A short video piece from DfE about some of the thinking behind more children returning to school and schools working on the arrangements they have put in place – note I am not going to go for the mendacious (or at least woolly) language of “reopening” – is revealing and heartening. Of course, it’s a promotional video, but I rather hope they will keep it up, although I recognise that this link may be superseded and in any case I am looking forward to a time when this kind of advice will no longer be needed. The language of the piece is interesting: lots from staff, parents and children about wellbeing and friendship. There is mention from a parent that she worried she couldn’t teach like the teachers do, and a word from a member of staff about routines, but overall the message is about children’s happiness, children’s friendships.
Joyce Bellous, in a recent and very rich article, calls spirituality – or at least one part of human spirituality – “a human capacity for connection:”
The assumption here is that spiritual work is grounded on our ability and willingness to make meaningful connections with others, and under favourable conditions, to do so in a way that improves a situation or makes the world a better place.Joyce Bellous, An inclusive spiritual education
It is therefore part of an educator’s task
to offer children narratives to meet spiritual needs that arise in them naturally. These narratives allow children to live in peace (without anxiety) until they make workable narratives for themselves.Bellous
I would suggest that her ideal here is worth pondering:
Spiritual work wraps itself around a willingness and ability to name ourselves authentically and situate that identity within a community of people who matter to us – to whom we are committed.Bellous
Tony Eaude is part of this same line of thought that sees an important part of spirituality as relational:
…that which enables, or enhances personal integration within a framework of relationships by fostering exploration, conscious or otherwise, of identity and purpose…
Kathleen Harris (whose article on reconceptualising spirituality has been a mainstay of my children’s spirituality theme in the Brookes MA) suggests that school needs to be a
warm, hospitable, environment that fosters caring attachments among the child, teacher and peers, in which all children are accepted, embraced and provided authentic learning experiences.Kathleen Harris, Children’s spirituality and inclusion
This is not a wooly utopia: she is clear, in the SEND context of her research, that this is a thoughtful and complex inclusivity which draws on major theorists’ views of development and learning and makes the plea that:
…educators must believe that the child can call upon his or her own capabilities, resilience and relationships when facing challenging situations. As this occurs, strengths support children in forming connections to the school environment and community.Harris
…and this is where we come back to the schools featured in Department for Education’s video of schools widening their intake. Cleaning routines, different start and end times: these are important (and, yes, in some measure contestable – but this is not a blog about those tangles) but one of the parent voices has it clearly:
Oh, my child has loved it – loved seeing her friends again, loved being in the school environment: she’s very happy.Jennifer
In other words, the message here is about the connection (multiple connections, perhaps) between happiness, wellbeing and belonging. We do not need to focus entirely on these relationships in school, but my gut feeling is that lockdown has accentuated our need for something we do well in educational contexts: provide “lots of interesting things to do and lots of interesting people to do them with.” Drumming; climbing frames; maths lessons.
It is in this day-to-day relational being that we find much of our purpose – and in which children coming back into schools will (if we get it right) find joy. This is the everydayness of compassion that we need. I hesitate to call it practice because that has, for me, the undertone of a self-conscious “doing:” we do mindfulness in schools (I’ve explored this before) rather than just try to be aware; we do belonging rather than belong; we do compassion rather than just try to be kind. The return to school systems and routines should help us simply belong, rather than the fraught attempts of a web-based Zoom, Skype, Meet or whatever: having stuff to do, the smell of the cloakroom, the sound when the ball hits that wall, seeing our friends… God, I know that need, as do lots of people who express this on social media. So it comes down to this: simply being with others who care for you.
Not every school is perfect in this, not every family, or classroom – not every University course, or retail outlet management, either. But we try, and educators have to try with a great deal of thoughtfulness over the next month or so – and I suspect ten times harder if all schools are back to full capacity in September.
To conclude, a final quotation, this time from Richard Holloway, whose Looking in the Distance is a series of essays on the possibility of a search for meaning in a world where the traditions of Christianity no longer hold sway: a very good text indeed for looking at spirituality, the roots (intellectual, linguistic, even musical) of which are so often embedded/entangled in a Christian theology it no longer espouses:.
We could choose to live as though the best meaning and purpose we can find for our own lives is the very meaning and purpose of the universe itself. We could pay the universe a compliment it probably does not deserve by living as though its purpose were love…Richard Holloway, “Looking” in Looking in the Distance
NB: this blog post is very quotation-heavy because not all the sources (in terms of online journals) are readily available, and hearing the ipsissima verba of these writers seemed more important than me melling on.
Bellous, J (2019) An inclusive spiritual education. International Journal of Children’s Spirituality https://doi-org.oxfordbrookes.idm.oclc.org/10.1080/1364436X.2019.1675603
Eaude, T (2006) Children’s Spiritual, Moral, Social and Cultural Development Exeter: Learning Matters
Harris, K (2007) Re-conceptualizing spirituality in the light of educating young children International Journal of Children’s Spirituality https://doi-org.oxfordbrookes.idm.oclc.org/10.1080/13644360701714936
Harris, K (2015) Children’s spirituality and inclusion: strengthening a child’s spirit with community, resilience and joy. International Journal of Children’s Spirituality https://doi-org.oxfordbrookes.idm.oclc.org/10.1080/1364436X.2015.1086728
5 thoughts on “Belonging”
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The main points I love and take away with me are about connections and about compassion: your choice of quotations underlines their reiteration of basic, and therefore essential, truths. Excellent, a philosophy that I strove for myself in teaching.
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