As teachers, we have the honor and privilege of helping our students see themselves as wonders created by an almighty, artistic, and loving God. Of course, we can’t openly share this message, but we can find ways to incorporate God’s love and encouragement in our classrooms. The more our students feel God’s love for them, the better they will understand who God says they are. We can help our students recognize their God-given identities through the following practical and adaptable activities.
1. Pray over your students. Ask God to take the lead in helping you guide students toward seeing themselves as precious and loved masterpieces, created in the image of God. You can start by simply talking with God about your students, praying for them by name. Throughout the school year, you can ask God to help you continually speak the truth about your students’ God-given identities. While in your classroom, you can pray over each desk, asking the Holy Spirit to minister to and prepare the heart and mind of the student who sits there.
Tip: You can use your class roster as a guide to ensure that not one student misses out on the blessings resulting from your prayers.
2. Learn about your students. Taking time to learn about your students’ interests and goals shows them that their identity matters to you. Crafting a “name deck” can help you learn about your students and help them learn about each other. To make cardstock name decks, first, cut colored cardstock into small rectangles to mimic a deck of playing cards. Give each student a card and have them write their names, the pronunciations of their names if necessary, and a detail (a favorite hobby, a bucket list item, a future career path, etc.) about themselves. Challenge yourself to learn something about each student’s interests within a few days of creating the name decks. As a class, you could play a guessing game by reading a detail from one student’s card and then having the rest of the class guess to whom it belongs.
Tip: The name deck can also be used throughout the school year when choosing an order for an activity, sorting students into groups, drawing for prizes, etc.
3. Celebrate each student for a day. Yes, even upperclassmen! Set aside a “special day” during the school year for each student in your class to be recognized for their unique gifts and talents. Sometime prior to the first student’s special day, if possible, arrange desks into a large circle. Pass out an envelope and a sheet of paper to each student. Ask students to write their names on their envelopes and at the top of their papers. Then, pass the papers clockwise and have each student in the class list something he or she admires or appreciates about the student whose name is at the top. Before the papers make it back to where they started, they should be placed into their accompanying envelopes and given to you. Once you have reviewed the appropriateness of each compliment, these special words of encouragement can be shared on each student’s special day.
Tip: It’s a good idea to model quality comments before telling the students to write their compliments. For example, You are cool—no. I admire the way you make new students feel welcome—yes.
4. Speak all the good you can of your students. Author and speaker Dale Carnegie left us dozens of tips for building each other up. One of my favorites is to ceaselessly search for positive and encouraging things to say to others. This can be applied in your classroom by setting a goal of sharing two to three specific verbal affirmations with your students during each class period. In addition, you could mail or email at least one positive note a week to a student or his or her parents. Your words will help positively influence your students’ emerging identities.
Tip: A mailing label sheet can serve as a visual record of which students have not yet received a note home. If emailing, you can use a digital list.
5. Make your farewell count. After spending an entire school year together, teachers are uniquely qualified to identify the strengths they see in their students—to acknowledge them, name them, and bring them to light. Although time-consuming, this last positive identity-builder of the year is definitely worth it. First, use cardstock to create inexpensive, folded greeting cards for each student. Next, pray over the cards before you even pick up a pen. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you the words He wants each student to hear and hold onto, potentially for a lifetime. Then… write. Finally, with just a few minutes left on the last day of school, pass out the cards along with another silent prayer that God would use them to continue building each student’s understanding of his or her identity as a child of God.
Tip: Take a break if you feel you are beginning to write the messages on the cards through your own effort rather than through the power of the Holy Spirit.
Kristi Shanenko is a follower of Christ, a farmer’s wife, a mother of teenagers, and an English instructor at a small public high school in the Midwest.
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