Habits That Last a Lifetime
— Stephanie Boss · Saturday, June 25, 2022 —
Training? Do we really need more training?
We are surrounded by books and articles about training and habits. Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, James K. A. Smith’s Desiring the Kingdom, the ubiquitous James Clear’s Atomic Habits, and multitudinous articles have been written on the topic. But knowing and doing are two different things.
Let’s take a journey to see how intentional habits can train Grammar School students well during their school day at Covenant.
My love for liturgy and habit formation began when I was in the 5th Grade at St. John’s Catholic School in Shreveport, Louisiana. I attended that school through 8th Grade, and those years were extremely formative to me. I loved the architecture of the old, traditional, two-story, classroom buildings, and the Gothic-style cathedral on the adjacent property where we attended Mass every Friday morning. My time at St. John’s was a visceral experience. I can still smell the school building, see the shiny, dark-floored, white-walled hallways, the heavy wooden doors, and feel the loftiness of Friday mornings spent in the cathedral. I remember the structure, the routine, the expectations, the beauty, the order. That school is where I first encountered recess games like four square and handball. My 7th-Grade teacher read literature out loud to us, and I enjoyed it immensely. In the school library, I encountered books I had never seen before, but relished reading them. I can close my eyes and feel like I am there. The memory of that place is almost palpable. But St. John’s gave me more than memories; it instilled in me habits that I still live out today.
Cardinal John Henry Newman, a 19th Century theologian, once said: “But education is a higher word; it implies an action upon our mental nature, and the formation of a character” (The Great Tradition, 529). And in Plato’s Republic, when Socrates and Cephalus, the aged father of Polemarchus, are discussing old age, Cephalus states: “It is people’s character and habits that really determine whether or not their lives are hard to bear, not their age.”
That is, education, even beginning as early as the Grammar School years, provides students not only with knowledge but also character and habits — not only with intellect, but also with heart.
Why are Liturgies Important and What is Their Purpose?
In short, liturgies — the daily practices, routines, and habits — in the classroom are important because they mold and shape our students into their future selves.
We have all heard phrases such as, “a good man speaking well” or “people who engage the kingdom for Christ” or “people who love their neighbor fiercely” or “a good human being.” These things don’t just happen overnight. Children don’t just wake up one day and decide to be a good human. These things take time. Habits need to form. Practices need to be cultivated and fostered. Training needs to occur.
In The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis states, “Aristotle says that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought.” Likewise in Norms and Nobility, David Hicks responds to a quote by Aristotle about “those who act aright,” stating, “The purpose of education is not the assimilation of facts or the retention of information, but the habituation of the mind and body to will and act in accordance with what one knows.” Additionally, we read in Wisdom and Eloquence, that the enculturation process is referred to as being “caught” rather than “taught.” This cultivation process takes time and happens over the days and weeks and years as the student learns to walk in the way, in the paideia of life.
Desiring the Kingdom by Jamie Smith is filled with the idea of “formation of our desires” and “the formation of radical disciples who desire the kingdom of God” and the “shaping our hopes and passions," as well as our visions of "the good life." Smith states: “What if the primary work of education was the transforming of our imagination rather than the saturation of our intellect?” What if education wasn’t first and foremost about what we know, but about what we love?”
Specific Liturgies in the Grammar School Classroom
The following are three broad types of liturgies: spiritual, communal, and aesthetic. These correspond with three of the categories in the Portrait of a Graduate: “loves God,” “loves others,” and “delights in beauty.”
First: Spiritual Liturgies (Loves God)
- In the Grammar School, we attend Chapel daily. It is a time to prepare our hearts and minds to worship God, to set our focus on Him, and orient ourselves for the day.
- We recite the Apostles’ Creed together, listen to the Word, and sing praises to God. “Our ultimate love is shaped by practices,” Jamie Smith states as he emphasizes the importance of the “role of ritual.”
- We engage in classroom or 5th and 6th Grade worship times on Fridays
- We pray together. We have scheduled prayer times — in the morning, before lunch, during our Friday worship times, but also throughout the day: before a test, if someone gets hurt, or when a need is expressed.
- In 5th Grade, we have monthly heart verses which we recite daily. For example: “May the words for my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).
- Also in 5th Grade, we recite our class verse and motto every morning: “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. I Corinthians 10:31b: ‘Strive to glorify!’” We also discuss ways that we can glorify God at lunch, at recess, in the classroom, and after school.
- We recite often. Recitation pieces, many of which are Scripture, are referred to throughout the day: “Weep with those who weep, rejoice with those who rejoice.” We Recite the “Loving One Another Catechism” in class so that we can hear the words of Scripture informing us how to love one another.
- We need to forgive often. When issues occur, we take the time to talk it out. We don’t let things slide or get glossed over or pushed to the side. We address it directly and quickly.
- We need to laugh often. Inject humor, stories, and silliness. Bring joy into the day. Smile. Enjoy one another.
Smith states that “the liturgy is a ‘hearts and minds’ strategy, a pedagogy that trains us as disciples precisely by putting our bodies through a regimen of repeated practices that get hold of our heart and ‘aim’ our love toward the kingdom of God.” We need to be all in — knowing and doing.
Second: Communal Liturgies (Loves Others)
We have lots of conversations with our students about how we can show love to our neighbor before we need to have them. This love is part of what we do daily. We want the “why” of what we do to be evident to all and to practice it with care.
This is not merely a list of rules, but a way of doing things, an understanding of who we are and how we are to “love our neighbor”:
- Take turns.
- Wait to be called on.
- Greet each other by name.
- Speak to other students respectfully.
- Boys hold the doors for the girls.
- Recite to get accustomed to speaking in front of others.
- Do morning procedures well.
- Walk down the hall or to and from Chapel in an orderly manner.
- Demonstrate mutual respect.
- Say “Excuse me.”
- Overlook minor offenses.
- Say “Please” and “Thank you.”
- Use kind words (Ephesians 4:32).
- Speak encouraging words.
- Walk in quiet, straight lines during fire drills to encourage safety and clear communication.
- View teachers’ interaction with each other: positive, kind, helpful, jovial.
- Be kind to classmates. Help one another. Students are so quick to help their classmates. “Speed kindness” is a thing. Who can give it first?
- Turn in homework on time to foster responsibility, initiative, and faithfulness.
Props to all the Kindergarten teachers for laying proper foundations for all of us. We all benefit from their hard work of continually instilling these types of practices into our students. They are the bedrock of good habit formation.
Third: Aesthetic Liturgies (Delights in Beauty)
- We need to demonstrate order — not chaos — in the classroom. God is a God of order. Things should be rightly ordered, not haphazard or disorderly. For example, students should hang jackets on the back of chairs or place backpacks on hooks and pick up their trash to maintain a neat hallway.
- We need to get supplies ready to go. Students can find what they need when they need it because their desks are in order (somewhat).
- We encourage neat handwriting. Work should be done beautifully and to the glory of God.
- We delight in a beautiful classroom, so we choose décor and wall art that reflects a specific timeline and time era.
These liturgies are in line with what we are training our graduates to begin to reflect in the Portrait of a Graduate. As our students transition from Grammar School to Upper School, the foundations have been laid to be built upon. Liturgies help to create healthy heart habits — just like we desire to create healthy hygiene habits — that will continue throughout a lifetime. We do not desire to create clones or automatons but good, kind, thoughtful human beings who desire to truly love God and love one another.
I am incredibly thankful for our school, the teachers, the administration, and the parents who want our students to desire the Kingdom by instilling habits and practices to train them in the way of righteousness. We are reminded of verses in Scripture that instruct us in the importance of training up a child, such as "training in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3: 16) and “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6). Life depends on it.
This habit formation is a daily training — not a one-time only or casual mentioning of these things — but a continual fostering, walking alongside, growing, learning, loving, practicing, and pouring into the lives of our students. Just as my experience at St. John’s has stayed with me my entire life, hopefully the Covenant student’s experience will permeate their being for good, and the training they receive will instill habits that will last a lifetime!
by Stephanie Boss, CCS 5th Grade Teacher