This past week allowed me the opportunity to experiment with leading three groups of my students in a Craft Your Credo classroom activity, and I'd like to share that activity with you today. Two of the groups went quite well, and one didn't.
The credo classroom activity that went well
The super short explanation
Here's the credo classroom activity in a few dozen words.
- Students drafted “I believe” statements in response to writing prompts with minimal instruction from me and an encouragement to be creative and true (10 minutes).
- With their rough draft “I believe” statements out, students read selections from this free text set and modified their credos as desired (10 minutes).
- Students crafted “final draft” credos and turned them in (10 minutes).
- I will give credos back to students in one month to facilitate reflection and possible revision.
The more developed explanation
Context: This is the week before first semester exams. My students and I have strong relationships, and our culture is as developed as it's going to be this term. As a result, we are a people who strive to think not just about us today, but about us in twenty years, and we — teacher and students — try to practice the discipline of “doing hard things.”  Toward that end, right now in my 9th grade world history classes we're reading Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart. This isn't part of the standard curriculum, but since we completed the regular curriculum with a week and a half to spare, I've sold (most of) them on the notion that reading this novel is a great way for us to set the stage for the first unit of Semester 2 and cultivate the discipline of curiosity. After all, if we can become curious about a book most adults wouldn't care to read (wait — a Nigerian novel!? C'mon now — this is ‘Merica!), we can become curious about anything and thereby cast off the contemporary
mindset mind-shackle of Some Things Are Inherently Boring for Me and Some Are Not and That's Just How I Learn.
Anyway, the point is that this week, each day has kind of gone like this: 40-50 minutes for discussing and reading the novel, and 10-20 minutes for Something Else. Something Else is usually exam review, but the past few days Something Else has been credo crafting.
Day One — the last 10 minutes of Wednesday
All right, folks — thanks for dominating some Thing Fall Apart today. If you haven't yet, write down at least one question that the reading raises for you, and make sure to finish up reading to Chapter 9 before tomorrow's start of class.
As you know, I try to practice what I preach when I tell you to read purposefully and often. I read for fun, sure — right now I'm reading a wicked cool science fiction book by Robert Heinlein — but I also read to learn things. And, interestingly, lately I've come across a concept we're going to talk about today — the concept of “credo” — in multiple places.
A credo is simply a statement of one's beliefs. Credo started as a Latin word meaning “I believe.”
And so without putting anything else into your mind about what a credo is or why I think it matters, I'd simply like to you draft some writing about what you believe. I'll place some writing prompts on the board now, and you can feel free to simply respond to them with “I believe ______” statements, trying to be as specific as you can.
I place the writing prompts (below) on the board. Students write until the bell. I tell them to bring these back tomorrow.
Credo crafting writing prompts — used on Day One
Respond to the following questions with “I believe _____________” statements or something similar. Allow yourself to be creative.
- Which relationships are most important in your life? What is the order of priorities?
- What is the best way to live?
- What are the best kinds of moments in life?
- What's the highest thing a person can achieve in their lifetime?
- What's the point of being alive?
- What are your greatest weaknesses?
- What are your greatest strengths?
- What do you believe about your future?
- What do you believe are the keys to success in life?
- What do you believe that your legacy will be?
Day Two — the last 10 minutes of Thursday
(Remember, our class structure this week revolved around spending the bulk of each lesson reading and discussing Things Fall Apart. It's worth admitting that I didn't make any effort to connect TFA with the credo crafting; this would probably cost me points on a sophisticated teacher evaluation rubric.) 
All right, family and team — nice work today. On your desk, you'll find a little text set I put together — it contains a variety of thought-provoking texts pertinent to the credos we drafted yesterday. You'll find:
- a Google definition and etymology of the word credo;
- the credo of the current pope, created decades before he became the pope;
- the story of the credo of a company whose credo helped them make a right decision that cost them $100 million;
- the credo-esque essay of a woman whose life philosophy is summed up as, “Be cool to the pizza dude.”
What I'd like you to do with our remaining minutes of class is to read at least two of these texts, keeping your rough draft credos out and on your desk. If at any point something that you read gives you an idea for modifying your own credos, act on the compulsion and revise to your heart's content.
The students do this, reading and revising as I walk around and observe. When class is about to end, I tell them that tomorrow we'll create our final drafts.
Day Three — the first 10 minutes of Friday
On Friday, I decided to use the first ten minutes of class instead of the last. Students crafted their final draft credos as our warm-up activity. As they walked in, they saw the following on the board:
Get out your rough draft credo statements; today, I want you to write a final draft on a fresh sheet of paper. Keep in mind that credos, especially in our adolescent years, are often a work in progress. So let go of the pressure and do your best right now to capture what it is you believe about life. I'll give these back to you in a month.
When you're finished, please read Chapter 13 of Things Fall Apart. It's a short chapter, and an important one, plot-wise. Be ready to discuss.
Some students complete the writing task in five minutes, and others take fifteen. The reading assignment at the end of the writing allows kids to take their time and produce their best work.
The credo classroom activity that didn't go well
The super short explanation
- I tried a radically shortened version of the above activity with a group of kids I've only met with three times.
- They were good sports, but their credos were much more superficial because of how rushed the activity was and how new our class culture is.
The more developed explanation
This year, our high school is conducting a long-term flourishing experiment wherein every teacher has a group of students that he or she will shepherd in the form of monthly, 40-minute advisory classes. If all goes according to plan, teachers will keep their groups until they graduate. My hallway has 10th graders, and my advisory class is a mixture of some kids I taught last year and some I'm teaching for the first time. When we met yesterday, it was my fourth time meeting with this group and, as a result, we were still getting to know one another and form a class culture.
Well, I thought, perhaps credos would be a good way to get to know my advisory kiddos and develop our culture.
And so, after completing the counselor-created study skills portion of the lesson (it was great), I tried basically ramming the above mentioned Days One and Three into the final 12 minutes of advisory. Surprise: it didn't work that well. Some students were confused (my explanation was rushed); most kids didn't have enough time (i.e., they did understand the activity, and as a result needed to put a bit of thought into it); and most of the credos were of a markedly different quality than those crafted using the three-day method described above.
The moral of the story: Quality learning experiences should be as quick as they can be, but not quicker.
(To see some sample student credos, see the final page of my free text set.)
A final caveat
Before I let you go, I want to clarify that I am not a moral or philosophical relativist. Some of the things my students write in their credos I find to be not just disagreeable, but even foolish or harmful. It's unfashionable to say so, but I think there are wise, helpful beliefs, and there are short-sighted, goal-hindering ones. With that said, I don't tell my students what to believe and I still think this exercise promotes the long-term flourishing of my students. Every human being operates from a belief system about the world; too few actually know what their belief system is. In prompting my students to reflect, I am hoping to help them clarify their thinking about the things they hold true. Later, I hope they'll reflect on how these beliefs positively or negatively impact their lives.
In other words, I recommend a very light-handed approach here: the purpose isn't to tell our students what to believe, but to allow them to clarify what they already believe and come to their own conclusions henceforth.
A final encouragement
Reading my students' credos is one of the most rewarding teacher things I've done this year. It's rewarding not because I've had any identifiable impact on my students, but rather because my students — from the highest to the lowest — are such special, potential-laden, deep-thinking, faith-filled people. Just like me. Just like you.
Every day, I get to work at bringing more of that potential out — in myself and in them. That — apart from all of the noise these days — is our profession. And it is good.
- That might sound epic, but we're a culture in process, not one of perfection.
- Lynn from California helped me out here in an email exchange after this articles was first published. I'm excited to try this out! “Ask your students to become Okonkwo and write his credo from his point of view. I am guessing this will deepen your discussions about the novel. As a follow-up, when you get further into the book, it would be fascinating to see what credo they would come up with for the missionaries and the district commissioner. Off the top of my head, I think it would also be fascinating to see the credos of his wives and his son Nwoye. Perhaps you could jigsaw these so that not every student in your class wrote every single one but everyone did get a chance to hear other students' takes on what these credos might be.”