Each of our faith formation classrooms are communities. We have within those communities different personalities, shared concerns and lessons to learn. Taking a group of children and turning them into a cohesive group can be a challenging task at best, a struggle at worst.
In a strong community the individuals work together and function as a team. Using a team-building approach to our classes may help to bring our students together as one team.
The approach can be divided up into four steps:
- Determining a goal for the team.
- Defining the obstacles to the team.
- Recognizing and defining the assets of each member of the class.
- Developing a plan to overcome the obstacles.
Let’s look at the practical application of this approach in the classroom. Determining a goal may be as simple setting up classroom rules. Perhaps we want a policy of what is said here, stays here. We also want no interruptions when someone is speaking and an atmosphere of respect. We further determine that no questions are ‘stupid’ questions and that we will work to answer all questions asked.
The first obstacle may be that due to safety rules and regulations all conversations cannot necessarily stay private. Suppose a student identifies physical abuse as an issue they are dealing with at home, or that they have felt sexually threatened by someone in the faith formation program or even that they have been considering suicide. These issues present a clear danger to the student and must be brought to the attention of a proper authority.
Another obstacle may be that one of the members of the class tends to monopolize the conversation and if no one interrupts, no one else will have the opportunity to speak.
When we look at the strengths of the class members we find that the ’talker’ is also a good leader. The girl that seems shy is a wonderful note taker and the teacher is very attune to sensitive nature of his students’ problems.
The solution for some of these issues may be that the class agrees all conversations will be kept confidential, with the understanding that the subjects that are safety concerns will be addressed with the proper adults.
The second issue may be handled by having the student who likes to talk be the leader of group discussions. That child could be responsible for making sure that each child gets a chance to speak. If needed, a timer could be used so that one person does not get to talk for a long period of time. This would not only solve the problem, but help the child learn to listen more and lead effectively. The girl who takes good notes could be responsible for writing down the rules after the class agrees to each one.
This formula can be applied to many situations. Working on projects or fund-raisers could increase team cohesiveness. And, of course, we still need to teach in class. Using a team building approach we can have our students act out the Inquisitions as we study history. We can play memory games when we learn our Act of Contrition and win team prizes. For older students we can do this for remembering the different Councils of the Church and why they were important.
Our job, no, our vocations as religious education teachers are to help our students function in their class community and bring them closer to holiness. We are teachers of the faith and of the reality of that faith in life. God bless.