To Not Look Away: Thinking through the Purpose & Practice of Spirituality in Education (1 of 2)


(Nhat Hanh, 2013)


“We are here to awaken from our illusion of separateness.” Thich Nhat Hanh 


It’s February, 2022, and it seems there are a million reasons to feel hopeless. We are in the midst of a seemingly never ending pandemic, another man was killed at the hands of the police in my hometown of Minneapolis, drinking water is poisoning the families an island away in O'ahu, teachers are beyond burned out, students are not being supported in the ways they need to be, and I’ve experienced personal losses of family members and friends transitioning too soon. 

In all honesty, there are times I want to look away. However, what leads me to this writing is the fact that there are also many reasons to not look away, to find the spirit and strength to sit with our realities and serve the purposes we are called to fulfill. While I write this from my role supporting educators as a Fellow in the CLE and as the Education Director at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, I mostly write this as a fellow human, and a co-conspirator who is reaching for the better parts of our world each day. 

 1) Understanding Spirituality in Education 

Spirituality can be defined in a multitude of ways, and one definition that I like to use from Dr. Lisa Miller is,  “a personal relationship with the transcendent,” (2015 p. 7), describing spirituality as something that goes beyond religion. Though we often shy away from using the term “spirituality” in education settings, many people are making the case for us to integrate it back into our mainstream thinking.

A 2021 nation-wide study tells us that eight out of ten people consider themselves to be spiritual and that people across sectors are looking for more ways to deepen their spiritual connections. The origins of public schools in the United States were deeply influenced by religious communities, along with the many more explicitly spiritually motivated education spaces like religious schools, Montessori, Waldorf etc. While we’ve seen a separation of church and state in schools, we have not necessarily seen a separation of spirit and school to begin with.

2) Why support Spirituality in Education now? 

Now the reason this feels more urgent than ever is because of what research tells us the power of supporting spirituality is. First, Spirituality has proven to be the single most protective factor against debilitating depression and substance abuse, or that people who are spiritual are more likely to avoid or recover from depression. And Second, that people who describe themselves as spiritual are more likely to engage in community, civic and political action. Fetzer’s 2021 study describes the notion of “transcendent accountability” or that those who understand themselves as spiritual feel accountable to a higher being for their impact on other people and the natural environment. 

3) What does Spirituality in Education  look like in practice? 

Supporting spirituality in schools can look a myriad of ways. In this series, to be posted next week, we’ll look at how using the arts, particularly poetry,  can support students’ and teachers’ sense of spirituality — and as a result, help us resist hopelessness, find connection and be inspired to take action to support our communities.


An Invitation: Before moving on, I invite you to read the following quote. Take three, long breaths with it. (If you have more time, watch the whole poem,  and freewrite for 3 minutes without stopping.)

“For there is always light, if only we're brave enough to see it, if only we're brave enough to be it.” Amanda Gorman