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Making Connections to Our Faith

It’s the first thing you notice when you walk through the doors of our school, and it is no accident. It is a bulletin board that looks wonderful, but more importantly, brings to life and clearly illustrates the process of achieving the goals we set for ourselves and our students in our School Learning Improvement Plan.
As a group of like-minded teachers, we passionately discussed how to imbed and integrate our Catholic values with literacy goals and graduate expectations. We decided that individual virtues will be examined and taught explicitly and individually, with clearly defined learning goals, success criteria, assessment, descriptive feedback and next steps. The virtues will be taught school wide and across all divisions, modified to meet the academic and spiritual development of our students.  Beginning with the virtue of gratitude, we asked our student to honestly and sensitively respond to the notion of gratitude, in writing, in light of our gospel values.
Our first step was to set our learning goals together with our students. Goals were adapted to each division as follows:
Pre-Primary: I will draw a picture to show what I am thankful for.
Primary: I will tell what gratitude means to me and write about what I am thankful for.
Junior: I will define gratitude and write about what I am thankful for, using details from my own life.
Intermediate: I will clearly define gratitude and clearly communicate about the things for which I am grateful, using relevant details from my own experience.
Next, we defined how we would assess our final products. We talked with our students about the four levels of achievement and asked them to tell us what a level four answer might look like. Together, we built rubrics, using their words and ensuring their understanding. All this before anyone even began writing.
Then we looked critically at our final product. Referring to a rubric they helped create, they evaluated their own work and the work of their peers. They provided critical feedback to their peers with concrete suggestions for improvement, again based on the rubric.
Building on the suggestions from the feedback, we are now moving on to next steps and ways to improve our work when it comes to our next virtue.
In November, we continued our journey of faith by focusing on the virtue of peace. Once again our students expressed through a written response, what peace means to them on a personal level. The theme remained consistent throughout the divisions but the task was differentiated to meet the literacy and faith stages of the students. The Kindergarten students were given the prompt “Peace is …” Every child used pictures, some used words or initial sounds and others had their thoughts scribed. They communicated clearly and artistically about their beautiful acts of peace, which included praying, playing and sharing. The primary students responded to the prompts, “What peace means to me” and “How I am peaceful.” Using a few short sentences, and some pictures, they communicated their messages effectively. Junior and Intermediate students wrote a short paragraph defining peace and explaining how they can be peacemakers in their lives and particularly as mentors to younger students in our learning community. This simple integrated exercise allowed us to advance in our literacy, communication, faith and mentorship goals.
December’s virtue of charity allowed us to continue along our faith journey with our traditional and meaningful “Christmas Food Drive.” This year, in addition to having each child contribute to our food drive, we also added a written response to what charity means to us. Once again the younger students used words and pictures to communicate how and what they share in everyday life. Older students, wrote longer and more reflective responses to communicate how they can share their talents and gifts to benefit other individuals, their school and the community they live in. Parents were also engaged, through their direct support in making our food drive successful. Through this event, we addressed literacy, faith, parent engagement and community outreach goals.
In January, our focus was on the virtue of Courage. Students reflected on what courage means to them and how our faith is linked to the belief that we are not alone when faced with challenges. Our youngest students responded with words and pictures to the phrase, “I am brave when …” Older students created a shield of courage and used each quadrant to reflect on courage. In the first quadrant they communicated about the challenges they face, in another what courage means to them, in the third an example of how they demonstrate courage and in the last a personal prayer for courage. This exercise also linked to our literacy, communication and faith goals.