Willy Potthoff

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Willy Potthoff (born October 22, 1925 in Altenmelle near Melle , † February 23, 2006 in Aachen ) was a German reform pedagogue .


Coming from a humble background - his father was a factory fitter - Potthoff studied from 1947 at the Pedagogical Academy in Bielefeld. In 1949 he married Anita Potthoff nee Kreyer. In 1950 he became a teacher at the Petrischule in Bielefeld, an elementary school in a working-class district. Together with committed colleagues, in a development process lasting several years, he shaped the reform pedagogical profile of the Petri School , which was particularly oriented towards the Jena Plan (from 1960 there as Vice-Rector).

From 1963 to 1965 he worked as a training manager in the 2nd phase of GH teacher training in Bielefeld. In 1965 he was seconded to the Bielefeld University of Education . In 1969 he completed his part-time doctoral studies ( pedagogy , sociology and psychology ) at the Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität in Münster with a dissertation and became a research assistant at the Pedagogical University of Westphalia-Lippe, Bielefeld department . In 1970 he switched to teaching at the Schwäbisch Gmünd University of Education .

In 1971, Willy Potthoff was appointed professor of school education at the Freiburg University of Education , where he was elected rector in 1974. He was re-elected in 1976 as a guarantor of freedom of expression for the student body. From 1976 to 1978 he was also chairman of the rectors' conference of the universities of education in Baden-Württemberg as well as initiator and leader (from 1977) of the project group "New courses", which are qualitatively equivalent to teacher studies, but targeting different professional fields at the universities of education in Baden -Wuerttemberg developed.

In view of the high level of unemployment among teachers, he and others founded the “Solidargemeinschaft Lehrer und Erzieher Südbaden e. V. “(SOLE) , of which he was chairman from 1982 to 1993. Several hundred unemployed teachers were employed in SOLE projects; Particularly noteworthy is the introduction of senior studies in Freiburg (1984) and the establishment of seven reform pedagogical positions in southern Baden (1983–1993). Under the direction of Willy Potthoff, they served as information and support centers for schools with the introduction of open forms of teaching - in particular material-based free work .

In 1988 he founded the Academy for Reform Pedagogy (headed until 2006) for the training and further education of reform-pedagogical teachers as multipliers .

After his retirement in 1991 he continued to hold heavily attended seminars at the PH Freiburg for 30 semesters. In cooperation with state, church and trade union institutions, he carried out numerous advanced training events on reform pedagogical topics in various federal states. Until his death he worked in his home town of Freiburg i.Br. on the last book about educational and social projects in which he himself participated as a teacher or professor.

Pedagogical guidelines

Willy Potthoff has played a key role in the renaissance of reform pedagogical ideas since the 1980s (among other things by establishing reform pedagogical workplaces from 1983); He is particularly responsible for the transfer of reform pedagogical approaches to primary school at the secondary level.

Willy Potthoff shaped the integrated reform pedagogy, which does not dogmatically follow the guidelines of a single classic reform pedagogue, but allows the teacher the freedom to use elements of the concepts of different reform pedagogues (e.g. Petersen , Gaudig , Dewey , Montessori , Freinet ) in their own creativity and to shape responsibility. He wrote: “In contrast to some reform pedagogical drafts of the twenties, we understand today's reform pedagogy as an open system that […] is first developed by the individual teachers with their classes or by the teaching staff with the entire school to form appropriate forms of action got to". To this end, he provided the teachers with theoretical foundations and practical aids in his writings by critically analyzing the various models and methods. In his own concrete proposals for a child-friendly school, project work and internal differentiation (internal differentiation ) of the lessons, for example through free work, learning circles and weekly schedule lessons, are of central importance.

Influenced by his early experiences as a teacher at a focal point school , he knew about the necessity - also for a democratic society - and the possibility of bringing children from all social classes into an individually optimal distance from the subject matter through a designed learning environment and giving them more personal responsibility in the school to mature into independent personalities. "School norm children or turn individualities into personalities?" (Potthoff 2001 6 , p. 12)

With all the appreciation of private free schools, he especially propagated and promoted the implementation of reform pedagogical ideas in public schools by committed teachers, tolerated and supported if possible by the cultural authorities, but in no way imposed. "School development from below with the aim of effective, student-friendly teaching and a balanced school life ..." (Potthoff et al. 2004, p. 25)


  • The idea of ​​the school community. Concepts of cooperative self-administration in the 19th century , (pedagogical research. Publication of the Comenius Institute) Heidelberg 1971 (dissertation)
  • Curriculum development. Models and strategies , Ravensburg (Otto Maier) 1973 (4th edition 1976)
  • Introduction to structural terms in educational science , Freiburg (Herder) 1974 (4th edition 1981) (together with A. Wolf), ISBN 3-451-09017-1
  • Success control , Ravensburg (Otto Maier) 1974 (2nd edition 1975)
  • School pedagogy , Freiburg, Basel, Vienna (Herder) 1975 (Ed.)
  • Pedagogical Conflicts in School , Freiburg (Herder) 1975 (4th edition 1980) (together with A. Wolf), ISBN 3-451-09030-9
  • School Science Live , 3 vols., Ravensburg (Otto Maier) 1976 (Ed.)
  • Methodical learning aids , Ravensburg (Otto Maier) 1976
  • Basic forms of teaching , Freiburg (Herder) 1979
  • Ensuring success in teaching , Freiburg (Herder) 1981
  • Basis and practice of free work in primary school , Freiburg (Reformpädagogischer Verlag) 1985 (2nd edition 1987)
  • Reform pedagogy in public schools , 5 vols., Freiburg from 1985 (ed.)
  • Free learning - responsible action. The Freiburg Approach of Integrated Reform Education , Freiburg (Reformpädagogischer Verlag) 1990 (2nd edition 1994)
  • Learning and practicing with all senses , Freiburg 1991 (3rd expanded edition 1996 with the addition: learning circles in secondary school lessons ), ISBN 3-925416-15-3
  • Introduction to reform pedagogy. From classical to current reform pedagogy , Freiburg 1992 (4th edition 2003), ISBN 3-925416-23-4
  • Introduction to Freiarbeit , Freiburg (Reformedagogischer Verlag) 1994 (learning circle)
  • Free work and learning circle in mathematics lessons at secondary level , Freiburg 1995 (together with J. Potthoff), ISBN 3-925416-12-9
  • Changed childhood - active school , Freiburg (Reformpädagogischer Verlag) 1995 (learning circle)
  • Ways to open up lessons , Freiburg (Reformpädagogischer Verlag) 1996 (learning circle)
  • Free work at the grammar school , materials for internal school reform 101, Stuttgart (LEU) 1996
  • Ginga's education or freedom and responsibility in the home, school and society , Freiburg 1998, ISBN 3-925416-18-8
  • Methods of open teaching , Freiburg (Reformedagogischer Verlag) 1998 (200 index cards)
  • Observation and assessment of students in open lessons , Freiburg 2000
  • Forms of work of self-organized learning , Freiburg (Reformpädagogischer Verlag) 2000 (learning circle)
  • Basis and practice of free work. Self-determined learning in primary and secondary schools , Freiburg 2001 6 , ISBN 3-925416-24-2
  • Reformpaedagogik-Archiv.de (92 online texts) from 2001 (Ed.)
  • Impulses for the active school. Suggestions for better centering and profiling the education system according to PISA , Freiburg 2004 (with J. Schneider and F. Schrage), ISBN 3-925416-27-7
  • Materials for teacher training, teacher training and school development , Freiburg (Reformpädagogischer Verlag) 2004 (6 modules)
  • Pedagogical and social project variations , Freiburg 2006, ISBN 978-3-925416-28-6


  • W. Potthoff: Rector's report on the term of office 1974–1978 , PH Freiburg 1979
  • W. Potthoff: Free learning - responsible action. The Freiburg Approach to Integrated Reform Education , Freiburg 1990
  • W. Potthoff: Basis and Practice of Free Work , Freiburg 2001 6
  • W. Potthoff; J. Schneider; F. Schrage: Impulses for active schools. Suggestions for better centering and profiling the education system according to PISA , Freiburg 2004
  • W. Potthoff: Pedagogical and social project variations , Freiburg 2006

Individual evidence

  1. Potthoff 1990, p. 14.