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kevin W. Riley

An excerpt from "The Lights of El Milagro"--

"El Milagro is, in the end, a search for harmony. Where there is no struggle for power or control; where there is no infighting, backstabbing, or one-upmanship. No treachery. No hierarchy of authority. Where the rewards of the journey are abundant…and there is plenty for everyone.
And most importantly, where our work is defined by what we do for others and how we serve children.
We learned that as we strike our arc across the skyline, we leave an unintentional spiritual trail that both lights and compels us. The more our voices rise in unison on behalf of children, on behalf of El Milagro, the more we call upon the infinite power of the universe to lead us to some yet-undiscovered treasure that is the 'way'.”


Beautiful. Poetic.
Please know that my voice 'rises in unison' with yours on behalf of children, and on behalf of Milagro.

Fred Deutsch

Great post Pete.

You're a gifted communicator. I appreciate your courage in writing about deeply personal issues, and about issues that aren't perhaps 'politically correct' to discuss such as spirituality in the workplace. The extent that leaders can practically 'be themselves' -- spiritually -- when the workplace is the American educational system (with the backdrop of separation of church and state) is a fascinating topic. Please keep sharing!

Fred Deutsch
School Board Member

P.S. I pray become each school board meeting that I can be an effective servant and make wise decisions.


I think you are treading on dangerous territory when you start to infuse the personal/spiritual into the workplace. As and atheist, Fred's praying before school board meetings scares the hell out of me. I think spirituality is best left OUT of the workplace, especially in light of the separation-of-church-and-state thing.

Leaders should not impose, or give import, to the spirit world, as some of us believe there isn't one, and the evidence is on our side (not to mention the law).

Kevin W. Riley

tft (et al.) :

Here is an alternative take on what spirituality in the workplace is about: Actually, when I talk and write about it, it has nothing to do with religion nor anything necessarily to do with God. I hear you. Lots of people sensitive about that. But on my campus... there is a spiritual force.

The tides rise and fall by the force of energy. Your beagle leaps off the couch and lands on the floor as a function of gravity. And when the twin towers fell we all felt a sudden and inexplicable sense of connection. As a human community.

When visitors come to my campus they feel something that they can't explain: energy...gravity...community...

My teachers, for example, conduct home visits with 100% of their students at the beginning of the school year for no other reason than to create relationships with their children and their families. Without compensation. It takes weeks to get to all of the homes and they have to eat a ton of home-made tamales and meet dogs and little sisters and exotic lizards. But when they are done... they never look at their class in the same way again... and parents don't perceive their teachers in the same way again either.

Our charter mission exists to engender academic achievement in a community unaccustomed to academic excellence. In fact to achieve our mission we have to overcome the adverse effects of poverty on learning. On this campus there is a deep, deep commitment to children-- a passion, an urgency. Our kids feel it too. Our teachers will do anything to prove that children at a low income, Title I school on the border with Mexico can compete with anybody in the nation.

You can call it "school spirit" if that makes you feel more at ease. But make no mistake... there is an energy here that comes from somewhere in the universe and we think it is lifting kids. Like the tides. You can't trivialize it. You can't politicize it. And you can't help but feel it.

And by the way, I'm with Fred... I pray on my way into work every day. I'm a principal. My life has been blessed in ways I don't deserve. On the chance that there is a spiritual force called "God", I don't want to be the beneficiary of a kindness I neglected to recognize. And on the chance that there is a spiritual force called "God" (and that this God created the very children we are trying to rescue from extraordinarily difficult life circumstance)s-- I'm gonna ask for help.

It's the least I can do to honor the work of teachers and children who scramble every day to overcome near insurmountable odds.

Scott McLeod

I think there's a lot of confusion between 'spirituality' and 'religion' and their respective and/or (in)appropriate place in schools, particularly for employees (for whom the 'spirituality' language is most often invoked)...


Calling spirituality by another name--school-spirit--is a bit condescending. I am astute enough to be able to read between the lines, and see a concept for what it is, regardless of the name you might give it. The fact that you pray, Kevin, also scares me.

I am the first to admit that a school's climate is important. The climate, focus, determination, creativity, and competence of the teachers are the important facets of a good school. Why pollute a non-spiritual endeavor (yes, religious, as you indicate by your need to pray, I can see your spirituality in no other light) with some nebulous fantasy. Why not include and respect everyone, even the self-described non-spiritual folks?

Surely your school doesn't require prayers to do its work?

Kevin W. Riley


Name one of my students.

Name one set of life circumstances that they endure to come to school every day. Name the streets they live on. Walk in their shoes.

You can't. Nor can you presume to prescribe the training, strategy, motivation, inspiration or methods we use to serve them. I will concede this... what works for you works for you and you ought to keep doing it. I know what has made our school a national model among Title I schools... and yes our competence can be attributed to a great many factors. We face far greater challenges than you can imagine and far more opposition than an anonymous blogger questioning our humility or predisposition to private prayer. To tell you the truth... my staff and I have never even talked about this. We don't have time to. We are too busy creating a school that is worthy of the children it serves.

...and that's my last thought on the subject.



Look, of course i don't know your students names, or where they live. So? You seem to know me, though of course you don't. You make assumptions that are wrong. If you think justifying spirituality--explicitly--is a good idea, I suggest you do it in a parochial school, not a public school. That is all I am saying. Your desire to pray, and then, however tangentially, apply that to your work, is scary and borders on unconstitutional.

Reggie Engebritson


Great post. Thank you for writing this. I try hard to be "in the moment" each day and to be grateful for what comes my way. I also try hard to be fully present when people are talking to me. This can be difficult when I am trying to finish something on my desk or the phone is ringing or I have to be somewhere or I know there are people waiting to talk to me. When I am feeling that way, I have to calm myself and remind myself that the person in front of me is there for a reason and I need to give my full attention. I need to be present. I appreciate when people do that for me, and I need to return the gift to others.

Thanks again for writing this, Pete. It was just what I needed to read right now.


I was away at a Board meeting this weekend and missed most of these wonderful comments.

When I talk about spiritual growth in the workplace, I am generally talking about inner growth of our own spirit. I have found in my own life that my personal values, beliefs, and ways of being have been tested and challenged at work.

If I have a deeply held personal value that I should have compassion for those around me that are suffering and I am so busy with my own issues that I don't notice a student or colleague that is in pain; then this becomes an area of spiritual growth on which I can focus going forward.

One of my favorite Parker Palmer books is "The Courage to Teach." The word courage comes from the French root "cour" or heart. In order to be great educators and leaders we need to use our minds and intellect; AND we need to incorporate our hearts and spirits.

I truly believe in the separation of church and state; AND I believe in the power of the heart and mind...our spirits and our intellects working as a whole.



I am fascinated by the conversation regarding our spiritual lives and our professional lives. While being a very spiritual person, and not very religious, I find my core values influence my decision-making. Right or wrong, without the clarity of solid policy or regulation, my life experiences impact how I think and ultimately make decisions. It has become clear to me that I need to be aware of these influences, not necessarily reject nor embrace, but understand their impact. Thank you for bringing to the fore a topic, among many, that are unexplored in leadership.

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