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Negotiating the Waters of Spirituality in 21st Century Schools
The fast pace of life in the 21st century
can often lead one to need a moment to catch one’s breath. We see strong evidence of this
fast-paced life in our schools with the frenetic use of texts, e-mails, cell
phones, and Google searches by students who “sneak in” a message or two between
(or during) classes. EVERYTHING is
urgent and intense nowadays, hence a need for offering ways to find grounding
Spiritual Guidance and Community Involvement Animators (often called “Spiritual and Community Animators” or “Spiritual Animators” for short) are trained professionals who serve the needs of students at the spiritual, ethical and value-based level. As the ministère de l’Éducation puts it, the goal of the service is “To help students reflect on the meaning of life and their own lives; to better understand world values and their own personal convictions; to develop their social conscience through openness to others and to the world; and to humanize their environment through cooperation, service and solidarity.” (ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport)
As diverse as is the family of schools in a given school board, the work of the Spiritual Animator can cover the scope of religions, cultures, philosophies and ethical concerns that our diverse school populations bring to the education experience. This is one of the richest parts of our work in support of the students and adult staff we serve.
When Quebec changed its education system through Bill 118, it created one public system that, unlike many other public systems, was not only “tolerant” of spiritual practices, but encourages a broad education about world religions, cultures and ethics. This is the same reform that saw the creation of the Spiritual Animator positions, and the Ethics, Religions & Cultures course and educator roles to teach the material. So we work in partnership with ERC educators, school professionals and educators across the pedagogical spectrum when courses touch on religious, cultural or ethical implications of what is being studied. A look at the ethical, cultural and religious tensions around the start of World War I might serve as one example of cross-discipline learning that Spiritual Animators can help facilitate. Usually in partnership with the ERC classes, we help schools coordinate visits to the religious practice sites of many of the major world religions to allow students to learn about their Muslim, Hindi, Jewish, Buddhist, Sikh, Christian, Unitarian, Humanist and other neighbours’ faith experience, whose spiritual practice may be different from their own. While we do not promote any one religion, we certainly work diligently and carefully to help students understand more about the diversity of spiritual practice in the world around them, as well as to tap into their own guiding practice or spiritual background.
Also as part of our work, we provide in-class programming on a wide range of cultural, ethical, spiritual and communal issues including some of the religious observances of different faiths, celebrations of common days like Thanksgiving, Earth Day and U.N. Day; universal themes like Light, Hope, Peace, Compassion; and communal themes like Black History month, First Nations Day, and Yom HaShoah. We also offer a variety of programs aimed at helping students be better local and global citizens through offerings in areas of Character Development, Random Acts of Kindness, Anti-bullying, Moral Intelligence, Leadership and Transitioning to Secondary School.
Spiritual Animators are often called upon to help with the many school assemblies that are part of a school’s calendar. Based on themes ranging from “Citizen of the Month” to “Bee-Attitudes” to “Peaceful Schools”, Spiritual Animators help students celebrate achievements, recognize their own leadership, and empower them to reach their full potential as important members of the school community. In times of transition or loss, Spiritual Animators serve as support for students and staff through one-on-one listening and school ceremonies to help people move through the transition or loss they are experiencing. We are also called upon to animate occasional special events in the lives of the school communities we serve, like school anniversaries, school recognitions, and milestones.
In an era of instant messaging and immediate gratification, one of the hallmarks of Spiritual Animators lies in our encouraging students to “go deeper” into the currents of the “Why?” questions of our day. We provide programming that invites everyone to look beyond their own experience to connect with that of others and to find the humanity in all and the values we share in common. Sometimes this means challenging attitudes and preconceptions, or “going against the current”, if you will. But this, too, is a rich part of the work we do, as it always offers opportunities for learning through dialogue.
I feel it is both an honour and a privilege to serve schools as a Spiritual Animator. On a daily basis, we get to witness countless “Aha!” moments when those we serve come to see a reality in a new and empowering way, or when they actually sense a connection with people a world away living a particular challenge or situation, or when they have a deepened understanding of their role in the global community. We are blessed to play a role in the weaving of community in the schools we serve, and to accompany people in major moments in the school year, sometimes with tears, and most often, in joy. I feel this work is part of a holistic approach to education to help those we serve become good at compassion as they are good at Science, French, Math, Music or Geography. How fortunate we are to walk on such holy ground!
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