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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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Spirituality: a foundation for educational development in schools

Anthony H. R. Chittenden
Director Staff Development and Research, Anglican Church Grammar School, Brisbane

Much discussion has recently taken place on proposals to increase the consistency between Australian education systems, building upon areas of commonality in States and Territories. One such area, which should be considered further by the Ministers, and which is currently incorporated in the National Goals for Schooling, is that 'schooling provides a foundation for young Australians' intellectual, physical, social, moral, spiritual and aesthetic development' (MYCEETYA, 1999). This paper focuses on the spiritual aim of education promoted by Australian schools.

The meaning of spirituality and its importance for schools

Spirituality is about feeling a part of some community, 'about being lonely, about being in harmony with mother earth or even feeling a sense of alienation' (Rolheiser, 1998:6-7). Spirituality reflects 'a broader dimension of day-to-day activity' (Coffey, 2002:5). A person needs to find himself or herself spiritually in order to become, as Vardy (cited in Coffey, 2002:5) says, fully human.

For religious schools, 'the importance of embracing life with enthusiasm and to approach it as a gift of God to be enjoyed' (Chittenden, 2003:16) permeates their philosophies. Indeed, religious schools argue for the building of individuals in the image of God (Chittenden, 2003). In the secular context, schools seek to ensure that students are in caring, educative environments which ultimately lead to human growth and fulfilment (Beck, 1992). Both contexts seek to counter the current popular culture and its attendant problems such as vandalism, hooliganism and the health problems of young people.

Spirituality shapes our actions and is directly related to our values and to our ethical behaviour (Chittenden, 2003: 16). Schools need to identify and promote appropriate behaviour. As Tew (cited in Best, 2000: 175) suggests, values permeate a school community and reflect the organisation of a school.

Spirituality also needs to be reflected in a teacher's everyday role. Teachers have an obligation to inculcate in their students positive values which reflect sound ethical and moral judgement, as inherent spiritual dimensions of education. They need, for example, to assist students to confront the vicissitudes of life, and to confront corruption, drug abuse and even threat of war. Before they connect with the lives of their students, however, teachers need to be cognisant of, and connect with, their own lives and their inner world.

Recognition and implementation of the spiritual dimension of education

From studies in England comes the view that values of respect and tolerance are fostered in schools where the spiritual dimension is important. These values should be reflected in a school's mission statement.

In schools throughout England and Australia, the spiritual dimension is reflected in pastoral groups such as forms, and tutorial and mentoring groups, established in a school's structure of care. These groups provide spiritual activities, such as dramatic performances, designed to engender in students a feeling of connection in terms of care and respect (Chittenden, 2003).

Best (2000) notes that the spirituality of young people can be developed in many ways: for example, by religion, thinking, prayer, meditation and ritual. He adds that for some, spirituality is awakened through feelings of awe and wonder at nature and the universe. It can be developed through positive relationships with others, particularly as an important component of pastoral care. There needs to be a view about spirituality which does not necessarily become totally immersed in its religious connotations.

For this to occur in schools, teachers need to embed their notion of spirituality in their subject work programs. Schools could consider the development of Howard Gardner's (1993) multiple intelligences in leading their staff and students to a spiritual intelligence. These curriculum experiences could be imparted in a cross-curricular approach, thus supporting Gardner's view that an holistic approach to education needs to address a range of intelligences, with a child-centred focus designed to develop the uniqueness of each child.

The Citizenship debate in Australia and the United Kingdom has also strengthened the notion of spirituality in the sense of increasing national awareness, though this dimension still remains cloudy. To enable students to participate in society and prepare them for life after school, there is clearly a link between citizenship and spirituality.


So far there has been little attempt to see spirituality as symptomatic of a child's development. However, the aims of schools, and in particular the National Goals for Schooling, provide impetus for further development. There needs to be a commitment, on the part of teachers and leaders, to understand and permeate the spiritual dimensions of education into their respective school cultures.


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Best, R. (Ed) (2000). Education for spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. London: Continuum.

Chittenden, A. (2003) Perceptions of spirituality through an ethic of care: comparative responses to spiritual dimensions of education (Part 1). Religious Education Journal of Australia, 19(1), 13-19

Coffey, M. Let our children pray. Common Theology, 1(1), 3-8.

Erricker, C. (2001). From silence to narration: A report on the research methods of the children and worldviews project. British Journal of Religious Education,
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Gardner, H. (1993). Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. New York: Basic Books.

Gleeson, C. (2002). However apart, "We are together". Independence, 27(2), 12-17.

Mayeroff, M. (1971). On caring. New York: Harper and Row.

Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs (1999). The declaration on national goals for schooling in the twenty-first century. Adelaide: MCEETYA.

Rolheiser, R. (1998). Seeking spirituality - Guidelines for a christian spirituality for the twenty-first century. London: Hodder and Stoughton.

Vardy, P. (1999). Religious and values education in Australia, in The philosophy of Religion Conference, 2001.


Subject Headings

Religious education