Schools, the Common Good and the Holy Spirit
Our Common Good Schools Project Leader, Jo Stow, considers how an openness to the Holy Spirit can prompt a school to become outward-facing, then through the building of local relationships, contribute to renewal in its neighbourhood, cultivating a greater sense of purpose for all involved.
There is no denying the great pressure on teachers today.
Educating young people requires schools to achieve greater outcomes for students: to provide a curriculum that is broad, rigorous and ambitious, to be attentive and meet students’ learning styles, especially those with special educational needs and disabilities and set them up to achieve their potential. Schools carefully consider pedagogy, maximizing the amount of knowledge students commit to long term memory in order to demonstrate it when assessed. Ensuring young people achieve their academic potential is, rightly, a matter of great importance.
The pressure for schools is that they must also prove it! Staff are primed in readiness for Ofsted who will scrutinise their work and ‘triangulate evidence’ to check its authenticity. Schools rejoice when graded ‘outstanding’ while sadly, being graded ‘inadequate’ can have deeply unwelcome and sometimes devastating consequences. There are also challenges in managing relationships with parents, when they don’t always agree that the school is making the right decisions or that teachers are meeting their child’s needs.
Immersed in the consumerist ‘me-culture’, young people today are growing up in a world where the individual reigns supreme. The pressure on schools and students to succeed, coupled with the prevailing individualistic worldview, naturally influences schools to focus on the students’ academic outcomes. ‘Child-centred learning’ is a phrase well used in education. Students have come to see themselves as ‘consumers’ of education, with schools and teachers the ‘provider’. Whilst the introduction of character education, PSHE, personal development and citizenship recognise the need to prepare students for the wider world, the focus is still squarely on the individual and the grades they will achieve. Through this lens, students may perceive that their education is entirely about furthering their chances of gaining a ‘good’ job, for their own personal benefit.
Together for the Common Good exists to promote and enable spiritual and civic renewal. We work in partnership with schools to equip and empower them to be a hub in their community to work for the Common Good. Through lessons, assemblies and local engagement, pupils in the schools we work with develop an appreciation of what it means to be a good neighbour and to become active citizens, taking responsibility in their community.
The first Pentecost was a moment of profound spiritual renewal that also caused immediate civic renewal, as those in the newly formed church, after being filled with the Holy Spirit, became attuned to the welfare of every member of the neighbourhood. This wasn’t an inward-looking community just looking after its own. New people were welcomed as, “enjoying the favour of all the people… day by day the Lord added to their number…” (Acts 2:47). The Holy Spirit called the early Christians to be outward-facing and to become part of their wider community.
Common Good Thinking is derived from Catholic Social Thought (CST), which is sometimes described as theology of the Holy Spirit in practice.
Pentecost demonstrates God’s will for us to connect with people living around us, with those who are like us and those with whom we have differences. The Holy Spirit gave early Christians the ability to speak in many languages, to ensure everyone could understand God’s Word regardless of their native tongue. At the same time, Pentecost reminds us of God’s frustration with the Tower of Babel, when, much like the individualism of today, human arrogance assumes it can take on the role of God.
Pope Francis refers to the fundamentally relational nature of human anthropology in Fratelli Tutti where he writes: ‘Human beings are so made that they cannot live, develop and find fulfilment except “in the sincere gift of self to others”. Nor can they fully know themselves apart from an encounter with other persons: “I communicate effectively with myself only insofar as I communicate with others”.’ [FE, #87] Human beings are not designed to be isolated individuals: it is through relationship that we find meaning and purpose.
In conversations with colleagues in our partner schools, we considered how much their planned community engagement activity upholds the Common Good. Reciprocal relationships are key.
This month, St John Bosco College have launched the Common Good Schools programme with their entire student body – 825 students! They will use the resource in personal development time in the context of vertical tutor groups across Years 7-13. They look forward to partnering with local neighbours and community groups who share their passion to care for their local environment, and to address local food poverty and homelessness.
At Worth School, ninety Year 9 students will participate in the programme throughout the year, taking part in the ten lessons and ten assemblies. In addition, they will have the opportunity to get involved in working together with local people in the neighbourhood. It is a joy to be accompanying wonderful staff in all our partner schools and to see their delight in their students’ flourishing.
Schools are places of tremendous goodwill, where the very best for students is sought, and where staff should also experience the reward of a fulfilled vocation. What if the very best for everyone was to be found by focusing not only inwardly on the student, but also on each other, and outwith the boundaries of the school, adopting a relational, outward-facing posture? A school that is filled with the Holy Spirit could be a place that initiates renewal in its neighbourhood, drawing students into relationship with members of the local community.
Common Good Schools offers a curriculum enabling students to learn about and live out the Common Good. It offers teachers training and accompaniment through CPD and a reciprocal relationship with Together for the Common Good and other Common Good schools, for the benefit of all.
Project Leader, Common Good Schools
Click here for a free sample pack of the Common Good Schools resource to try at your school.
We’d be grateful for prayers during the next few weeks.
- School staff who are planning to run the programme for the first time.
- Schools actively seeking community partners to work with.
- Students who will participate in the Common Good Schools programme.
- Jo, as she develops relationships with partner schools and seeks new partners.
“So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.” Romans 12:5
Do you have a link with your local school? Are you a parent, student, teacher, senior leader, director of an academy trust, trustee or governor? We find the best way to engage is via a personal introduction. Please get in touch with Jo if you could help facilitate an introduction.
For more details about the Common Good Schools programme, contact Jo Stow at email@example.com or 07886 240 685