Exploring Spirituality In Schools

There was a brief period of time where I thought I wanted to be a watch maker. Imagine my ecstasy when, upon revealing this to my parents over a curry, I discovered that watchmaking was at one point a family trade, complete with a watchmaking factory in the West- Country. Unfortunately just as the sands of time slip away, so too did this particular ambition as it was revealed that this business was sold a couple of generations ago. Brief tantrum aside, I quickly moved beyond this life-goal, and in a sense this event has led me to where I am today. My hopes of turning small family business into a horological empire we cruelly dashed, so instead, with both my parents working as school advisors for religious education I have stepped into an alternate family trade and have been researching spirituality in schools for my Laidlaw project.

The context to my research is based in the national curriculum for England that states that schools have an obligation to provide ‘Spiritual Development’ for their pupils. My aim this summer has been to explore what spiritual development might mean in an educational context, find out from teachers what their lived experience of trying to provide it is and finally to look into the role that the Church of England (the majority of primary schools in England are in some way attached to a local parish church) might be able to play in aiding this venture.

As with most the other Laidlaw interns working in the faculties of Arts and Divinity, this project first of all led me to the library. My first aim was to try and work towards some sort of working definition of what spirituality actually means. Helpfully, most authors who attempt to define spirituality will caveat their writing by saying in some form or another that it isn’t really possible to define. As annoying as this might be, there are a few aspects that tend to prevail in most of the literature on the topic. Typically spirituality is viewed from the perspective that we are more than skin and bones and is thus defined as being to do with the relational dimension of human consciousness, be that one’s relation to themselves, others, the world or some understanding of transcendence. Other aspects of spirituality include a sense of awe and wonder and the development of values and a sense of meaning in light of asking the big questions of life. There seems to be some sense in which spiritual experiences, which I hasten to add are not synonymous with religious experiences, are experiences where one steps out of the mundanity of everyday life and sees things in a new light. Perhaps this might be noticing the beauty of their commute to work; being stirred to a particular sense of enjoyment and appreciation of their group of friends; or even coming to understand some insecurity deep within oneself that has effected how they treat themselves and others. What spirituality might mean to each individual will vary, but it seems likely to be in some way affective, enriching and transformative.

The relation between spirituality and religion according to John Swinton

John Swinton’s definition of Spirituality

Having spent the first weeks of the project working towards this academic background to understanding spirituality, I have spent this last week interviewing teachers and education specialists to try and understand the lived experience of teachers as they seek to implement their mandate to provide spiritual development. There have been a few recurring themes that have come out of the interviews so far. One key aspect that teachers have drawn out from their experience is that reflectivity is a key facet of spirituality. This means the ability for one to reflect on themselves, their experience and feelings and, most relevant to education, their learning. The teachers I have spoken to have suggested that helping pupils to learn skills of reflectivity through developing spirituality can lead to increased attainment as pupils are better equipped to be critical of their own learning. I think that equally this is something that could be applicable to myself during my Laidlaw project. I believe that my project would only be benefitted if I took more time to ask questions of what I am researching and to be critical of my own assumptions and opinions that I am coming to it with.

So to conclude, I’ve been surprised throughout my project so far at how applicable such a seemingly ethereal topic has been to my studies. I’m currently thinking of a career in teaching after university and so in that regard also I feel this project has given me plenty of ideas that I could directly relate to a future in education. That is, of course, assuming I don’t see any watchmaking apprenticeships advertised over the next year.


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