Spiritual Dimensions in Schools
Spiritual Dimensions in Schools
AIS Executive Conference
linking values and ethos to the
lifeworld of the school
relating to or affecting the human spirit as opposed to material or physical
complete trust or confidence; strong belief in a religion; a system of
belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a
personal God or gods; a particular system of faith and worship
Oxford Compact English Dictionary
How do YOU see reality?
is the metaphor you use to describe
a school? your school?
Your metaphor will shape your actions
My ontological perspective…
‘the fundamental nature of reality is
relationships, not things’
‘a living system has the capacity to create
(Senge et al., 2000, p.52-3)
the ‘lifeworld’ of the school is based on
its unique values and purposes, and
ideally dictates the shape of the
‘systemsworld’ of structures and plans.
(Sergiovanni, 2000, p.21)
human beings have a need for
purpose. We need to feel that our work
has value, that we make a difference.
most important task of a leader is to
constantly clarify and articulate the
purpose of the organisation.
The purpose of education…
Education…’should make you a unique individual,
not a conformist; it should furnish you with an
original spirit with which to tackle the big
challenges; it should allow you to find values
which will be your road map through life; it
should make you spiritually rich, a person who
loves whatever you are doing, wherever you are,
whomever you are with; it should teach you
what is important, how to live and how to die.’
(Gatto, 1992 p.75)
The purpose of education
This is quite a different understanding of
the purpose of education from that
emanating from an economic-rationalist
paradigm. It focuses on the whole child,
within his/her context, but also has a
transcendent, spiritual quality, based on
give the whole school community a
defined philosophy and purpose…a unifying set
of meanings which can allow us to transcend
the detail and issues which divide any group of
People need to believe in something in order to
ennoble what they do and to transcend the
differences between them. The role of a leader
is to help the group find this within and among
School’s values and ethos
are your school’s stated values?
How are they lived out?
wide is the gap between lived and
‘The Adelaide Declaration on National Goals for
Schooling in the Twenty-first Century’, 1999
Schooling provides a foundation for young
Australians’ intellectual, physical, social, moral,
spiritual and aesthetic development. By
providing a supportive and nurturing
environment, schooling contributes to the
development of students’ sense of self-worth,
enthusiasm for learning and optimism for the
future…[and] a socially cohesive and culturally
Addressing spirituality in the
curriculum can mean reawakening
students to a sense of awe and
wonder. This can involve deepening
a sense of connection to the cosmos.
(Miller, Selia, & Denton, 2005)
Relationships within the school
for students as whole people
Respect for staff as whole people
Hierarchies among staff? Students?
Respect for parents
Care of staff
the importance of the spiritual
dimension reflected in the structures
within your school?
The relative lack of ritual and tradition, and the ‘spiritual
anorexia’ referred to by Carr-Gregg (2004) in modern
Australian society, means that there is often no strong
basis of values on which young people can ground
themselves, their outlook and their decisions (Groome,
1998; McGillion, 2003).
Social commentators and theologians describe a growing
spiritual hunger among the population in general but
less allegiance to organised religion (Jones, 1998;
McGillion, 2003; O'Murchu, 1995, 1997; Tacey, 2000).
In times of celebration
In times of sorrow
Beginnings and endings
Education in the spiritual
this just confined to Religious
can a spiritual dimension be
incorporated into more areas of school
Social justice/community service
tangible outcome of a spiritual
approach to life
How does this happen in your school?
Approaches to leadership
Some relevant leadership frameworks ….
Level 5 leadership
Fierce professional resolve
Authentic leadership is centrally concerned with
ethics and morality and with deciding what is
significant, what is right and what is
worthwhile…An important characteristic of
authenticity for leaders is the search for
personal purpose and relational meaning in
contemporary life. This emphasis on meaning
in life and work is increasingly associated with a
search for spirituality by individuals, groups,
even organisations. (p.2-3) (Duignan, 2003)
Spirituality and the principal
Passion and passivity
Passion - a sense of purpose
We have a commitment to young people
We want to make the world a better place
We spend ourselves to make this happen
Passivity – letting go, finding balance
love what you do
find God in what you do
Make time for regular prayer and stillness with God. This ensures that you do not
lose the ultimate focus
Remind yourself often why you are in this role, and therefore doing what you do for
its own sake, not for praise or approval
Know that you can always walk away ie I choose to be here
Enjoy young people
Have kids, at home and/or at school, who make fun of you….gently
Book season’s tickets to the theatre/concerts. That way the dates are already in
Keep two weekends per term absolutely free, so that we can get right away from it
Book into a hotel for the night after a school function on the weekend. It turns half a
weekend into a holiday.
Make time just to sit and talk with partner and/or family
Make time for friends. For me this often has to be planned many weeks in advance
Take at least one week to “refuel” in each student vacation, and longer in summer
See what you do as in some small way adding to God’s Kingdom
Do a PhD study…when it’s finished, it’s such a relief everything seems easier!!!
Make sure you have a Personal Assistant who is trustworthy, efficient
and appropriately protective
Surround yourself with great people and trust them implicitly. If you
haven’t got great people, treat them as if they were. They will often
Listen to good news stories from the staff and being inspired by them
When you feel overwhelmed, remind yourself to break the tasks into
small pieces and go one step at a time
Take time to look back and appreciate how much you have achieved
Keep real. Interact closely with students, and teach a class if possible
Have a “learning partner” - another Head who is a friend. Meet for
dinner each term to share ideas, strategies, hopes, joys and
frustrations in an atmosphere of great trust. It is often consoling to
realise how universal one’s difficulties are.
Read stimulating material which makes you uncomfortable/makes you
question your assumptions
A final thought
Our work as educators can be compared to that of the
builders of the great cathedrals in Europe. In some
cases these took up to two and a half centuries to build.
Generations of master builders and stonemasons never
got to see the end product of their work. Yet they had a
vision of what it was that they were about and worked
with passion to achieve it.
In working with young people we rarely see the ultimate
fruits of our labours. Yet what work could be more noble
than that of helping young minds and hearts to develop
and blossom. We are fortunate to have work as
meaningful and challenging as we do.
And a final poem…
What makes a fire burn
Is space between the logs, a breathing space.
Too much of a good thing,
Too many logs
Packed in too tight
Can douse the flames
Almost as surely as a pail of water can.
So building fires
To the space in between,
As much as to the wood.
Some hopefully useful resources
Beare, H. (2001). Creating the Future School: student outcomes and the reform of education.
London: Routledge Falmer.
Bolman, L., & Deal, T. (2001). Leading with Soul: An Uncommon Journey of Spirit. San
Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Carr-Gregg, M. (2004). Why Adolescence is Harder in 2004 than in 1974. Lights Out, 17(3), 12.
Collins, J. (2001). Level 5 leadership: the triumph of humility and fierce resolve. Harvard
Business Review, 79(1), 67-76.
Delors, J. (1996). Learning: the Treasure Within. Report to UNESCO of the International
Commission on Education for the Twenty-First Century. Paris: United Nations Educational
Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Duignan, P. (2003). Leading in an age of paradox and dilemma. In APAPDC (Ed.), Leaders
Lead: Beyond the lost sandshoe (pp. 12-16). Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.
Forbes, S. H. (2003). Holistic Education: An Analysis of Its Ideas and Nature. Brandon, VT:
Gatto, J. T. (1992). Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling.
Philadelphia: New Society Publishers.Educational Renewal.
Greenleaf, R. (1977). Servant Leadership: a journey into the nature of legitimate power and
greatness. New York: Paulist Press.
Groome, T. (1998). Educating for Life: a spiritual vision for every teacher and parent. Allen,
Texas: Thomas More.
Halpern, B. L., & Lubar, K. (2003). Leadership Presence: Gotham Books.
Kessler, R. (2000). The Soul of Education: helping students find connection, compassion and
character at school. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum
Miller, J. P., Selia, K., & Denton, D. (Eds.). (2005). Holistic Learning and Spirituality in
Miller, J. P. (2000). Education and the Soul: towards a spiritual curriculum. Albany, NY: State
University of New York Press.
Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs, (MCEETYA). (1999).
The Adelaide Declaration on National Goals for Schooling in the Twenty-First Century.
Retrieved 8 November 2005, from http://www.mceetya.edu.au/nationalgoals/
Moore, T. (1992). Care of the Soul: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday
Life (HarperPerennial ed.). New York: HarperCollins.
O'Murchu, D. (1995). Our World in Transition: making sense of a changing world. Sussex:
O'Murchu, D. (1997). Reclaiming Spirituality. Dublin: Gateway.
Palmer, P. (2004). A Hidden Wholeness. The Journey Toward an Undivided Life: Welcoming
the Soul and Weaving Community into a Wounded World. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
Sergiovanni, T. (2000). The Lifeworld of Leadership: creating culture, community, and
personal meaning in our schools. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Inc.
Starratt, R. J. (2003). Centering Educational Administration. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence
Tacey, D. (2000). Re-Enchantment: the New Australian Spirituality. Pymble, NSW: