The following blog was contributed by Emma Dodson from the Community Partnership Team at Hallow.
You’ve spent time planning a great lesson, looked up resources, and you’re ready to start praying. Then…your students are distracted and have an energy that derails everything.
We’ve all been there, and it’s frustrating, especially when the subject at hand is prayer! While we can’t provide a solution for antsy students, we’ve chatted with Catholic educators and compiled the best 10 tips for setting the right tone for prayer with students.
1. Preview What Is Expected of Students
“What’s next?”: a phrase commonly heard by parents and educators from students wondering what will be expected of them over the course of the rest of class or the day. Help students prepare themselves by setting clear expectations for your time together. Whether it’s their participation, posture, concentration, or observation, help students prepare for prayer by giving them 30 seconds to practice all of these things prior to beginning your prayer time. Give them the opportunity to share why they think these things are important. Once they have understood the “why” and the “how” they are more likely to succeed when the time comes to put it into practice during prayer time.
2. Share Discussion Questions Before Praying
Give students structure by sharing reflection questions ahead of time. For example, if you’re going to ask them to share a word that stood out to them, they’ll be more likely to listen closely and offer a thoughtful response when you call on them. If students will be broken into groups to reflect together, give them time to mentally prepare for a meaningful group discussion. Many students have anxiety about sharing, but with time to think of a response, they may be more likely to participate.
3. Create A Routine
We all feel safer with a routine, and your students are no different! Try to choose a routine that can remain the same – maybe the first 10 minutes of class on Friday is for prayer journaling. When students know what to expect, they will come into class mentally and spiritually prepared to be meaningful participants. If every time we got in the car the steering wheel moved differently, we would always be on edge when driving! Give your students the security of knowing the steering wheel won’t change by sharing what your prayer routine will be for the semester.
4. Cultivate A Silent Atmosphere
With different forms of immediate entertainment, silence can be very difficult for students. Help your students (and yourself) get comfortable with silence. Use tactics like a countdown to silence or “God is good, all the time” and other call back responses. If appropriate, give them time to practice by starting with 30 seconds of silence followed by a break and then move on to the longer silence for prayer time.
5. Make It “Feel” Prayerful
In addition to helping students become comfortable with silence, it is also important to remember that the rest of the classroom must feel prayerful as well. Even simply turning the lights off or dimming the lights can create a peaceful and calming atmosphere, allowing students to focus on prayer. Having a calm space can also mean helping students calm down their own bodies by doing breathing techniques and asking students to close their eyes. Although silence is often necessary for prayer, you might consider turning on some spiritual hymns to have a soft background noise during quiet time or journaling.
6. Give Students Something To Do
Try to remember what it was like to be a student. Sitting still is difficult, and young bodies are full of energy. Give students something to do with their bodies during prayer time: allow them to journal, or let them walk in silence outside in the courtyard. You can even let your students color in silence to let their bodies act while their minds wander in prayer.
7. Provide Students with Choices
Studies show that student choice increases intrinsic motivation to want to learn and participate. One way to do this is by incorporating more choices that allow students to feel a sense of ownership about their own learning and growth. That goes for prayer too! This looks different based on ages and teaching styles, but some examples of choice are allowing older students to pop in their headphones and listen to a prayer or a podcast like Bible In A Year with Fr. Mike Schmitz. For younger students, it could mean letting them choose where and how they want to sit. Giving students the freedom to choose makes them more willing participants in prayer time.
8. Get Parents Involved
Parents are the primary catechists of your students, and it’s important that they are involved in their child’s spiritual life. Keep in mind that not all students have parents who are fully equipped to lead their children in faith and it is difficult to give what you do not have. This is a great opportunity for certain activities to be inclusive learning experiences for the whole family. Think about inviting students to share their favorite prayers with their families, or perhaps you can email parents with ideas to continue praying at home. This might mean giving students the option of doing a take-home assignment that involves asking their parents what they think of a reading or a prayer. Get creative on how you can involve your student’s parents in their prayer lives!
9. Make Prayer Relevant
Whether there is something going on in class, at the school, or in the local/global news, make prayer relevant to your students’ lives. If you notice your students are more anxious than usual or nervous about a test they have later in the day, pray about it! If given the opportunity, students might even share intentions aloud as a way of sharing with the class what they could use prayers for! You will find students much more willing to pray about something they are experiencing or hearing about, rather than something they might not feel like they can relate to or understand.
10. Fill Your Own Cup
You can’t give what you do not have. God, of course, steps in when you need Him to, but set an example for your students by nourishing yourself physically and spiritually. Read scripture and other spiritual classics to gather knowledge you can share with your students while also putting into practice exactly what you are asking your students to do. Exercise and take time to enjoy nature to cultivate an appreciation for the world God has given to you and your students. Attend Mass, adoration, praise and worship nights or other religious events, and if possible, let your students see you there. Join other teachers in building each other up and supporting each other in prayer!
Bonus: Use The Hallow App
If you are looking for Catholic prayer and meditation resources to help guide you and your students in prayer, download the Hallow app and gain access to teacher resources like lesson plans, coloring pages, journal prompts, and more! NCEA members receive an exclusive discount on Hallow. Activate your account by going to https://hallow.app.link/e/10TipsForPraying.