When teachers bring their authentic selves into the classroom and teach with intention to honor their students as unique, whole individuals, greater success tends to follow, according to Jill Lindsey, Ph.D., director of Shenandoah University’s School of Education & Leadership (SOEL).
And for many people – both teachers and students – spirituality is an integral element of their whole selves. So, how do teachers recognize and respect their own faith traditions or spirituality and those of their students as part of the learning process?
A multi-faith team of Muslim, Christian and Jewish scholars, led by Dr. Lindsey, are investigating the place where faith and pedagogy intersect, with the help of a two-year $70,000 grant to SOEL from Human Charitable LLC. The multi-faith research team includes Lindsey and Shenandoah University Director of Student Engagement Doug Stump, D.Prof., who come from Christian perspectives, Muslim scholars Dr. Amaarah DeCuir and Dr. Rehenuma Amis, and Jewish scholar Dr. Erica Brown. Rabbi Scott Sperling of Winchester, who assisted the team in initially framing its work, has returned to the city’s Beth-El Congregation as its full-time rabbi.
Ultimately, Lindsey said, the team is looking into the ways spirituality – implicitly or explicitly – informs teaching and learning in a classroom and to present those findings in a cogent way to help others.
While a great deal has been published about culturally responsive teaching, little of the research in that area includes faith or spirituality, Lindsey said. Teachers are trained to recognize and teach children as individuals, she added, and that should mean recognizing the role a faith tradition or spirituality may play in how an individual makes meaning, in the same way a teacher should honor the roles of race, ethnicity, and social background in meaning making.
The Shenandoah-led research does not promote any one single faith, she noted. Instead, it recognizes that students come from a wide variety of traditions, that should be welcomed and honored in the classroom in the same ways cultural differences are welcomed.
The researchers are beginning with a literature review, through which they are identifying common principles across faith traditions and schools to visit as case studies in the project’s field work phase. While these schools may or may not specifically address issues of faith, they may use a principle-based philosophy to frame the educational experience, which could also be employed to help envision what Lindsey called a “spiritually inclusive pedagogy.”
Educators have long borrowed ideas across varying traditions as they seek best practices. Lindsey pointed to how Montessori concepts are now frequently incorporated into public education, and noted that a similar process could happen when using a principle-based philosophy to explore faith and pedagogy.
The goal of the work is to develop a model for a spiritually inclusive pedagogy that does not come from or promote one particular faith tradition, but would reflect common principles that support a pluralistic society in which people live and work harmoniously by respecting the wholeness of others, including their spiritual beliefs.
Lindsey said the team will report their findings through a white paper, and perhaps a book, which can be shared with the scholarly community and the general public. For more information about Shenandoah University’s School of Education and Leadership, visit su.edu/education.