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a journal of analysis and comment advancing public understanding of religion and education
(more on the Journal)

Vol. 31 No. 1  Spring 2004

Spirituality and School Leaders:
The Value of Spirituality in the Lives of Aspiring School Leaders

Felicia Blacher-Wilson

In the months and days following the events of September 11, 2001 and after tragic acts in schools where students bore arms and killed each other in mass, society seems to be stunned, somewhat confused and seeking answers and safe havens. The schoolhouse, once an oasis for many, now looms as a place that stood as a target for those seeking to do harm to others.

It is no wonder, then, that school leaders are asking questions they had not asked before, seeking strength through peace and wondering about greater purpose in their lives. Many leaders are now looking within and outside of self to find strength and peace and the will to go forth. In these confusing and turbulent postmodern times, school leaders are craving some unseen source of guidance and direction. What is so obviously needed in the school is community that is humane, nourishing, authentic, credible, and centered on a purpose higher than ourselves-a "spiritual-centered workplace."1

Although school leaders in urban settings have always experienced challenging conditions, other school leaders who serve school districts that had once been less stressful, less threatening, and less chaotic now share with their urban colleagues in some of the most complicated and demanding work of educating young people. More and more the challenges seen in urban settings are also being manifested in non-urban settings. Increasingly school leaders are becoming the "shock absorbers" of the school district. They have to endure pressure from the government, the community, the central office, the teachers’ association, families and students. They are expected to ‘have all the answers,’ possess the skills and demonstrate the behaviors necessary to calm the anxious, ease the worried, reassure the frightened, and support the insecure-all while leading the school toward greater accountability and high stakes performance in an increasingly managerial world.

Leadership and Spirituality

Since the beginning of the 20th century, the theories and practices of leadership have evolved from the "Great Man" theory and scientific management to transactional and transformational leadership.2 Roost posited a "new leadership" that is a synthesis of visionary leadership, which is vision-driven, Transformative leadership, which is learning-driven, and spiritual leadership which is value-driven. He defines spiritual leadership as "the ability to inspire others to behave consistent with their highest moral and ethical values in the way they live and work with others."3 He makes no distinction between "life" and "work" but rather blurs their boundaries to reflect a human existence characterized by the spiritual values of empathy, compassion, humility, and love.

For many there exists little or no difference in the defining of spirituality and religion; the two concepts co-exist and are not separable.

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