Creativity and innovation – challenge your thinking!

By Theresa Sayn Wittgenstein Piraccini who has been class teacher, educational leader and CEO of Steiner Education Australia. She was a member of the International Forum for Steiner/Waldorf Education and is currently Principal at Michael Park School, a Steiner school in Auckland, New Zealand. (Article dated November 2017.)


Becoming a Steiner teacher certainly helped me to further develop my creativity and imagination, however I never really thought about ‘innovation’ or what this might mean and generally used the words, creativity and innovation a bit interchangeably. My focus as a class teacher was to develop the children’s imagination through an artistic way of teaching and it is only recently that I have really been thinking about the true meaning of innovation and my ideas have been gradually forming themselves.

It began one day about seven years ago. I was visiting an established Steiner school and asked what innovative things they might have been doing. A teacher told me quite adamantly – ‘we don’t innovate, we follow Rudolf Steiner’s indications’. I was slightly shocked and this was the beginning of my reflective process. I believe this type of thinking which permeates our schools in different ways can be stifling, as Steiner said “never to grow stale or sour and know what is happening in the world.” (1) Therefore, to only follow Steiner’s pedagogical indications and limit yourself to other ideas, would mean being closed to exploring new opportunities, or to see what other things might be happening in education, or what the needs are of students today and into the future.

Of course, we can and should study Rudolf Steiner’s indications and relate them to our teaching and ways of working in the world and also our inner life. But we must also have an open mind, keeping our thoughts alive and constantly reflecting on what we do, why we do it, how can we create new ideas, create a better environment for the children, and most importantly, be eternally creative within ourselves.

To have the power of imagination, Steiner wanted us to have a relationship to the spiritual world. Steiner gave us key indications at the end of the fourteenth lecture of “The Foundations of Human Experience” (1):

“Imbue thyself with the power of imagination

Have courage for the truth

Sharpen thy feeling for responsibility of soul”

A couple of years ago I was invited to write a chapter in a book “Teaching with spirit: new perspectives on Steiner Education in Australia” (2). I decided on the topic “Innovations and challenges in Steiner Education”.

I truly had to think hard – are Steiner schools really innovative? What are the differences between artistic teaching, creativity and innovation and how do we work out of Steiner’s philosophy and pedagogy but be open to the ideas of others? These thoughts were initiated by the comment from the colleague who said that ‘in Steiner schools we do not innovate, we only follow Rudolf Steiner’s indications’.

Following the Waldorf World Teachers’ Conference in 2008, I also had the opportunity to discuss with many teachers about how Australia might be different to Europe and the rest of the world in its implementation of Steiner education. There were many countries represented and teachers discussed the strong European influence on the Waldorf curriculum and how they were all adapting to the needs of their country, location, religious influences and historical contexts. I then reflected on what Burrows, L and Stehlik, T. wrote in their introduction to their book:

“…it is indeed timely to begin generating our own grassroots approach to Steiner education in Australia arising out of our own unique context and land, inclusive of local and global knowing and practice.” (2)

They also wrote:

“…in the light of new technologies and social forms, globalisation, inclusion, mass communication and evolving trends in education – it [is] timely to review just how Steiner education in Australia has managed to maintain a commitment to the original indications and impulse of that first school and curriculum over the last fifty-five years, while also adapting to and acknowledging local and contemporary impulses and contexts, including the unique indigenous history and multicultural origins of our modern society.“

I was then inspired by reading a book a few years ago called “World Class Learners” by international educational leader, Yong Zhao (3) and finally heard him speak at a leadership conference last year in Sydney about the importance of the entrepreneurial spirit in the 21st century and his research about what types of jobs might be required for the future. Researchers believe that kindergarten students today may need to invent their own jobs when they go into the workforce, or that as adults they might change their career over 10 times! This means they will need to have certain qualities in order to be successful in the future global economy where automation and high scale production of Western goods in the East, will decrease job opportunities in currently prosperous economies.

Yong Zhao states:

“To prepare global, creative and entrepreneurial talents … The most desirable education, of course, is one that enhances human curiosity and creativity, encourages risk taking, and cultivates the entrepreneurial spirit in the context of globalization.” (3)

I ask myself, how can Steiner education do better in developing these qualities?

What will life even be like in 2028? The Centre Online has published a video which I recommend. (4)

How do we prepare kindergarten students for this ever-changing world? Change has never been so rapid as it has been in the past few decades, or in Steiner’s time. The Steiner education movement in each country continually discuss what curriculum changes might be required and how teaching practice and the way we work with students and parents in our communities can continually improve. Not change, for change sake, but really deeply examine with an open mind how our pedagogy meets the needs of the future, always with the foundation of the unfolding consciousness of the human being as its core.

To be truly honest, I believe we can sometimes be a little bit arrogant in Steiner schools, thinking that our way is the only way and we close our minds to opportunities that could well benefit our students, or we dogmatically stick to what we have always done. Christof Wiechert also spoke about this at the Steiner Education Australia conference in July 2017 in Sydney and encouraged us all to deeply reflect on what we do and why. To challenge the status quo.

I was asked to present at a non-Steiner contemporary education conference “K-12 Cultural Innovation” in 2016. Now this really made me think. Are we innovative? The presentation was to be on one of the following themes:

· What are some of the new and emerging concepts that distinguish traditional ideas of schooling from the schools of the future?

· Social purposes of a school

· With changing contexts has there been a change in how our schools are administered?

· How can we embed a culture of change, inquiry and innovation into our schools so that it percolates to every level?

I decided to present on the fourth point, culture of change, inquiry and innovation, hoping that others there would be impressed with what we do and think that was creative or possibly innovative. I outlined innovations in physical spaces, our beautiful learning environments, and teaching practices I hoped they would find innovative.

But to be honest, I was totally humbled by some of the presentations at this conference from other independent schools and state schools. I was greatly impressed, as they showed not only creativity, but a real will to implement radical ideas, test them, review them and prove how they had improved student learning, well-being or social inclusion. Some of their ideas we would never contemplate in a Steiner school, but it didn’t mean they weren’t successful innovations.


Discussions about innovation are often made difficult because people are unclear about the exact meanings of some key terms. In particular there is confusion about the difference between creativity, innovation and invention.

There are many definitions but here are some:

Creativity is the capability or act of conceiving something original or unusual.”

Innovation is the implementation of something new.”

Invention is the creation of something that has never been made before and is recognized as the product of some unique insight.”

If you have a group brainstorm and dream up dozens of new ideas, then you have displayed creativity, but there is no innovation until something gets implemented. So is innovation about will development?

Somebody has to take a risk and deliver something new for a creative idea to be turned into an innovation. I believe Rudolf Steiner was an innovator! Most likely every aspect of school life can be targeted for innovation.

Innovations can be incremental or radical. Every improvement that you make in products or services can be seen as an incremental innovation. Most businesses and most managers are good at incremental innovation. They see problems in the current set-up and they fix them. However, radical innovations involve finding an entirely new way to do things therefore they might be risky or difficult to implement.

The reality of schooling today in many countries worldwide is that we have an increased compliance framework, so this is calling on us all to remain creative and implement innovative action to protect the integrity of Steiner education, whilst being accountable and responsible to external requirements. But we must also be open to questioning past practices and determine if it is routine, rhythm or just the way we have always done things around here.

Are you as a teacher creative? I am sure you would all say you were. So now think … are you innovative?

How many teachers borrow programs from each other? Of course, it is good not to reinvent the wheel and we are all very busy people, but think of a time when it was your best lesson, or best story, when the children were truly inspired and engaged or came up with a new way of doing something. Was it a time when you had borrowed something from another teacher or had you really worked at it yourself to create out of your own imagination and implement in the classroom? Or both?

Anthroposophical Principles

To return to Steiner’s quote, „Imbue thyself with the power of imagination“, Steiner is also asking us to call on the spiritual world to support our work, by developing a rich inner life.

Steiner gives us many ways to move forward (or in circles!) on this inner path of knowledge, of working with the spiritual hierarchies and through his lectures and writings he implores teachers as a collective group to work with each other’s strengths. Steiner provided teachers with the College Imagination to call on the support of the spiritual world. This Imagination gives us the inner picture we need for our work and helps us to understand that the Angelic realm unites us with our Strength, a chalice of Courage is formed by the weaving of the Archangels and in this chalice, is placed a drop of Light, of Wisdom, of Inspiration from the Archai.

This brings me to my deeper reflections of what innovation means in the light of anthroposophy.

We might be inspired to create something new (Light of Wisdom), but we must also have the courage to bring a new idea, even if seen as radical, and not be afraid of being criticised by dogmatic, close minded responses, or bogged down by tradition, sleepy with routine and rhythm. When we receive this light of inspiration, to create something new, to form a new idea, then we must also have the strength of WILL to implement it, others we are sleepy with creativity but never truly innovative.

This is what I believe is the difference between creativity and innovation. Steiner gave us a rich tapestry of understanding of the human being and a philosophy by which we can be guided, we just need to recreate his words into what is meaningful for us. It is a fine line between artistic, creative sleepiness and strength of will –to dare to be different, to dare to try new things. To be a risk taker, not risk averse.

We must be role models for our students, so I feel it is important to be innovative, to find new ways of being the risk takers of the world, to model integrity and to be accountable.

Steiner teachers can become very indignant about compliance requirements and then bemoan that their creativity is being stifled. I challenge this type of thinking and I am tired of hearing the complaints as this is the world we live in therefore we need to work in it. Steiner gave us many tools to work our way through what we will face in our time. Think of the Michael Verse by Steiner:

“We must eradicate from the soul

All fear and terror of what comes to meet us from the future

We must look forward with absolute equanimity to whatever comes

For whatever comes is given us by a world direction full of wisdom

It is part of what we must learn in this age

Namely, to act out of pure trust, in the ever-present help of spiritual worlds

Truly, nothing else will do if our courage is not to fail us.

Let us discipline our will, and let us seek the awakening from within ourselves

Every morning and every evening.“ (5)

· Trust in the spiritual worlds – you will receive the drop of light you need, of inspiration to teach artistically, creatively and with a rich inner life.

· Have courage for the truth – be courageous in your ability to speak up and offer something different and be open-minded to others’ ideas.

· Finally discipline your will – turn creative ideas into innovative action – implement!

How many times have you sat in College meetings having brainstorm sessions and great ideas come up, are written down on the board, but nothing ever happens, or maybe a few small things and possibly another year later you are again brainstorming almost the exact same theme?

To truly know the world, look deeply within your own being; to truly know yourself, take a real interest in the world.“ (6)

Before we can have creative, innovative students, we must have creative, innovative teachers! We must prepare young people for the future, for life, not just a job. Many school reforms implemented by policy makers around the world are based on the premise that education is to get a job to keep the economy going. But in Steiner schools we see young people as spiritual beings, unfolding their consciousness in developmental phases and so we base our educational approach on the developmental stages Steiner outlines so well.

However, I challenge you to think …are we stuck? Are we too focused on year by year development? Young people are changing, as their world is changing. The child of 1919 is not the child of 2017. Steiner education is almost 100 years old, therefore we need to deeply observe our students and meet their needs in today’s contemporary society and all its challenges. Global consciousness is impacting on young people as the world is brought to them through tiny digital devices. There are no boundaries, no safety nets anymore. They can only rely on themselves therefore we must find innovative ways to build resilience in young people.

I believe the stages of development as outlined by Steiner are absolutely correct, you can see it unfold in the children’s behaviour, and way of being. But I know that my first class were totally different to my second class and that children today are different to them and so on. Parents are different. Their expectations are different, their fears are greater.

So if children are different and parents are different, why do we ‘mostly’ stick to what we always do without real discussion and the trialling of some innovative ideas? We stubbornly stick to our age grouped classes, yet the smaller new schools are having to manage classes with children spanning 4 years. They are coming up with innovations every day.

Some schools are actually trying new things. One school is conducting Main lesson in middle lesson time for the middle school students as brain research showed adolescent sleep patterns concluding they are too sleepy first thing in the morning to really learn. This same school has a high school maths class with blackboards all around the walls and the students stand up and work in groups to solve maths problems. Another high school has main lessons as the last lesson of the day and ‘will’ activities in the morning to wake up sleepy adolescents.

Schools around the world are becoming ‘movable classrooms’ and all desks and chairs for Class 1 and 2 removed and replaced with light, movable benches and cushions. These schools are implementing review processes to determine the benefits or otherwise of these innovations. I applaud them for trying something against the ‘Steiner norm’.

But I only have a few innovative stories. I am sure there are more but I don’t always hear them. Sometimes this is because people will think what they are doing is ‘not Steiner’ so they hide under the radar for fear of being branded by the dogmatic.

The exciting thing is that creativity is occurring everyday (our heart forces) so we have many opportunities to be innovative, we only have to harness our will and make it happen, then reflect (thinking) on whether it works! Teachers must make evaluative decisions daily, which then impact on their students and qualities they value and how they perceive themselves as learners. This is responsibility of soul, of the soul life of each child in your care.

So I return to Steiner’s last words at the end of Study of Man:

“Imbue thyself with the power of imagination

Have courage for the truth

Sharpen thy feeling for responsibility of soul” (1)

Finally, the OECD states that the over-arching goal of education now is adaptability. “The ability to apply meaningfully learned knowledge and skills flexibly and creatively to different situations” (7)

Are we too routine? Too rhythmical? Too focused on the beautiful blackboard drawings reproduced in beautiful main lesson books? Will we be seen as schools left behind in the industrial revolution model with wooden desks, blackboards and children in rows, or will we be seen as leaders in the educational field, contemporary and fostering qualities in young people they will need for the future?

We have the opportunity to be educational leaders as many educators today are talking about things we have been doing for years, such as moral, ethical, artistic education, focusing on the whole child, balancing the physical, social, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. To do this, we need to be on the front foot, be a bit daring, innovative and adaptive to a changing world. What will this look like and what will it mean for teachers in their daily task?


1) Steiner, R. The Study of Man. Lecture: S-3801: 21st August, 1919. GA 0293.

2) Burrows, L. and Stehlik, T. 2014. Teaching with Spirit: New Perspectives on Steiner Education in Australia. I B Publications Pty, Limited. NSW Australia.

3) Zhao, Yong. 2012. World Class Learners: Educating Creative and Entrepreneurial Students. SAGE Publications Ltd. London, United Kingdom.

4) The Centre online, 29.12.2014,

5) Steiner, Rudolf: Erkenntnis und Unsterblichkeit, Öffentlicher Vortrag, Bremen, 27.11.1910

6) Steiner, Rudolf: Steiner Verses and Meditations. Rudolf Steiner Press. 2004

7) Lucas. B., Claxton, G., Spencer, E. 2013. Expansive Education: Teaching learners for the real world. ACER press. Australia.