Education Transformations sat down with Lyra Matthews, a first grade teacher at Sparrow School, a Waldorf inspired charter school in San Diego, to find out what she likes about this method of education. Waldorf Education is a humanistic approach to instruction based on the educational philosophy of the Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner, focusing greatly on use of imagination, nature, hands-on activities, artistic and social expression, and fostering both creative and analytical modes of understanding. One of the reasons Matthews likes it is because she has the freedom to teach in a way that allows her to take into account the developmental stages of her students. She says she takes a subject and comes up with her own way of presenting it, in order to find ways to pique the students’ interest and appeal to their natural curiosity. Also, she uses stories as a basis for lessons, with imaginative images that children can relate to, since they inherently have a pictorial way of thinking. Matthews has been teaching the Waldorf method since 1998 and, having had all of her own children go through and enjoy the Waldorf inspired educational approach, she is motivated to stay with this method of teaching.
Through years of classroom experience, she has discovered she can use music and rhythmic movement as ways to attract the interest of her first graders, and to have them work as a group. She has seen that starting a lesson with a song draws their attention to a subject, and presenting ideas in the form of stories makes it understandable to them. The subjects are further enhanced by incorporating art into the work, as the children draw directly into their own ‘main lesson books’. Teaching the seasons and nature are enjoyable for Matthews, who appreciates their role at the center of the Waldorf curriculum. Her class often celebrates festivals on certain holidays, and Matthews loves tying those celebrations to nature and the seasons, using songs and artistic renditions. The students stay engaged because they are working to arrive at the answers themselves that go with the rhythms that go with the stories – whew! Now I’m engaged!
Even during off times, Matthews is always keeping her eyes open for new things to teach her students. During a recent break from the classroom, she came up with a lesson idea and was excited and inspired to get back and share it with her students. Having the space to create her lessons gives her more freedom to innovate. Her gauge on how to teach a lesson is to find the balance between inward and outward exercises that keep the students engaged, and to notice the beneficial effect of that rhythmic balance herself. Also for Matthews, using color and music always feels good personally, so she incorporates them into her lessons, which typically helps her students connect better too. Bringing movement and daily rhythms to her students and having them benefit from the expressive routines gives her satisfaction and a feeling of success.
The teachers at her school are very receptive and interested in each others ideas, making it easy to work with each other. The Sparrow faculty come together for a faculty meeting every week; they also gather every morning before school starts, to read and discuss a verse. Matthews says it’s nice to be able to touch base with adults and share a few words before school starts. Here is an example of a verse that would be read: “I feel the essence of my being,” So speaks an inward sense Which in the sun-illumined world unites with the flowing light. For it would pour its warmth into thinking’s clarity And bind in one the human being and the world.” Can you imagine what a great conversation would come from reading that with a group you work with? AWESOME!!
If there were one thing Matthews could change in education, it would be to “throw out the teachers’ manuals.” Rudolf Steiner said that teaching should come directly from the teacher, and she feels that having that freedom might be missing in many public school classrooms. Teachers’ manuals tell exactly what to teach, what to ask, and what to tell the students. While getting her teaching credential, she was exposed to the manuals and worksheets approach to teaching, and throwing out the manuals would not only give teachers their own freedom to teach, but it would also give students their freedom to learn.