Unlocking Student Potential: a look at spirituality and care in education

Rebecca Emerson | Jan 24, 2020

What if someone gave you a key to unlock better health, heightened academic performance, and increased lifelong mental acuity for yourself and the young people in your world? Would you accept the key? What would you be willing to do to unlock these gifts? 

A group from Columbia University Teacher’s College in New York City has spent the last decade researching precisely this. And guess what? –They found the key to do all that and more: spirituality. Spirituality, defined as “a two-way relationship with a loving universe,” thickens the brain, decreasing likeliness of depression, substance abuse and Alzheimer’s, plus it plays a significant role in child social, emotional, and cognitive development. Students 10-18 years old with a strong spirituality overall have greater grit, higher grades, more optimism and persistence than their counterparts. In fact, teenagers who say they have a strong sense of spirituality are 80% less likely than the norm to have unprotected or dangerous sex and 40% less likely to use drugs. They are 80% less likely to become addicted to substances and 60% less likely to have recurrent major depression

Lisa Miller, Ph.D., is director of clinical psychology and founder of the Spirituality Mind Body Institute (SMBI) at Columbia University, Teachers College led this research. The author of The Spiritual Child, Miller explains, "The intention behind this program [SMBI] is to contribute to the creation of a society with spiritual values. As human beings, we're not just billiard balls bumping into each other. We are all a part of this living, conscious Universe and how we affect each other is of utmost importance. The scientific perspective that all consciousness is one, is sacred, may reawaken our appreciation for the living beings around us--for all life.”

Dr. Miller’s research over the last decade through the SMBI scientifically indicates the following:

  • Any sort of spirituality becomes a source of health and thriving for kids and that the lack of spirituality in families and youth culture can be a significant source of suffering.
  • Personal spirituality that includes a direct personal relationship with nature, a universal presence or higher power (by any name) has a clear correlation with physical wellness and recovery from depression and disease; indeed greater spiritual awareness produces the same readings in brain scans as recovery due to medication.

Our Community Listens recently visited with Dr. Miller and other leaders from Collaborative for Spirituality in Education in a one-day summit looking at the way our organizations can collaborate to bring empathy, care, and mindfulness into the environments serving and nurturing American students.  Knowing that research says spirituality is less about nature and more about nurture, we are excited to find ways our organizations may collaboratively nurture development of empathy, authenticity, leadership, care, and service, components of living a spiritually attuned life.

For recent news highlighting CSE’s work, check out the National Public Radio article published January 2020 here. Meanwhile, think about your own opportunity to unlock those great gifts mentioned above. What difference could spirituality make for you and those in your span of care? How would you like to use those keys?

Unlocking, learning and growing alongside you,


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