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Top 10 Tips for Catechists This School Year With Joe Paprocki

Students and teachers are heading back to school, and Father Dave welcomes back friend of the show and experienced catechist Joe Paprocki to give his top 10 formation tips for religious educators. Joe has served as National Consultant for Faith Formation at Loyola Press since 2002 and has more than 40 years of experience in pastoral ministry. The tips are based off of his book, “The Catechist’s Toolbox: How to Thrive as a Religious Education Teacher.”

Joe explains his passion for assisting catechists and says, “I think parishes are sometimes strapped for help. They’re asking people [to be catechists] but sometimes they don’t have the time or energy to form them; we all owe it to [catechists], but sometimes it just doesn’t happen. We have to give them all the help we can, and I’ve dedicated my life to helping our catechists get what they need.”

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He reveals his top 10 tips in reverse order, beginning with “Get to know the names of your participants.” Joe explains how this simple tip goes a long way, especially at the beginning of the school year. He says, “I had a teacher who, on the first day, took pictures of the class with all of their names and memorized them. The next day, he called us all by name. It impresses you, it forms a connection, and it validates you.”

Moving ahead to tip number 7, Joe says, “Don’t do all the talking.” He recalls a mentor who told Joe he talked too much when Joe first started teaching. “[My mentor] said, ‘The spotlight was on you the whole time; your job as a teacher is to turn the spotlight onto them.’ That was a Copernican revolution for me,” Joe says. “So as you’re planning catechesis, make sure you’re planning for what they are going to do, not just what are you going to do.”

In tip number 4, Joe advises to “go in with one big idea.” He says, “Catechists want to do so much; we want to teach the entire Catechism in every lesson. It’s just not realistic. Pick one big idea, go at it from a million different directions, but you’re always coming back to the same big idea.” He explains how this will help students retain one particular story from Scripture or teaching rather than too many ideas.

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Joe’s tip number 3 is to “faithfully and fully impart our tradition,” in regard to the Church teaching. He stresses that it’s not a time to be a “lone ranger” or give your own opinions on more difficult topics. “We owe it to our young people to pass on that faith tradition as though we’re passing on a family heirloom,” Joe says. “It’s been passed on to us, and we have to faithfully pass it onto the next generation. We want to equip them with the words to talk about their faith, and we want them to be religiously literate.”

Finally, tip number 1 is to “remember that you are not a teacher of a subject, but a facilitator of an encounter.” Joe says, “Jesus is not a subject. He was a historical figure, but he is the risen Christ which means that he is present  and alive with us in a mysterious way. It’s our job to say, ‘I would like you to meet him’…There is no better feeling as a catechist than to go home after your session knowing that you have helped young people, and people of all ages, to truly encounter Christ, and not just learn about him.”

Joe Paprocki’s Top 10 Tips for Catechists:

  1. Get to know the names of your participants
  2. Arrive early and set up, so they are entering an experience
  3. Create a climate of prayer
  4. Don’t do all the talking
  5. Incorporate variety (music, video, activities, small group, technology, etc.)
  6. Keep participants engaged from the moment they arrive
  7. Go in with one big idea
  8. Faithfully and fully impart our Church tradition
  9. Pay attention to your own formation and grow as a catechist
  10. Remember that you are not a teacher of a subject, but a facilitator of an encounter

Looking for help reaching young adults? Check out Busted Halo’s Young Adult Ministry in a Box toolkit