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Learning at its Best

The Spiritual Opportunities Intrinsic in Teaching

Introduction

Spirituality is intimately tied to relationship. Many spiritual leaders have realized this intimacy. Those who attempted to bring their insights to education are explicit about this relationship. Here are a couple of quotes just to make the point; many more available upon request.
How important is relationship? It is nothing less than the way of freedom. Freedom comes into being …in one’s relationship with people, with things, with ideas and with nature. Relationship is nothing short of existence itself. Existence is relationship.
Krishnamurti, Education and the Significance of Life (bold mine)
The essence of existence—of being—is relationship. It is the way we know, the reality we live, the pattern that connects. And the sacred is immanent within those relationships.
Bateson, Steps to an Ecology of Mind (bold mine)
Spiritual engagement is not sentimental. Either you are committed or you aren’t. This post is for those who are, or want to be. It will be of no value to those who believe they can think their way to spiritual awareness, or engage it without conscious effort. The reality is there, embedded in the profession, available to those truly willing.
Steps

We, the teachers, are a participant in education. Mutual learning is occurring. Belief that teaching is hierarchically delivering curriculum or knowledge blocks spiritual awareness. As participants, our first step when engaging the spiritual opportunities is to realize the critical importance of our own self development. If we are not deeply concerned with who we are than there is a good chance that our own conditioning and projections will control our relationships with children. We cannot connect to the whole of the child if we are not attempting to connect to the whole of ourselves.
The second step is to never lose sight of the fact that teacher and student develop together. And that the whole of their development is a synergy that arises from their interplay. They are not mutually dependent, but truly interdependent.
Now there are many prominent educators who suggest that we go outside of our own discipline of teaching in order to self-actualize. We hear that entering a traditional spiritual practice is necessary, or advisable, to develop certain spiritual qualities. Mindfulness is of one of the best examples. At a recent conference in Hawaii speakers also mentioned dream work, journaling, and other ways to “listen to that voice inside and trust it”. I have no comment to make on the value of these practices per se, but only ask the question of whether they are needed for the self development of a teacher. And my answer is no.
There are basic principles a teacher must hold in order to actualize the spiritual opportunities in the profession. They are:
 Greater importance given to who the child is rather then what the child does
 Appreciation of the child’s wholeness
 Understanding that wholeness is the indefinable synergy of the dynamic interrelationships of all the aspect of the child
 Continually asking: What is the consciousness of children? What is the nature of their psyche?

Let’s look at each of these and see how they bring forth spiritual actualization.
Emphasis on Who the Child Is Rather Than What They Do

As the environment and relationships become more and more appropriate (refined) new perspectives are awakened in both adult and child. These subtle types of learning involve the shaping and learning of primary values in the child as well as the further development of these values in the adult. Values learned include trust, compassion, integrity, resilience, and the awareness of the sacred. These values cannot be taught by verbal lecture or planned lessons. Achieving this takes time and sensitivity but it is certainly possible for most of us. This is being to being relationship. Although it is continuously occurring, both child and elder find it difficult if not impossible to describe being-to-being learning.
Throughout many whole-child approaches, such as the early childhood education described by Maria Montessori (Montessori, 1995), or some methods of education such as those described by Frederich Froebel (Froebel, 1909), being-to-being learning entails one’s relationships with oneself, with others, and with the world in which one lives. Although it defies description as to exactly how it is happening, a quality of being is developing in the child and a reciprocal development of being is occurring in the adult.
To enter a being to being relationship means that we must investigate and care for our own being. It also means that we accept the responsibility to notice where we fall into relationships based on doing and appearance and make some effort to rectify the matter. We might say that this in itself is a type of mindfulness, or self observation that so many spiritual philosophies speak of as critical to self actualization. The difference, though, is that it is a natural part of life as an educator and not an imposed discipline from outside. In other words, it is not a striving to become something, to get spiritual experience, but an easy part of the flow of teaching.
Appreciation of the Child’s Wholeness

Education invites us to engage specific study of the nature of children. This study is nothing less than the study of the evolution of consciousness in the child, in the society, and perhaps even in life itself. We are looking directly at the creation of meaning and purpose in children and in humanity. We are studying the nature of the human and how to serve its well-being to allow the best chance for self actualization in each and every one of us.
This study is a crucial aspect of our self development. For in this we are studying ourselves, our own nature. We are learning about our individual, social, and evolutionary heritage and we are considering deeply its future implications. By engaging this study we are looking at issues across the spectrum of life including spiritual philosophy, psychology, ecology, anthropology and other contiguous disciplines. Of the highest order, in my opinion, we are looking at relationship, with self, each other, and nature. To do so is an important step in self-actualization. And it is built right into teaching practice.
Education insists on openness and inquiry. From science we have Prigogyne’s contribution, for which he won the Nobel Prize in 1969, that systems in open communication with their environment self organize to greater complexity. He showed this to be true for molecules. It is true for all complex, dynamic systems, which humans certainly are. This greater complexity cannot be inferred from the previous system. Molecules do not necessarily imply cells, cells do not necessarily imply organs, and grasses do not necessarily imply flowers. The new whole that emerges from the synergy is ever mysterious and always a surprise. In addition, Quantum Mechanics have given us Uncertainty. Spiritual philosophies insist on awakening as open, non-defined, ever fresh. This is succinctly stated by Krishnamurti when he says “Truth is a Trackless land.”
This helps us tremendously in self development. We cannot see children or ourselves as closed systems. We are all lifelong learners. We are all continually rediscovering our wholeness. Our behaviors are both expressions of what we have learned and experiments to find new ways of communicating, of self organizing towards greater complexity. By understanding that wholeness cannot ultimately be defined, that we are open, that the movement to greater complexity is a natural part of us, we become open to this moment, to this relationship, to this opportunity to see what is, to realize the sacredness of relationship, to look at ourselves without fear and striving, to self develop.
Understanding that wholeness is the indefinable synergy of the dynamic interrelationships of all the aspect of the child

By pointing to the synergy that is more than the sum of the parts, we deeply enter into the importance of relationships. That synergy arises due to the dynamics among the various parts that comprise the whole. The nature of the relationships of our lives as educators is critical to the synergy—to the wholeness that we and our students experience. In terms of spiritual insight our self knowledge is embedded in the relationships we have.
We know that teacher and student develop together. Their spiritual growth is intimately interconnected. Therefore, by our engagement in being to being relationships we awaken that in the child which, in turn, stimulates even deeper appreciation of ourselves—a delightful upward spiral.
As educators, we all agree that development of the intrinsic capacities of the students is a priority. In order to do this we have to carefully consider the nature of intrinsic capacities—how they form, how they develop, what kinds of environments best serve their healthy expression. In a word, we must understand and connect to the way children of various ages and backgrounds make meaning in their world.
Caring for meaning structures carries with it the responsibility to know the individual child. This means we must participate in the diversity of backgrounds which the children bring with them. I believe the benefits of this are obvious. We grow in tolerance, we learn new expressions of values, and we find in ourselves patience and delight as we stretch in ever new ways. It is really very exciting to learn from a child how she listens and responds and then see if I am capable of participating in her meaning, and truly being with her. It is a lesson in humility, in caring, in putting aside one’s agenda, in short, in developing oneself to serve another, perhaps the deepest form of self actualization available to us.
I do not think that dream work or mindfulness can provide these growth opportunities. The nature of the intrinsic capacities of the child is simply not in their purview. They may shed some light on how we are approaching them. Again, I am not making any comment whatsoever on their overall value. I am only pointing out that we have unique challenges and opportunities in education and that we best serve our field by participating in them. This, more than increased pay, acknowledges the integrity and value of our profession.
Continually asking: What is the consciousness of children? What is the nature of their psyche?

Approaching child development through the lens of the consciousness of children is a rich opportunity for the spiritual awakening of teachers. Many spiritually oriented educators, such as Monetessori and Rousseau to name just two, have seen the importance of child development. As readers of this blog know, Josette and I have spent 30 years pioneering and refining Natural Learning Relationships. New readers can go here for a comprehensive overview of Natural Learning Relationships.
As a consciousness-first approach to child development, Natural Learning Relationships looks at the characteristics of each developmental stage and attempts to describe how they are organized to allow self actualization. There is in each developmental stage an Organizing Principle. The Organizing Principle takes the qualities, capacities and talents of the age and uses it toward the well-being of the child. Its nature changes throughout each stage of the development, but not its purpose, which is to insure maximum opportunities for self actualization.

The child access optimal well-being when the needs of the organizing principle of a stage are met. By providing for the stage-specific needs of the child, adults also come to greater health and contact their own well-being. Properly responding to the expressions of the Organizing Principle in young people can often precipitate a simultaneous development in adults. This relationship serves the deepest development of both children and adults. It can be viewed as a dance of reciprocal growth toward self-knowledge. It is a vital example of opportunities naturally built into the teaching profession. Recognition of mutual development can change chauvinism towards children for its inherent value of serving the self-actualization of the adult is unmistakable.
Specifically mutual development includes:
 The opportunity to heal past wounds
 Engagement of relationship to break current habits and patterns
 An invitation to self observation
 Deeper development in the adult of each of the organizing principles of childhood—to wit, Rightful Place, Trust, Autonomy, and Interconnectedness

Last, educators, in my opinion, can and should hold the children in what the great psychologist and educator Carl Rogers called unconditional positive regard. Children, indeed all of us, have the potential for optimal well-being and our work is to allow them to become fully aware of this. Optimal well-being lives in our essence. It is a special kind of beauty. To remember that it exists, to notice it, to connect to it reminds us of our own goodness, our own truth, and our own beauty.
This is teaching as a spiritual activity.

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About Ba Luvmour

Accomplished in self knowledge and all matters pertaining to children, families, and education.Creator of Natural Learning Relationships.

Discussion

8 thoughts on “The Spiritual Opportunities Intrinsic in Teaching

  1. Ba,

    A worldview encompassing Indinawemaaganidag (all my relations) or the “Archeology of Knowledge” enables one to gain a richer understanding of a particular subject matter. I am of the mind that specific “disciplines” could best be studied not by focusing on that discipline, but by learning as much as possible all the other “disciplines” that relate or link to the chosen discipline. In this fashion, one would acquire greater understanding of a selected discipline by evaluating the reciprocal relationships between all disciplines.

    That anyone is able to survive the process of what passes for ‘education’ these days, always becoming a ‘something’ and never ‘being’ human, amazes me.

    I like your approach. Is it something about the water where you live (not as flippant as some might think)?

    Brent

    Posted by Brent Snavely | October 4, 2011, 5:23 pm
    • Hi Brent,

      It is intriguing to think about learning about disciplines through consideration of contiguous disciplines. I have had similar rumblings but never articulated the idea so clearly. Thanks. More and more it is the relationships that are highlighted in an attempt to connect to the whole. Certainly this is true in biology (Maturana and Varela), physics (observer part of the observation from quantum mechanics) anthropology (ethnography), of course many types of psychology, and so on. I will keep this insight in mind as I start the Summa Academy.

      That being does occur despite the wounding points to how close well-being is to the surface, how inexorable its influence, and how much we welcome it when relationships and circumstances support it. Its arrival is always delightful and that has a surprise element, but I believe it seems out of the ordinary due to our pathologically oriented society.

      Not sure about the water…Must be living next door to my grandkids…

      Best,
      ba

      Posted by Ba Luvmour | October 5, 2011, 12:06 pm
  2. Hello Ba!

    This is a serious and multi-layered position on the spirituality of teaching. How would you recommend, to a teacher in a mainstream public education environment, who is assessed based on standardized test scores of his or her students, interpret and make actionable some of your ideas?

    What would your ideas look like, as steps, in a classroom in which many of the folks who read this blog actually teach?

    Kirsten

    Posted by Kirsten Olson | October 5, 2011, 8:29 am
    • Hey Kirsten,

      Your question, though simply put, it as multi-layered as the post. So please indulge the length of my response as I find the question stimulating and apropos of our work. Also, I am a practical man. If it doesn’t work after a judicious trial, throw it out.

      I do contend it does work, and have the experience of working with public school teachers, who can and do utilize the profession for their own spiritual growth. As you might expect, they enjoy their teaching life and respect the profession.They report happier, more engaged students, and though not necessarily tops in achievement, they are successful in academics.

      No one can be convinced that deeper self knowledge and spiritual insight is the proper perspective to adopt in teaching or in life. That decision comes from within. That is why I prefaced my blog with the comment that it is only for those interested in such a perspective. I will make the same assumption in this response. There is no intention to convince that the spiritual possibilities should be the goal of an educator.However, if they are, then the profession is replete for opportunities for actualization.

      Specifically, how? And how when teaching in a traditional school environment?

      Let’s take two of my points–relationship and a consciousness-first understanding of child development. Here’s a case history of a fifth grade teacher working in the field of spirituality in teaching and trying to cope with mandatory testing,

      Knowing that trust was the organizing principle for her students she included simple trust building exercises for ten minutes a day from the beginning of the year. (Such exercises are readily available in a plethora of books and internet sites.) Gradually she increased the time spent on the exercises and degree of trust required. During this time she self observed. When did she not trust a particular student? Why? What did that say about her? She did the same work on herself when she did trust a student. In so doing, she grew in emotional insight. (Coincidentally, she began to be more honest with her spouse and her parents.)

      Where possible, she encouraged cooperative learning. It became apparent that if the children got to know one another in a respectful environment then the academic performance of the class improved. Too much competition undermines trust and so she gave fewer tests, but evaluated them comprehensively and in detail. In this she hoped that the children would learn from their mistakes and that testing would be seen as a learning moment and not something to be dreaded. She also explained to the student why she chose a particular grade. She created additional time for herself through the use of cooperative homework evaluations. In this she carefully chose (and mixed and matched) the groups so that each student had an opportunity to showcase their strengths. During group time she circulated among them, resolving conflict, and revealing her values.

      When test time approached she did exercises and class room conversations about test taking. She also used the time to reflect on her own feelings about tests. She felt their were unfair as a child and she saw how that influenced her to subtly demean the importance of the test. At the same time she knew it was important for her teaching status and for the ranking of the school.What to do?

      She considered the relationship with the students. How would she have wished that she were treated? What would be respectful? What would serve trust? And an insight came: Confident students do well on tests.Honesty and fairness nourish trust. Confidence depends on the ability to participate in complex and often contradictory emotional moments.And so, in one of the exercises in which she participated, she simply told the truth of her dilemma. Standardized tests aren’t fair, they will be considered in your academic career, they are part of the system in which we live, they do have influence in my status as a teacher and for the school, I want you to do well, I hope you do well, and your whole life does not depend on this. Whew!

      A considered discussion ensued. the anger and fear about the test subsided and specific academics “teaching to the test” were accepted, if not enjoyed by the students.

      I have similar case histories from middle school teachers. Their work environment and the developmental moment they were responding to were different, of course, The result of self knowledge through relationship and conscious developmental insight were the same.

      I have not gone into the synergy that resulted in the class and the insights that emerged and the substantive values therein. Nor have I told of how appreciation of wholeness seeped into the teacher’s life.I am out of time for writing, as I guess you may be for reading.

      A last point–this is only one way to actualize the spiritual opportunities. They are as varied as the teachers and their circumstances. It begins with intent. Then a cornucopia of actualization moments become available.

      Did I answer your question? Do you see how this can be done?

      Best, as always,

      ba

      Posted by Ba Luvmour | October 5, 2011, 1:48 pm
  3. Ba,

    This is WONDERFUL! Great. I think writing more about the case study would help captivate and engage teachers here. Thank you.

    On Monday night I was a participant in a discussion at Columbia on the work and new book of Yvette Jackson, who is head of the National Urban Alliance for Effective Education. Her work (similar to mine) rests on some essential principles:

    -The affective, emotional, spiritual climate of educational settings dramatically influences cognitive performance
    -Human “ability” as we understand it, is profoundly malleable
    -Working with students’ strengths is the most powerful way to build capacity–neurobiologically, spiritually, emotionally.

    She begins her work with kids with “trust” exercises very similar to the ones you describe in your response–“self trust” on the part of students. You expand this to include teachers, which is just right, of course (it’s a field of response).

    Her work is based on the career of Reuven Feuerstein, who worked with children who lost their parents and families in the Holocaust.

    Check out her new book, The Pedagogy of Confidence (Teachers College Press).

    Appreciatively,

    Kirsten

    Posted by Kirsten Olson | October 5, 2011, 3:19 pm
  4. Hey Ba,

    I’ve had one of those weeks where I feel bogged down in minutiae. Issues with kids, parents, staff. Everywhere I turn, I feel I am surrounded by details, attitude and politics. What is it with all these damn people??? Couldn’t possibly be anything I’m bringing.

    Today, thanks to your inspiration, I looked at each moment with an awareness of the spiritual opportunities before me. I had some magical moments with children – The three year olds really did it for me today for some reason – amazing conversations with two different three year old boys (wish I had had a recorder!) And then I started looking at my adult encounters with that same kind of “being-to-being” awareness. Beautiful, snowballing, honest and authentic encounters, one after the other.

    Now I am actually looking forward to tomorrow! Thank you.

    Cheers,

    Paul

    Posted by Paul Freedman | October 5, 2011, 10:15 pm
    • Hi Paul,

      In my life I have been called a noodge [sic. attempt at Yiddish word], an irritant and, with some frequency, a pain in the…well, you know. Once in a while, but often enough to allow me to delude myself to continue, something meaningful occurs. I want to take lots of credit for that, but after long deliberation and a dose of unnecessary suffering, I have to acknowledge that it is in our meeting, and primarily in you, that the value comes to life.

      Thank you.

      Did I hear that you were moving to Portland to work with Summa? I mean you just have that ocean, rolling hills, and education community. Why not trade it in for the Highway 5, rows of apartment buildings, and an unwieldy good ol’ boy bureaucracy that is more interested in defending itself than in progressive programs?

      Appreciatively, ba

      Posted by Ba Luvmour | October 6, 2011, 11:55 am
      • Better a noodge than a curmudgeon. At least noodges, tend to be active and get things done, I think. And to be a noodge as well as a “mensch” is alright in my book!

        I would love to work with Summa some day! And despite the traffic and all I love the Rose City too, At times I have talked about my work at Salmonberry as being analogous to building a plane while in flight. The children came first. They as much as we adults founded and launched the school, and I have been clumsily evolving a pedagogy and practice ever since. Many times I have wondered what it could be like to take the reverse tack, that is to evolve an understanding of children’s consciousness and a resulting pedagogy through 30 years of study and reflection, and THEN found a school. Don’t know if there is a right way, really, but it sure seems like yours is a much saner approach – first envision and build the plane, then take off!

        Honestly, if it were not for the complexities of both inertia and momentum rooted in family, community and place, you may well have found me on your doorstep years ago. Perhaps the opportunities and circumstances will align at some point. You, and yours could always come north!

        Paul

        Posted by Paul Freedman | October 7, 2011, 9:08 am

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