Why Does a Waldorf Class Teacher Traditionally Stay with their Class in Grades One through Eight?

Why Does a Waldorf Class Teacher Traditionally Stay with their Class in Grades One through Eight?

by Catherine Dwyer | WSP Class Teacher

Years ago when I first taught elementary school, before I met Waldorf education, every year I would have a new group of students and I would spend the first few months getting to know them as they got to know me. As the months progressed, I would increase my understanding of how each child learned best. We would have a few months of solid learning and then, poof, it was summer, and the students would move on. In the fall, I would get another group of new students and we would start all over again. It was the same every year – just as you really got to know the students, the year was over. It was sad. Although switching to new teachers every year seemed normal to me then, in retrospect, there was a lot of time spent figuring out the best way to teach each child in your new class.

First grade class with their teacherOne of many unique aspects of Waldorf education is that the class teacher traditionally stays with their class from grades one through eight. Parents sometimes ask why this is the tradition at Waldorf schools. Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf education, made this recommendation over a hundred years ago, stating that children benefit when they remain with their teacher, versus switching to a new teacher each year. Now, (as often happens with Waldorf’s unique practices), science has caught up with Steiner and recent research shows benefits, such as higher academic performance and improved school experience, for students who stay with the same class teacher (often called looping).

One big benefit that research has shown with looping: when students return in the fall with the same teacher, the class doesn’t need to spend a lot of learning time getting to know each other. Successful learning can start right away because the teacher already knows how each student learns. And this ease with a familiar teacher creates a comfortable beginning for each returning student, too. Surprisingly, coming into a class where the teacher and students have been together longer positively impacts the learning of any new students as well.

We knew that if the teacher had more time with students, we could see some gains,” says Linda DeBerry, the principal at Dyersburg, which covers pre-kindergarten through second grade. Students in their second year with the same teacher typically learn over one-third more content than students in the same grade who had different teachers, DeBerry says. “We see evidence of this in all grades.” Principal DeBerry started looping teachers 15 years ago after noticing benefits when looping happened accidentally. “What we see is those teachers know exactly what student strengths and weaknesses are. At the beginning of the year, they don’t have to figure that out,” she says. “For students who don’t develop as fast, teachers have longer with them to reach goals.”

The reason, researchers conclude, is that longer relationships make both teaching and learning easier and improve student behavior. Looping with students, even if it doesn’t take place in sequential years, can be more efficient, says John Papay, associate professor of education and economics at Brown University’s Annenberg Institute. Papay, another lead researcher on the Tennessee study, cites the time teachers spend getting to know students at the beginning of the school year. “There’s an upfront cost – learning names, talking about goals, getting to know families,” he says. “If you have students a second year, you don’t have to do that. There’s less diagnostic work.” 

Interestingly, Papay notes, the Tennessee study didn’t just find academic and behavioral benefits for students who had the same teacher for multiple years. There is a “spillover” effect during the second year of a looped classroom for students who are having the teacher for the first time. Students who are new to a teacher in a class where half of the students have had the teacher before also do better academically, have better attendance and fewer behavioral issues than they did in other teachers’ classrooms.” The Benefits of Teacher LoopingUSNews by Kate Rix  (February 2023).

Steiner discussed many benefits of the teacher and students staying together. One of them is that the teacher comes to know the student very well and can support their growth in the best way. The teacher can respond more readily to the students as they grow, with knowledge of where they were previously in their development and how they are progressing. The child feels the teacher’s care and attention. This warmth between the teacher and the child creates the perfect environment for learning, with trust and comfort born from many years together. From this safe place, the imagination can soar. The teacher can follow the child’s interests. Wonder, for the world and all its mysteries, leads to deep thinking, learning, and exploring new ideas.

Steiner also mentioned the benefit of that the teacher can bring the learning subjects for each year and deepen them based on what was taught previously – teachers can teach effectively and efficiently because they know what they’ve brought before and where the children might need more. The teacher can also plan for future learning, bringing touches of subjects to the children in the younger grades to plant seeds for a future grade’s work. For example, the teacher may tell a story about sunflowers in grade one, and plant sunflowers in grade three during farming, because the teacher plans to study the sunflower when the students cover botany in grade five.

He also stressed that the teacher always staying an active learner with the students. With a new grade each year, the teacher is learning new material, too. They can bring their own wonder to each new lesson. The teacher can model learning behavior for the students. The material is fresh for the teacher, so it is fresh for the students. Steiner believed that the students learn much from the teacher’s own striving. The students are invigorated in beholding their teacher as a learner and sharing in the process together. (Steiner)

Research supporting Steiner’s indications is growing:

“The advantages of looping are intertwined for teachers, students, and families. These can be categorized in three broad areas: (1) time, (2) relationships, and (3) student support and engagement. By its very nature, looping provides additional time, which, in turn, enhances instruction and assessment. Relationships—teacher/team-to-student, student-to-student, teacher/team-to-parent—benefit from the stability afforded by looping.  

Finally, engagement among teachers, students, and parents increases and fosters the social development of students due to the multiyear investment. George and Lounsbury (2000) and George and Shewey (1997) found that participants invested in long-term teacher-student relationships (i.e., looping) agreed that a greater sense of community developed as a result. Teacher-student rapport is recognized as a vital component of an effective classroom (Montalvo, Mansfield, & Miller, 2007; Westerfield, 2009).”  Looping – Association of Middle Level Education by Thompson, N. L., Franz, D. P., & Miller, N. (November 2009).

Eighth grade students and teachers inside of a caveAnother wonderful benefit when a teacher stays with the class is the strong community that is built with the parents, students, and teacher. The students and parents know the class teacher and the subject teachers well. The parents also know the children and each other well. Each year spent together builds their community. This strong team of teachers and parents together support and hold the class, encouraging each child’s growth and well-being.

“Better rapport between parents and teachers can result in more active parent involvement and therefore higher levels of student achievement. The context of looping results in improved relationships among teachers, students and parents, and an increase in satisfaction is experienced by most participants (Cistone & Shneyderman; Elliot & Capp, 2003; Forsten, Grant, & Richardson, 1999; Simel, 1998). The investment of time, cultivation of relationships, and prolonged engagement associated with looping, promote an academic environment in which most people flourish.” Looping – Association of Middle Level Education by Thompson, N. L., Franz, D. P., & Miller, N. (November 2009).

First grade teacher and children outdoors

A Waldorf first grade classroom is a magical place. The teacher stands before the students, ready to take them on an adventure. The students look up with adoration, ready and eager to follow. The shared warmth of the first joyful years together helps the class weather the sometimes bumpy nine-year-change. Every year the students return to a familiar social circle of classmates, surrounded by teachers who know and care for them. Their class teacher holds the students with thoughtful care and attention. The affection within the class helps them ride the wave of adolescent puberty together, through their differing spurts of growth and maturity. With their teacher’s support, they keep steady with the goal of respect and kindness for each other, as they pursue ever more expanding topics, teaching each other with their different perspectives in ever deepening discussions of life and knowledge in all their messy glory.

And suddenly, the students are in eighth grade. The class is solid together; the classmates support each other. When it counts, they are there for each other. And they are having fun. They are ready to go on together, to continue learning with each other. Now, their class teacher can step back and let them go on their next adventure – the complete wonder and even deeper thinking in high school, surrounded in support and warmth again, but this time with an extensive team of enthusiastic high school teachers who are ready to meet the world with them.

Photos of Mrs. Waheed and her class from first to eighth grades, from 2014 to earlier this month in 2023.

Rix, Kate. “The Benefits of Teacher Looping | K-12 Schools | U.S. News.” The Benefits of Teacher Looping, 24 Feb. 2023, www.usnews.com/education/k12/articles/the-benefits-of-teacher-looping.

Steiner, Rudolf. Discussions with Teachers: Fifteen Discussions with the Teachers of the Waldorf School in Stuttgart, August 21st to September 6th, 1919 ; Translated by Helen Fox. Rudolf Steiner Press, 1992.

Thompson, N. L., Franz, D. P., & Miller, N. (2009). Research summary: Looping. Retrieved 25 May 2023, from http://www.amle.org/TabId/198/ArtMID/696/ArticleID/311/Research-Summary-Looping.aspx.

The Fit Factor: Finding the Right College

The Fit Factor: Finding the Right College

by Kevin Krasnow | Director of College Counseling

“It’s not where you go, it’s what you do there.” This is the advice of Dr. Denise Pope, Senior Lecturer at Stanford University and co-founder of Challenge Success, a non-profit affiliated with the Stanford University Graduate School of Education. She spoke to our community earlier this month for a workshop on “A Healthier Approach to College Admissions.” With humorous anecdotes and an engaging PowerPoint presentation, as well as her perspective as a parent who has gone through the admissions process with her own children, Dr. Pope emphasized that fit should be valued over rankings. Keeping a level head during the college search process is key for the well-being, engagement, and sense of belonging of all K-12 students.

A group of people in a room facing a person making a presentation on a screen. Many of the people are raising their hands. One of my favorite parts of the evening was when Dr. Pope handed out forms with a series of criteria for choosing a college or university to everyone in attendance. The form had 29 categories. For each category, we had to determine whether each was ‘‘not important”, “nice to have,” or “essential”. Here are just a few of them: 1. Diversity of the student body/faculty. 2. Community service opportunities. 3. Mental health services & supports. 4. Small class sizes. 5. Undergraduate academic reputation. It quickly became clear that no two people had the exact same marks or criteria. This brought home the ‘fit’ factor. What might be the right place for one student might not be the right place for another student. Dr. Pope also shared that popular college rankings, such as US News & World Report, used just ten factors to create their rankings, and by a show of hands it was noted that within our group very few present had prioritized any of those particular factors (Morse & Brooks, 2022).

Dr. Pope also told attendees about her experiences when she was touring colleges and universities with her son. After a long car ride, they had arrived at one of the schools that her son had identified as a top match school. But when he saw the small size of the town, and had done a little research, he realized that the town only had three restaurants. Being a foodie, he could not fathom attending a school in an area with such limited cuisine options. He told his Mom, “I will not go to this school.” Taken aback, Dr. Pope reminded her son that there were several reasons this school had made it onto his college list in the first place. But she could tell her son’s mind was made up; the school was not for him. They quickly crossed it off his college list, got back into the car, and drove away because a good fit on paper may not always be one in person.

When I meet with one of our WSP students, my goal is for the two of us to identify schools where they can see themselves being happy; academically, socially, intellectually, mentally, and emotionally. We map out a plan for future success, not just in college, but in life. No stone is left unturned. We look at average classroom sizes, retention rates from freshman to sophomore year, but we also look at schools that have a cappella groups or choirs if a student has a love for singing. For another student on the Walbots, WSP’s robotics club, it could be making sure a college has a similar student group for them. College rankings are never discussed; personal fulfillment and happiness is our chief topic of discussion.

Dr. Pope reminded me that while the college search process is not an easy one, there are so many reasons to be hopeful that a student will make the decision that is right for them. As my high school seniors receive many of their admissions decisions over the next few days and weeks, I am excited for what lies ahead for them. Their best days are still to come!


Morse, R., & Brooks, E. (2022, September 11). How U.S. News calculated the Best Colleges Rankings – US News & World … US News & World Report. Retrieved March 31, 2023, from https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/articles/how-us-news-calculated-the-rankings

15 Tech Alternatives for Winter Break

by Melanie Ingler | Communications Coordinator

A new study published in the JAMA Pediatrics suggests yet one more reason to manage tech at home. “Tempting as it may be to hand them a smartphone or turn on the TV as a default response, soothing with digital devices may lead to more problems with emotional reactivity down the road, a new study has shown,” writes Madeline Holcombein in a recent CNN article [link].

“‘Even slightly increasing a child’s emotional reactivity, that just means it’s more likely when one of those daily frustrations comes up, you’re more likely to get a bigger reaction,’ said lead study author Dr. Jenny Radesky, a developmental behavioral pediatrician.” Read the rest here.

Who hasn’t been there? Especially while trying to work and school at home during COVID. And if you haven’t, a long break from school filled with extended family and friend visits and extra tasks to complete might send you there.

Sometimes these habits can be hard to break. I recall when my, now 21-year-old, son was in kindergarten, a teacher telling us “A lot of televisions seem to ‘break’ during kindergarten.” Our TV didn’t actually “break,” but throwing a cloth over it did wonders. However, as we all know, it just isn’t the TV in the corner seeming to allure us for some temporary peace and quiet anymore; everywhere you turn there is a tempting device, especially if you turned to them during the last few years.

I always found rather than taking something away from my children, it was easier to instead give something new or different. Even waaay back when I was a child, my mother had a plastic tub of rice with cups, measuring spoons, and sieves in it; kept away only for rainy days. I may not have enjoyed that if it had always been available, but it certainly made the rare indoor rainy day very exciting!

So, after you read “Giving your child a screen may hinder emotional regulation, study says. Here’s what to do instead”, here are some more media-free ideas for people of all ages to indulge in over break, and beyond:

  1. Make a big indoor tent/fort and read in it
  2. Visit the library
  3. Make a family tree
  4. Learn to play guitar or another new instrument
  5. Have a tea party
  6. Write a letter to a friend or relative
  7. Learn to play checkers or chess
  8. Write Thank You notes
  9. Go ice skating
  10. Plan a picnic
  11. Choose a new recipe to cook together
  12. Sing
  13. Make up a story together, two words at a time
  14. Take a walk or go on a nature scavenger hunt
  15. Visit the mountains


Knitting is Coding and More

Knitting is Coding and More

by Ashley Brickeen | Admissions Director, Nursery-Grade 8

Imagine your child learning a coding language that could be read, used and accurately executed hundreds of years into the future. That is knitting. Hundreds of years before computer coding, fiber artists had created a symbolic language that could be used by knitters, crocheters and weavers anywhere in the world to reliably create clothing, blankets and toys. With knitting, the code is based on K (knit) or P (purl) stitches rather than zeros and ones.

At its most basic, knitting is executing an algorithm. An algorithm is a set of steps used to complete a specific task. Students are given a code (knitting pattern) and they carefully translate the code, executing the functions in the code line by line, row by row. Knitting patterns often include looping instructions, similar to a while loop in coding.

At Waldorf Schools, we introduce students to knitting in first grade. Knitting strengthens the muscles of the hand, requires focused attention, and reinforces the mathematics students learn in their main lesson. In the early grades, students add and reduce rows and stitches, follow ratios and use mathematics to calculate gauge (variables that must be adjusted to ensure that their sock fits). Whether knitting, crocheting, or weaving, all of these patterns (codes) are executed line by line, row by row, as with computer coding.

In fifth grade, we introduce variables into the knitting pattern/code, much like a variable in a coding language. Pattern authors will create one pattern which will make an object of a certain size – for example, a pair of socks that will fit a medium-sized foot. Students, working with their teacher, learn how to replace certain variables within the pattern/code to make the final product the proper size. After weeks of careful, attentive work, they have the final creation – a beautiful sock, sized to fit their foot.

This relationship between fiber arts and coding is not accidental. The work of fiber artists and the patterns they created led directly to computer code. In the early 1800s, the Jacquard loom used a punch card system (hole/no hole) to create elaborate textile patterns. Mathematician Ada Lovelace was inspired by this process when she created what is considered the first example of computer programming, famously stating that “The Analytical Engine [the theoretical calculating machine] weaves algebraic patterns, just as the Jacquard-loom weaves flowers and leaves.” She pointed out that this binary process could be used for all sorts of complex calculations and in numerous fields of human endeavor.

While teachers do not make the linkage between fiber arts and computer coding languages explicit to our students, the knitters are still absorbing the lesson through the physical experience of knitting and crocheting, laying the groundwork for their future understanding when they do encounter their first computer language. Nowadays, this sort of learning is often called embodied cognition, a field of research which recognizes that the sensory and motor [movement] systems of the body are fundamentally integrated into cognition. While the field of embodied cognition is relatively new, Waldorf Education has worked out of the framework of embodied learning since its inception in 1919.

These embodied experiences can lead to major discoveries. In 1997, mathematician Dr. Daina Taimina attended a geometry workshop on the hyperbolic plane. Stated simply, hyperbolic geometry is used by statisticians when they work with multidimensional data and acoustic engineers when they design concert halls, among other things. At this time, mathematicians were unable to represent hyperbolic space physically. In the field of mathematics, hyperbolic space existed only in principle. What allowed Dr. Taimina to solve this problem while she sat in that lecture hall? She is an avid crocheter. While she had always seen algorithms and patterns in her crocheting, she now saw how she could easily create a physical model of hyperbolic space with yarn and a crochet hook.

Of course, as with so much in Waldorf Education, the handwork curriculum works within a student physically, emotionally, and intellectually. It develops aspects of character – patience, emotional resilience, and tenacity. It also lays the foundations for future learning and growth.


For more reading, see 

  • Crocheting Adventures with Hyperbolic Planes: Tactile Mathematics, Art and Craft for all to Explore, Second Edition by Dr. Daina Taimina
  • Making Mathematics with Needlework: Ten Papers and Ten Projects  by Dr. Sarah-Marie Belcastro
  • Siobhan Roberts, SR. (2019) ‘Knitting Is Coding’ and Yarn Is Programmable in This Physics Lab For Elisabetta Matsumoto, knot theory is knit theory, New York Times, May 17, 2019. Available here.

Feature Image credit: Daina Taimina, ‘Hyperbolic Crochet’. 10 Questions from Isolation. Fad Magazine.

Simple Thrills

Simple Thrills

by Jennifer Britton | Business Office Assistant & Alumni Parent

Adults working around a wooden piece of Faire equipment with tools scattered about.As a twenty-something-year alumni parent, volunteer, and current staff member, there are still moments when being in this community fascinates me or brings me unexpected joy. Two most recent ones come to mind. The first was on a recent Saturday when 1st, 4th, and 6th grade parent Leyla initiated a parent work day to do, what for me has been a long-term dream, a rehabilitation of our well-loved Winter Faire games infrastructure. There were coffee, baked goods, paints, buckets, rags, bins, prizes, drills, sand paper, batting, moss, tiny trees, strings, and more! The parking lot was transformed into an elves workshop (which used to be the name for our crafting workshop back in the earlier Faire days!!). Moms, dads, dogs, and kids all chipping in to make each game look brighter and more appealing to future games players. You’ll have to wait until Faire day to see the results but anyone who has been to the faire in the last four years or more will notice the upgrades. This makes me want to sing the folk song “Simple Gifts.”

A homemade castle wall and color wall of squares behind a group of adults with tools and painting equipment. There are some tools and paints scattered about the parking lot ground.The second experience involved goose bumps, the arrival of which one cannot control. I was in a junior/sophomore math class and the seniors were gone so the class was gifted with a special lesson on a fun applied math activity with Ms. O. She had mentioned that this had been shared with the faculty once and that added to my intrigue, plus she alerted me that it was about gerrymandering. It was fantastic, not only the actual manner in which she explained the history and set up a very relevant, hands-on application for it (we got to play with “stacking” the districts for a fictitious state legislative race) but also how the students engaged in it. I’m a huge verb fan and one of my favorites that I wish for us all is engagement. The students picked up on the assignment right away (asking fewer questions than I, by the way) and began feverishly to draw their district salamanders. The level of chatting was delicious as they went through three rounds of drawing their sacred lines of demarcation. But the debrief, the “why” and “what could happen if…” and “what else could be done instead?” series of questions and answers was gobsmacking to listen to. Students really grasped the shortcomings of this system and one student who was familiar with elections, current elections, in Israel chimed in with insights about an alternative used there that has parties so disparate that it has its own level of mayhem, confusion and ineffectiveness. Just another day in a Waldorf math class. Commence goosebumps (another fun verb, commence).