Faith that Works

Teaching middle schoolers how to live and practice their faith

Celebrating your students is one of the easiest days to plan, in my experience. This theme falls on Tuesday of Catholic Schools Week, and is a day to recognize all the ways that our students make Catholic Schools great. Here are five easy ways to celebrate your students and make them feel loved and appreciated.

1. Free Dress
Because our school has a uniform in the elementary school and a dress code in the middle school, any day the students get to be out of uniform feels pretty special. Some of the free dress days follow a theme, like Christmas or the theme of the day for Catholic Schools Week, but for this day we often let the students wear pajamas or sweats, or something that make them feel comfortable and appreciated.

2. Why I love my class
Write a list of the reasons why you love your class. Post this obviously in the front of the room where students will immediately see it upon entering the room. Or you could do this individually- write a reason you appreciate each student in your class and put it on their locker or desk.

3. Plan an inter-class activity
Our school has an amazing “peace partner” program that I have mentioned on the blog before. Each class has a partner class- for example, my 7th graders are paired with 3rd graders, and my 8th graders with Pre-K students. Each student has an individual peace partner for the whole year, and we get together about once a month to do an activity- often religiously based. During Catholic Schools Week, you could match up different grades for a fun activity- like eating lunch together, playing games or creating a craft.

4. Recognize alumni
In the hallway outside our main office, the office manager keeps a huge bulletin board with pictures from school events and any newspaper article featuring current or former students. I love passing this bulletin board in the hallway and seeing what my former students are accomplishing. I think it also is a great example for our current students. If your school doesn’t have a similar display, maybe you could start one. If you have something similar, maybe you could expand the students featured by adding interviews your students conduct with alumni etc. It would make a great writing assignment to have your current students interview alumni and write small features on them to display.

5. Display student work in halls and classrooms
Of course, many schools and teachers already do this, but maybe you could up your game on displays of student work by putting notes on the work showing why that student is or should be proud of their work. Students could write their own, or you could note things like: incredible details and neatness, or impressive knowledge of the faith! I am going to do this using comic book style “pow” signs this Catholic Schools Week and specifically point out how the student work exemplifies our school values of love, respect, responsibility, faithfulness and excellence.

These are just a few ways to celebrate your students. Let me know if you try something and how it works in your setting, or add your own great ideas in the comments!

When I first took over Catholic Schools Week prep, it had been a somewhat standing tradition to decorate door for the week. Then, one year the 8th graders decided to up the ante by turning it into a contest. Because our principal asked that each grade be recognized for their hard work in decorating the doors, each door is awarded a prize, which we attach to the door during the week, and each student gets a mini ribbon to wear with the prize written on it. Here is a copy of our door decorating contest guidelines:

All you really need to run a door decorating contest are a few good categories for prizes, lots of construction paper or ribbons for the student prizes and some time. Having students with good handwriting also helps.

A door decorating contest is a great way to build community and celebrate Catholic Schools Week. You could turn the decoration of your door over to the class, or work with students to create a design you find online. I always take my classes on a “tour of doors” so they can see the hard work of other classes and think about the ways those classes chose to celebrate our school and Catholic Schools in general. There’s also a lot of great symbolism with doors in our faith that you could tie into either decorating yours or looking at others.

Here are some of my favorites from past years:

A few years ago at a staff meeting, one of the teachers at our school had a pretty brilliant idea- what if the 8th grade class did all the planning for the assemblies and activities of Catholic Schools Week? It would be a great leadership opportunity for them and would also take a huge burden off the other teachers during a crazy time of year. All of these things are true, but anyone who works with 13 and 14 year olds can tell you- supervision is still required. And so it fell to me, the 8th grade religion teacher, to oversee the planning , prep and execution of all the Catholic Schools Week activities for our school.

So for the past six or seven years, (I will admit, I’ve lost count) I’ve been the teacher in charge of Catholic Schools Week. While it is certainly a lot of work, it’s also been a lot of fun. Each year the students surprise and amaze me with their creativity and passion for the project. Even some of the most reserved students have been willing to get up in front of the whole school and sing or dance or yell, or whatever the job may require that year. I also think it’s made our celebrations of the week better and more fun.

So throughout the next few weeks I will be sharing some ideas of ways to celebrate the awesome gift of Catholic Schools at your school and Parish during Catholic Schools Week, which this year will run from January 27 to February 2nd. If you’re a complete newbie to CSW, don’t worry- I’ve got you covered. You can also ready more about it on the (National Catholic Educational Association) NCEA website.

Also, during Catholic Schools Week, check in for some posts from guest bloggers about why they choose to teach at a Catholic School.

A Bible verse for each day of the fourth week of Advent

As the Father loves me, so I also love you.  Remain in my love.
John 15:9

I drew them with human cords,
with bands of love,
I fostered them like those
who raise an infant to their cheeks;
I bent down to feed them.
Hosea 11:4

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
1 Corinthians 13:7

Beloved, let us love one another,for love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God.
1 John 4:7

Set me as a seal upon your heart,
as a seal upon your arm;
For Love is strong as Death.
Song of Songs 8:6

Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart, and with your whole being and with your whole strength.
Deuteronomy 6:5

This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.  No one has greater love than this,to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.
John 15:12-13

Some ideas for how to use these verses during this fourth week of Advent:
~ have students write them in their Bible journals- this would also be great practice for looking up verses in the Bible.
~ use these as an opening prayer, or in between verses of O Come O Come Emmanuel for a mini prayer service.
~Ask students to say which is their favorite and why, or let them choose their own favorite verses about love.

Do you have other favorite verses or quotes about love?  Share those in the comments!

A Bible verse for each day of the third week of Advent

I have told you this that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.
John 15:11

Do not be saddened this day, for rejoicing in the Lord is your strength!
Nehemiah 8:10

Then all who trust in you will be glad
and forever shout for joy.
You will protect them and those who rejoice in you
who love your name.
Psalms 5:12

Rejoice always.
1 Thessalonians 5:16

When cares increase within me,
Your comfort gives me joy.
Psalms 94:19

Although you have not seen him you love him; even though you do not see him now yet believe in him, you rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy.
1 Peter 1:8

I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you.
John 16:22

Some ideas for how to use these verses during this third week of Advent:
~ have students write them in their Bible journals- this would also be great practice for looking up verses in the Bible.
~ use these as an opening prayer, or in between verses of O Come O Come Emmanuel for a mini prayer service.
~Ask students to say which is their favorite and why, or let them choose their own favorite verses about joy.

Do you have other favorite verses or quotes about joy?  Share those in the comments!

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