Resources for Catechists

A number is years ago I attended a presentation on the General Directory of Catechesis (GDC) by Fr. Alfred McBride.  Here are a few key points regarding important points that are needed in the work of catechesis today.

1. Catechesis needs a greater appreciation of the Catechumenal Process. The GDC encourages the catechumenal model as the ideal model for catechesis.

2. Catechesis must connect Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium. These three categories go together when teaching the Catholic Faith.

3. Catechesis on Jesus Christ must emphasize both the humanity and divinity of Christ. One aspect cannot be taught at the expense of the other.

4. Catechesis needs to bring forth the realities of grace and sin. Over the last 40 years the reality of sin is too often brushed over and only grace is emphasized.

5. The link between catechesis and liturgy is vital to drawing others into communion with Christ and the Christian life.

6. Catechetical methods need to focus on God’s pedagogy. Too often experience is used at the cost of authentic content. Using experience to draw people into the faith is at the service of what is true. Not truth at the service of experience.

“Catechesis aims to bring about in the believer an ever more mature faith in Jesus Christ, a deeper knowledge and love of his person and message, and a firm commitment to follow him.” (National Directory for Catechesis No. 19A)

I remember last year listening to a presentation about recruiting, training and forming volunteers.  The presenter, Bill Keimig, made some great points about the need to distinguish between catechist training and catechist formation.  He shared some interesting insights regarding the importance of leading catechists to being spiritually formed, i.e., our spiritual lives.  It is imperative that catechists have a foundation in the spiritual life if they are going to help make saints in the classroom.  Seeking to help students be saints is seeking to bring them to what Bill Keimig calls, “The joy of relationship”.  First and foremost the catechist must have a desire to grow in relationship with Christ.  It is also the aim of the catechist to foster a desire in students for this joy of relationship with God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit.   The more we focus on it in our own lives the more students and those around us will see Christ working in and through us.  Granted it is the parents primary role to instill this desire in their children, but DRE’s and catechists must also foster this.

Please do not misunderstand, catechist training is very important.  Knowledge of the faith enables us to draw the students into the mystery of Christ and God’s plan of salvation.  Catechists who are seeking to grow in their spiritual lives and seeking to be formed in their spiritual lives are going to succeed more than those who have great skills and tricks of the trade to make their classes fun and interactive.  The more we can engage students the better, however at the heart and center of our mission as catechists is drawing our students into that joy and love of relationship with Christ.

As we think about what we can do with our catechists this summer to help prepare them for teaching in the Fall.  Let us resolve as St. Maria Mazarello did to “make up our minds to become saints”.  Together with God’s grace and life in us we can do great things!  May God be with each one of you!

What do you do to train and form your volunteers?

Divine Mercy Sunday is just around the corner.  What a great way to teach kids about God’s Mercy.  An attribute of God is Mercy.  God thirsts for us tirelessly because He loves and cares for us so much.  His Mercy is great and boundless.  St. Faustina has been such a gift to the Church through her bringing us Jesus’ message of Mercy.  Here are some great resources for kids about the Divine Mercy Chaplet and various crafts from Catholic Icing , Divine Mercy Kids  , and Marians of the Immaculate Conception.

Last week I hosted a number of DRE’s at my parish to discuss how to use technology and media within ones religious education program.  Many of the participants wanted to know where to find resources to use in the classroom and how I go about choosing certain media clips that I found on the internet.  We had some good conversation about using technology in the classroom as a tool.  I stressed that it is only a tool and that the catechist is the linchpin and the heart of transmitting the Gospel.  The textbook, the video, music, art, etc each are tools and instruments but it is the catechist who pulls it all together and helps their students be engaged and drawn to a relationship with God.  Nothing is more important than the catechist — even in the third millennium.

Also, I provided the DRE’s with some resources I’ve used in the classroom: Website Resources for DRE Mtg Feb. 2012.  Some of them are video links and others are good places to go for information on catechesis.  Overall it was a really good meeting and many of the DRE’s were grateful for the discussion on the topic.

Does anyone have some good video clips you use for younger children?  How about other resources that you’ve found helpful?  Please share!

I posted this last year, but I think it’s worthwhile to re-post.  On I found some great teaching tips by Richard Leblanc, Ph.D. from York University.  Although it is not directly about faith formation I think there are some real gems in what Dr. Leblanc says.

1. GOOD TEACHING is as much about passion as it is about reason. It’s about not only motivating students to learn, but teaching them how to learn, and doing so in a manner that is relevant, meaningful, and memorable. It’s about caring for your craft, having a passion for it, and conveying that passion to everyone, most importantly to your students.

2. GOOD TEACHING is about substance and training students as consumers of knowledge. It’s about doing your best to keep on top of your field, reading sources, inside and outside of your areas of expertise, and being at the leading edge as often as possible. But knowledge is not confined to scholarly journals. Good teaching is also about bridging the gap between theory and practice. It’s about leaving the ivory tower and immersing oneself in the field, talking to, consulting with, and assisting practitioners, and liaising with their communities.

3. GOOD TEACHING is about listening, questioning, being responsive, and remembering that each student and class is different. It’s about eliciting responses and developing the oral communication skills of the quiet students. It’s about pushing students to excel; at the same time, it’s about being human, respecting others, and being professional at all times.

4. GOOD TEACHING is about not always having a fixed agenda and being rigid, but being flexible, fluid, experimenting, and having the confidence to react and adjust to changing circumstances. It’s about getting only 10 percent of what you wanted to do in a class done and still feeling good. It’s about deviating from the course syllabus or lecture schedule easily when there is more and better learning elsewhere. Good teaching is about the creative balance between being an authoritarian dictator on the one hand and a pushover on the other. Good teachers migrate between these poles at all times, depending on the circumstances. They know where they need to be and when.

5. GOOD TEACHING is also about style. Should good teaching be entertaining? You bet! Does this mean that it lacks in substance? Not a chance! Effective teaching is not about being locked with both hands glued to a podium or having your eyes fixated on a slide projector while you drone on. Good teachers work the room and every student in it. They realize that they are conductors and the class is their orchestra. All students play different instruments and at varying proficiencies. A teacher’s job is to develop skills and make these instruments come to life as a coherent whole to make music.

6. GOOD TEACHING is about humor. This is very important. It’s about being self-deprecating and not taking yourself too seriously. It’s often about making innocuous jokes, mostly at your own expense, so that the ice breaks and students learn in a more relaxed atmosphere where you, like them, are human with your own share of faults and shortcomings.

7. GOOD TEACHING is about caring, nurturing, and developing minds and talents. It’s about devoting time, often invisible, to every student. It’s also about the thankless hours of grading, designing or redesigning courses, and preparing materials to further enhance instruction.

8. GOOD TEACHING is supported by strong and visionary leadership, and very tangible instructional support resources, personnel, and funds. Good teaching is continually reinforced by an overarching vision that transcends the entire organization from full professors to part-time instructors and is reflected in what is said, but more importantly by what is done.

9. GOOD TEACHING is about mentoring between senior and junior faculty, teamwork, and being recognized and promoted by one’s peers. Effective teaching should also be rewarded, and poor teaching needs to be remediated through training and development programs.

10. AT THE END OF THE DAY, good teaching is about having fun, experiencing pleasure and intrinsic rewards…like locking eyes with a student in the back row and seeing the synapses and neurons connecting, thoughts being formed, the person becoming better, and a smile cracking across a face as learning all of a sudden happens. It’s about the former student who says your course changed her life. It’s about another telling you that your course was the best one he’s ever taken. Good teachers practice their craft not for the money or because they have to, but because they truly enjoy it and because they want to. Good teachers couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

Association for Experiential Education
Schools & Colleges Professional Group Newsletter
Spring 1999, Vol. 2, # 1 (Electronic Version)

Editor’s note: In 1998, professor Leblanc was awarded the Seymous Schulich Award for Teaching Excellence. His top ten requirements for good teaching was originally published in The Teaching Professor, Vol. 12, # 6, 1998.

What would you say are key teaching requirements?

This past Sunday evening at our S&L meeting with 8th grade Confirmation students we explored the Works of Mercy in a very unique way.  They learned specifically about 3 of the Works of Mercy.  We split 125 teens up into 3 groups where they rotated to 3 different stations.  

Here is a description of each Stations:

Feed the Hungry

Kids came into a room where they were given a colored piece of paper representing the country they were from.  Then they sat together at a table and would be given a certain amount of food based on how much food is available in that country.  The teens were asked a series of questions: 1) Did any of you get to choose what country you were from?  2) Is the population of the world evenly distributed on each continent?  The teens were then shown 1 large pizza which represented all the food in the world.  Africa got 8%, Asia 23% Europe 36%, South America 11% and North America 22%.  Teens quickly realized after we distributed the food by continent how not all the food in the world is distributed equally.  A third question was then posed: What do you notice about the food distribution.  Some examples were: Asia doesn’t have enough for everyone, Europe sure has a lot, North America has a lot also, South America does not have enough to go around.  Then every table was able to share their portion of the food (pizza).  A representative from each table then shared a little about their experience.

Give Drink to the Thirsty

At this station the large group was broken up into 4 smaller groups where each participated in a relay.  Here’s how it went: They went to the first line and took off 1 shoe and sock and then ran to the 2nd line where they had a pick up a 40 pound piece of luggage and carry it about 20 feet to a small water bucket where they had to stick their foot into it and pull out a twizzler (I’d recommend a gummy worms) and then they had a carry the luggage back to the place to they originally picked it up.  Finally they put their sock and shoe back on and tagged the next person in their line.  The 40 pound luggage represented the weight of the water that people have to carry back to their homes (average is about 2 miles).  The twizzlers represented all the kinds of tapeworms that are found in unclean drinking water (resulting in malnutrition, diseases & infections).  Putting their feet in the water shows that the water was not clean but 884 million people in our world do not have access to clean drinking water.    We discussed what we could do to make an impact and live out this work of mercy.  Giving money so a community could get access to clean drinking water, making spiritual sacrifices like taking shorter showers and not wasting water are some examples that we discussed.  

Shelter the Homeless

At this Station we had a woman who was homeless as a teenager.  She’s now 23 and doing alright.  She shared some of her experiences of being homeless.  The teens were mesmerized by what she had to share.  

At each station there was a donation basket where kids donated spare change they brought.  We probably raised between $25 and $35 (I am going to have to get it counted today).  We will donate it to Catholic Charities.

We closed the night by showing a video by Audio Adrenaline called Hands and Feet and had different students read a line from a prayer by St. Faustine about serving others.  It was a great night!!!
What have you done in your ministry to help make the works of mercy more concrete?   

I was reading a great blog post from speaking about how telling the story of salvation has been a common part of passing on the faith. Children from a young age ought to be taught the story (at their age level). Here are some things to keep in mind when telling the story that I found from the website mentioned above:

* The eternal life of the Blessed Trinity – an eternal exchange of love
* The creation of the angels – some chose to rebel
* The creation of humanity out of love to share in God’s own Trinitarian life
* Our temptation by Satin and our fall from grace through Original Sin
* God’s promise of a redeemer and plan of salvation
* God’s gradual gathering of a people (Israel) through successive covenants
* A brief history of Israel
* The promises and prophecies of the prophets
* Mary’s “yes” to angel Gabriel
* The Incarnation – which should be given great emphasis!
* The life of Jesus Christ
* Jesus’ redemptive sacrifice on the cross and resurrection from the dead
* The giving of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Catholic Church at Pentecost
* The Church as the Family and Kingdom of God – the Body of Christ
* A brief history of the Church – saints are in constant supply
* Today, we are living in the midst of this Story
* The sure promise and hope that Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead

Granted this is too much for say a 2nd or 3rd grader, but I believe each grade can be taught aspects of this story. Children love stories as do adults. All the more reason to make sure we are tell this story…it is our story and through Baptism we become a part of the story of salvation history.

Now that is Good News!!!

I found this great video about a teen realizing that it’s more than just going through the motions each week at Mass.  Check it out:

A few months ago Jared Dees of The Religion Teacher, wrote about 10 Teaching Strategies for Class Discussions. They are all great ideas for engaging students in the topic at hand.  Jared writes from his experience when he was a full time teacher in a school (so some of this is harder for a religious education setting, but most of his suggestions are also great for a Religious Education classroom).

• Popsicle Sticks and Note Cards – Use popsicle sticks or note cards with the students’ names on them to call on students randomly. This will keep students listening to the questions if they know they might be called on to answer. You can also use these to make sure all of the student have participated in a certain day.

• Ball Toss – To add a little fun and excitement, use a soft ball (or rolled up sock) to designate the single person that is able to speak. When another person wants to participate, they can raise their hand and wait for the ball to be passed to them. The teachers should also request the ball to speak.

• Think-Pair-Share – Give the students some time to formulate their answers to questions by working on them individually (“think”), then discussing their responses with a partner (“pair”), and finally sharing with the class what they discussed (“share”).

• Chalktalk – Write a word or phrase on the board. Give a few students markers (chalk) to write words or responses that they associate with the word or phrase. Once they have finished, they can give the markers to another student. Warn the them that there is no talking during the activity, only writing. Have the students without markers copy what students write on the board and write their personal thoughts to ensure that it stays quiet.

• Devil’s Advocate/Provacation – As the teacher/catechist, try to defend a statement that is outrageous or controversial. Make the students really believe that you mean what you say and they will be much more likely to discuss and debate. Rehash the discussion aftwards.

• Talking Chips – Distribute poker chips or tickets that can be used to participate in class. This will make sure that certain students do not dominate the discussions.

• Fishbowl Discussion – Select a group of students to sit in the front of the room in chairs arranged in a half-circle facing the class (shaped like a bowl). Pose questions to the students in the front of the room and allow them to discuss. The rest of the students in the audience may raise their hands to pose a question or take the place of a student “in the fishbowl” but they may not speak or engage in the discussion while at their desks. Note that this often requires that the students have learned/researched a lot about a topic before they can have a meaningful discussion such as this.

• Class Grid – This comes in handy for larger classes. Divide your seating chart into four quadrants (you don’t necessarily need a chart) by drawing two lines diving the paper up. Make check marks or dashes each time you call on a student in that part of the room. This will ensure that you are calling on students in each part of the room and not just the front (or side).

• Class Discussion Checklist – Print out a list of students in a table with days of the week on top of the table (or use your gradebook). Place a checkmark on the day next to the name of each student that participates in class. Note: it can be difficult to recall who participated afterward so make sure you check people off while they speak. This is challenging when you wish to be engaged in the discussion yourself.

• Discussion Rubric – When I graded class discussions my rubrics typically looked something like this:

A – Paraphrases, acknowledges, or refutes information related to the topic, reading, lecture, etc.
B – Showed comprehension of topic, reading, lecture, etc. Make good comments/arguments that may not be related to the reading/lecture.
C – Participates by actively paying attention by listening, watching, and/or taking notes.
D – Does not participate and shows minimum attentiveness to discussion
F – Shows unwillingness to participate and disrupts the discussion

Religious Education Programs are about to begin across the country.  I found 20 great catechetical resources that Loyola Press posted on their website: 20 Resources .  Enjoy!

Joe Paprocki from the Catechist Journey shared the following 11 tips for lesson planning from his book The Catechist Toolbox.  I have added my thoughts in blue.  Enjoy!

Planning and preparation are key to the success of any catechist. Here are 11 tips to help you with your lesson planning:

  1. Long-Range Planning—The lesson you are planning is only part of a larger plan for the whole year. Make sure you get a picture of the whole calendar year and see how much time you have to carry out what you hope to accomplish. Get a good “feel” for how this lesson can build off of the previous one and lay the foundation for the next.  The publisher has a scope and sequence of how the lessons are laid out so be sure to take a look at it.
  2. Get to Know Your Text and Your Participants—Get to know your textbook’s philosophy, strategies, approaches, strengths, and weaknesses. Get a sense of the whole book and then zero in on a set of chapters or a unit to see how each lesson fits in with the whole. At the same time, get to know the participants in your group and how capable they are of handling the text as it is written. Make adjustments as needed.  It is worth talking with your DRE about how you can get the most out of your textbook.  It is important to keep in mind that the textbook is only a tool – you as the catechist are the most important in regards to transmitting the faith and helping your students come to know and love Christ more.
  3. Examine the Teacher Notes in the Catechist Manual—A catechist manual is often a catechist’s best friend. Most catechetical texts today have excellent catechist manuals that lay out the lesson much like a blueprint and offer step-by-step instructions. The more you familiarize yourself with the teacher notes, the better you will be able to implement your lesson and still leave room for spontaneity.  Be sure to look up the paragraphs to the Catechism that the catechist manual lists.  The Catechism is a great reference resource and gives the heart of what we believe as Catholics.
  4. Visually Imagine Yourself Teaching the Lesson—Use your imagination to visualize the lesson you are about to teach. Imagine every possible scenario and how you would react. Picture how much time each segment of your lesson is going to take. Keep a notepad nearby to jot down important thoughts or ideas that can now become part of your lesson. Write down a list of materials that you will need for certain situations. Imagine problems that might arise and visualize how you may best handle them. With this visualization complete, you will feel as though you’ve already taught this lesson once and are now building upon it.  These are great tips to keep in mind when planning your lesson.  Consider planning a number of days before teaching it so you have some time to think about the lesson before actually teaching it.
  5. Make Adjustments to Fit the Needs of Your Participants—No lesson plan is ironclad and unchangeable. Once you’ve picked up the main focus of the lesson, think of your participants and their unique needs and make any necessary adjustments. You may have participants that are not very talkative, but the lesson calls for discussion. Perhaps you will need to make an adjustment and allow for some nonverbal form of expression. Whatever the case, the better you know your participants, the better you’ll be able to make adjustments so that the lesson will be as effective as possible.  This does not happen all at once but as the year goes on you’ll continue to improve and become an even stronger catechist.
  6. Know Your Learning Outcomes (Objectives)—Know what your participants are supposed to be able to know and/or do as a result of this lesson. Don’t settle for the old “my objective is to cover chapter four” routine. Learning outcomes (sometimes referred to as “objectives”) are statements found in your lesson plan that state concretely and in measurable terms what it is that your participants should be able to know and do when the session is complete. Without these stated learning outcomes, you would never have any hope of knowing whether you’ve accomplished what you had set out to do.  If your textbook has not already done this you should write out: by the end of the lesson students will be able to…
  7. Follow a Catechetical Process—Think of your lesson as a movement: you want to move your learners from where they are to where Jesus wants them to be. St. Ignatius of Loyola described this as entering through their door but leaving through your door. This movement, called the catechetical process, involves four steps:
    • Engaging the life experience of the participant
    • Exploring the concepts to be taught (Scripture and Tradition
    • Reflecting and integrating the concepts with the lived experience
    • Responding with a new way of living
    • It is important to not focus on experience at the expense of what God has revealed.  I’ve seen at times that an emphasis on experience can be at the expense of what the Church teaches – just be sensitive to that.  At the heart of what we as catechists are doing is helping our students to come to know what God has revealed to us through the Scriptures and the Church (Apostolic Tradition) so they can love and encounter Christ more fully.
  8. Get Your Materials Ready—Be sure that you have all the materials you will need to complete the lesson properly. There’s nothing worse than reaching a point in the lesson when you tell participants to cut pictures out of magazines only to find out that you don’t have scissors (or magazines). Visualizing the lesson ahead of time will help you to see what materials you will need that perhaps were not listed in the instructor manual.  This is one of the reasons looking ahead is so important.  Maybe your parish has a resource you can check out in order to prepare for next weeks lesson.
  9. Have Plan B Ready—By visualizing the lesson ahead of time, you may discover that what you’re hoping to accomplish may not work. Always have an option ready in case something falls flat or just isn’t working the way you had hoped.  This can be challenging because you only have so much time to plan to begin with, but consider some simple plan B’s: If the skits you had planned don’t seem like they’ll work and you planned 20 minutes for them what will you do? Maybe have the students answer some questions in small groups and then report to the group at large or maybe they just need to take a little time to pray – pray a decade or two of the Rosary to go to the church for a brief period of time to pray.  Consider having a question box that when things are not going great you pull a few questions out and answer them.
  10. Overplan—When serving dinner, it is always better to have more food than not enough. Likewise, when it comes to your lessons, it is always better to prepare more than you think you’ll need. Until you learn how to effectively gauge your time, it is quite possible that what you think will comprise an entire session will only cover half of the allotted time. When this happens, panic tends to set in. On the other hand, if you have more material than you need, you can relax and decide how to adjust your next session to make room for what you didn’t accomplish in this session.  The textbook gives so many suggestions that it’s difficult to discuss all the possible details and ideas the textbook gives or your DRE shares with you.  Consider what you might do if you have time.  Also, see what the saint of the day is and share about that saint if you have time.
  11. Pray—Before you sit down to plan a lesson, take some time to pause and ask the Holy Spirit to guide you. Do your planning and preparation in a prayerful environment. Light a candle. Put on some instrumental music. Place a Bible on the table next to you. Dim the lights. Ask the Holy Spirit to inspire and guide you and to give you the help you need to be focused, loving, and creative.  Here is a great prayer, but simple to the Holy Spirit: “Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of thy Faithful; and enkindle in them the fire of Thy love. Send forth Thy Spirit and they shall be created, and thou shalt renew the face of the earth.”

The General Directory For Catechesis speaks of 7 foundation stones or basic elements of all catechesis.  They are essential for catechesis to be complete.  Whether you are speaking to 1st graders or to 12th graders these elements should be included.   Paragraph #130 of the GDC says the following:

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, for its part, brings to catechesis “the great tradition of catechisms”. (443) In the richness of this tradition the following aspects deserve attention:

– The cognitive or truth dimension of the faith: this is not only living attachment to God but also assent of intellect and will; the catechisms constantly remind the Church of the need for the faithful to have an organic knowledge of the faith, however simple in form;

– An education in the faith, which is well rooted in all its sources, embraces all the different dimensions of faith profession, celebration, life and prayer.

The wealth of the patristic tradition and the tradition of catechisms comes together in the actual catechesis of the Church, enriching her in her own concept of catechesis and of its contents. These traditions bring to catechesis the seven basic elements which characterize it: the three phases in the narration of the history of salvation (the Old Testament, the life of Jesus Christ and the history of the Church) and the four pillars of its exposition (the Creed, the Sacraments, the Decalogue and the Our Father). With these seven foundation stones, both of initiatory catechesis and of continuing Christian development, various schemes and styles may be devised, in accordance with the different cultural situations of those to whom catechesis is addressed.

I had posted this a while back under “The Ideal Catechist”.  I was looking to pass this on to some catechists and thought I’d post it again with a few edits.  Also, I think “The Effective Catechist” is a better title.

The ideal catechist is first and foremost a witness of Christ.  He/She seeks to authentically transmit the truths of the Faith to others by modeling Christ and allowing the Holy Spirit to speak through them. Here are a few characteristics (in no particular order) that an ideal catechist in a parish would seek to live out in their ministry as catechists.

1. Be active in the community where they serve.

2. Be committed to this apostolate (defined as an association of persons dedicated to the propagation of a religion or a doctrine).  It is more than merely volunteering.

3. Be enthusiastic about the Catholic Faith.

4. Be flexible to allowing the Holy Spirit to lead.

5. Have a growing knowledge of Scripture and Tradition (be immersed in growing in your faith).

6. Love those you are sharing the Faith with.

7. Be patient (meeting the students where they are at).

8. Be a person of prayer (don’t underestimate the power of praying for your students and your ministry as a catechist).

9. Be punctual: Teaching the next generation the importance of being on time is very valuable.  It makes a difference when they see us calm and collected when they arrive.

10. Be self-assured: Be sure of what you have prepared and trust the Holy Spirit to lead you.

11. Have a sense of humor – joy and laughter opens others up to the message you are proclaiming.

12. Have a willingness to be a team player – none of use does it on our own – we can always learn from others.

Every catechist desires to grow in his/her ability to be a good communicator and witness of the Faith. Here are 10 skills that will contribute to anyone seeking to pass on the faith and engage the students you are ministering to.

1. Planning Good Lessons – taking the time to plan your lesson is one of the best gauges of weather your lesson will be successful or not.

2. Leading Prayer Experiences – Helping lead children in pray is a sure way of getting them not only to hear and know “about” God but also to encounter Him.

3. Communicating Effectively – It is important to find ways to communicate to students effectively. Often in our educational environment in the U.S. kids seem to allow very little to go from what they are hearing to what they are actually processing and actually comprehending.  Catechists need to communicate in a way that engages students.

4. Involving Children – The more you involve your students the more engaged they will be and the more they will enjoy their Religious Education experience.  Lecturing or reading from the text alone will not draw the students into the truths and message that you as a catechist are trying to communicate.  At the heart of our message is a person – Christ.

5. Establishing Discipline – Either you discipline the kids or they discipline you. In today’s class environment students that distract draw their classmates attention away from the lesson and onto the themselves.  Classroom time is very valuable and there is no time for students who seek to distract you (the catechist) or the other students from the precious little time you have with your students each week.

6. Using A Variety of Teaching Methods – one week break your students into small groups, another week have them work individually, and another week ask for volunteers, etc… Also, use different ways or means to communicate your message (art, video, music, illustrations to name a few).

7. Asking Questions Properly– if you ask questions that require yes or no answers that is all you will get.  Ask questions that will draw more out of your students and that will draw the students deeper into the subject at had.  Sometimes the very questions that are asked actually distract from the main points you want to make because students begin to share various experiences that don’t help focus on the lesson.

8. Leading Good Discussions – depending on the age discussion has the potential to really help students not only think and absorb what they are learning about but also to draw more out of them because they desire to share. It is not that they don’t have something to share.   It could be that they are not receiving the right questions that will draw them out and allow them to share.

9. Offering Children Positive Feedback – St. Paul said “Encourage one another while it is still today” (Heb. 3:13). Students desire to be encouraged in their lives. It is no different when it comes to their faith.  The only requirement is that you are authentic in your encouragement.

10. Working Well with the Text – The textbook is only a tool. It is not the crux of your lesson.  You as the catechist are the primary communicator, not the textbook.  You are the primary witness and messenger of the Good News, not the textbook or the video you show, or the activity you have your students participate in but you are the one who brings it together so that the students are able to grow in their knowledge of the faith and their relationship with God.  Yes the textbook can be a good guide for what you are going to cover but it should never be the sole thing you depend on to teach your students (I only recommend very small doses of reading out of the textbook).

What are the most important things to teach?  Since I only have so much time in the classroom, what do I have to teach?  You might have heard this asked before by a catechist.  I want to share 5 things that are essential components to passing on the Faith.

1. The Holy Trinity – The Father, Son and Holy Spirit How does each lesson relate to the Holy Trinity.  The essential and foundational doctrine of the Catholic Faith is the Holy Trinity.  If your lesson does point toward or relate related in some way to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit then it would be best if it was left out of your lesson.

2. Scripture – A driving force in the classroom. Do you use Scripture in your opening prayer?  Do you use Scripture when teaching about the specific topic of the day?  My professor use to always say – Is Scripture the driving force of your lesson?  Using Scripture is vital to passing on the faith to the students in our classrooms.

3. Tradition – Handing it on The Apostles began to proclaim the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all they met and encountered.  Then the successors of the Apostles did the same.  It was about 400 years before anyone referred to the New Testament Scriptures because it was not until the Council of Rome in 382 that initially made a decision which books were divinely inspired and which ones were not.  St. Paul said, “So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter”. (2 Thes. 2:15). There were many things that were not written down.  This is called Apostolic Tradition (also known as Sacred Tradition) Many teachings and belief were passed on or handed down orally to fellow believers.  The Tradition of the Church is at the heart of what we teach in the classroom, not our personal opinions or only what can be found in the Bible.

4. Model’s of Faith – Saints There are thousands of models that the Church has at her fingertips to share with the students.  These saints lived for Christ and many were inspired by them and their own lives were transformed because of their example.  Continue to share about the lives of the saints in your classroom (even when they are not specifically mentioned in your textbook), because students love to hear stories about these interesting and fascinating people.

5. Prayer – at the heart of it all Help your students learn to pray.  Prayer is much more than mere words that we have memorized but a raising of the heart and mind to God.  Open and close every class in prayer and seek to provide prayer experiences that help your students depend their love for God.

sowing seedsThe Association of Catechumenal Ministry, an organization that focuses its work on catechizing adults who are preparing to come into the Catholic Church through the RCIA, articulates 8 key elements for authentic catechesis.  They are worth taking a look at for all in the ministry of passing on the Faith.

Key #1: Centered on Christ – (1 Cor 2:2)

“We must therefore say that in catechesis it is Christ, the Incarnate Word and Son of God, who is taught.  Everything else is taught with reference to him and it is Christ along who teaches.  Anyone else teaches to the extent that he is Christ’s spokesman, enabling Christ to teach with his lips.” (Pope John Paul II, On Catechesis in Our Time, #6)

Key #2: Systematic and Organic – (Acts 20:26-28)

“Authentic catechesis is always an orderly and systematic initiation into the revelation that God has given of himself to humanity in Christ Jesus, a revelation stored in the depths of the Church’s memory and in sacred Scripture, and constantly communicated from one generation to the next by a living active traditio.” (Pope John Paul II, On Catechesis in Our Time, #22)

Key #3: Associated with Life Experience – (1 John 1:1-4)

“No one can arrive at the whole truth on the basis solely of some simple private experience.  That is, to say without an adequate explanation of the message of Christ who is ‘the way and the truth and the life’ (John 14:6).  Nor is any opposition to be set up between a catechesis taking life as its point of departure and a traditional, doctrinal and systematic catechesis.” (Pope John Paul II, On Catechesis in Our Time, #22)

Key #4: Promotes the Sacramental Life – (John 6:56-57)

Catechesis always has reference to the sacraments.  Sacramental life is impoverished and very soon turns to hollow ritualism if it is not based on serious knowledge of the meaning of the sacraments, and catechesis becomes intellectualized if it fails to come alive in the sacramental practice. (Pope John Paul II, On Catechesis in Our Time, #23)

Key #5: Driven by Scripture – (2 Tim 3:16-17)

“The Ministry of the Word – pastoral preaching, catechetics, and all form of Christian instruction… is healtlhily nourished and thrives in holiness through the Word of Scripture.”  (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #132)

“The Church desires that in the Ministry of the Word, sacred Scripture should have a pre-eminent position.” (General Directory for Catechesis, #127)

Key #6: Fosters the Moral Life – (1 Tim 6:18-19)

“Conversion to Jesus Christ implies walking in his footsteps.  Catechesis must, therefore, transmit to the disciples the attitudes of the Master himself… This moral testimony, which is prepared for by catechesis, must always demonstrate the social consequences of the demands of the Gospel.” (General Directory for Catechesis, #85)

Key #7: Connected to the Ecclesial Community –(Phil 2:1-4)

“Catechesis runs the risk of becoming barren if no community of faith and Christian life takes the catechumen in at a certain stage of his catechesis.  That is why the ecclesial community at all levels has a twofold responsibility with regard to catechesis: it has the responsibility of providing for the training of its members, but it also has the responsibility of welcoming them into an environment where they can live as fully as possible what they have learned.” (Pope John Paul II, On Catechesis in Our Time, #24)

Key #8: Directed to the Life of Prayer – (1 Tim 2:1-4)

“When catechesis is permeated by a climate of prayer, the assimilation of the entire Christian life reaches its summit.  This climate is especially necessary when the catechumen and those to be catechized are confronted with the more demanding aspects of the Gospel and when they feel weak or when they discover the mysterious action of God in their lives.” (General Directory for Catechesis, #85)


scripture1How do you use Scripture in your classroom?  Using the Scirptures in your teaching is key to drawing students closer to Christ and His ways.  Here are three great ways to use Scripture in your classroom:

1) Use Scripture during your Opening Prayer.    Choose a Scripture that connects with the lesson of the day or the liturgical season or the feast/memorial of that day.  This helps studnets see how important it is to turn to God and seek his wisdom and guidance.

2.  Have Studnets look up Scripture. The primary way to helps students be familiar with the Bible is to have them look things up themselves.  This may take a little longer to move forward with your lesson but the value outweighs the cost.  If studnets are looking Scripture up then they are also learning that your teaching is rooted in Holy Scripture.

3. Close your Lesson in Prayer using Scripture.  Seeking God at the end of your class time through prayer and again drawing upon the word of God to direct and lead them until you meet again is important.  It would also be great to assign students a Scripture to look up this week and to pray with.  For example, I’ve asked students to read Psalm 23 everyday this next week to see what God is saying to them.  After a week there will be some who say that God spoke the same thing to them every day they read it and others who share that God spoke one thing one day and another thing the next time they read it.

We want to be soaked in the Sacred Scriptures.  St. Paul said, It is “living and active cutting between bone and marrow” (Hebrews 4:12).  May the students you teach see your love for God’s revelation through the Scriptures.