With each new class of students I teach, I always have the same classroom theme. Having a theme has been a worthwhile and unifying activity. I have adapted this theme from a speech given by Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ, in 1973. Fr. Arrupe’s speech was called Men for Others. Our theme is Third Graders for Others. My class works to help others in our world, community, classroom, and home.
We have many opportunities to practice this theme. To help others in our world, we participate in the CRS Operation Rice Bowl. To help others in our community, we are involved in food drives and we make May Day Baskets for our local homeless shelter. To help others in the classroom, we quietly help one another by being kind. I’m sure with all this practice our classroom theme is also being practiced at home.
I keep track of each kind act we do by spelling out the phrase Third Graders for Others on our whiteboard, one letter at a time. However, the kids have to “earn” each letter of the phrase. For example, kids can earn letters by helping a classmate pick up his or her spilled crayons, tearing out a Phonics page for an absent student, or helping a classmate clean his or her desk. The possibilities to earn a letter are endless. My only stipulation is that they can’t do a kind act and overtly say to me, “Did I earn a letter?” I encourage quiet acts of kindness.
Once we spell out the phrase, we perform a special act of kindness: We deliver a chocolate bar to another adult in the building. I take three nominations and we vote who will receive the candy bar. When the adult is chosen, two students deliver it and tell the adult why she is the recipient of the candy bar. This part of the activity teaches that one way to practice kindness is to give a special and unexpected gift to someone.
Our school also has a yearly theme. Many times it is the theme from Catechetical Sunday or it is taken from our retreat at the beginning of the year. Seeing the theme displayed in every classroom is a reminder to each student that we are working together as a whole school. This year’s theme is Open Hearts Forgive; Open Minds Learn. Last year our theme was Find God in All Things, which was chosen after a retreat given by a Jesuit priest. The year before, which was the Year of Faith, our theme was Give Us Faith, Lord, and throughout the year we emphasized developing habits for building our faith.
Having a classroom theme is worthwhile and easy to implement. I hope you will consider having your own school or classroom theme.