the world that shows this to be a very effective style of teaching. In South Australia, a researcher tracked students from one Waldorf school and how they did at university. The results showed they were 10 to 15% more successful in their courses (Science and Humanities) than students from other schools.
University lecturers I have spoken to comment on the resourcefulness and exceptional qualities of students in their classes who have come to them with this background.
What is your vision for The Waldorf School, and what’s new for 2015?
Next year will be exciting for us at The Armidale Waldorf School, as once again we are going into the secondary classes. Joanne Lowe, a very experienced teacher, is taking her class on into Class Seven. The curriculum for these years (7 and 8) really goes into the needs of the adolescent. We are excited about doing this once again and providing the fullness of a curriculum that goes from the needs of the seven year old to that of a fourteen year old.
We have spaces in all our classes, and I am keen to help people get a clearer picture of what our school is, what we teach, how we teach and how successfully this meets the needs of the child.
There is also the encounter with winter that people keep warning me about, but of the seasons so far everyone tells me, “Oh no, this isn’t what Armidale is usually like. It’s not usually so hot” … I need to talk with more farmers.
Plans for the future?
What I would like to do here is to help people in town see that the Waldorf School is a real option for parents to consider for their child. I am also keen to see that the school operates effectively for the whole community: that is the contribution we can make to the city, to the school community, to the parents, the staff and most of all, to the children.