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.

October 2021 Monthly Summary

October was a month of God’s help for endurance. As I met with Jesus this month, he did a tremendous amount of work on my insides so that I will be able to move forward with more grit and joy.

Simple Pleasures

This month, my friend Kara and her friend came Northern Virginia for the Voice of the Apostles conference! After work, I met them there for the evening sessions. God conquered last minute travel logistics and health issues to speak clearly.

This session was aligned to much of what God has been showing me this month about meeting him on the cross.

My students reflected on what they’ve learned about Identity through art! Check out this video to get a sneak peek of what they’ve learned.

Image result for pointing down emoji

This month, Fourth grade presented their Inquiry Projects on DC Community. I was abundantly proud of them, but especially this student who joined our class at the beginning of the year. As someone who is at early levels of English proficiency, he gave a bilingual presentation to the class. It’s been a joy to see his language skills begin to blossom!

This month, several students were inspired by a small group reading book to write their own secret codes for home use. Here, one student is explaining her code’s symbols to another.

Third grade found various ways to model division!

At the house church I attend, several young members helped me color in a crown for Jesus and castle as we worshipped him as King.

My friend trusted God to launch some prophetic painting workshops! Here is a reflection I painted on the moment in 1 Kings 19 when God calls Elijah out of the cave.

Celebrating good news in advance with Ada Ehi’s “Congratulations”

Themes this Month

  • Yearning
  • Healing honesty, Spirit of Truth
  • Meeting Jesus on the Cross, Endurance
  • Salt, The Greatness of God
  • In my dreams: Leaving my students on field trips to play like a child
  • God bringing me flowers, the faithfulness of his love

This month, my discerning of spirits took dramatic leaps forward! In counterbalance to some of the things God’s been showing me, he has been inviting me into an even deeper rest. For the sake of maintaining in endurance, I have it on my calendar to meet with him in specific locations in the Heavenlies on certain days. He keeps naming and showing me new places.

Radically Different Abilities, Radically Different Approaches

Lately, I’ve noticed some large developmental differences between my classes. The majority of my current Fourth Graders (last year’s Third grade) are blossoming, trading in much of their former dependence and anxiety for greater academic and developmental maturity. My current Third graders are somewhat academically stronger than my group last year, but have a great deal of emotional learning before them. As someone who started teaching at this school in August 2020, I don’t know what it would be like to teach in this setting without the influence of the pandemic. As someone who taught second grade for years before the pandemic, I can say for certain that these students are capable.

These developmental differences are shaping the way I teach them about God. Since Fourth grade was with me last year, many of them have caught a great deal of zeal for the Lord. I say caught because to be honest, I taught them many things but only the Holy Spirit can soften hearts. With this group, my goal is to build on their hunger so that they will increase in intimacy with Jesus.

Due to all of that investment and the work of God on their hearts, these are the some of the questions Fourth graders asked in October, when given the opportunity.

Third grade is coming to me with much less background or expectation of the nearness of God.

In order to meet them where they are at, I have decided to acknowledge how simultaneously distant and close God can seem through our Word of the Day and a constructivist approach. With this group, my goal is to help them become more hungry to know God for themselves. I will be writing more about this in detail soon.

Their thoughts on Why God might feel hard to understand (before discussion):

Their thoughts on How we can know God (before discussion *verses added*):

Growing Awareness (after discussion):

Prayer Requests

Please pray:

  • That God would give me the grace to live vibrantly in a time of ambiguity (Romans 8:28)
  • To see the Heavenly host he’s put surrounding DC and stand on his plans for the city 2 Kings 6:17-20
  • That God would help handfuls of people I love to struggle well (1 Timothy 6:12, 1 John 2:14, John 14:3-4)

With sincere thanks,

Haley

Blessings for the Valley of Decision

Now that many of us have emerged from the external solitude of COVID-19, some of us may still find that internally, we are still in the desert. For many Christians, this feeling of uncertainty is much like the uncertainty of coming to faith for the first time, when people are said to go through “the Valley of Decision”. While trusting God for the first time is difficult because it is unfamiliar and feels barren, throughout the Christian life, we will inevitably walk through the Valley of decision many times (Matthew 4, Luke 22:44). Each time, we are being invited into an encounter with the Lord (1 Kings 19). 

Different Valleys of Decision may have different names. One might be called, “Can I be forgiven?” Some others might be called, “Who is first in my life?”, “Where can I find my approval?” , “What does it mean to live?” or, “Who can be enough?” As we wrestle with God to decide, we rename the places of our wrestling by the evidence of our decision (Genesis 32:30). For example, the Valley of “Who can be enough?” may be renamed, “Only the Lord is enough.” 

In the Valley of Decision, we must allow ourselves to be led by the Spirit alone (Matthew 4:1). As we receive God’s invitation to meet him in the Valley of Decision, we encounter him, we are changed, and the way we relate to others will inevitably change. 

Therefore, we must not resent others for needing to go to the valley alone, or be angry at others when they are not able to join us there (Mark 1:35-37). Instead, when we see our friends or family going through the Valley of decision, we must change the way we pray. So how might we pray for ourselves or others, as they travel the spiritual wilderness alone? Based on the bible, there are a handful of ways we can pray. If you are the praying kind, I challenge you to spend a few minutes today praying for someone you know who is walking through the Valley of Decision, actively entrusting them to God through prayer.

A Blessing for the Valley of Decision

I bless you to receive the invitation of God to meet him in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1).

Instead of just leaves as your covering (Gen 3:7), and instead of our imperfect humanity (Gen 3:21), I bless you to be strong in the Lord and in his power (Ephesians 6:10).

I bless you to neither be afraid or discouraged, but to know that the Lord goes before you. He will never leave or forsake you (Deuteronomy 3:18). I bless you to not be hurt by the inevitable fragility and scattering of your friends, but to see clearly that the Father is with you (John 16:32).

I bless you to fight the good fight of faith (1 Timothy 6:12), to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand (Ephesians 6:13). 

I bless you to receive the blessing that comes from wrestling with God, and to allow your identity to be changed (Genesis 32:22-32). 

As you wrestle, may your ears be blessed because they do hear, and your eyes be blessed, because they do see (Matthew 13:16). 

As you encounter the Lord and as you receive a new name, may it redeem the way you relate to others (Genesis 33). May the Holy Spirit continue to guide you into all truth, and reveal more and more to you as you can bear it (John 16:12). May the Holy Spirit reveal to you your inheritance through the depths of the Father’s love for you (Galatians 4:7), and make known to you everything that belongs to the Father (John 16:15). As you make the Lord your refuge, he will certainly rescue you and show you his salvation (Psalm 91:16). 

September 2021 Monthly Summary

This month, the majority of my energy was shared between two different areas: in support of my city and in supporting my students to adjust to the new school year.

An Energetic Return

Sons, not orphans
Slime making celebration
Blessing one another
Hosting my co-teacher
Dressed in blessings from my students
Praying for my city
Precarious but beautiful
In the middle of the shaking, God made my “encouragement” rose bush bloom again
Continuing to invest iin DC
Celebrating God’s creation through stuffed animals
Encouraging our stuffed friends to trust God

Ministry at Work

As the school year has inched towards normalcy, I’ve noticed increasing levels of favor with students in other grades, with students’ parents, amongst others in my school district reaching out for help, and with other colleagues. Beyond the students I met teaching aftercare as a substitute who consistently ask when I’m coming back, I have one first grader who likes to visit me and send me heart-melting air hugs at dismissal. According to his teacher, he regularly says that I am his favorite teacher. It must be the Holy Spirit, I’ve only seen him in passing and his joy is a blessing.

I have been so grateful to begin developing a friendship with my new co-teacher. She is an experienced professional who is also tremendously kind and creative. I can honestly say that this is the first time in my 6 years of teaching that I have been able to work this closely with someone else on my team with such a high degree of mutual support and agreement.

I am excited to start a tradition of praying for students’ on Mondays with my co-teacher. While I have used discernment, seeing in the spirit, and strategic prayer independently since I’ve been at this school AND have even been able to invite colleagues to do so before difficult meetings in the past, this is the first time I’ve had consistent support. As might be predicted, I have a list of several students that we’ll be praying for tomorrow with the specific difficulties they’ve had lately and bible verses that will allow us to pray into the root.

Increasing Ministry to DC

A shocking 95% of my seeing in the spirit this month had to do with God inviting me into greater personal responsibility for DC as the place where I live. While this is far from my first time interceding for the city, God has stressed to me the importance of gathering a support group of people not just called to the gift of prophecy, but the office of a Prophet. As God surrounds me with others who have a similar orientation, my prayer is that we will be able to do biweekly prayer calls, prayer walks, and build friendships to combat the difficulty of the city’s spiritual terrain.

For that reason, I have been more intentional to invest in local friendships with others also called to supernatural ministry this month. With a friend, I was able to walk and pray over the Capitol building in DC before protestors arrived on September 18th, including the side of the building that insurrectionists had breached last January. We also prayed over the Supreme Court building for similar reasons.

I was also invited by another friend to accompany her in her street ministry with the homeless around Union Station. I hope to be able to be able to partner more intentionally with her in the future, to supplement the incredible relationships she’s built with tools like seeing in the Spirit. Lately, my seeing in the Spirit has become more fluent, which has been a joy and an adventure.

This month, I have needed to not just track my dreams or independent seeing in the spirit, but start to track signs and shared seeing in the spirit with friends. This month, one of my close friends and I have been able to build on each others’ images and get different aspects of the same phenomena as we pray. As the visionary side of the prophetic becomes more and more fluent, I hope to be increasingly aligned with the Holy Spirit in all aspects of my life.

Favorite Book this Month

A well timed book can be such a blessing! This month, I’ve been reading on prophecy in the first and second century after Christ. Specifically, this book examined differences in prophecy among early Christians, pagans, and Greco-Romans. Throughout the book, the author describes various methods that pagans, Greeks, Jews, and Romans in these cultures would use to seek the divine. This list isn’t exhaustive, but includes: Amulets, spells, horoscopes, physiognomy, incubation, alchemy, augury, consulting entrails, lots, dice, mirrors, oracles, prodigies, palms, sieves, forms, figures, palms, dishes, lightning and thunder, and the most hilarious of of all, cheese.

This book also describes how Christians in the first and second centuries approached non-Christian prophecy in method and interpretation. Regarding methodology, there were various Early Christian prophets who did not initiate encounters but were led by the Holy Spirit and whose words were confirmed by scripture. Related to interpretation, Irenaus, an early church father declares, “Heretics think that the scriptures are ambiguous and that one needs to use outside information to interpret them”. Irenaeus (like many modern prophets) believed that the prophecies in scriptures self-interpret one another, without any need to add to the word of God (Rev 22:18). The book describes times where Early Christians took an apologetic, conciliary approach by appealing to their audience’s background in pagan prophecies to show how even these prophecies pointed to Jesus. There are also examples of times when Early Christians took a polemic approach, specifically condemning divination and contrasted it with Holy Spirit led prophecy and methods. In reading this book, it’s easy to understand how many pagan, Jewish, Greek, or Roman individuals would have understood Jesus to be a prophet based on their traditions, but would have needed the revelation of the Holy Spirit to know him as Messiah. It puts new context on verses like Matt 16: 13-20, John 1, 2 Timothy 4:3, Acts 16:16, Leviticus 19:26, Leviticus 20:6, Revelation 22:15, Revelation 21:8.

Finally, this book highlights several cultural phenomena whose history should give us greater fear of the Lord. First, the book highlights the Roman empire’s dependence on prophecy and ambivalent fear towards and dependence upon nationalistic prophecies. Secondly, the book highlights the thematic transition in early rabbinic Judaism between waiting for a messiah to instead focusing only on the teachings of Moses through Pseudepigrapha and ethically following the law. It is important to note that as these these individuals reformed their tradition to no longer prophetically anticipate the Messiah, the Second Temple was destroyed (Jesus foretells this destruction as part of the religious leaders’ rejection of him in Mark 13).

You can find more about the book here: https://www.amazon.com/…/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_d_asin_title…

Prayer Requests

Please pray:

  • That God would draw to me locals who are called to the prophetic
  • That my students’ would taste and see the glory of God
  • That God would continue equipping me to stand in the face of increasing spiritual warfare
  • That we will all share in the joy of the Lord as captives are set free

Until later,

Haley

August 2021 Monthly Summary

For me, August had each foot in very different continents: the left foot stood in visiting family, while the right foot firmly stepped into the new school year.

Visiting Family in the Pacific Northwest

In visiting my family, I saw mountains in every city I stopped through. I saw my mom and sister, Dad and stepmom, aunt and uncle, brothers and their families. From Seattle to Southern Oregon, Northern California, and ultimately Denver, I was travelling for two weeks!

Molly watching me through the window
Mount Rainier
Crater Lake National Park

Back to School

Just one week into the school year, the amount of classroom resources and favor for student curiosity, relational cohesion, and directional clarity we have is unreal.

With the beginning of the school year and in light of the abundance of favor that is on my classroom, I’ve been asking God for a new prayer strategy. While last school year often felt like a perpetual battle in prayer, my approach to this school year has more to do with me being available for intercession, but spending more time watching and listening for God to highlight what is important in a passive sense. At the same time, I sense he’s calling me to focus on deepening relationships with staff and students as a way to establish the work he is doing, especially as I receive more dreams related to how to intercede for them individually.

As we come back to school, the theme of Identity continues to emerge. As I get ready to teach on Christian community to help us form our sense of classroom family, I have decided to set some time aside to first cover identity in Christ. Since people of all ages cannot know how to engage well with those in their community (or community of faith) until they have a clear sense identity, theology of the individual has to come before theology of community.

As someone who started this position during distance learning, I have so greatly enjoyed seeing students again and for the first time as entire classes. They are so hungry to be known and to know others that we’ve already been able to form relatively strong connections. I have the benefit of teaching last years Third Graders as this years’ Fourth Graders, and meeting our incoming Third Graders for the first time in person. Regardless of what happens with the shape of our school year, I am so grateful to get to spend this early formative time together.

As we press into the theme of identity, here are some verses that will guide my lesson planning, and things I’m declaring over myself, my students, and my colleagues:

Prior to the start of the school year, one dream I had highlighted some strategies for how to support students well this year, as well as two “get to know you” questions I needed to use with them on Day 1. While simple, the wording of these questions continues to relate to identity: “What is at least one question you have for Ms. Nus?” and “What is at least one thing you want Ms. Nus to know about you?”

In gathering students’ responses to these questions, you can see how eager they are to be known.

In response to students questions, I created this virtual bulletin board. As I watched them eagerly listening, one student asked, “Can we keep asking you questions after this?” My answer was “by all means, yes.”

In particular, the Holy Spirit keeps highlighting to me students who need social connection due to the difficulty of their home experiences. I’ve felt the eyes of these students on me, trying to decide if I am trustworthy. As they have physically sought more closeness, taken risks to ask for help, and been more bold to confide in me this week, the Holy Spirit keeps showing me specific ways to show them that they are loved and deeply known by God. Please pray that God would continue to give myself and my colleagues all the wisdom we need to support these kiddos.

Finally, I’ve been thrilled to re-start my tutoring group with a couple students from my neighborhood. We have been practicing fluency and expression using Reader’s Theater scripts, weaving goofy voices, research, and descriptive writing into our first tutoring session of the fall. It was fun!

Application Ready

As some may remember, this summer, I felt God calling me to apply to the University of Edinburgh’s World Christianity program. Strategically, this program would position me to be studying the history of the Non-western church for a year before I design and prepare my Doctoral thesis. The dates perfectly align, and it would help me make the most out of my current degree program. I also have several friends in Scotland who I’d love to spend time with, and dreams of using this information to support Foundation work within International Christian Education in the future. As of now, I have all the materials ready for my application, and will be submitting it in October.

Other themes with God

August was a month for me of increased dreaming, with significant dreams coming nearly every night. I also experienced a slowing and then an acceleration in my perception of time as I met with Jesus and allowed him to shape my impressions of the coming school year. July seemed to drag on ad infinitim until I let Jesus meet my wrestlessness with a sense of his timelessness. Living from a place of rest in August meant that time seemed to flee behind me, and the days passed fast.

Prayer Requests

Please pray that God would:

  • Continue to increase the favor on my classroom
  • Give me a spirit of wisdom to know how to meet the needs of my students and weave my many responsibilities into a cohesive whole, both inside and outside of work
  • Continue his work of formation and Identity in me, so that I will be more equipped to lead others

Warmly,

Haley

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