Howarth, Stephen (2011) The spiritual dimension in the personal and professional lives of primary headteachers. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

The research study investigates the spiritual dimension in the personal and professional lives of primary headteachers. The term ‘spiritual’ is interpreted widely to include its religious and nonreligious forms and to leave open the possibility of a variety of readings.

The two research questions that give focus to the study are:

1. What is the nature of the spiritual dimension in the personal and professional lives of primary headteachers?

2. Is there a discernible connection between such a spiritual dimension and headteachers’ work in primary schools?

Data were gathered through biographically-focussed case studies of six primary phase headteachers leading faith and community schools in England. Data-gathering procedures included biographical interviews, observations and scrutiny of documentation.

The research study identifies three descriptive characteristics of the spiritual dimension:

1. that it is refracted through a range of relationships, which for some headteachers may include a relationship with the divine;

2. that it is given expression through headteachers’ dispositions and attitudes, perhaps informed by a consciousness of the divine or deep sense of human interconnectedness; and

3. that these dispositions and attitudes are fluid and layered, holding within them the potential for the profundity and intensification that distinguishes the term from the moral, personal or social aspects of primary headteachers’ lives, though they are related.

The spiritual dimension, in this context, is associated with personal being and becoming, rather than the exercise of professional skills and know-how. What may be seen as spiritual activities, such as prayer or deep reflection on questions of purpose and meaning in life, seem to bring not just resilience or resolve to primary headteachers, but also affirmation of their work, particularly their care for their schools’ communities.

The research study’s findings add to the growing understanding of the spiritual dimension of school leadership and offer a biographical contextualisation that has had more limited attention in studies of spirituality and headship. They appear to normalise the place of the spiritual in heads’ professional work and therefore to legitimise the language of the spirit in the discourse of school leadership.

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