Teaching Students Biblical Identity and Community

This past Spring, I met with my Instructional Coach for many weeks to discuss our school’s current Socio-Emotional Curriculum. Before and during our meetings, we’d watch videos, recording our own notes, and discussing our most important takeaways. As we reviewed more of the curriculum, I shared that I was growing concerned that aspects of the curriculum reflected present day United States culture and the New Age movement more than the biblical teachings of Jesus. We began to wonder what it could look like to develop a specifically “Kingdom of God” culture at our school, first by identifying core concepts to Christian community, then by giving students opportunities to reflect and practice these skills. By giving students access to Christ’s teachings directly, I believed that through they help of the Holy Spirit, they would ultimately internalize concepts better than with the Socio-Emotional Curriculum exemplars, teachings, and word choice.

This conviction led to a 6 week Religion Unit, proceeding from students’ prior knowledge about God, to “Identity”, to “Community”, and back to “God.” Students learned about Identity first, because without receiving God’s love for yourself, it is impossible to effectively love others. Based off of what students’ had learned about Identity, we bridged how knowing who we are in God helps us to reflect Jesus to our community. Finally, we tried to express what God was like, based on what we had learned.

Identity

Throughout our 3 weeks on Identity, we focused on a handful of themes. I intentionally structured the topics so that they would flow from encounter towards intimacy with God. Students were most familiar with “I am part of a family”, due to our Socio-emotional curriculum’s use of language. However, they most emotionally resonated with “I am seen”, through the Story of Hagar (and how God redeemed her mistreatment). I suspect that part of the reason that students resonated so deeply with Hagar is because many of them as individuals or through their family have experienced a high degree of mistreatment, rejection, and trauma. They saw themselves clearly in her story and how God was able to intervene.

These were our themes for Identity:

  • I am chosen (Jeremiah 1, Psalm 139:16)
  • I am understood (John 1:43-48)
  • I am part of a family (Ephesians 1:3-14)
  • I am seen (Genesis 16, Story of Hagar)
  • I am deeply loved (Isaiah 49)

Here were some of the instructional methods we used:

Lectio Divina

Written Reflection

Community

In September, students received additional classroom technology and became more savvy in its use. We were able to experiment with various other instructional formats and highlight connections between Religion and Narrative writing.

Our goal in exploring Community was to relate it to how we should treat others, based on what we’ve experienced about God’s love for us. I structured these lessons based on the effect we should have on others, starting with blessing over cursing. I added concept of free will in order to allow students to skillfully care for all sorts of people they may encounter. While not taking revenge and forgiveness may seem closely related, we spent more time on forgiveness focused on God’s mercy (vs. trusting in God’s sovereignty/capacity to fight on our behalf). Compassion was the most accessible concept for them, due to their prior exposure from the Socio-emotional curriculum

These were our themes for Community:

  • We use words to bless and not curse (Ephesians 4:17-32)
  • We let other people make their own choices, and respect their freedom to choose free will (Matthew 19:16-30, Joshua 24:15)
  • We trust God instead of taking revenge (1 Samuel 24)
  • The Holy Spirit gives us compassion so we can help people (Phillipians 2:1-4, Matthew 9:35-38)
  • We forgive even the people who hurt us, because Jesus forgave us (Colossians 3:14, Matthew 18:21-35)

Thinking Routines

We used the Color Symbol Image Thinking Routine from Project Zero

Question of the Day

Writing Blessings over each other

Bible Study

Prayer

Writing Dialogue, Apology Letters

Musical Worship

Assessments: Identity Art

As we finished our study of Identity and Community, my Instructional Coach and I decided to encourage students to do one artistic project and one written project. I decided that it would be more meaningful to have students demonstrate their conclusions about Identity using Art, to give them more time to reflect with the Lord.

Instructions

Assessments: Community Narratives

I decided to have students share their insights on Community using Narrative writing, for the sake of dialogue, reflecting on how to tell a story with various characters and events, and how to focus on one theme.

Each student selected one theme (forgiveness, compassion, free will, blessing > cursing, or trusting God > revenge). They then planned their narrative around their theme.

I shared a Powerpoint with students based on writing concepts we had introduced, and encouraged them to use it as a reference during the writing block and Writing Center.

Students were also given a rubric in advance in order to consider how to weave these elements. Check out the free rubric we used here.

Overall, students’ deep understanding of the themes was clear! Many of my students’ chose to focus on forgiveness, given how much we had discussed it as a class.

Curating Student Work

My goal in this unit was to create an awareness in students for how our experience of God should guide us in how we treat others. Given that most of our thinking related to “Capturing the Heart and Forming Conclusions” , I wanted to make it clear in my presentation of student work how Identity and Community were sequentially (if not cyclically) connected. I decided to utilize QR codes , cut out student pictures, student’s Identity art, dialogue style reflections, and compassion thinking routines to highlight one main idea: “God’s compassion teaches us compassion for our community.”

What’s Next?

As we brought this unit to a close, I asked Third grade to explain what they had learned about God this quarter. Through conversation, they had many things to say! They were also able to point out several important paradoxes (ex: like a person/not a person, God as embodied/God as Spirit).

We created an anchor chart to use in the classroom to use for reflection throughout the day and coming months. The goal is that through discussion and reflection on behavior during recess, specials, and daily activities, we can continue to consider who is demonstrating these virtues and how we might support each other to become more like Christ. I had students add their own illustrations for the sake of joy.

As of this week, one way I’ve been able to use the anchor chart is to pray for students, after we’ve done a greeting. Upon arrival, students select a greeting at one door, drop off their supplies at their hook in the closet, and meet me at the other door to talk about Identity and Community. As we look at the poster together, I’ve started to ask them, “What is one thing about your Identity that you need reminded of today?” One student who struggles with developmental delays said that she need to be reminded that she is Chosen. Another who struggles with legalism said that she needed to be reminded that she is deeply loved. Another who is brilliant but somewhat out of place in his family said that he needed to be reminded that he is seen. In those moments, I ask students if it’s okay that I put my hand on their head or shoulder and pray for them (or pray from a distance). Then I pray very simply, “God, would you help _____ know that they are [insert word] today.” Then, students go to our emotions board, select an emotion, and do their morning work. The arrangement of the closet doors in this practice reminds me of Psalm 121:8:

You will be blessed when you come in and blessed when you go out.

Psalm 121:8

Lastly, I have begun to introduce students to even more attributes of God using a banner I made from this poster set. I often find that students’ attention lingers on our banner throughout the day, and have finally gotten just the right opportunity (now that we are all back in person) to go deeper!

Reflection

Overall, I’m extremely proud of the formation work my students’ have done this unit and the many opportunities we have to continue the conversation. As part of this unit, I redrafted my own set of expectations for myself, and had students help me create illustrations for what these things meant for them. I am excited to continue to explore more ways that I can invite them to connect with God, given that they demonstrated such thought this unit.

Published by Haley Nus

I am a bilingual Christian Educator in the heart of D.C. who longs to see revival transform K-12 education both domestically and internationally. I believe that inquiry-based and experiential teaching methods pair seamlessly with godly awe and point us through the gospel towards a Creator who invites us to taste and see his goodness (Psalm 34:8). While I love sharing the gospel with people, I take Jesus's invitation to welcome children in his name (Luke 9:48) and Jesus's exhortation to become like children (Mathew 18:3) literally! In order to shape the world well for adults, we must serve the youngest among us so that we will truly understand who we are as sons and daughters (2 Corinthians 6:18).

2 thoughts on “Teaching Students Biblical Identity and Community

  1. Haley, these students are blessed to be receiving tools that will help them to thrive in every area of their lives. Thank you for your thoughtful, loving instruction!

    Like

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