Spirituality can be difficult to define and explain, so where can you start when trying to introduce the topic in a meaningful way to a class of 13 year olds?
An approach that has been successful for the students I teach is one that encourages students to reflect upon the evidence of their own experiences, which can then give them the empathy needed to truly understand what spirituality means to other people.
I start by encouraging the students to consider ‘things that make their spirits soar’. I give them my own accounts, (e.g. lying down on the grass on a sunny day with my friends and identifying the shapes in the clouds, or sitting on the cool sand on a cold autumn day snuggled into my hoody with a hot chocolate) and then students make a list of their own examples and experiences. The students always come up with great examples, from the feelings that they have when they wake up on Christmas morning, to the feeling of comfort and happiness hanging out with their best friends, not even having to say anything at all to each other. The more descriptive their examples are the better. The key is to get students to identify the feelings or emotions and to get them to share their ideas with others. There is always one student in the class who writes ‘sleeping’ which I don’t allow them to have, as you are not aware of feelings and emotions when you are sleeping. The example that I am still most impressed with is the response from a Year 8 boy who struggles both behaviourally and academically, who told the class about going ferreting on a cold, snowy day when he can’t feel his fingers or toes anymore and he has had no luck and is getting tired, and then he sees a rabbit dart from its warren, it makes him feel all warm inside to the point that he doesn’t feel cold anymore and his hope has been lifted.
This is what spirituality is about: exploring the feelings, emotions and effects of these simple events. By doing this, my students have come to understand that everybody experiences spirituality in different ways and that the feelings and emotions are a significant part of this. It can be very difficult to put these thoughts and feelings into words, but it allows students to gain an understanding which can help them through the rest of the unit, exploring how religious people express their spirituality through art or music or acts of worship. The teaching of spirituality should be separated from external and objective facts and observations, and instead should start with students’ own experiences, then they can have true empathy and understanding when learning about and learning from religions.
Head of Beliefs and Values
Clyst Vale Community College