This article was translated from
Norwegian by William B. Forward,
thanks to an initiative by Michael Brinch

In a Steiner School one is likely to hear that a flat/horizontal structure belongs to a romantic ideal from the ’80s, where everyone sat in a circle and spent the whole night discussing whether the Advent spiral should go clockwise or anti-clockwise and that a flat structure results in responsibility being dispersed and no-one being in charge.

A flat structure is described as irresponsible and furthermore in conflict with our duties under private education law. As proof that a flat structure has no place in our modern society in general, and in Steiner schools in particular, it is pointed out that  schools were on the point of bankruptcy in the ’80s and were placed in administration, so that they could be salvaged by committed parents who had experience in business and law. (Resell, 2013)

By Gottfried Straube Fjeldså

No one can contest that it makes little sense for people with no qualifications to run large enterprises. This is so obvious that it is appropriate to examine what is really meant by the terms flat structure and self-administration. What is behind these concepts that raw us from one side to the other in our debates on leadership in Steiner schools?

If we lift our gaze and look into the world we will notice that out there the terms flat structure and self-administration are not taken to be synonymous with lack of direction and absence of responsibility, and that on the contrary self-administration is described as the means by which knowledge workers can give of their best.

Here are some examples:

NITO-boss Trond Markussen has expressed the wish for a new Norwegian boss at Statoil after Helge Lund. This is his reasoning: “in Norwegian corporate culture we have a fairly flat structure with an informal atmosphere which we hope Statoil can also continue to maintain. That is why I should like a Norwegian leader.” (Markussen, 2014)

Statoil? Flat structure?

The former Saga Petroleum is also praised for its flat structure: “Exploration boss Hans Christen Roennevik believes that Lundin and Roennevik’s achievement can be traced back to the privately owned oil company Saga and Hydro. There was a flat structure there, with no hierarchy and a culture of creativity and freedom for geologists and exploration people. In this way alternative ways of thinking were enabled to grow and develop. That is what we see the results of in Lundin Norway today.” (Aftenbladet, 2014).

Without this flat structure and the creative freedom allowed to geologists in the Norwegian oil business, the Sverdrup oil field would very likely not have been discovered at this point in time is the point being made here. And while the freedom of Norwegian teachers is being eroded almost literally day by day – think of this: In the Department of Education alone the number of bureaucrats who are to regulate and control the daily work of teachers has grown from 247 in 2006 to 1,283 today (Nettside, 2015) – it is explicitly emphasised here that the freedom granted to the geologists was the success factor that led to the largest oil field in Norway’s history, which generates 51,000 jobs each year, being discovered at all.

We note that the flat structure in Norway’s corporate leadership is being singled out as something we are good at in Norway, and that it benefits companies which are at the peak of what technology companies are doing these days. If we take these two quotes as our starting point, we see that the companies referred to are typical knowledge-based businesses. The absence of external and rigid direction is what is supposed to have the companies concerned a competitive edge in the form of creativity, initiative and alternative ways of thinking resulting in outstanding results and billions in the kitty for the pension fund.

Self-administration is similarly not highly regarded in the Steiner school. We find self-administration explicitly described as a “pretend thing” which pulverises responsibility. (Internt, 06.02.2015)

Admittedly we don’t see any clear definitions, but the expression is used both far and wide almost synonymously – or at any rate in the same breath as the phrase flat structure. So we have to examine what the common factor is when the term self-administration is used in literature and debate.

Academic self-administration is highlighted as the polar opposite of directed research ”which  has its mandate from special interests and market forces” (Bakke, 2013), and the Department of Justice wishes in future to allow the residents in Norwegian prisons to determine the most effective way to organise life behind bars: “the Department of Justice wishes over time to introduce a greater degree of self-administration in Norwegian jails based on Danish and Swedish models of criminal justice…”(Nipen, 2011).

The periodical “Klassekampen” (The Class War) sets up state patronage as the opposite pole to self-administration: “Instead of freely chosen self-administration and volunteering, the left becomes a driving force for state intervention in people’s lives. But the state cannot, and should not, have sole responsibility for people’s well-being and value systems. We must uphold our humanity ourselves. Let the dads organise their own dad groups!” (Braanen, 2011)

And so on and so forth…

In literature and debate, the use of the concept self-administration is quite common and encompasses everything from municipalities and institutions to, of course, schools. But since this is not a technical term with a clearly delineated definition, it seems that the term is used almost synonymously with a flat/horizontal management structure: for example, an institution calling itself the C. la Cours School describes itself as a “free school with self-management, short and swift decision-making processes [….] and a stimulating working environment for both students and teachers.” (Skole, u.d.)

But it is within culture, academia, research and education that the debate on self-administration and self-government has made the biggest waves, and this debate is not new:

     “The controversy over universities was at Broegger’s time, i.e. around 1905, almost identical with today’s. Strong groups had spoken for a ‘Modernisation of the university’:

     The university was to be exposed to market forces and subject to government controls at one and the same time. The university was to be liberalized from the ‘corrosive influence of self-administration’ at little cost by having the students pay for the lectures and allowing cheaper lecturers to compete with the permanent professors. Moreover the majority of the university’s governing bodies was to come from outside, from ‘society as was said at the time, as it is now.

     It was to counter that sort of proposal that Broegger took up arms. The Royal Frederiks was to be somewhat more than a high school for officials – it was simply, Broegger maintained, ‘the only institution that that has what it takes to keep our scientific life in a more versatile way up to the requirements of our time’. The university could only fulfil its social responsibility if it had a different freedom to that accorded to other public institutions. The opposition won the argument. In the same year in which the country acquired its revised constitution as a result of the dissolution of the union, the university was given a new constitution, which institutionalised the principle of academic freedom in the form of academic self-administration, and for the first time with an elected Rector at the head of the College. The university was to be a public communal institution at arms length from the political authorities and from the demands of market forces. This central element in our university system is no outdated relic of state officialdom. (Slagstad, 2005)

The controversy over a flat structure and self-administration has to do with giving responsibility and authority to those who by virtue of their competence are best equipped to act in the best possible way. Secondly, self-administration and a flat structure are characterised as the essential elements for those involved to be able to feel ownership, motivation and engagement.



The debate in the press over the last two years has been full of accounts of how damaging the disempowering of teachers by the public authorities has been, or the use of management by objectives, goal-setting criteria applicable in industry. Here we need only refer to the book “Evidence based”, in which the author points to statistical evidence which confirms that a good school is essentially created – not by leaders- but by autonomous, inspired teachers. He goes on:

     “Even if we take the highly exact figures with a pinch of salt (the author is referring to the statistical evidence base), there is little reason to doubt the main conclusion, which is in line with the fundamental experience we have all had as children: It is the teacher who makes the main difference between a good and a bad learning experience. In that case however, it must be important to develop what it is that gives the teacher the inspiration to do a good job! After all, how can a teacher kindle a spark in the pupil if s/he has no spark in him or herself? There can of course be a variety of things that give teachers joy and enthusiasm for their work. An experienced teacher, Inge Eidsvag, indicates that it is pedagogical freedom that fuels it:

     ‘Pedagogical freedom is no luxury for spoilt teachers but is the very essence of what sustains their joy and enthusiasm at work. If pedagogical freedom is stifled, the artistic and creative impulse in the profession is stifled with it. The space in which to develop the teacher’s special interests and talents shrinks. Yes, we do what we are told, but we do it without joy. We don’t sit up late at night preparing, don’t attend courses at weekends and while on holiday. Without pedagogical freedom the teacher is slowly but steadily transformed into a bureaucrat. In the end instruction is reduced to only what can be tested, measured and reported on.’

     A certain amount of evaluation, documentation and reporting cannot be avoided. But we must nevertheless not forget that all this is nourished by pedagogical freedom, which without the time and energy for preparation of the subject matter and review has no content.” (Skaftesmo, 2013)

Self administration does not mean that randomly selected teachers are given the task of administering the school’s finances and buildings, or that volunteers on sabbatical are to study the law relating to private schools. On the contrary the desire is that self administration will at all times ensure that actions are carried out with the greatest possible competence without supervision by people with other, or different interests. Self administration, we read here, is intended to avoid those fully engaged in carrying out their profession losing their spark; autonomy is intended to prevent bureaucracy or economic interests from turning teachers into instruments for a task which is not in the nature of their work.

The trend we newspaper readers are reading about every day is becoming known for concepts such as goal-setting, new public management etc.: “If you follow the necessary regulations which the direction has worked out for your field of work, if you keep to the given rules and requirements, if you document everything conscientiously for later scrutiny and statistical analysis…., then you will see that all goes well. You will see then that we can eliminate the unforeseeable elements that result from people having their own opinions and working from their own experience”  seems to be the message . And as we heard from Skaftnesmos and Eidsvag, this modern trend is helping to undermine the precondition for the most important criterion for a successful school: the full engagement of the teacher and pedagogical freedom!

Goal-setting works at the production line! Wars are fought from central command with the help of top-down management of soldiers who have no knowledge of the whole picture. Assembling a Volkswagen or a Mercedes is easily done with staff at an assembly line, each one of whom tightens the required screw without any involvement in the overall process!

It is different in an institution which administers knowledge and skills.

That is why self administration of teachers in general and Steiner Waldorf teachers in particular was one of Steiner’s clarion calls right from the beginning of the last century. This is expressed for example in the following words written in 1919:

“What matters is that he cultural life is given the opportunity to live in the form which it is able to take out of its own forces, such that the teacher at school is in no way dependent on the State bureaucracy, but rather is dependent in a human and practical way on what comes out of the cultural life, dependent only on others who are also involved in the cultural life and who are working in the same cultural life. That is what matters. One can observe everywhere that there is a fear of the independence of the cultural life and that people feel comfortable under the protection of the State.” (Steiner, 1983) [ 1 ]

     “…such things should be able to emerge in the free cultural life, and should in any case not be offered by a bureaucratic institution. It is damaging when, for example, a church is made into an institution of the State by State intervention, and is thus given preferential treatment by the State; it is just as harmful when a church community is persecuted. No spiritual orientation of any kind should be persecuted by State laws or be given preferential treatment by State regulations. Anyone who begins to think this through consequently to a sufficient extent will find that it is essential that cultural life as a whole, and the school and education system in particular are founded on a completely independent basis.” (Steiner, 1983) [ 2 ]

This fear of an independent cultural life that Rudolf Steiner describes, distrust of the professions, has given us goal orientation, the bureaucracy, national tests, PISA, individuals’ right to determine the work of professionals and other forms of control over those who hold the keys to providing a good education. However for an increasing number of people it is becoming more and more clear that institutions providing knowledge and skills cannot be directed in the same way as a car factory or a military organisation.

Gunn Imsen describes this fear as management hysteria, the cult of leadership and a fanatical sense of ownership (Imsen, 2014) which she blames for the teachers’ strike of 2014:

“It was Kristin Clemet who took the fatal measures as Education Minister in the second Bondevik government from 2001 to 2005 […] In many local councils there is currently a rigid control exercised over both the teachers’ work and what the students are supposed to learn, with hundreds of detailed competency goals and requirements to document them and control the work of the institutions! […] There are thus many factors which have eroded the relationship of trust between teachers and local authorities, and which are now coming to the surface in the teachers’ strike. The cult of leadership has its origin in the economy’s faith in the idea that it is leaders who create results. Kristin Clemet tried to remove the requirement that school leaders should have pedagogical competence – it was sufficient to have general competence as a leader. […] The paradoxical situation we have now is that whilst there is scarcely any requirement for a head master to be competent as a teacher, s/he is supposed to exercise pedagogical leadership over teachers with far superior competence, both in their subjects and as teachers.” (Imsen, 2014)



To sum up: Self administration cannot mean that the religion teacher must be responsible for the school’s financial affairs, nor that acquiring a close understanding of the laws relating to private education should be for each to take in turn. The remarks made above about self administration and a flat management structure show that political and economic processes are of a different nature to creative, educational or research processes, and that the latter must be regulated according to their own, inherent necessities. In Steiner’s terminology this means that the cultural life must be free.

Here I feel obliged to mention a personal concern: It is occasionally claimed by both senior figures in the Steiner Waldorf school movement and by relative newcomers that we should stop kowtowing to everything that “Der Doktor hat gesagt” (The Doctor has said). It is pointed out from time to time at regular intervals  in more or less sophisticated ways “that the idea of the Threefold Social Order belongs to the 1919 era and that we are living in modern times now, and that at the end of the day there are laws we have to take account of, we have to begin to think for ourselves and we have to become professionals!” It is even claimed that “Those who talk about three-folding and leadership can offer no reasons for their points of view. In this case three-folding is being used as an instrument of power to stifle debate.” (ECSWE meeting, 2015)

My view is that both thinking for yourself and researching Steiner’s ideas must be equally obvious preconditions for ensuring that our work retains its quality, and thus a protection from any potential harm to the movement’s credibility or how it is perceived resulting from “Der Doktor hat gesagt”. We lose a fundamental legitimacy if we regard it as enlightened and unprejudiced in a Steiner school no longer to feel the need to measure our practice against Steiner’s thoughts about education and upbringing, and cease looking around us for innovation and inspiration in Steiner’s work. [3]

In what follows I shall therefore challenge my “unprejudiced” colleagues and make an attempt to determine whether Steiner’s descriptions of three-folding can shed light on the current debate about leadership in free schools.

Thus far we have found out that a flat structure and self-administration are preconditions for pedagogical freedom, which in turn is what is needed for good teachers and good schools. But we also understand that that keeping accounts and understanding the intricacies of the law are not natural tasks for teachers. If then we also believe that pedagogical freedom and self-administration are necessary ingredients for developing a strong and contemporary ethos in a school, then it has to be possible to find an organisational framework that can facilitate this.

This is where in my opinion Steiner comes in with his old chestnuts from 1919.

It is claimed from time to time that a form of three-folding has already been realised! Three committees have been introduced: one for education, one for resources and one for staffing. Cherished children have sweet names. It is said those who sit on these committees should have the opportunity to direct their various areas of responsibility in a professional and responsible way because this is done without interference from teachers who always have an opinion about everything, and also leaves the teachers “free to get on with their teaching”. With a leader for each of the three committees we thus have a “healthy organism” which is “directed according to the principles of three-folding” it is claimed.

My understanding of Steiner’s description of social forces is completely different!

Is education limited to what happens when the teacher closes the classroom door behind him? And is it only education that goes on in the classroom!? The teacher also takes the rule of law with him into the classroom: even as a free educator he cannot, for example, strike his pupils or ring his students’ parents at home once they have reached the age of 18. Even behind closed doors he is working within an economic framework, building regulations, organisational structures and their corresponding duties. When you close the classroom door behind you and the moment it closes become a free educator, this is true only of your individual cultural life, your creativity, your skills and background, the means by which you carry out your work. But this area of freedom is inextricably woven together with economical and legal frameworks.

By the same token a free educator cannot suddenly cease to be one when he is sitting with colleagues in the teachers’ room, talking with parents at a parents’ evening, writing an article for a newspaper or influencing economic or organisational priorities within the school.

In the same way it is obvious that the economic and legal aspects of running a school are inextricably bound up with the spiritual/cultural life, to use Steiner’s concept. If we are to put up a new school building for example, it is not simply a matter of funding. The local community obliges us to follow fire regulations and to make provision for wheelchair access, for instance – this is the rights life. One could imagine that the teachers would protest if the new building was set up on the basis of cheapness and practicality, like an office: many educators are concerned about colours, aesthetics and age-appropriate development – this is education.

The implied relationship of these aspects to the various social functions is in a process of constant change, as an alert colleague remarked during a meeting: “As long as an issue is being discussed in a college, it is the spiritual/cultural life. But the moment it is agreed, yes, this is how we are going to do this! Then it has suddenly turned into the rights life!” (Internt, 06.02.2015). Similarly when it is proposed that the morning verse used in Steiner schools should be reworded to meet the criteria set by the Department of Education that the world view conveyed in a school should be morally neutral, as was the case in one school, then this can be seen by the person proposing the motion as a legitimate formality of the rights life, whilst during the course of the resultant debate the issue could perhaps be relocated into the domain of the independent cultural life, and could end up as a question of the ethics of changing someone’s spiritual/cultural work with a view to presenting the morning verse as something quite different, etc.

The community is threefold, but we cannot handle these parts in isolation.

Thus a division of a knowledge/skills institution into three committees will remain an artificial formality. A Disney version of three-folding like this will only provoke dissent because everything is interrelated. The social forces which fall under the heading of resources/finances, the demands made by the life of rights and equality and those belonging to the individual spiritual/cultural life will always be inextricably woven together in issues, in decisions and in individual people. They may very well be accorded different status: for instance the spiritual/cultural life’s significance in the running of a petrol station may in the end turn out to be less than it would be in the running of an art gallery. And the principles behind the meeting of  economic needs will naturally affect a major distributor or a shop differently from a law court or the police, etc. But the three aspects of community life do not exist separately in different committees.

What does this mean in the context of a school? How does one run the ship when it in no way resembles a private company where the owner simply tells his employees where the cupboard is to stand?



Let us take a theoretical example that is far removed from the teacher’s vocation. Perhaps this can illustrate how inseparably the spiritual/cultural life, the life of rights and the economy are bound together in an enterprise and how a flat structure can affect its working climate?

Let us imagine that the town’s renowned public relations company needs to upgrade its parking facilities. A traditional private business owner would perhaps just have sent an email to his employees, suggesting that they take the bus for the next few days since he has ordered diggers and tarmac layers to work on the car park and it will therefore not be available to the employees. The decision is his, and the sales force, the cleaners and storage people have nothing to do with the owner’s priorities. In the town’s cool PR company however they might think differently. Here the exterior should be a reflection of the enterprise’s values, here the logo, the colours, the furniture in the entrance hall and the décor throughout the building are in harmony, they express what the company stands for. The leader of this company knows that the brightest people and the coolest designers are drawn to this company because they are recognised, are allowed to shine and unfold their creativity. What if the manager of the company involved them? Some cycle in, others drive Teslas. What could be more appropriate than to get some cyclists and some drivers together round the table with the traffic safety officer and the entrepreneur to work out the best outdoor parking facilities for the needs of the day and the company’s profile?

A flat organisation like that would probably result in satisfied users who feel valued, feel loyalty to the company and one would end up with a car park which is in tune with the whole company and in line with the demands of its time. One would precisely not regard such a challenge as a purely practical task which the boss takes care of himself, or leaves to the maintenance department.

In a school one would of course cast one’s net still wider: here one would have invited both pupils and parents, one would have made additional provision for cycling and teachers wishing to take things still further would have seen the opportunity to create a sense of ownership by combining the planting of the surrounding area with a gardening project in Class 5, or by giving the chance to a student doing a year’s project on the topic of alternative sources of energy to set up a combined windmill and solar power panels to fuel a recharging station for electric cars. In the Art department one might see a great opportunity etc., etc. The examples are given to illustrate the potential for engaging all concerned, empowerment and educational opportunities which lies in the use of flat structures.

The example also attempts to show that in an institution for knowledge and skills everything can be experienced as interwoven and permeated by the institution as a whole. A Steiner school, a Montessori school an oil company or a football club naturally each have their own culture; obviously they also have their own ways of communicating, different architecture and perhaps also a different relationship to their car parks, the aesthetics of the canteen or the way the working day is organised.

When the key issues are the skills, expertise, ideals, creativity, ideas and enthusiasm which guide the institution, as should be the case in a school which represents an alternative education, then this culture should be represented in all its parts. An artificial division which assumes that some people deal with educational issues behind closed doors and that others administer other aspects of the enterprise will naturally enough lead to a lot of crossed wires.

In Steiner’s work on the threefold social order (Die Kernpunkte der sozialen Frage GA23) we find that three-folding is not meant as a social model with three committees, but rather that mindfulness is required of how the three social forces are interwoven. Steiner is expecting a new social competence within the community. It is described as follows:

What has until now governed the old forms of social organisation without conscious penetration of the soul forces at work in them will in future no longer be able to function. It is one of the evolutionary impulses that will begin to work in humanity that the individual human being will be required to develop an awareness of the forces at work in society, in the same way that a certain form of education or schooling is required today. One will have to learn to sense how forces are at work within the social organism so that it prove to be working healthily. One will be obliged to acquire the feeling that it is unhealthy, anti-social to position oneself in the social organism without a sense for the difference between the social forces.” (Steiner, Kernpunkte der sozialen Frage)

Thus the three-folding takes place in our heads and not in committees. Three-folding is not a new organisational model, even though it can, of course, be helpful in bringing about an appropriate structure.



In Norway we organise Steiner schools like the armed services, with a clearly defined chain of command: “To take the view that there should not be a hierarchy of authority is irresponsible. The Board of Trustees is the highest authority according to law. Just as the senior manager is accountable to the Board of Trustees, the teacher of Class 2 must be accountable to an education manager/ general manager. If this is not the case, the school as such cannot be held to account.” (Skriv, 06.02.2015). The Steiner schools’ leadership philosophy thus seems to resemble the public management hysteria as Kristen Clemet described it when she was asked what the Oslo school had done to achieve such a good position in the national league tables for exam results: ”There is no short answer to this question, but if I were to encapsulate it in one word, it would be accountability. The Oslo school has managed to make every link in the chain of command from the political leadership to the teacher in the classroom.” (Clemet, 12.04.2015).

Both the public education system and the Steiner schools are today run like the armed forces!

This chain of command defines who holds the power and who does not! This is a structure which does not determine the place where good education and a good school are created. This form of organisation makes of the teacher an instrument within the overall plan of the Board of Trustees, or the government of the day, a plan in which the teaching profession has no say.

But can the Board or the politicians form a plan without the perspective and global vision of the teaching profession? If the directors are good leaders with a comprehensive understanding of Steiner education, and at the same time excellent administrators and personnel managers, the individual colleague may not bump into rough edges with his subject skills and professional initiative as a teacher in a Steiner school. But let us be honest: how many managers with a completed  “management training” do we have today in our movement, who also have a proven “competence in Steiner education (Masters equivalent in the Foundations of Human Experience, practical experience of teaching methods and the Steiner school’s curriculum)”? (Skriv, 06.02.2015). I see plenty of qualified, fine, committed educators and administrators who are full of good will! But do I see egg-laying wool-milk-pigs who have completed management studies, are competent personnel managers, excellent administrators and who in addition have completed all the required Steiner teacher training, who are researchers, who are inspiring, well-read anthroposophists looked up to by the whole college of teachers….?

Can we really build up our education in the belief that such wool-milk, egg-laying pigs can be found?

Is it really our goal to build up our education with a command structure that places the initiative in the hands of those who administer a purely formal responsibility, and which fails to define the rightful place of the teachers, giving them a valid say in the procedure? Do we in the Steiner school really wish to open our doors for Kristin Clemets’ management hysteria, leadership cult and fanatical sense of ownership (Imsen, 2014) which gives to the administrators the right to exercise their management authority over those who over a period of 4, 5 or more years have acquired the qualifications to do their best for the children?

And another thing: What exactly is it that the Class teacher “is accountable for towards a general/education manager” (Internt, 06.02.2015)? Had we not just given the teaching staff a certain pedagogical freedom, precisely because that is where the educational professionalism is to be found, whilst the Board and general manager hold formal responsibility?

– There is an implicit duty of loyalty in the contract of employment. – Employees must submit to instructions and requirements. – There are limitations to the employees’ right of free speech. – There is an assumption that the employees will cooperate in the first instance. – The employer is expected to be objective. The subtitle says that Stavanger City Council holds the view that a responsible management assumes that its employees are aware of their “duty of loyalty and obedience” like Golden Retrievers.

We are not for a moment doubting the right of those who have the formal authority to call a halt if it should emerge that the College is composed of a gang of educated pedagogues who despite their professional training could not be bothered to follow laws and regulations –  should such a situation ever arise. And we have been clear about the fact that it makes sense to have an administration that is fully up to date on the law, finances and formalities.

But it is worth reminding ourselves here that it is not so long since the two teachers from Sandefjord, Marius Andersen and Joachim Volden, were awarded the Zola prize for civil courage for precisely not following the external instructions of their school’s owners, which from their professional point of view they could not accept! In their case the thinking of their local council was in line with current management philosophy. But it was nevertheless the profession which won through in the last instance!

The events in Sandefjord are a godsend example of how in the last instance, also in Norway, professionalism stands above formality. And this is something that our management models haven’t taken on board. The two committed teachers didn’t just get their jobs back. They were also able to make small changes to the way the school’s owners ran their school, and they were honoured with a prize.

To be aware of laws and regulations, and the necessity of them, is one thing. But it is another thing for the professional judgement of the individual trained teacher to suddenly disappear, according to Ims, under the regime of Kristin Clemet once the gentlemen and ladies of the Department for Education had had their fateful PISA shock.

A poster advertising a 4-day management training course entitled “From co-worker to successful leader” involving training and practice.
The image above is that of a tabby cat throwing the shadow of a fully grown male lion. The subtitle is: Command structures depend on a culture of fear in which pussy-cats can appear as lions. Is this how competent, independent, well-educated colleagues are supposed to be led?

The Sandefjord story has also shown that the local council’s requirement of “employees’ absolute duty of loyalty and obedience”, “The teacher’s life as a dog” has its limits. The Sandefjord example shows that it can be problematic to fail to define the role of the profession in the organisational model in advance: the Sandefjord teachers had to fight for this recognition in retrospect!

Like other public enterprises, the Steiner school’s organisational model defines a power relationship, a command structure, but it is silent about the most important things that happen in a school.

I believe we can draw the conclusion that both theory and practice show that vertical power structures are not entirely unproblematic in institutions with competent co-workers.



Norwegian Steiner schools are not the only Steiner schools on this planet. What if we compared our practice with that of Steiner schools in other countries? Like in Germany, for example? What do they do in modern Germany? The country has 234 Steiner schools; it could be that they have given thought to the question of appropriate leadership.

We made a few phone calls!

Our colleagues on the continent do not make use of our way of organising our schools, and this despite the fact that they are operating within the same formal framework. They do not have vertical structures and there are no heads. They have drawn the conclusion that running a school involves standing on independent, free legs. And it should be added that I assume that here in the European land of “Ordnung muss sein (There has to be order)” they also obey the law and also act responsibly!

Whether we are dealing with teaching, new buildings, car parks, decoration or the curriculum: it is the College that decides.

To have a private entrepreneur with the right to decide at the top of the company – they say on the phone from Bielefeld – is a dictatorship. Even if this authority is not used used actively, this form of organisation will encourage colleagues to lean back: they will feel “It is after all not my responsibility”. In such a setting there will be a good deal done behind closed doors to avoid debate, and colleagues who think differently. The only vaccine against hidden power structures is completely open communication” explains one of our college chairs of long standing and former member of the Board of Trustees.

It is important that parents are involved in everything that happens at school. Also students need to be involved. There are work groups, forums for this and that, mandate groups, a news-letter, opportunities for feedback. It is dangerous to wait until the parents ask: by then it is usually too late. The first rule is: no one does anything on their own! What needs to come about is a sense of “Us”, a fellowship, a sense of belonging. For that reason all employees and all parents are automatically members of the Association. All points of view must be included!

Hiring and firing is dealt with by a group consisting of around 30% of the teachers, and all of these must have been at the school for a while. One can ask to be a member of this group. This school leadership/management meeting    “Schulführungskonferenz” deals with matters that are out of the public eye, it is thus an administrative organ, not the forum in which the school itself takes shape.

The large, weekly teachers’ meeting is the school’s highest authority, is where pedagogy is developed, the school’s profile. This is where agreement is reached on which decisions are to be taken, and how, or which mandates are are given – all decisions are taken here with the exception of hiring and firing. The teachers’ meetings are led by a small team of up to 3 teachers.

The purely practical or technical follow up is carried out by the “Verwaltung”, i.e. the administration. This is an office consisting of a “Geschaeftsführung”, a kind of office manager, secretaries, the accounts department and maintenance. The latter also take part in the weekly teachers’ meetings as well in other organs of the school, since they also need to part of the whole and be active participants in the common project, and their work must of course be based on the guidance and the climate that is shaped in the big College which is the school’s leadership.

“Vorstand”, i.e. the Council of Trustees, is (as in Norway) both the owner and legally responsible for the enterprise. This consists of two or three teachers and two parents. As mentioned earlier, the teachers’ meeting is the highest source of what is going on in the school, not the Council – the Council is, as in Norway, the bearer of the formal responsibility for the school. The extended arm of the Council, a Head, is something they don’t have. So what happens when the Council takes an unreasonable position in relation to the pedagogical requirements of a Steiner school? Well, it has happened that a new Council has had to be elected.

One difference between the German and the Norwegian models seems to be that much of what our Heads have to deal with today is delegated to the office (which of course must know its business in terms of finance, the law and regulations), and which meets with the teachers and can inform them of the relevant laws and figures affecting the issue at hand. But neither a “Geschaeftsführer” nor the Council would in a German Steiner school be able to take the role of the school’s top management with decision-making powers at the top of a hierarchical chain of command.



I have no basis on which to point out an ideal form of management for Steiner schools, and the there is no Columbus egg in any of my pockets. But there are some things one can be completely sure of:

Much of what today is called leadership in our schools is in reality administration. But good administration does not in itself create a strong and responsible educational environment. I cannot see that we in the Steiner school here have anywhere defined what is meant by leadership. We tend to mix up these concepts.

Lack of awareness about how the spiritual/cultural life, the rights life and the economy are interwoven leads to unclear decision-making processes.

We do not spend too much time discussing what “Der Doktor hat gesagt”, but on the contrary: Steiner is generally tragically undervalued as a possible spur to new thinking and modernisation of today’s schools!

The strong focus on a leader who has all the power and the right to determine what happens, together with a College of teachers which at best acts in a consultative role, makes the organisation dangerously dependent on the leader’s good will/capacity, good character and education. And it makes the teachers passive.

Fixed terms of office for leaders are important to prevent a knowledge-based organisation from growing stale, atrophying or beginning to form a remote aristocracy, even becoming a private affair.

With a distinct group of managers there can often also follow conditions which create a demotivating distance between the teachers in the front line who are working to provide a good and living school on the one side and those who have the formal responsibility and visiting cards on the other: insufficient openness about decision-making processes, less inspiring dialogue, secret salary agreements, extended holiday arrangements, special policies for seniors, disproportionately solid job protection, cronyism, keys for some and locked rooms, excessive use of solicitors, distrust, problems in dealing with incompetence, golden parachutes, a paralysing working atmosphere characterised by fear of making mistakes or of talking with each other….

Today’s vertical management model defines the teachers as the receivers of decisions at the bottom end of the structure, and this inhibits the vital conditions for a well-functioning knowledge-based enterprise with well qualified, self-confident, responsible and committed colleagues who are giving of their best for the work.

Was this what we wanted?

No! In response to the question “What has our management model given us?” the Rudolf Steiner High School in Oslo replied as follows: “Increased proficiency, more knowledge, better understanding of expectations from parents and society, visible leadership, easier to understand who to ask and where/when decisions were made, better reports, understood as quality.” To the question “…and what should not be lost?” the reply was: “Ownership, cohesion, engagement, creativity, joy, professional freedom, understood as autonomy in teaching.” (ECSWE-meeting, 2015).

According to the Rudolf Steiner High School the current hierarchical management system in Norwegian Steiner schools has thus contributed to a situation where the most important elements of a living education are about to get lost!


This contribution is intended as an attempt to answer the question of how ownership, cohesion, engagement, creativity, joy and pedagogical freedom in the Steiner schools can be maintained.

The continuing debate about the ideal form of management in Steiner schools should in my opinion include a closer examination of the experiences of other forms of management in Norway, a study of what Steiner schools do in other countries, and dialogue with experienced colleagues such as Karl Martin Dietz, Valentin Wember and/or Christof Wiechert to mention some of the names one comes across in conversation with engaged friends and acquaintances on this difficult but important theme.

I should like to thank my conversation partners who in discussion and by sharing their experience have honed my thoughts on the question of leadership and management in Steiner schools.



References (not translated):

Aftenbladet. (2014, juni 19.). Hentet fra http://www.aftenbladet.no/energi/olje/Han-er-Lundins-magiske-medisin-3446608.html

Bakke, D. J. (2013, november 19.). Nordlys. Hentet fra Kapital mot pedagogikk.

Braanen, B. (2011, september 09.). Klassekampen. Hentet fra Pappagruppe.

Clemet, K. (12.4.2015). Er Oslo-skolen verdens beste? Aftenposten.

Diverse. (2015). Aftenposten_nett. http://www.aftenposten.no/meninger/debatt/Steinerskolen-Vaksinasjon-er-et-sentralt-helsepolitisk-verktoy-7948412.html.

ECSWE-møte. (2015). Leadership in Norwegian Waldorf Schools. Oslo: ECSWE.

Foros, P. B. (2012). Angsten for oppdragelse. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget.

Helseogsisialfag.ca. (u.d.). Helse- og oppvekstfag. Hentet fra Helseogsosialfag.ca: http://helseogsosialfag.cappelendamm.no/c573682/artikkel/vis.html?tid=573725

Imsen, G. (2014). Når begynte tillitskrisen? Klassekampen 27. august 2014.

Internt. (06.02.2015). Internt møte. Oslo.

Lærarens_liv_som_hund. (u.d.). ss. http://www.aftenbladet.no/meninger/kommentar/Lararens-liv-som-hund-3380963.html.

Markussen, T. (2014, oktober 15.). http://www.tu.no. Hentet fra http://www.tu.no/petroleum/2014/10/15/nito-og-tekna-onsker-seg-en-norsk-ingenior-i-sjefsstolen-i-statoil

Nettside. (2015, januar 19.). Dagens perspektiv. Hentet fra Ukeavisen Ledelse:


Nipen, K. (2011, juli 09.). Aftenposten. Hentet fra Fanget i striper og dårlig stoff.

Resell, H. (2013). Ledelse i Steinerskolen. Stavanger.

Skaftnesmo, T. (2013). Evidensbasering. Stavanger: Paradigmeskifte Forlag.

Skole, C. l. (u.d.). Lacours skole. Hentet fra http://www.lacours.skoleintra.dk

Skriv. (06.02.2015). Organisasjonsutvikling i steinerskolen nå. Oslo.

Slagstad, R. (2005, januar 27.). Dagbladet. Hentet fra Universitetets framtid.

SSW, P. (u.d.). SSW. Hentet fra http://www.ssw.de

Steiner, R. (1976). Kernpunkte der sozialen Frage. Dornach: Rudolf Steiner Verlag.

Steiner, R. (1983). Neugestaltung des sozialen Organismus, GA 330. Dornach: Rudolf Steiner Verlag.



[1] Worauf es ankommt, das ist, dass dem Geistesleben die Möglichkeit gegeben werde, in derjenigen Form zu leben, die ihm aus seinen Kräften heraus möglich ist, so dass der Lehrer der Schule nicht in irgendeiner Weise abhängig ist von einem Staatsbeamten, sondern dass er abhängig ist in menschlicher Weise, in sachlicher, sachgemäßer Weise – wie es aus dem Geistesleben heraus folgt – von einem andern, der nun auch im Geistesleben unmittelbar drinnen steht, und der mit ihm in dem gleichen Geistesleben drinnen wirkt. Darauf kommt es an. Man merkt es ja, wie heute noch eine gewisse Furcht vorhanden ist vor der Selbständigkeit des Geisteslebens, wie sich viele wohl fühlen in dem staatlichen Schutz.


[2] … diese Dinge sollen im freien Geistes-Wettstreit sich ausbilden können, aber jedenfalls nicht durch staatliche Gesetzmäßigkeit. So schädlich es ist, wenn durch eine staatliche Gesetzmäßigkeit eine Kirche zur Staatskirche gemacht wird und ihr dadurch der Vorzug des Staates zuteilwird, ebenso schädlich ist es auch, wenn eine Kirche verfolgt wird. Keinerlei Art von Seelenverfassung sollte durch Staatsgesetzlichkeit irgendwie verfolgt oder protegiert werden. Und wer bei diesem Gedanken anfängt und ihn in ausreichendem Masse durchdenkt, der wird schon finden, dass es in der Tat notwendig ist, das Geistesleben und insbesondere das Schul- und Unterrichtswesen auf seinen eigenen Boden zu stellen.


[3] In this tucked-away footnote I shall permit myself to put the cat among the pigeons by emphasizing my last point in more detail: in my opinion Steiner is undervalued by many of those who represent him today. This is perhaps particularly so in the case of the well-developed field of three-folding, which is often marginalised, by pointing to some unsuccessful business ventures by some people in the colourful circle grouped around Rudolf Steiner (Resell, 2013). This underestimation is based in my view on a pre-scientific method of approaching Steiner, which in a retrospective interpretation of history says: “we cannot see today that anything came of what he said, so the fellow must have been wrong!” Firstly, such a retrospective historical view does not take account of the fact that in Steiner’s time our expressions, analogies or theories did not exist, and that the way he sets out the facts can seem clumsy in the glare of today’s hindsight. For the same reason, understanding Steiner today requires a comprehensive knowledge of the rest of his work if one is to make fair interpretations of his sayings. Besides, many people seem to think that one must be clairvoyant oneself in order to verify Steiner, or that one must put ones trust blindly in his statements as if they were some form of revelation. Since few of us have clairvoyant faculties, some people choose to treat anthroposophy as some kind of system of beliefs, which in turn results in others calling out that “we must at last begin to think for ourselves” and put an end to “der Doktor hat gesagt (the doctor said)”. A fair approach to Steiner would in my view be to make a comparison with the challenge faced by a judge in a Norwegian court: A judge can pronounce judgement on a criminal without himself having witnessed the crime. But a judge in a Norwegian court of law does not just blindly put his faith in a witness statement. Neither blind faith in a witness statement, nor the judge’s own experiences lead on to valid judgements. A sentence can still be passed, when several independent witness statements, physical evidence and a motive provide sufficient evidence. In the same way we can often find overwhelming evidence in matters that have become known through anthroposophy without naïve faith in Steiner or ones own clairvoyant faculties, and my contention is that such research not only could, but should provide sustenance for the development and updating of Steiner education. In my opinion anthroposophy has far too often been used as a handy collection of “Sunday thoughts”, rules to live by and fancy life-style tips which at best are “nevertheless primarily of interest in the history of ideas, and are not guidelines for the work of the country’s Steiner schools” (Diverse, 2015). As we know, it cannot be proved that black swans do not exist – we simply have to wait to see if after all a black swan should appear somewhere or other. Until that happens, we can only wait and do our research into whether Steiner or black swans are pending discovery, and into whether any of his insights can contribute to making a good school – and I believe they can, also in respect of leadership and forms of organisation.


[4] Whether habits of speech can mislead in this way was debated under the title “Omne vivum ex vivo” in an earlier edition of “Communications for the teachers”, now available at http://goo.gl/LFcaKM.


Translated by

  1. B. Forward, Forest Row, England.

(Proof-read by Michael Brinch, Copenhagen, Denmark)



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