Lesson Three: Moving Forward
Unlike many assessment tools, the goal of the Practicing Faith Survey is not just to gather data, but to help students to find and define pathways toward their own growth. The focus of this class is to give students an opportunity to focus on what they have learned about themselves from the survey, reflect concretely on how they could change, and commit to a path forward.
- Students will review how the emphases of the Practicing faith Survey relate to Christian practices.
- Students will be able to give examples of how school-related behaviors can become part of Christian practices.
- Students will consider and ideally commit to a path toward future growth by investing in specific Christian practices.
Before this lesson you should thoroughly review the page on areas of practice at the Practicing Faith site. It will be helpful if you have yourself thought through how the examples relate to your school. See if you can think of one or more additional examples for each category that could be applied in your school context. Think also about an area of practice in which you could commit to a fresh investment as a way of walking alongside your students and modeling the kind of investment asked of them.
Preparing the Activity
Arrange the classroom in such a way that it will be easy to form five working groups, each group working together around a table or cluster of tables. You will need the presentation slides in Areas of Practice.pptx and ability for students to access the page on areas of practice at the Practicing Faith site or copies of Areas of Practice.pdf. You will need one copy of the handout: Narrative Examples. Students will need materials (large pieces of butcher paper, etc) for group writing.
Teaching the Activity
Begin by reviewing with students the key points from the previous lesson. Focus in particular on how practices are intentional, sustained over time together with others, and oriented toward a goal. Ask students to recall examples of specific Christian practices from the Christian Practices List handed out in the last class, and see if they can remember the five kinds of practice from the Practicing Faith Survey without looking back at the handout. Tell them that the focus today is going to be on thinking through practical consequences from taking the survey and making plans for future growth.
Remind students that their personal results from the survey are private, and that they do not need to share them with anyone unless they choose to. Emphasize that the point of today’s activity is not for them to share their results. Mention that judging one another and ranking winners and losers would not be consistent with a focus on shared Christian practices, and the point of the survey is not to identify individuals as successes or failures, but to give us clues about how we can grow.
Display the five areas of practice from the survey using the first slide in Areas of Practice.pptx. Ask students to think back to the feedback they received from the survey and think about one of the five areas on which they might find it helpful to focus in more detail. This could be because it was their lowest area, or because it is an area where they are motivated to grow even if it ranked higher for them, or simply because it is an area that interests them. When students have had a few minutes to choose, designate a space in the classroom (a table or cluster of tables) for each of the five areas of practice and ask students to move to the space corresponding to their choice. If only one student chooses an area, give them the choice of shifting to a different group or working solo. Provide each table with copies of Areas of Practice (this is a more detailed version of the handout from the previous class) or direct them to the corresponding page on the Practicing Faith website. Also provide each table with one page of the following handout based on the area of practice that is their chosen focus: Narrative Examples.
Display the second slide in Areas of Practice.pptx. Explain that although names and a few details have been changed, these examples are drawn from, the actual experiences of students in other schools. Read the example aloud and ask students to explain what area of practice it relates to and what might make it count as an example of Christian practice. Focus at least part of the discussion on whether there might be instances in which the same behavior might not be an instance of Christian practice. What other motivations could drive the same behavior? What if the student just wanted a cleaner beach for a more impressive selfie to impress people online? What if they wanted a reason to boast the following week that they had spent their weekend more righteously than others? What if this was a one-off whim and nothing similar ever happened again? Elicit how beliefs and behavior join together to make this an example of Christian practice.
Repeat this discussion with the third slide in Areas of Practice.pptx. Focus on the same issues as with the second slide, looking at what might make this count as Christian practice.
Next, ask the groups to complete two tasks together before reporting back to the class. First, they should read aloud the examples from the sheet on their table and then brainstorm further examples of specific and intentional actions that are realistic in the context of their school life and that might count as good examples of the area of practice on which their group is focused. Ask them to come up with at least five different examples. Second, they should take at least one of these and turn it into a brief, concrete narrative similar to the ones on the two slides that they just discussed. After they have had time to complete this, ask them to share their examples with the rest of the class. As you listen, consider how you and your colleagues could support the practices named through your own teaching choices; add this to the discussion if it seems appropriate.
Finally, ask students to reflect and journal in silence for the last five minutes of the class. Tell them that they do not need to share what they write, though they may share it with the teacher or a friend if they would like to create some accountability. Ask them to reflect on the feedback they received from the survey in connection with today’s discussion and identify specific ways in which they would like to grow. Emphasize that the goal is not to name big ideals, but to focus on specific practice choices that could realistically be invested in going forward. Encourage them to commit to a specific intentional change in their practices and to make a plan to begin within the next week.
Take a little time at intervals later in the semester to ask if students would like to share whether they have made changes and what they have experienced. Consider making a public commitment of your own to investment or reinvestment in a particular practice and sharing your experiences honestly with students over time. If the school is committed to using the Practicing Faith Survey a second time with these students in a later school year to track changes (check with your administrators), mention this to students to make them aware that there will be a future chance to review how they have grown.
Below you will find several more examples of practices from the experience of students at other schools. You could introduce these occasionally in subsequent classes for brief discussion as a reminder and continued stimulus to reflection. Ask students which area of practice they might fit into, and what similar practices they can imagine.
- Joella is a science teacher in a Christian school. She gives a lot of thought to how the learning that takes place in her classroom can reflect a commitment to Christian community in which there is consistent care for others. One practice that she has agreed with her students involves each student taking a turn in rotation during the semester to be the one who makes sure that needs are noticed. This includes, for instance, noticing if anyone is absent, emailing them to see if they are sick, getting a good set of notes for them from the class, and welcoming them back to the class the next day. Another common event in her classroom happens when someone raises a hand and asks a question that pushes beyond the immediate class content. Rather than answer the question immediately, Joella asks for two volunteers to research an answer that evening and come back ready to explain it to the rest of the class the next day. She is working with her students to build a classroom culture in which each student is not just focused on their own grade but gives attention to the needs of those around them.
- A teacher noticed that a number of his students had begun to personally thank him at the conclusion of the lesson he taught. He reported, “At first, this caught me quite off guard, seeing that that is not the typical response of a 14/15-year-old student. However, as they continued to practice this, it became more reciprocal: they would thank me on their way out and I would thank them as well. It was a bit of mutual benediction as they entered the hallways, a small gesture that brought joy to both parties.”
- A Media Studies class was studying how genders are portrayed in media and that led to further discussion about various types of abuse and sexual harassment that can occur within relationships. Struck by this, a group of students wanted to raise awareness of abuse in the high school. They researched local organizations and ministries that worked in this area. The students worked with the school chaplain to organize a chapel on the topic of healthy relationships. And then, as a follow-up to the chapel, they organized a school-wide fundraiser to help support the work of the local non-profit. A partnership has been born between the school and the local non-profit.
- Studying about watersheds in her biology class, Daisy realized that she had grown up less than a mile from one of the most polluted streams in the state. In class students read and discussed a quote by Wendell Berry: “Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you.” She had never thought about pollution and fertilizer run-off in terms of the Golden Rule or as issues of loving one’s neighbor. She went home and convinced her parents to use a more environmentally friendly fertilizer on the lawn. She also joined the school Eco-club that meets every other week to plant and grow ferns that are then planted along the waterways of the local creek.
- Gillian was taking a Government course. She wasn’t particularly interested in politics, but she did enjoy the conversations in class about current events that were happening in her state and country. She even began to pay more attention to the news updates that came in on her phone. Her teacher suggested that, as Christians, perhaps we shouldn’t just read the news, but we could also “pray the news.’ Gillian found this to be an interesting way of thinking about prayer – a view that stretched her normal prayers that largely focused on those closest to her: family and friends. To her own surprise, she found herself, at the end of the day, journaling and praying about news stories and events she would never have prayed about before: the upcoming presidential election, a local news story about a gas leak, and an ongoing homicide investigation in her local city.
- Ben had heard of the spiritual disciplines in Bible class and at his church, but he didn’t know much about them. He also knew that he, along with some of his friends, had a growing desire to grow in prayer, Bible reading, and other Christian disciplines but struggled to be consistent with these. With his heavy schedule, Ben found it very difficult to carve out time for the disciplines he wanted to grow in outside of school. After sharing his concern with a couple of friends, they decided to use one lunch hour a week to meet together for accountability as they learned about various disciplines and tried to practice them together. This way they didn’t have to try to carve out more time before or after school. Ben committed to being the group leader; each week he read a chapter of Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline and prepared a brief summary for the rest of the group so that his friends didn’t have to read the book. Together they talked about a discipline, brainstormed ways that they could put it into practice, and then held each other accountable. They concluded each of their meetings with a short prayer.