8th December 2022
So KT, tell us a bit about yourself and how long have you been running prayer spaces in schools and what type of schools do you go to?
Hi there, my name is Kt Haynes and I am Team Leader for Stort Valley Schools Trust. We work in primary and secondary schools in the Uttlesford and Hertfordshire area. We’ve been running prayer spaces in our primary schools for 2 years now at Lent and Advent. We’re open to doing them in Secondary schools as well if the opportunity arises as I think young people desperately need that time and space to reflect to be offered to them.
You’ve provided pop up prayer spaces around Lent, Easter & Christmas, which is brilliant, how do you go about making them happen?
So, the first one I did was around Easter and I did it all myself and it was a killer. It was exhausting planning it, resourcing it, getting it set up, and then some how leading and explaining each station for 400ish children. There had to be a better way. So, I spoke with the Head teachers about whether working with their school council, worship or chaplaincy team would be appropriate. We then put together a team of about 14 kids, who work in pairs, to plan, resource and lead that stations for their peers. I work with them over about 1.5 months leading up to the event, to help them plan and prep. We resource it together and then on the day they lead and I am there to support them through it. Which is by far and a way a better model in my mind if schools are willing. It gives them such ownership and they learn so much through it.
How do you find the pupils and teachers respond to them, how do you find the pupils engage?
They love it. I mean seriously they love it. Both kids and staff have such busy lives and these events offer that opportunity to legitimately pause and be still. When I’m working with the team I teach them about being mindful of the different ages and how they’ll need to be with the younger ones. About looking out for those seem confused or upset, as some children we’ve found get quite emotional. We talk about engaging with teachers and offering them to participate as well. We’re also careful with phrasing to make it as inclusive as possible for all whether they have a strong faith or none at all.
You have a Christmas prayer space happening in December, which is very exciting, what have you planned this year? What’s different to last year?
Well, we just started planning this week. It’s a new team of Y6s so that’s great to see them start the journey. We use a lot of your resources but I also give them creative licence to tweak and get creative, to dream big. One of the best changes this year is born out of the feedback from staff about the day being too rushed and wanting more time for each class, so this year we’re running it over 2 days split int key stages to give as much time as possible to really enjoy the spaces.
Why do you think it is important or of value to have prayer spaces in schools?
The spaces are so vital. Modern contemporary life really doesn’t offer many opportunities to pause, be still or reflect. They only tend to come after crunch points like bereavements, and at those points the pauses can be quite heavy and painful.
Prayer or reflection stations are intentional. They say…hey human beings need these times of stillness and reflection. They build our wellness, still our minds and often help us to make sense of things that have been buzzing in the peripheries of our consciousness. That’s of huge value whether from a spiritual perspective or a mental health one. We know that so often in life, in those moments that matter, we pause. If a child feels sad, we say come a sit quietly by me, if someone is hurt, we say just lay still for a while, if someone is confused or overwhelmed we might make them tea and say just go and have a break because inherently we know that there is power in hitting pause. And that pause, even though still, even though contemplative, even though quiet is not passive, it is active and renewing.
A question we often get asked is how do I get started and how to do find team, I can’t do it alone, what advice would you give?
I think my starting advice would be plan 1 station.
Make it really clear, think it through and if necessary, set it up at church or in your home and then document it, photograph it. Get your own kids or friends to do it and film them, reflect on it yourself, what went well etc.
Then contact a local school, one you care about and offer it to them. Show them the photos and film. Offer to go and in discuss it. Offer to lead a few or to work with older students. Offer to work it round a theme, Lent, Advent, Remembrance, Hope in Spring, Journeys towards the end of year.
Make it clear that your aim is accessible and inclusive, and you can tailor things to their needs, leave your own agenda aside. Be open. Trust God.
What’s your favourite prayer activity and why?
My favourite one so far has been a reflection on poverty at Christmas. I think giving young people the opportunity to think beyond themselves is really cathartic. It was set up by the children with a pop up tent, a sleeping bag and some rubbish. They encouraged the participants to spend some time in the tent imagining how they would feel if this was the reality of their Christmas; cold, hungry, lonely and hopeless. They then gave each student a candle template and encouraged them to write a thought, hope or prayer for those facing that kind of Christmas and to think about how they could offer hope and help to people in those kinds of circumstances. It felt very powerful.
Do you have a favourite or stand out memory of prayer spaces in schools?
For me as an ex-teacher, youth worker and now schools worker/chaplain, the best part is seeing what it builds in those young people who lead and how it blesses and encourages those who take part.
The best words though don’t come from me but from the young leaders themselves as they consider their hard work!
“Seeing younger children enjoying the activities made me think more about Christmas…reading some of the comments made me overjoyed!” (This leader was amazing with the KS1 children)
“I’ve loved teaching others a kind of lesson about Christmas” (This leader was so patient)
“After we got through all the classes, I was exhausted because I was continually repeating myself! I realised what it must be like to be a teacher! It was exhausting but fun” (This young leader showed determination and kindness)
“It was a valuable experience as I understood lots more about how other people feel. I felt I learnt how to explain myself” (This young leader showed such resilience and empathy)
“I think it was an amazing and inspiring event and every young person in the nation should get to do it” (This young leader had gusto and inspired)
“Running our station filled me with a joy that you may not comprehend and I’m so grateful for the opportunity” (This young leader demonstrated true compassion)
“We were well supported, but we could decide” (This young leader thrived with independence)
“My independence and resilience really grew through this; I feel really proud of what we did” (This young leader had a chance to shine and create something meaningful)
“It was good and important to take time to remember that not everyone has the same experience of Christmas as we do. We’re so lucky and it was good to stop and think of others and what we could do” (This young leader took us deeper and caused us to pause)
“Thinking about the gifts we give at Christmas was great, just like the Wise Men gave gifts to Jesus but sometimes you can just give the best gift of love to someone” (This young leader brought us back to the heart of it all!)
“We had help throughout when we needed it…it was really good fun and nice to see everyone happy”(This young leader learnt to ask for help and spotted joy in other)
“We all went for it and I have a bigger respect for teachers and a bigger passion for God,”(This young leader grew in respect and faith)
“I loved everything about this experience, and I love Christmas,”(This young leader found purpose and passion)
” I thought it was lovely, it reminded me about the real meaning of Christmas. My favourite part was that it was fun but at the same time it was touching in my heart and helped me express my feelings,”
YEAR 4 STUDENT
“It was such a calming reflection time. It helped me to just stop and think. It was a really relaxing, amazing experience and I think it was just so nice to be there in that moment because I don’t normally get much time to reflect on me, my life and my feelings, “
YEAR 5 STUDENT
“I loved the Advent trail because it was so nice for everyone to come together to share a lovely experience. All the activities had lovely meanings to them but my favourite one was about homelessness. It really made me reflect about how lucky and grateful I am. You all worked so hard, and I really appreciate it,”
YEAR 6 STUDENT