A Family Within a Family
by Sarah Turnbull
It is the first Monday of the month and a rush of children, kindergarten through eighth grade, begin to form lines on the black top behind teachers holding up shields with simple logos and Bible figure names. The lines follow each teacher into her respective classroom where older and younger students cluster on the rug or an area near the white board. During the next 45 minutes each teacher or House Host leads their House through an ice breaker activity and a lesson that focuses on the school-wide character trait of the month. Older students help the younger to play the games or answer questions. There are moments of laughter and silliness and moments of deeper reflection. The House meeting concludes with a prayer. As the older students shepherd the younger ones back to their classrooms, an eighth grader kneels down and ties the shoelaces of a first grader before waving goodbye to his new little buddy. The busy beehive sound of House meetings is slowly replaced by the quiet of a resumed school day.
At the start of the 2019/2020 school year, Christ Lutheran began a new school-wide program called Houses of Heroes. As a staff, we have been feeling a pull to be more deliberate in how we address, model, and encourage a school-wide culture of kindness and connection based upon biblical character traits.
What is the House system? British schools have been implementing this team building program for many years, long before it was popularized in the Harry Potter series. Originally it was designed to help students at boarding schools develop better relationships with the other residents in their dorm. Many schools nationwide have created variations of the House idea to suit their school culture and demographics to build a stronger sense of camaraderie and identity.
How does it work for CLS? All students, kindergarten through eighth grade are randomly divided into nine houses named after biblical figures. Each House is led by a House Host or teacher and has 20-25 students. The Houses meet together monthly for 45 minutes to participate in team building activities and a character lesson that are based upon a biblical trait. In addition to the monthly meetings, all students are able to earn a Zap Slip from any staff member at any time during the school day. The Zap Slip recognizes any positive attitude or act of service and leadership that a student is caught demonstrating. Those slips are delivered to the student’s House. At the end of the month at the all school chapel, the House with the most Zap Slips wins the House Cup (trophy) for the month. The House competition starts anew each month. The school year will end with House celebrations.
How does this affect the school culture? Our desire is to help all students feel included in something bigger than themselves or their grade level group. Houses provide an opportunity for children to develop relationships with other children outside of their immediate grade that they might not have otherwise. These relationships help foster compassion and service toward others and reduce bullying
and exclusion. The older students have opportunities to lead the younger students through activities, develop leadership skills, and recognize their responsibility as mentors to the younger students. Houses also help students transition to the next grade as they have become familiar with other teachers, classrooms, and age groups. Students are recognized for demonstrating Christ-like attributes in a way that focuses on the benefit to their whole House.
Just as all Christians are part of the body of Christ with different strengths used to build up the whole church, our heart desire is to construct a more concrete way for students to understand and live out the imperative in 1 Thessalonians 5:11 to “encourage one another and build each other up.”
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