How might this be effectively promoted in schools? After a term of exploration, I had a plethora of creative and challenging ideas, but how could these be shared with others? For this reason, I became involved with a team at The Stapleford Centre developing practical materials for schools. This led to the publication of Opening Windows: Spiritual development in the primary school at the end of 2002.
However, I still find the subject of spiritual development intriguing, and hope to continue musing on it as long as I carry on teaching and beyond.
Most recently, when working with schools, I have used three visual images to help teachers consider how spiritual development - pupils' whole and 'hole' development - can be promoted throughout the life and work of their school.
Schools can provide children with openings for spiritual development in three vital ways:
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.
In our present result-driven educational climate, how will we know whether pupils are developing 'spiritually' through the opportunities we provide in school? Is spirituality really something one can become progressively better at with effort, perhaps as one develops intellectually or with age and experience? (In that case, surely adults should be much more spiritually developed than children?) Does the word 'development' when applied to spirituality mean growth like a plant (see graph) or is the analogy of a photograph a better one - when a photo is developed, the image that is already there is realised. Perhaps children can sometimes realise their innate spirituality more perceptively than adults? In this light a list of characteristics of spiritually developing people might be a useful guide for schools aiming to monitor their provision for pupils' spiritual development. Such a list would include traits such as curiosity, generosity, hopefulness, trust and vision, elements that children often display quite naturally and yet adults can seem to lose. (A fuller list can be found in Appendix 2 of Opening Windows.)
These are my thoughts in progress on spiritual development. I'd love to hear any reflections you have on the subject. Liz Mills can be contacted through The Stapleford Centre.
Opening Windows: Spiritual development in the primary school is available from The Stapleford Centre priced £8.99. Click here to go to the online bookshop.