Every teacher knows…our walls do talk. We spend hours designing and creating bulletin boards, doors, moving posters, all to maximize what students can learn from just looking around the room. But last year as I was prepping my classroom in the month of August, I took a critical look at my classroom and realized that the ratio of classroom decor was totally off. I teach 2 reading classes and 4 religion classes, and looking around the room, it was clear that I was an ELA teacher working in a Catholic school. The spiritual was clearly present, but not the focal point of the room. So here are some of the ideas I came up with to change that, and some more ideas I am going to implement this school year.
According to the USCCB, a sacramental is a visible sign that points to the invisible reality of God present with us. Here are 4 sacramentals that really helped make Christ the center of my classroom last year and one new idea I’m trying this year:
A crucifix in the front of the room. I’m almost positive that a crucifix is present in every classroom at a Catholic school, but if not, they are super easy to find and put up. Because the crucifix in my room is white, it sometimes gets a little lost on the wall. This year at the beginning of the year I am going to brainstorm with my students ways to draw more attention to the crucifix. I’ve always been inspired by Mother Teresa’s practice of putting “I thirst” directly under the crucifix as a reminder that serving the poor is a small drop that alleviates Christ’s thirst. During the first week of school I am going to have my homeroom students decide what we want to put on the wall to draw more attention to the crucifix. (A bible verse, quote about Christ, words of Christ from saints who have seen him…etc.) I think it will be a great way to spend our morning prayer that first week and will make our saying more meaningful.
- A holy water font in the doorway. My second grade classroom had one of these and it really taught us how to be reverent with holy water. A few years ago a student brought me a holy water font from the Philippines. It’s a really beautiful font featuring Our Lady. This year I want to make a point of reminding students to use the font on their way in and out of the classroom or before and after prayer. Just a simple sign of the cross is such a powerful prayer, and only takes a few seconds!
- Rosaries that are visible. I used to keep our classroom rosaries in a pretty basket on a bookshelf, but two years ago I put them on hooks on the wall where they are more easily accessible. In addition to making them easier to hand out when we were praying the rosary, I also noticed that students would use the rosaries during down time or time for personal prayer. Just by putting them on the wall, they would remind students that they were always available. Another thing that made my students more interested in praying the rosary was that I brought my collection of rosaries from home and let them use those. (I have rosaries from all over the world- any time a student is traveling and asks if they can bring me something, I ask for a rosary.) Students really enjoyed hearing the stories behind each rosary and felt special when they got to use those.
Images of Mary and the Saints. Again, I would imagine that most Catholic school classrooms have images of Mary and the Saints, but maybe this year try to be more intentional about how to display them. I use two big spotlight bulletin boards for saints and modern Catholic role models and switch out Mary statues and paintings seasonally. For example, Our Lady of Guadalupe is on our prayer table for the month of December etc. Another idea could be to turn your classroom windows into stained glass windows of Mary and the Saints. (This could be a great research/group project.) Maybe you could have a featured “Mary of the Month” board to explore different apparitions and titles of Mary.’
- Include prayer on your fast finisher activity list. Many teachers I know have some sort of list posted for their fast finishers. These lists often include check your work, read quietly, do an enrichment activity etc. What if we included prayer on these lists? Maybe something like “spend a few minutes at the prayer table” or “say a decade of the rosary” or “read the Bible”. If you change these lists by unit or month you could put all different types of prayers/religious activities on there. This is a new idea for me this year, and one I am excited to try.
Happy feast of Saint Maximilian Kolbe! I hope these ideas help you keep Christ at the center of your classroom, no matter what subjects you teach!