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Seven Habits of Highly Effective Steiner Graduates
Andrew Hill, CEO of Steiner Education Australia presented this talk at our school in late January 2024. It was so well received that we were asked to publish it for our community. This article is a speech that has been adapted from a graduation address that Andrew Hill made to Year 12 Steiner students who were finishing their schooling in 2022.
I’m going to take seven things that Steiner students have all done for years, and suggest they keep doing them. They could even become habits. To paraphrase the hugely successful book of Professor Stephen Covey, I call these the Seven Habits of Highly Effective Steiner Graduates.
1. Learning like a Main Lesson
Why? Not just because we do it, but because it’s the most effective ways of learning anything: immersion, depth, narrative, image, and sleeping on it. It’s a bigger picture of what learning can be, learning that has been not just acquiring information or assembling details, but also growing as a person and expanding your view of the world. Current research is validating it. That’s the important idea behind our Main Lessons: any topic, or Big Idea, is a story, it has a context, it has development, it’s a living thing and it can be seen from many sides, whether it’s the Pythagoras Theorem, The Renaissance, The Birth of Literature or The Chemistry of Salts. Learning like a Main Lesson helps students turn complex information into an understandable narrative, into an organic whole.
I have known Steiner graduates who have turned their university lecture material into Main Lesson books so they could grasp it more thoroughly. The Golden Globe award-winning US actor Julianna Margulies, who went to Rudolf Steiner schools in New York, wrote how she would turn any script she received into a Main Lesson book before taking it to the Director of the show for guidance. You might want to do the same.
In one sense we’re all visual learners. You only understand something when you can make an inner picture of it. This is the reason why we draw so much. It’s not just decoration, its about learning, and putting your mind on paper. Drawing helps you process the world and see it more clearly, whether it was learning the letters of the alphabet in Class 1 or the world ocean systems in Class 10. Our school’s form of shading with vibrant colours also calms your mind and nourishes your heart. And by the way, it can look beautiful as well: beauty in this difficult world is a precious thing, and being able to create beauty at your fingertips is no small gift that we hope you take with you and keep practicing.
If drawing calms the mind, then singing calms the heart. In this age of instantly accessible everything, we live with recorded music on tap every second. Why bother singing yourself? You may be surprised how little people sing these days as part of ordinary life. But you have been in a school that puts singing, and quality music, up there as a fundamental human trait, and we hope you have had your voice developed and prepared to take with you wherever you go in life. And singing in harmony with others is even better, a little touch of heaven in this ordinary world. It’s a regular thing for graduating addresses to offer wise words of advice, and to send graduates off with some choice notes for the road, as it were. Personally, I don’t like to give advice for the simple reason that all the wise things should have been said already. So instead of wise thoughts, I want to look at the wise things that you’ve done, every day, at a Steiner school.
This one might seem strange, but good old-fashioned walking on the earth in a forward direction has a lot going for it. These days there are so many alternatives that get in the way, so many other options. Humanity evolved as a walking being, and there’s a wisdom in the phrase, being grounded. Walking grounds, you. There is so much of our organism that’s built around the calm, gentle rhythm that comes from moving those legs back and forth, our metabolism for starters. We hope you’ve had enough practice here: from bushwalks in transition through to strenuous hikes in Outdoor Education trips. If walking is an option anytime, take it. You’ll always be the better for it.
We live in a throwaway world, of course. But at the same time, it’s interesting that over the past few years the Artisan impulse is now so prominent: there’s artisan coffee, artisan bread, artisan beer, artisan markets. People making things and making them locally. It seems like the humans strike back against the machine. If you’ve been through our school, you will have made a lot of things, all useful and hopefully, beautiful: recorder bags, pencil cases, craft bags, wooden toys, knitted scarves, beanies, cross stitched patterns, roman shields, bowls, metal fence pieces… the list goes on. Your parents probably have cupboards full of the stuff you’ve made. We didn’t get you to make all those things just to fill those cupboards of course. It was to give you skills and confidence in your skills. These are the attributes of the entrepreneur: to have a vision of your product, to assemble the materials, to apply your will with strength and specific skills, to communicate your product to an audience. These are all the skills of the entrepreneur, the skills of the 21st century, and you take them with you into the future.
When you were little, we not only let you play a lot, we encouraged you to play and made it part of the curriculum. We’ve certainly encouraged you to climb and run and explore. It sometimes seems that real play is an endangered species. I was speaking with a mainstream Kindergarten teacher who told me she has children coming in now who physically can’t even climb. Play creates another reality, another culture. Children do it most beautifully in self-directed play, when they play out what they have seen adults doing, and they express their imitation by creating scenarios. They process their learning through play. Our playgrounds at lunchtime are a whirlpool of movement and play. As you got older that play became more formal, in games with sets of rules. But even those adult games are another reality, with their rituals and their ceremonies. Now there are wise people who have said that we are most human when we play. There was a famous book written just on that topic. Play keeps you fresh, and attentive, and lifts us out of the hum drum routines where just for those precious moments we are free from the workaday world. Keep playing!
This last one might seem counterintuitive: doesn’t everyone get emotional and have feelings? Doesn’t any normal person get sad when their football team loses, happy when their football team wins, ecstatic when their football team wins a grand final, and totally incoherent when their country wins the World Cup? But “feeling” is different. Let me give an example. We’re taught by physics that what we see as colour is light with different wave lengths: blue and violet have short wave lengths, red has the longest wavelength. That’s so important to understand as the physical basis of the world. But is that all? Is that all colour is? One of the first things we show you in Class 1 when we do water colour painting is that red feels different from blue, and both feel different from yellow. The wavelengths are only one side of the reality of colour. The feeling of colour, as any of you who’s had to decide on colours to paint your bedroom will know, is another reality again. That’s what the water colour painting in primary school was all about: growing your feelings so you have stronger feeling “muscles”. It goes on. The sun is a ball of burning gas. For thousands of years, who hasn’t been moved in their feelings by the awe and majesty of the sun slowly rising over the horizon and beginning a new day. The moon is a ball of rock that reflects sunlight. What normal person hasn’t been enchanted by the feelings of a silvered moonlit evening or felt romantic when walking through moonlight with a special person? Unfortunately, there seem to be more people in the world today who, maybe because of a one-sided education, only see wavelengths, gas, and a ball of rock. That’s a dismal outlook on the world, and not one to make you want to get up in the morning and shout for joy. We talk about having “feelings” for someone (it means you like them a lot!): I hope as a Steiner graduate you will also have “feelings” for the world and all its wonderful enchantments. Then, like an able-bodied person standing on two legs, you will both understand the current science of the world, and “feel” it as well. You will be, in short, a complete human being.
So those are Seven Habits of Highly Effective Steiner Graduates, things you take with you as a solid foundation of good habits for a meaningful life.
[i] Hill, Andrew – ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Glenaeon Graduates. AEON Magazine. 9th of December 2022, glenaeon.nsw.edu.au/about/