Gospel Values Across the Curriculum
About this articleThis article focuses on Catholic identity and asks how schools are fully living it out and celebrating it! Fr. Kevin Richter encourages a broader perspective in which Catholic identity is infused into every aspect of the school. He encourages a process for incorporating Gospel values into the curriculum. Different segments of the school community choose a Gospel value to work with. This value may correspond to a certain liturgical season. Resource materials are prepared for faculty, and a faculty in-service is provided, during which the faculty reflects on the value and the development of plans and reinforcements. The final step is evaluation so that ongoing growth can occur. Sample forms are included.
Given the current educational climate in our country, most schools are making a concerted effort to create a clear vision for education that will carry them into the twenty-first century. That forward-looking "visioning" and "refocusing" for the future includes an additional dimension and question within a Catholic school: What is the particular "Catholic identity" of our school? In other words, how are we, as a school, fully living out and celebrating our Catholic identity? If we are serious in asking and seeking answers to that question, we will probably find that some of our schools are in danger of taking for granted their Catholic identity.
A Broadened Understanding of Catholic Identity
In some cases, an understanding of Catholic identity seems to be limited to and measured by frequency of Mass attendance, religion classes, sacramental preparation programs, and the presence of priests or sisters in the school. But there are many reasons why that is not enough. If Catholic schools are to survive into the next century and, most important, if our students are really to "catch" the faith that they are taught, that traditional understanding of Catholic identity has to be broadened. We need to stir administrators, faculty and staff, and students and parents to a realization that their school is about something profound, something that is deeper than "preparation for success" and is shown in more than the presence of certain Catholic classes and rituals in the school. The school's Catholic identity needs to come through in every aspect of the school's daily operation and program. In particular, Catholic schools must enable all administrators, faculty, and staff to accept their essential role as active ministers of the Gospel.
A Coordinated Process
Toward that end, a coordinated process is needed to infuse Gospel values into the curriculum, something that we have undertaken at the two school systems where I serve as campus minister. That process not only can broaden everyone's understanding of what it means to be a Catholic school, but also can serve as a specific invitation for all administrators, faculty, and staff to assume their roles as ministers in the school.
Catholic schools have always recognized the importance of infusing Gospel values into the content of all curriculum areas--math, science, English, history, and so on--by presenting and teaching the values given to us in the Scriptures in each and every classroom. In a self-study that one of our schools did a few years ago to evaluate the school's strengths and weaknesses, we found that the "infusion of Gospel values" into the school's life was strongly recommended. While we believed that most faculty members were making some effort to infuse Gospel values into their curriculum areas, we realized that clear and explicit examples of where or how that was taking place could not be pointed out. If Gospel values were being infused into the curriculum, that process was being done spontaneously and at the discretion of each individual teacher. We certainly wanted to affirm and encourage those individual efforts, but we also decided to explore a coordinated effort by the entire school to infuse Gospel values into the curriculum.
The process that we developed has become a point of focus for our entire school faith community: students, faculty, administration, parents, and the parish communities as well. It was formulated during the 1994-1995 school year for Saint Mary's School System in Remsen, Iowa, through the joint efforts of Margie Kraft, the elementary principal; Sr. Elaine Tworek, SLW, the high school principal; and me, the campus minister for Saint Mary's High School and for Spalding Catholic High School in Granville, Iowa, which is under the Spalding Catholic School System. Because of the cooperation and enthusiasm of faculty, staff, and administration in both school systems, the process has been successful, and we continue to work at it. In this article I would like to explain that process.
First Step: Choose a Gospel Value
To begin with, we choose a particular Gospel value as our focus during a specified period of time (often associated with liturgical seasons such as Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter). We work from a list of Gospel values that we adapted from one prepared by the National Catholic Educational Association (NCEA). Our choice of a value is partly determined by the season, and partly determined by the particular dynamics or perceived needs of the school community. For instance, during the Easter season last year, we chose "hope." Preferably, the choice of a value to focus on is made by people from different segments of the school community along with the campus minister.
In the following list, adapted from the NCEA's, each Gospel value is followed by related values that may stimulate thinking about the Gospel value:
- Community. Acceptance, appreciation of creation, belonging, caring, courage, empathy, hope, involvement, justice, love, peace-seeking, prayer, respect, service, stewardship, trust
- Courage. Caring, concern, discipline, fortitude, patience, perseverance, prayer, prudence, respect, restraint, sacrifice, self-denial, temperance, truth
- Faith. Almsgiving, belonging, compassion, doctrine, gratitude to God, hope, involvement, joy, love, prayer, self-denial, revelation, truth
- Hope. Caring, compassion, joy, optimism, prayer, prophecy, providence, realism, trust
- Justice. Belonging, caring, commitment, community, concern, conflict resolution, courage, empathy, equal distribution of goods, human dignity, interdependence, involvement, love, peace-seeking, respect, risk, stewardship
- Love. Acceptance, appreciation of creation, caring, community, compassion, concern, creativity, discipline, doctrine, faith, hope, interdependence, involvement, justice, prudence, reconciliation, respect, reverence, sacrifice, self-esteem, stewardship, temperance
- Reconciliation. Caring, commitment, compassion, conflict resolution, concern, conversion, correction, forgiveness, interdependence, involvement, love, optimism, prayer, respect, self-improvement, tolerance
- Service. Almsgiving, caring, commitment, community, compassion, concern, courage, empathy, equal distribution of goods, hope, involvement, joy, justice, love, prayer, respect, stewardship
Second Step: Prepare Resource Materials
Once the value is chosen, the campus minister puts together for the faculty resource materials that include the following items:
- Scripture passages that refer to the Gospel value. These can be gathered with the use of a concordance. In addition to finding Scripture sources that refer to the value explicitly, it helps to seek out passages that implicitly relate to that value, though the term does not come up in the passages. For instance, the value of courage is implicit in the story of Jesus confronting the Pharisees as they are about to stone to death the woman caught in adultery (John 8:2-11). Related passages that the faculty might find useful for personal prayer as well as for reflection, prayer, or display in the classroom are provided.
- Quotations related to the Gospel value, gathered from a resource listing famous quotations.
- Stories related to the Gospel value, gathered from any other available resources, such as the Sower's Seeds series by Brian Cavanaugh, Anthony de Mello's books of brief stories (Song of the Bird, Taking Flight, The Heart of the Enlightened, and so on), and prayers and articles from other sources.
Third Step: Hold an In-Service
The next step in our process for infusing values is a faculty in-service. To begin the in-service, each faculty member is given a reflection-and-prayer page with one or two scriptural passages that relate to the Gospel value and a few reflection questions seeking to evoke the faculty members' thoughts about the value. As we begin the in-service in that prayerful context, we spend time processing these questions:
- What do the Scriptures tell us about the particular Gospel value we are focusing on? How is the scriptural understanding of this value different from the cultural perspective on the value?
- What does this value "look like," "sound like," and "feel like" when it is lived out? What is the observable behavior that results from living this value? How do I know this value when I see it?
- What are the particular areas of strength in our school faith community (faculty, staff, students, parents) in living this value? Why are those areas so strong? What are the root causes of their strength?
- What are the particular areas of weakness in our school community (faculty, staff, students, parents) in living this particular value? Why are those areas so weak? What are the root causes of their weakness?
- What can we do as a faith community to foster or teach this value during this particular learning period--within the school as a whole? within the parish? within the larger community?
- What can be done within my classroom or my academic discipline to foster the learning of this value? What can I do with the physical environment to promote or focus on this value? Where and how can I infuse this Gospel value within the subject matter that I teach?
- What is my personal assessment of how I live this Gospel value? What are my areas of strength and weakness? What are my personal goals for improving my own living out of this Gospel value?
Clearly, a considerable portion of the in-service is dedicated to this reflection process. The serious time that is given to this process is a measure of our renewed commitment to strengthening and building upon the Catholic identity of our school. In addition, this in-service time addresses another great need in our Catholic schools: the need for faculty faith formation and faith sharing. Further prayer services for faculty can easily be centered around the Gospel value of focus.
Fourth Step: Develop Plans for Class
At the end of the in-service for processing the Gospel value, the faculty are given the packet of resource materials that have been prepared. They are also provided with two forms for designing lesson plans. The first form is actually a "T-bar," which is used for their own brainstorming on each class they teach. For each class, on the left side of the page the teacher is asked to list the skills, projects, or units that are already planned during the upcoming specified time period. On the right side the teacher is asked to list at least three ideas for infusing the Gospel value as it possibly relates to the subject matter listed on the left side of the page, which is already going to be taught. It is important to emphasize to teachers that we are not asking them to set aside time from their planned curriculum for teaching this value, but inviting them to specifically find ways to infuse this value into what they are already doing in the classroom. Obviously, that infusion of values is more easily accomplished in some disciplines than in others, but a few examples will point out the possibilities throughout the curriculum.
During the Easter season when our school was focusing on the value of hope, the math teacher came to me for assistance in brainstorming ideas for the math curriculum. When asked about topics being covered, she said that they were focusing on math problem solving. She explained that when students were working on problems, she was trying to teach them that they had to look for clues within the problem. When the right clues were found and put together, then the solution would follow. As we discussed this, it became clear that this, in itself, was a lesson about hope and about life. In life, we look for clues that point to God's presence, and we look for clues that will give a sense of meaning to life. When those clues are found, we discover a direction for our life, and hope is renewed. A wonderful lesson taught in a few minutes during math class!
In English classes, students who were studying the Japanese haiku form of poetry wrote haiku on hope. In the vocal music department, students were working on music from the musical play Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Some time was given to recalling the story of Joseph as a story of hope in the midst of apparently hopeless circumstances.
During the season of Lent, when focusing on the value of courage, the junior high science classes created a "Wall of Courage," featuring scientists who had demonstrated courage in their work. In the third grade, when students were asked to describe a particular character in a book, the teacher was pleasantly surprised to find that almost all the students immediately chimed in together to describe the character as a person of courage. This list of examples is only a sampling of some of the creative lesson plans designed by the faculty, but it clearly highlights the possibilities inherent in this process.
Having brainstormed ideas on the T-bar form, the teacher then uses the second form for recording the details of the specific lesson plans such as those described above. Faculty members are asked to fill out one of these forms for each of the three ideas they have for infusing the Gospel value into their curriculum area. This form also includes the date that this particular lesson plan will be implemented.
After these forms (the T-bar and the three lesson plans) are filled out, faculty members are asked to make copies of them to be turned in to the principal. The principal reviews them with the campus minister and keeps them on file. These lesson plans and their implementation then become part of the professional evaluation of each faculty member in the school.
Fifth Step: Create Reinforcements of the Value Everywhere
Once we arrive at the specified time period, we strongly emphasize visuals that we display in the classrooms and in the public areas of the school and that help to highlight the value we are focusing on (e.g., banners, bulletin boards, artwork). In our schools, even the computer screen savers have messages that reflect the Gospel value. It is the role of the campus minister to make sure that the value is included in liturgies, prayers, homilies, and so on. The principal and the campus minister work together to keep the value before the entire school community (e.g., through faculty bulletins and parent letters) and in the outreach to the larger community (e.g., in parish liturgies and bulletins, school newspapers, and alumni newsletters). Finally, the campus minister and the principal keep encouraging, affirming, and celebrating any and all creative and dynamic experiences connected with the infusion of this value whenever they see them in the school.
Sixth Step: Evaluate
The final step is always to evaluate: How did this focus period go? What were the good things that happened? What aspects of our program for infusing Gospel values need to change? What can we improve? What concerns do we have?
Both of the school systems I am connected with have committed themselves to this process. Our experience has been very positive. In an evaluation of this process with the faculty, several teachers specifically noted that this process has invited more personal reflection on their own faith, and has also made them more conscious of their roles as ministers in a Catholic school. Our schools have come to believe that one essential element in renewing and revisioning the Catholic identity of our schools is this infusion of Gospel values across the curriculum. In the words of one of our principals: "The Gospel becomes a lived reality from the inside out. The impact is on the entire community."
Idea Form for the Infusion of Gospel Values
into the Curriculum
Gospel value being focused on: ___________________________
Time period for focus (e.g., Lent, or February 21 to April 5): ____________________
Skills, concepts, projects, units
Ideas for incorporating
Instructor's name: ___________________________ Signature: _____________________________________
Date: ___________________ Principal's signature: _______________________________________________
Lesson Plan for the Infusion of Gospel Values
into the Curriculum
Subject matter or course title: _____________________________
Name of instructor: __________________________________
Gospel value being focused on: _________________________
Time period for focus: ________________________________
Date to be presented: _________________________________
Goal: To infuse this Gospel value into the curriculum
Assessment of students' reactions:
Evaluation of lesson:
Fr. Kevin Richter, a priest of the Diocese of Sioux City, Iowa, is the campus minister for Saint Mary's High School in Remsen, Iowa, and Spalding Catholic High School in Granville, Iowa.
Acknowledgments(Copyright © 2000 by Saint Mary's Press. Permission is granted for the free use of this article for classroom or campus ministry purposes; however, it may not be republished in any form without the written permission of Saint Mary's Press. For more resources to support your ministry, call 800-533-8095, or visit our Web site at www.smp.org.)
Published February 1, 1996.