Tension between Satisfaction and Stress: Alanus University Publishes First Study of Teachers at Waldorf Schools for Special Education

Pupils at a Waldorf school for special education
Instruction at a Waldorf school for special education, Photo: C. Fischer

90 years ago, Rudolf Steiner laid the foundation for special education according to anthroposophical principles. Since then, these principles have been adopted in various contexts, including in Waldorf schools for special education. Alanus University of Arts and Social Sciences in Alfter, near Bonn, has now published a study financed by the Software AG Foundation. In it, the teachers at these types of schools have been systematically surveyed and studied for the first time. One of the results of the study is that the teachers, by and large, perceive their work to be useful and effective and believe that it enriches their own personality. At the same time, more than half of all teachers experience feelings of stress related to their jobs.

“This study takes a first step towards establishing a foundation of research about special education. With it, anthroposophical special education can come to terms with its current challenges and then continue to develop,” said Bernhard Schmalenbach, Professor of Special Education at Alanus University. Together with his colleagues Dirk Randoll, Professor of Educational Science, and Jürgen Peters from the Institute of Educational Sciences at Alanus University, Professor Schmalenbach has published a book on the study: “Lehrerinnen und Lehrer an heilpädagogischen Waldorfschulen” (Teachers at Special Education Waldorf schools). For the study, they surveyed around 200 teachers at special education Waldorf schools. “This is an exploratory study that creates a basis for future research on this topic,” said Dirk Randoll.

High Satisfaction and Mutual Support among Colleagues
The study provided important evidence regarding the level of satisfaction among teachers, but also indicated that they have a high level of perceived stress. Almost 90 per cent of the teachers indicated that they were highly satisfied with respect to their profession and in particular with their educational work. This sense of satisfaction is due to, for example: a sense that colleagues see their work as valuable; the evident mutual support between teachers; the opportunity to express and develop Waldorf educational ideas; and very good relationships with students.  More than three-fourths of the respondents said that their work increases their sense of self-worth and also indicated an ability to express themselves in their work.

The study showed that one important task for the future practice of special education Waldorf schools is addressing teachers' job-related feelings of stress: Almost half of the teachers surveyed indicated that their own health was in need of improvement or “not so good.” 40 per cent of teachers believed that there was a relationship between their health problems and the high demands of their jobs. Besides their daily teaching activities, sources of stress included the financial situation of the school, their own salaries and activities related to self-governance. In total, around 50 per cent of teachers rated their feelings of job-related stress as strong or very strong. A third of the respondents perceive the demands of the educational work itself as stressful.

In total, teachers at special education Waldorf schools indicate a high level of identification with Waldorf pedagogical principles. The foundations of the pedagogical methodology of Rudolf Steiner, with its orientation in anthropology and developmental psychology, as well as its methods and attitudes, were described by the teachers as a valuable tools for understanding and supporting children and youth as individuals. Accordingly, around 90 per cent of respondents said they had a positive view of anthroposophy in relation to their professional activity.

The study: Berhard Schmalenbach, Dirk Randoll und Jürgen Peters (eds.): Lehrerinnen und Lehrer an heilpädagogischen Waldorfschulen. Eine explorative empirische Untersuchung. Wiesbaden: Springer VS 2014, 116 pages, ISBN 978-3-658-06810-3

Alanus University of Arts and Social Sciences is a state-recognized school in Alfter, near Bonn. An important part of the concept at Alanus University is the meeting of the arts and sciences. Alanus brings together under one roof programs in the fields of architecture, visual arts, drama, eurhythmy, art therapy, education and business administration. Alanus currently has around 1,200 students. All programs are accredited and state-recognized. In May 2010, Alanus University was also successfully accredited by the Wissenschaftsrat of Germany and now has the right to award doctorates in the field of Education Sciences. For more information, please see: www.alanus.edu/eng/

The Software AG Foundation is an independent, non-profit foundation organised under German law and based in Darmstadt. We are not a corporate foundation, but a principal shareholder in the Software AG company, also based in Darmstadt. With the profits on an endowment of around one billion Euro, the Software AG Foundation (SAGST) has been funding selected projects since 1992. We exclusively fund projects carried out by independent non-profit organizations who provide an immediate benefit to the community. We consider it a special aspect of our work to actively initiate new projects that achieve the essential developments and objectives identified in the foundation's charter (version dated May 28, 2002). Adherence to the “Guiding Principles of Good Practice for Foundations,” adopted by the Association of German Foundations in 2006, is central to how we work. The Software AG Foundation has its own asset management.