Today I was very fortunate to attend the Conference "When Faith Meets Pedagogy." It was a day to engage in personal and professional reflection as guest speakers shared many messages about the conference's theme - Opening the Doors of Faith.
One of the presentations was on Inquiry based learning and Religious education. In an inquiry based learning environment, the teacher's role is that of facilitator, helping and guiding the children in their explorations. With that in mind, we help students grow spiritually, academically and socially through the materials and resources we provide. Our role is that of nurturing children to discover their "God given" talents and gifts, so that they, in turn, can share these gifts with others. This idea was also conveyed by Jean Vanier, fouder of L'Arche who, through video presentation, spoke to us about our very important role as Catholic Educators. We are called to spread love - love to all those we meet, especially our students. We love them deeply and wholly. The Catholic faith is not rooted in symbols or statues, it is essentially rooted in a person, Jesus. He is our inspiration and our teacher. He taught us the most fundamental gift - how to love, and that we are all worthy of love. As educators, we are doing his work, and are trying to be "Jesus" the teacher for our students, so that they, in turn, may love themselves and others.
What might that look like, feel like, or sound like in an inquiry based program? Essentially, how do we as Catholic educators foster a relationship between the child and God?
We do this by inviting God into our lives and into our classrooms.
It might look like naming where we see Jesus in the students. For example, "When you helped (friend) do up his zipper, I saw Jesus." This may lead to students modelling this language with each other. It might lead to a social story, or class book, thereby targeting language curriculum expectations as well as social/emotional expectations.
It might involve socio-dramatic play involving aspects such as a mini altar (they had a "My Mass Kit" fabric set for young learners), scripture stories, dramatizations of religious stories or songs. The important part here is the co-creation of centres. Students are involved in the building 'process' of learning, and in the physical building of the centre. So, for example, after reading the Nativity story, you may lead students in making a list of items/things/people that were present. Pull in literacy and mathematics into the process by creating/finding the stated items (ex. manger, Jesus 'doll'), generate new vocabulary, label what you find/make, number or order your items, and recreate the story (sequencing) through dramatic role play.
Fostering faith through play might involve visual arts. One example was to give students various mediums - pipe cleaners, buttons, gears, play dough, lego, etc. and have them make a cross or other religous symbol.
Faith is fostered through the language we use. One idea was shared regarding conflict resolution. I've heard many Catholic educators ask students "What would Jesus do?" to students involved in disputes, but this idea takes the verbal prompt a little further. One teacher had a mirror in the classroom, and whenever students were in conflict they were to go to the mirror and ask themselves or their friend "What would Jesus do?" This allowed them to calm, self-regulate, reflect and problem solve more independently. Brilliant! Another idea was the phone with the direct line to Jesus. 1-800-CALL-JESUS. Also brilliant! You call Jesus on the 'phone' when you're having trouble and 'listen' to how He would help you.
The beauty of an inquiry based approach to learning is that you can truly see the potential of each child when they are free to reach their own personal best. Not everyone's 'best' will be the same, because as it was noted today by one guest speaker - we are God's work in progress. We are his work under construction. If we see the children in our care in this way, we can begin to foster their God given talents by recognizing that we all have something to offer. This brings me back to the theme of love. Each of us, whatever we have to offer, is worthy of love and deserves to feel loved and be loved. In offering this love to our students, as Christ loves us, and knowing that Christ lives in us and through us, "we are an alleluia from head to toe." (Michael Way Skinner) What a great message!
I want to leave you with a video (click here) that was shared with us today, that was inspiring! We didn't have the title presented to us, so we didn't know what was being created! Talk about God given talents! Go share yours today!
And...for my give-away
The lucky number is #5 Lori Raines!
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Thank you to everyone who played along!