Reverence in Classroom Teaching

Oct. 29, 2009

Source: Teachers College Record, Volume 111 Number 11, 2009.

The article develops insights from Woodruff’s book (2001),"Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue" to discuss reverence in teaching. The authors show how reverence is both a cardinal and a forgotten virtue by situating it within the philosophical tradition of virtue ethics. Virtue ethics involves traits of character as embodied predispositions to act in certain ways in concrete contexts. It sometimes conflicts with abstract, rule-governed ethics, much as the ethics of care does. Virtue ethics appeals to emotional conviction in ways that rule-governed ethics does not. This article looks specifically at the emotions of shame and respect that are associated with reverence for the high ideals that may bind together an otherwise diverse, even diverging, schooling community.

Purpose of Study: The purpose of the article is to understand spiritual dimensions of teaching by elucidating the cardinal and forgotten virtue of reverence. Reverence has a power beyond a typical understanding of it as something religious. The article shows reverence in a wider context that does not diminish its spiritual connotations, but rather shows its importance and relevance to teaching in today’s classrooms. The study considers how the virtue of reverence is supported by appropriate classroom ritual and ceremony and discusses several examples of reverence and irreverence in classroom teaching.

Research Design: Philosophical analysis combined with qualitative case study analyses as illustrations.


To be reverent is to realize that we as humans are limited and imperfect, and the proper reaction to this state is humility, awe, and wonder. In subsequent articles, the authors will examine reverence in educational leadership and in a school’s community. Their goal in this article and those to follow is to restore reverence to its rightful place in the ordinary daily activities of teachers in relation to administrators, students, and parents in school and in the community.

Woodruff, Paul (2001). "Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue". Oxford University Press.

Updated: Mar. 18, 2009