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Leading Students into the Desert

With the Lenten season officially underway, the Lord set the scene for a powerful conversation this morning with my 3rd graders about waiting, setting aside distractions, and allowing God to meet us in the wilderness. The Lord wove together our Literacy focus for the day (comparing and contrasting through text structure on desert nations) with Christ’s temptations in the wilderness. The conversation landed on ways that we as individuals of all ages can set aside distractions to meet with God during a time of coronavirus and Lent.

Setting the Scene

Earlier this week, students’ and I discussed the significance of the number 40 as a period of testing, read the account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, and began to discuss his motivations for going into the wilderness to seek God (before public ministry). Since the majority of this group of 16 students at 8-9 years old fall within Piaget’s concrete operation’s stage, I often need to start theoretical conversations by connecting to students’ personal experiences and 5 senses.

I began by telling students that today, we’d be focusing on people groups who live in the desert. Then, I asked students, “If you were going to live in the desert, what would you need to stay safe?”

Students were quick to respond by saying:

  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen
  • a hat
  • Shelter (a home, a tent, some place to be safe)
  • native plants (including cactus, which you could eat if you needed water)

Students were very interested in the harsh conditions of the desert, and how plants and animals could survive in these areas. One student asked me, “Can people grow tomatoes in the desert?” Luckily for her, I was born for such a question. Focusing mainly on the Southwestern area of the United States, I explained that plants have distinct areas based on temperature in which they are able to survive.

Link: https://www.arborday.org/media/zones.cfm

Students and I also discussed the nutritional benefits of cactus fruit (called “tuna” in Spanish, my personal favorite) and recipes for nopales. One student with Mexican heritage a chance to share more about her father, loves nopales (often too slimy for kids). I was also excited that this conversation built on an in depth study we’d done last Thursday on rattlesnakes, among other desert animals.

Link: https://www.saveur.com/article/Kitchen/Juicy-Fruit/

Since key vocabulary and background knowledge are two of the most important factors that indirectly support students’ reading comprehension, I was more than happy to help students imagine and discuss desert flora and fauna before turning to Jesus.

Our Lord in the Desert

To rekindle students’ memories of our Tuesday conversation about Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness (or desert), we examined different paintings that depict this 40 day period. Students were able to relate to Jesus’ thirst, hunger, and general bone-weariness through the drama in these scenes. Since the teachers at my school frequently weave their Catholic history and heritage with a healthy appreciation for the arts, I as a Protestant am more than happy to use paintings to support students’ comprehension and faith.

I then asked students, “What do you think Jesus’ must have done to survive his 40 days in the wilderness, and to overcome temptation?”

Students remembered that Jesus was hungry, thirsty, and exposed to the elements. I reminded them that in spite of Jesus’ limitations, he relied on the intimacy and love he had for God to withstand his time in the wilderness. In the story of Jesus, we see that during the wilderness we can:

  1. Redirect our attention towards intimacy with God
  2. Resist temptation because our love for God is greater

While we acknowledged that complete food-and-water fasting is something that should only be attempted with great wisdom, we celebrated Jesus’ willingness to put aside the distractions of his city and other humans to seek God first.

The Wilderness of COVID-19

To land the ideological plane before prayer, I mentioned to students that in many ways, we all are in a kind of COVID-19 wilderness. “In what ways is living in a time of coronavirus SIMILAR to living in the desert?”

Students decided:

  • In both deserts and COVID-19, you need protection. While people need to have shelter from the elements in the desert, in COVID-19, our protection is masks and staying in our homes for safety. **I personally found this connection to be brilliant**
  • Both are dangerous (because people can die) **said a student who has lost family in the pandemic**
  • We can feel alone, far away from others, isolated
  • My contribution: Just like Jesus, we can allow God to meet us (in our emotions) and help us to move forward and out of the desert, both spiritually and physically.

Prayer

In prayer, we asked God to draw near to us, and remind us of his enormous love for us that is far greater than the love of even family members. We asked him to fill our individual rooms with his presence and to allow us to sense his closeness, his love and his peace. We asked God to help us respond to his invitation to meet him in the wilderness, and to put off any distractions that keep us from enjoying the love he has for us. Lastly, we asked that as we seek him, he will continue to remind us that we are loved.

From Prayer into Literacy

After centering ourselves in the love of God, students were now ready to dive deeper into reading. We used a passage from the Reading A-Z comprehension skill packs, focusing on an article that compared the lifestyles of Bedouins and Tohono O’Odham native people in their respective deserts.

Link: https://www.raz-plus.com/literacy-skills/comprehension-skill-packs/pack/?id=408&langId=1&grade=4

I adapted the Reading A-Z materials into a Seesaw activity for my students to complete independently. Students had to read the passage and sort the information for each group.

It was also fun to show students that the subject’s of the paragraph followed an alternating pattern, with paragraph 1 talking about both groups, paragraphs 2-3 talking about the Tohono O’odham people, and paragraphs 4-5 discussing the Bedouins. Some of my students who are still approaching grade level expectations used these patterns to locate key information, and ignoring less important information.

Finally, students reviewed their map skills (last month’s Social studies focus). Based on geographic maps of these group’s territory, students had to estimate whether there would be a greater number Bedouins or Tohono O’odham people. Since the maps aren’t to scale, they had to rely on their critical thinking.

Once students finished this close reading activity, I had them read and listen to this book on Reading A-Z (at 2 different difficulty levels, depending on student ability). I realized rather spontaneously that this book discusses the two people groups of our passage in depth, and shares other facts about other desert-dwelling people.

Reflection

Overall, I’m very satisfied with how this lesson turned out! I always love the chance to explore different groups’ customs and cultures with students, and I was thrilled that several students were able to connect with desert cultures personally. This group of third graders LOVES animals and is gradually developing more interest in complex texts that fall into the intersection of topics we’ve studied. As a class, not many of them started the year enjoying nonfiction, and not many of them were very interested in my relatively abstract prompts about life and faith. They were able to track with me throughout our entire conversation on literacy AND religion, as well as sincerely remind me to pray. Who wouldn’t love that??? As a bonus, by making this lesson gradually more challenging and starting in a very accessible place, I had students read several levels beyond their independent reading level with confidence. Wow.

So far this year, I’ve discovered a lot of success with this group in using Jamboard to collectively illustrate bible passages as we read them, and in using very relatable examples. While their 4th grade counterparts are firmly into the concrete operational stage (regardless of reading ability), pivoting back and forth between the wildly different maturity levels in these grades has been challenging. However, I’m excited to see these third graders grow in faith and reading skill, and I’m excited to see how they will continue to grow this year and next (since I will continue to teach them).

FINALLY, for the sake of fun, we spent the first few minutes of our afternoon Zoom call using the inflatible globes I bought them with a grant to locate these people groups. Yay!

Interested replicating this activity with your students or children? Check it out here:

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We (in Education) will be Okay

Late last week, a guest to our school said something that continued to ring in my ears throughout the weekend. He said, “Teachers who love teaching are finding ways to continue loving teaching during the pandemic.” While it’s true that teachers need supportive environments in order to prosper, individuals must love teaching before they can really blossom.

During the pandemic, teachers have dealt with so many external pressures trying to rob us of the love we had at first, or snatch away our love of teaching before it’s had a chance to fully take root. We’ve viciously battled our school districts about return dates and instructional formats, lesson plans and late assignments, personal protective equipment and vaccines. We’ve argued amongst ourselves about the best ways to do distance learning, whether to rely on print materials or press the limits of technology, whether to embrace new challenges or play it safe. We’ve negotiated with students and families and watched with occasional feelings of helplessness as some students seem to wander further and further away. Very few of us have anything good to say about our current classroom state of affairs.

If we view present challenges with the same perspective as in past years, it is easy to grow weak. As teachers it is very easy to be intimidated by the great hill that stands in front of us. We stand here in the middle of the school year, recently made aware by standardized testing of the work it will take to make up for lost classroom hours. There is pressure to rush remediation from school leaders, students’ parents, media, and even ourselves.

As we sift the data, we forget that it data in and of itself will not help us support our students better. Overburdening our students with an excess of routines and pressure will not save them. Relating to ourselves, our staff, or our students as victims or martyrs will not help us. Ignoring the present challenges we collectively face and scrambling to snatch for control won’t help us meet our students where they are at.

In some ways, we have to accept that we cannot control everything. We cannot control when we are made to come back into school buildings, how many students will show up for class, whether parents are available to supervise students as they do their assignments, or whether we will be forced to return home again. For a profession so gripped by our own need for control, many of us struggle to accept our current challenges at face value without falling into bitterness, anger, or resentment. We didn’t choose this, but these obstacles are smaller than they seem.

Our students’ need us to keep our love of teaching alive. Even now, we are providing tools for them to learn that a year ago, would have seemed impossible to most of us. We have allowed ourselves to be challenged and have learned a bevvy of new skills. This school year, we have been changed in ways that will continue to shape us for the rest of our careers. And in spite of a face-value reading of the facts, many of these changes were good. As Mark Twain once said, “A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.” While each teacher’s experience of the pandemic is distinct, we as individuals and as a profession have learned a whole host of things we could have learned in no other way.

At just over half way through the school year, we must be careful to center ourselves in the love we had at first. This pandemic will end eventually. We will devise strategic and well-placed interventions to support those who need it. We will fight for students to get the support they need, and just as before, student will learn as a response to nurture. We will return to the days of noisy classrooms, messy projects, and daily misadventures with students. Things may not be exactly as they once were, but they will be similar enough that we will be tempted to forget the things we’ve learned this year, if we haven’t course-corrected already.

In order to conquer isolation, anxiety, and lost instructional time, students need to love what they learn. Our children have what it takes to make up for lost time if we focus on making sure they love what they are learning. YES, we should definitely be giving strategic and high quality supports. But without passion and purpose, our interventions will fail to motivate. Our students already realize that covering lost ground will be a tough climb. We as adults are not the only ones facing anxiety about whether we currently measure up. It matters more that we fan the flames of students interests and relate their passions to current units of study than that we micromanage and over-stress students and their families. There will be a time to hit the ground running, but our students need to be energized to run the race once we get there. Focusing on curiosity and passion will allow us to enjoy the race. They are and ALWAYS will be the perennial starting place.

We as individuals must understand for ourselves how we have grown and how we can still love our jobs during a pandemic. If we are willing to focus not just on what we’ve lost but where we’re going, our love of teaching will continue to shine a light and spark passion in our students. Our love of teaching will give us the joy and endurance for the hill we climb, and we will be okay.

Relating Faith to Research: January Inquiry Projects

In the month of January, I challenged 10 fourth graders to relate their faith to their research! Students who received As and Bs in quarter 2 were invited to participate, and we had three new students join our team this month! In order to facilitate discussions, I divided students into 2 groups in Breakout Rooms. Most mornings in January, we came together for 45 minutes, starting with a greeting, moving into introducing a new concept or skill to guide the research process, and then breaking into Breakout rooms to discuss students’ current growth and give feedback. I frequently toggled back between the rooms and students assumed responsibility over the facilitation of the discussion themselves.

This month, students voted to record their presentations to share as Loom videos with their family members. This eliminated the extra pressure of having additional people listening to presentations or parents’ individual schedule limitations, while giving parents an opportunity to celebrate! I recruited a colleague to record one group’s presentation as I captured the other group. It was a delight!

Overall, students were able to weave together their interests in ways that were creative, compelling, and culturally-aware. It gave me great joy to see them loving God will all their hearts, souls, and minds through these projects!

Student Research Projects

Researching Royal Penguins

This student’s love of penguins has been a yoke of solidarity between us since the beginning of the year. For this project, I challenged him to select just one kind of penguin and study it very closely. I was proud of his verbal explanation of Penguins’ uniqueness as one of God’s creation, and how appreciating them helps us appreciate God. Ever the steadfast friend, this student created his own Kahoot (question game) about Penguin facts, so that his peers could learn more about Royal penguins.

Ravenous for Ramen

This presentation takes the cake for sincerity and wackiness. Brought to you by the same bright mind who put together a college level presentation on Carnivorous Plants in December (complete with Venus Flytrap cardboard diorama), this students’ January Inquiry project came it at 31 pages (including two full pages of sources). Despite of the 3-4 minute limit each student had to summarize their findings, this student achieved his goal with time to spare because he had practiced summarizing his presentation in advance.

Follow last month’s Internet Safety Meeting with families, students practiced selecting quality sources for their January Inquiry project. Imagine my joy and surprise to see how thoroughly this student has applied that skill!

As if his presentation on the History, ingredients, varieties, fast food versions, and applications of Ramen weren’t enough, my student took us on a culinary adventure.

He devoted 10 of his 31 pages to demonstrate step by step (10 Steps) how to make Chicken Karaage Ramen. As a bonus, he shopped at the little Japanese Market up the corner from my last apartment. Small world. 🙂

This student related his faith to Ramen through the lens of community, respecting other cultures, and sharing a meal. Especially given that we as Christians are invited to eat at the Lord’s table as one body of many nations, his presentation was touching.

This kid, amirite?? 🙂

Passionately against Plastic Pollution

Now here is a student whose emotions are sensitive to the Holy Spirit! In class, she is frequently pragmatic and goofy, somber and sincere. For this project, my student focused on the heart problem of pollution, the selfishness and dishonor that it demonstrates towards the Earth, and what she and her peers could do to stop it. Her passion made me think of a project I once did in sixth grade, studying the history of World War 2. I inadvertently spent most of my project psychoanalyzing Hitler’s traumatic upbringing, essentially trying to understand what had turned him down such a dark path. While surprised, my teacher had the wisdom to let me pursue the project from an ethical perspective instead of a strictly factual one. That project allowed me to study questions I had about good and evil in a way that eventually led me to God. Given all that, it felt more important to allow this student to pursue her project through an ethical lens. Intuitively, she included a call to action and summarized with her own personal reflections about God’s power to redeem and restore the earth (Revelation 21).

It was important to this student that her listeners didn’t feel condemned but convicted to reduce pollution. Since the tone of her project was more similar to an opinion piece, submitted her final reflections by quoting herself (hahaha).

Faithfully Fabricating Fidget Spinners

As the son of a teacher, this student has had more than his fair share of exposure to the world of education. Thrilled by the complete freedom to choose his own topic, he chose to study the creation of fidget spinners. While I anticipated that he would relate his project to his faith through the lens of disability and equity, he chose to surprise me! On youtube, he had found tutorials that showed viewers how to make their own fidget spinners out of wood or even raw apples, as opposed to buying ones made from plastic. His main idea: Create your own fidget spinners to steward the environment.

Sincerly Savvy of Shark Attacks

This student chose to study shark attacks based on his mother’s near close encounter with a shark. While she confessed that sharks were mostly ruined to her by the experience, her son decided to see what was really at the root of shark attacks. Were sharks really to blame? And how can we as people try to prevent shark attacks?

One of the best parts of this students’ presentation was the inclusion of Nine Shark Attack Risk Factors, and ways people can prevent them. According to this student, people should:

  1. Always swim in a group
  2. Not wander too far from shore
  3. Not swim with shiny jewelry
  4. Not splash a lot
  5. Not swim where many fish are swimming
  6. Not enter the water if they are bleeding
  7. Avoid the water at night, dawn, or dusk
  8. Not rely on myths about shark attacks (ex: if there are porpoises in the water, there are no sharks)
  9. Avoid sandbars and drop offs

This student related his faith to the environmentalism of Pope Francis. He correctly cited Pope Francis and asserted that by taking care of the environment, humans can reduce the incident of shark attacks.

Agreeably Analyzing Acid Rain

I continue to enjoy this students’ relaxed but thoughtful presentation style! Unlike some, he understands that the key to a great powerpoint is a moderate amount of text and graphics, but a substantial amount of explanation. This student explored the role of acid rain, and what individuals can do to reduce its impact.

This student rarely seeks the spotlight, but will allow me to appoint him as group leader during breakout rooms periodically. I’m consistently impressed by his humility and the fact that he can articulate when he feels shy, BUT challenge himself to overcome self-consciousness for the things he loves.

Like my Ramen radical, this student extended his learning by doing a science experiment! Inside the beaker, there was a chemical that managed to turn the rose a different color. Kudos to this student for his self-directed science!

Like many of his peers, this student ultimately decided that Christians should care about acid rain out of our responsibility to steward the Earth.

Skillfully Smashing Smog

This fall, I was lucky enough to witness the essay-writing skills of this student first-hand. As an encore, she has dazzled me once again by writing an essay to discuss the impact of car smog on air quality.

As you can see, her essay proceeds in a problem and solution format. She begins by connecting to her viewer’s personal experience with transportation, ways cars can increase air pollution, methods to reducing smog, and a call to action. She has included her faith in her call to action, since she is speaking to a religious audience. She ultimately relates her faith to the the theme of community.

Inter-religious Interest

In response to our many mornings spent praying for the nations and earlier units on Judaism and Islam this year, this student studied the core beliefs and worship methods of Christianity, Judaism, and Hinduism. She articulated that “learning about other religions helps us to learn more about other cultures and people who God created.” Ultimately in the context of other cultures, this student gained a better understanding and appreciation of the teachings of her faith.

Purposeful Patterns in Pokemon

I have had many a conversation debating the greatest Pokemon with this student. In this project, he doubled the amount of detail he included last month, and described how many Pokemon are actually based on the animals of the natural world. For example, he explained that Mewtwo is actually based on a Kangaroo, but that Mew is based on a cat. By studying the ways that Pokemon’s creators engineered Pokemon based on natural creatures, this student gained a deeper appreciation for God’s diligence and creativity in forming the diversity of life on Earth.

My favorite pokemon is Ditto, in case anyone was wondering.

Where do we go from here?

This month in class, students will be starting to explore the Civil Rights movement. One student from this group wasted no time in telling me that she would like to “learn a little more deeply, like writing an essay, a kahoot, or powerpoint” to understand the ethical roots of racism through a religious lens. As a result of these Inquiry projects, it was greatly satisfying to see her specifically ask to dive deeper into this topic, and suggest some potential methods we’ve used to do so. With the blessings of my colleagues, students will brush past a surface level understanding of Civil Rights to understand key tactics, leaders, and ethics.

As various students have wondered about the role of religious leaders in the Civil rights movement, I plan to select 4-5 prominent religious leaders and discuss their stances on the Civil Rights movement (spoiler: some were supportive, but many were not). We will examine quotes of denominations speeches or public comments on the Civil Rights movement, and students will even do an activity where they have to match the name and intended outcome of various forms of direct action (for example, sit ins, boycotts, freedom rides, blockades, lunch counter protests, etc).

At the end of the unit, students will be able to:

  • Recognize the diversity of tactics employed by Civil Rights leaders, and identify their outcomes
  • Use Christian teachings of nonviolence to compare and contrast nonviolent civil disobedience with militancy
  • From reflection, draw independent personal conclusions on the role of Christians should play in racial politics, and the methods Christians should employ

In February as many students transition back to the building, students will be spending our Inquiry project designing group inquiry projects for March. In March, 3 more students will join us, boosting our number to 13 (of 20) students total. As a group, students will select 1-3 themes that they will explore as a jigsaw, each student taking one individual component. While it seems very likely students will continue to purpose environmentalism (something they first studied in depth in first grade), I suspect some might be interested in the history of toys or some other theme.

Regardless of what they choose to explore, I’ve gotten approval from my colleagues to ultimately support ALL students to do Inquiry Projects in the final months of our school year! I am confident that by crafting a jigsaw of different topics with students for March, we will be able to continue to build a web of collective interests that will catalyze their love of learning into next school year.

Religious Order Project

In the month of January, my third and fourth grade students learned about the history of faithful men and women who joined Religious orders. We as a grade level decided that it would be much more exciting for students to see the ways that key church figures have shaped history INSTEAD of focusing primarily on the knitty-gritty roles and responsibilities of church structure. I am confident that my students will eventually be able to distinguish what makes certain roles like Bishop or Cardinal unique within the Catholic church, especially since students at our school have been able to host a conversation with the newly-elected Cardinal Gregory over Zoom. As students get used to seeing these church leaders as friendly faces, focusing on religious orders’ impact on the world allows students to appreciate the legacy of the community of saints they’ve been born into.

Check out these easy to read infographics from Catholic-Link!

For better and worse, Religious orders were designed to respond to allow people to seek God as they responded to the unique challenges of their day. From the first first monastic communities in the deserts of Egypt (313-400 AD) to the evolution of the today’s universities from the monasteries of the Middle Ages, Religious orders have shaped Western culture in indelible ways. Throughout centuries, religious orders have developed schools, hospitals, guest houses, farms, and programs for the poor that eventually gave birth to the modern Nonprofit sector. Check out this timeline to see how religious orders have changed Western culture.

Check out this video for more information about Consecrated Life throughout the ages!

Prior to starting this project, I also spent time talking with students about Disability rights within the church, and the faith of my friends at L’Arche DC. We discussed how people can love and pursue God’s call on their lives regardless of their physical or cognitive ability. We loved learning about The Little Sisters Disciples of the Lamb Convent in LeBlanc, France, and how many religious sisters there with Down Syndrome are passionately following the Lord Jesus.

Challenge: Designing a Religious Order

My colleague took the lead on the facilitation of this project! Similar to our Holy Trinity Action Cards project, students studied and compared religious orders to understand their unique differences. THEN, students were challenged to design their own religious order, based on their own interests and pressing needs they see in our world.

For their religious order, 3rd and 4th grade students had to include and explain their orders’:

  • Name
  • Motto
  • Habit (clothing)
  • 3 Values
  • Coat of Arms

My colleague also designed this handy rubric for students to use to self-evaluate!

After students completed their projects, they spent about 45 minutes of class time presenting their projects to one another in Zoom Breakout rooms.

As a teacher, this project was especially meaningful to me, because it was a chance to see how the Holy Spirit was moving on students’ hearts to highlight particular concerns. I was impressed by how deeply the projects connected their personal values to their faith. While I was focusing elsewhere, the Holy Spirit had snuck in to teach them a variety of things about the topics already on their hearts.

Unsurprisingly, several common themes and values emerged. Check them out below!

Stewardship of Animals

In projects related to the stewardship of animals, many students suggested members should do service at animal shelters.

Some students connected their passion to the teachings of Saint Francis:

Humorous and easily-washed Habits (clothing) were vital:

Students took our many conversations about human’s Genesis 1 mandate to steward the Earth very seriously:

Children United in Jesus

Kids’ Authority as Sons and Daughters of God

“Children should feel like Royalty”

The Importance of Community

Obedience and Love for Family

Love for our Enemies

Other specific Causes

Helping the sick!
Loving our Seniors!

Conclusion

It was such a beautiful thing to see our 3rd and 4th graders connect their passions to the history of passionate believers of the past. I am excited to see how God will continue to guide students through their interests, and give them wisdom and courage to pursue their own callings. This month, I will be reading a book called, Water from a Deep Well by Gerald L. Sittser, to deepen my own understanding of the many ways Christians have shaped the world from Jesus to the present AND how religious life has changed over time. You are more than welcome to join me!

In Christ,

Haley

January 2021 Monthly Summary

Exciting News!

Approximately three weeks ago, I submitted an application to the Emerging Prophets Mentoring Programme with the Global Prophetic Alliance. On Monday, I found out that I was accepted to begin training online, effective immediately.

Right, but what does that mean?

As part of 5-fold ministry, the office of a prophet is to discern what God is saying at the structural level to organizations, in order to bring them into alignment with his Kingdom purposes. Since my work is at the intersection of Christianity and the Field of Education, I have been looking for greater training in hearing God’s voice so that organizations in these fields can thrive. While many secular school reformers or entrepreneurs use secular strategies to reform organizations, individuals called to the office of a prophet practice discernment so that organizations can Holy-spirit-led structural reform. Done correctly, these reforms lead to regional and organizational healing and wholeness. Check out more on the office of a prophet here.

The requirements for this program are rigorous, and is specifically created for those who:

What now?

As part of this commitment, I will be learning through recorded sessions, live Zoom sessions with the Global Prophetic Alliance, and an in person trip to Glasgow, Scotland, currently scheduled for November 2021.

Why the Global Prophetic Alliance?

Through hearing Emma Stark speak when she came to D.C. about 18 months ago and listening to the Global Prophetic Centre’s Pour Hour series, I have grown to respect the integrity, organizational culture, and framework of the Global Prophetic Alliance. Here is one of my favorite public teachings that the Global Prophetic Alliance has produced on their Power Hour Series.

Contextual Study: Writing Process

In December, I finished gathering the information for my Contextual Study, a 20-25 page research paper I’m writing for seminary on my (teaching job) school’s history. As of this month, I have begun to outline, organize, and condense the information I’ve found. I have various steps ahead in the writing process, but so far it’s been an encouraging and captivating labor of love.

Returning to the Classroom

Since doing middle of year testing this month, I’ve been surprised by how many students have managed to maintain their current levels of growth in spite of little in person instruction. While many students are breaking even as compared to their beginning of year scores in math and reading, about 25% have dipped and about 25% have grown dramatically. Unfortunately, these results loosely correspond to what students have sufficient supervision at home.

Starting next Monday, 2/3rds of my 3rd graders and 1/3rd of my 4th graders will come back to school on an every-other-day basis! I am confident that these students will remember the routines that we practiced in October, and with a few reminders, will be good to go. Based on testing data, my teammates and I are hoping to launch some socially distant book clubs, and I am hoping to develop some hands on learning opportunities students can do from the comfort of their desks. For me, this decision to pursue project-based learning is an effort to increase our collective joy and engagement at school!

Here’s a picture of me trying to hype up my fourth graders to pick up new materials they will need for learning at home!

Simple Pleasures

  • Planning my Vegetable garden for Spring 2021
  • Vibing off the passion and fire others have for their field of ministry
  • Grocery shopping with friends
  • Open and honest conversations with my Dad
  • Starting a book club with 3 ENTHUSIASTIC second graders in my neighborhood (for tutoring $$)
  • Longing to read this new book
  • Simple new strategies for exercise

Celebrating my Students

This month, I witnessed many breakthroughs with my 4th graders and 3rd graders!

Fourth Grade

Overall, there were so many things to celebrate in Fourth grade this month!

My students have integrated their personal convictions about environmentalism (which were heavily cultivated before I became their teacher) with their faith. In whole class discussions as well as in individual students’ research, I frequently heard students drop the word “stewardship” this month as they passionately related their ecological concerns to God’s Genesis 1 mandate to steward the Earth.

Among this group of 20, we’ve prayed for 12 different nations over the past month! I am beginning to see them develop a passion for learning about praying for the nations. I saw students who rarely speak or exert themselves during Zoom giving their all in prayer for other countries, and I can’t wait to see what God is teaches them next! Check out this post I wrote about the experience.

As some of my fourth graders have been grappling with deaths of loved ones, I’ve been functioning as both intercessor and pastor. We’ve had various conversations about mourning, celebrating the lives of those we have loved and lost, making sense of supernatural healing and how some individuals still die, and the hope of the resurrection. As we have these difficult conversations, I am praying to bind a spirit of Death and Suicide, and that students will find their strength in Jesus’ example of surrender. Check out this post I wrote about facilitating a conversation on faith, death, resurrection, and dying.

This weekend is the one year anniversary of the passing of one of my students’ mothers, who was a vibrant part of our school community. I enlisted the help of my teacher friends to put together a digital memorial for her, and will be sharing it tomorrow with my students’ family, as they hold their own memorial. If you are grieving the loss of a loved one or know someone who is, you are welcome to download this free, editable Google slides template to use as a resource I made as a copy. You can easily add text, images, and change the background pictures to customize the digital memorial for the person who has passed.

Students’ with Personal Breakthroughs:

I also saw some heart changes in students this month! For example,

  • In a conversation about family conflict and arguments, one student privately admitted that he sometimes worries that his family will get rid of him. Earlier this year, God showed me just how greatly this student desires to belong, and how his desire for belonging was driving several unhealthy behaviors. Through prayer and several redemptive conversations we as a school have had with his family, this student is getting more attention and support from home with his assignments, doubling down on his work ethic, and demonstrating much greater maturity in peer to peer interactions. For his Religious Order project this month, the motto he created for his project demonstrates this shift: “When God gives you a chance, take it.”
I’m not crying, you’re crying… :’)
  • In another hard conversation with a student, I made it clear that I know he is capable of more. While this student scored at or above grade level in both math and reading at the beginning of the year, he has turned in barely any assignments since we’ve transitioned learning at home in November. He often gets overwhelmed and slumps into a victimized mindset at the slightest sign of difficulty, and has a tendency to make excuses to avoid exerting himself. In a conversation with our team and his mother, I explained that because I know he is capable, I am expecting more from him. There was a moment where I saw him take what I was saying to heart and understand. While I haven’t seen as much change in his habits since then as I would like, I’ve been praying that he would see and believe that God has created him for more.

Third Grade

This month, several third graders have drawn the connection between honoring their parents and a greater personal blessings. I’ve been praying that as students internalize the importance of obeying their parents, they will experience the benefits that come from obedience (prosperity, long life, happiness). While it’s important that parents do not strain their children, I am praying that as children learn the importance of obedience to their families, they will be more greatly equipped to obey God.

Theme: Right Pace and Focus

With just one month into 2021, things are speeding up! In 2020, God radically changed my life, bringing me to a new teaching job, new ministry training opportunities, starting seminary, new church, and a whole host of other opportunities. As I allow the Lord to move me at an incredible pace, it’s become more important lately for me to use discernment with friends, family, coworkers, and others to focus on what I am called to and allow them to fight their own battles. Often in conversation with individuals, I notice things that they are carrying. Many times, I’ve prayed and asked the Lord what is going on, and God has used these relationships to sharpen my own discernment and see what Jesus is doing in context. However, in order to move into this next season of life, I have to shrink! I have to become better at discerning what is others and is not mine to carry WITHOUT wasting time searching for details. I will need to practice asking, “Jesus, is this mine to take on?” Much of the time when I have brought what I’m noticing to the Lord, he responds with a quick, “Yep, they’re dealing with that. Say a quick prayer and let them deal from a distance.” In order to continue moving into the next season of my life with boldness, I need to continue reminding myself, “This isn’t mine”, and pivot more fluently.

I have sometimes compared the passion which I pursue different things I sense the Lord doing to running full speed up a hill. One stranger noticed this in a ministry training group recently, and even referred to the way God is leading me as “a Holy Spirit Tornado”. As a Midwesterner, that made me smile. But he wasn’t wrong. Over the last year, many people who are close to me have honestly not understood the unique pace of my life, and have been so afraid that I would fall apart or collapse from the many changes. This month, I had to discern whether one individual’s words came from a place of fear, or whether it was legitimate warning. From what I can tell, God isn’t calling me to slow down! If anything, he’s increasing my sensitivity, remain small, and digging deeper wells in my life for him to move.

Check out the many opportunities in my year ahead!

What I’m Praying For

That my students would have their own stirring experiences with the Lord! That he would ignite passions in them that would turn into callings.

How you can pray for me

Please pray:

  • Wisdom and grace to indulge in many project-based learning experiences from our desks in February
  • God to continue multiplying my time and energy
  • A greater awareness of Jesus as reflected in other people
  • Favor as I start the Emerging Prophets program trainings
  • Continued financial provision for all this and more
  • Increasing accuracy in recognizing what isn’t mine, a quick faster pivot and greater finesse (gentleness) in doing so

Please pray that I would remain small! Please pray that my sensitivity to the Holy Spirit would increase, that my focus would be dead-set on Jesus, and that I would become even better at pivoting from what is and isn’t mine to carry.

In Christ,

Haley

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