Spiritual development relates to fundamental questions about the meaning and purpose of life which affect everyone; it is not dependant on a person’s religious beliefs or affiliation. It has to do with the universal search for individual and communal identity, and with our responses to challenging experiences such as death, suffering, beauty and encounters with good and evil. It is to do with the search for ways to answer these existential questions and for values by which to live.
There is an expectation that Church of England schools will ensure the spiritual development of all children. The Vision for Education sets out a goal whereby, in addition to embracing an agenda of excellence and academic rigour, a wider framework is required where all children flourish. ‘Life in all its fullness’ means giving emphasis to physical and intellectual development, while also meeting the needs for spiritual, moral, social and cultural development.
Defining spiritual development
According to Rebecca Nye, spirituality can be defined as relational awareness. That means awareness of my relationship with:
Self (being a unique person and understanding self-perception)
Others (how empathy, concern, compassion and other values and principles affect relationships)
World and Beauty (perceiving and relating to the physical and creative world through responses to nature and art)
Beyond – (relating to the transcendental and understanding experiences and meaning outside the ‘everyday’)
Spiritual Development is a whole school responsibility
For some the spiritual development of pupils might appear to be the specific responsibility of teachers of RE, but on closer inspection it is apparent that there are opportunities for enhancing the spiritual well-being of learners in every aspect of school life. It is possible to identify three areas which can contribute to the spiritual development of pupils: the general ethos of the school, collective worship and the whole curriculum (including RE).
What do we mean by ‘development’ in spiritual development?
Here are some examples of development which might be helpful analogies:
- Plant – develops new shoots and grows in some measurable way
- Debate – orator expands on a point or perhaps more usefully
- Photography – an photographic image is ‘realised’ or ‘made visible’ on a piece of paper
Spirituality is an innate human capacity. Spiritual development is not about becoming more spiritual (in a measurable or expansive sense). It is about realising or becoming more and more aware of one’s natural, innate spirituality. This is sometimes a slow and gradual process, at other times there might be significant stages of realisation, which are part of the ongoing ‘developing’ process. Unlike the development of a photograph, people don’t reach a finished state of spiritual development, but participate in the ongoing process of spiritual realisation. If spirituality were something which developed or grew in a quantifiable sense, then surely adult would be more spiritual than children. Many would argue that children seem to be far more spiritually aware than adults. Perhaps as a part of growing older, the pressures of life can distract or distort our interests so that as adults, our spiritual awareness is dulled, and we do not ‘realise it’ to the full.
Patterns for planning spiritual development
Salisbury Diocese has some excellent resources to help you think about the variety of opportunities you provide for children. In particular, the ‘Spirituality Ricketts Progress Grids’ are great auditing and planning tools.
Windows, Mirrors and Doors
Windows: giving children opportunities to become aware of the world in new ways; to wonder about life’s ‘WOWs’ (things that are amazing) and ‘OWs’ (things that bring us up short). In this children are learning about life in all its fullness.
Mirrors: giving children opportunities to reflect on their experiences; to meditate on life’s big questions and to consider some possible answers. In this they are learning from life by exploring their own insights and perspectives and those of others.
Doors: giving children opportunities to respond to all of this; to do something creative as a means of expressing, applying and further developing their thoughts and convictions. In this they are learning to live by putting into action what they are coming to believe and value.
Mindfulness and spiritual development
The last decade has witnessed a remarkable rise in the use of mindfulness techniques in many areas of society, including schools. Although there is currently a lack of empirical evidence to back up all the claims which are made about its effectiveness, there do seem to be grounds to suggest that the teaching of mindfulness skills has the potential to significantly enhance the spiritual development of young people.
According to Katherine Weare, practice of mindfulness enables young people to live in the moment and to respond skilfully to whatever is happening in the now. She contrasts this to the state of mindlessness, where the respondent moves through life rarely noticing what is happening around them, ‘ruminating on the past or worrying about the future’. It is suggested that the benefits of mindfulness are in the areas of psychological health and well-being.
Key questions for the schools are:
- How does the school’s Christian vision provide opportunities to meet the spiritual needs of learners?
- How does an awareness of spirituality permeate school life?
- What is the impact of this for the learner (and staff and the wider community)?
- How are staff inducted and supported so that they have a shared understanding of spirituality and spiritual development?
Recommended further reading:
Church of England guidance document: Spiritual Development: Interpretations of spiritual development in the classroom
Spiritual Development WMD (article by Liz Mills)
Making Sense of Spiritual Development in Religious Observance and the Wider Curriculum by David Smith and Alison Farnell Stapleford Centre ISBN 978-1-90223447-2 http://www.stapleford-centre.org/
Nye R (2009) Children’s Spirituality: What it is and why it matters London:Church House Publishing
Opening Windows: Spiritual development in the Primary School through Religious Observance and the Wider Curriculum Compiled and Edited by Alison Farnell Stapleford Centre ISBN 978-1-902234-60-1 http://www.stapleford-centre.org/
Ortberg J (2010) The Me I want to be: becoming God’s best version of you Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan
SMSC advice across the curriculum: SMSC across the curriculum
Thomas G (1996) Sacred Pathways: Discover Your Souls Path to God Grand Rapids, Michigan, Zondervan
 Church of England Vision for Education Deeply Christian, Serving the Common Good
 Developing mindfulness with children and young people: a review of the evidence and policy context