Monthly Archives: September 2019

Pursuing Church School Success: Evaluate the Environment

In this series, we will feature resources and ideas that can increase the learning success of a Church school classroom. In each post, we will share some tips for classroom management and/or ideas for increased student participation. What we share is not a comprehensive list by any stretch of the imagination: there are many more ideas available. It is our hope that what we proffer can act as a starting point toward enhancing the learning that takes place in our Church school classroom. 


We will begin our look at classroom success by considering the environment that your students step into when they arrive. The hospitable classroom climate that we referred to in our last post is influenced by the both the physical environment and the teacher therein. Your room and your influence as a teacher are foundational to the success of your class, so we encourage you to start by evaluating both.

Begin by taking a moment to think about your classroom. Is it welcoming? Is it interesting to look at? Is there adequate seating, or room to otherwise accommodate your students? Is this a room you want to come to? If you were your students’ age, would you feel the same way? What is working well in your room setup? What could you improve in order to better serve your students?

Now take a moment and think about yourself,  from the perspective of your students. What do they like best about you? What do they not like, and how can you work on that? Are they able to understand what you are telling them? Are you speaking and acting in ways that help to get your message across? How well does your body language support what you are trying to communicate with them? Do you treat them in a way that you would want to be treated? Do you remember that they are icons of Christ, and treat them as such?

We have gathered a number of general hints and tips from other teachers, ranging from classroom practice to student management. Most of these are not specifically written to a Sunday Church school teaching audience, but we are confident that you will find them helpful. We will share some links of ideas that teachers have shared about their own classrooms. We will also add a few links that can help you to think a bit more about your own teaching style.

Our goal with this series is to help your students succeed. Crafting a success-inducing environment which is led by a caring and communicative teacher, is a very important place to begin, in pursuit of student success. It is our hope that some of these tips and suggestions will be helpful to that end.


Here are some links on the subject that you may find helpful. What has worked for you? What related resources would you recommend to the community? Please share them below!


At this link, you will find a pictoral list of 35 helpful tips and tricks tried by teachers. Included are suggestions for classroom organization, classroom displays, ways to help students who need to move, and even suggestions of ways to help students manage their phones during class. The article is written for a general classroom, so while many of the ideas here are applicable to a Sunday Church school class, some may not be.


This teacher suggests reviewing procedures by writing questions about your class’ daily procedures on separate pieces of paper, passing one of those out to each student, and one at a time during class, asking that one be read and answered. This is a painless way to review the classroom procedures with your class, with everyone having a turn to read and answer. This method could be applied to other things besides daily procedures, as well.


Here is a teacher’s description of how she organizes parts of her classroom. Again, some of the ideas will work for a Sunday Church school class, and others may not. We especially liked the code word for movement idea, the two-helper job chart, and the hand signals. Check them all out here:


“When discussing class values with my students, I obviously have values that I want our class to embody, but I also let my kids choose. We create the list together. We sign a class contract. These values become a part of who we are and who we will strive to be each day.” Read more about this from the teacher who does not have class rules, only class values, here:


“Children crave someone to guide them so that everyone can feel safe, secure, loved and wanted. When you take the time to work on the structure of your group (and sometimes your own heart!) you will achieve a learning environment that works.” Read the rest of this article to find some Sunday-Church-school-specific ideas for classroom management:


Find colorful, beautiful, and inspiring classroom setup ideas here:


Many of these secondary-student classroom setup ideas will not necessarily apply to a Sunday Church school classroom, but they are all inspirational and a few of them would work! We especially liked the flexible seating and the agenda/but why? ideas.


“In my childhood (in the world of the pledge), there was often talk of living a ‘Christ-like life.’ This was largely portrayed as a highly moralistic life. It also seemed completely boring and unlike anyone I had ever met or admired. The virtues cannot be acquired through models that hold no attraction. Mere morality can never be virtue… As a priest, I’ve never expected children to be ‘little adults.’ However, I want them to see the love of God in the adults around them in such a way that they are not repelled… If you want a child to pray, they should see you pray. If you want them to love God, they should see you love God. If you want them to be able to ask forgiveness, they need to see you do it first.”~ Fr. Stephen Freeman encourages us Orthodox adults to model more than we teach in this blog post: ttps://


Are you a great Sunday Church school teacher? You may find it helpful to weigh yourself against these 8 qualities of an effective Church School teacher:


“I learned that it was up to me to be happy. It wasn’t up to my students to make me happy, or my coworkers, or anybody else. Being happy was my job. So what if this year was a little tough? I needed to roll with it, continue to love my students, and move on. I needed to CHOOSE to be happy.” ~ Read more about teacher Teresa Kwant’s tough students, one year, and how she chose to face their time together, including 5 practical choices in which you can choose happiness, here:


Pursuing Church School Success: Offering Hospitality in the Classroom

In this series, we will feature resources and ideas that can increase the learning success of a Church school classroom. We will share some tips for classroom management and ideas for increased student participation. It is our hope that this series will benefit Sunday Church school teachers and students of all ages.


Begin with Hospitality

The Church School year has already begun for many of us. The beginning of the year is an excellent time to take a look at how well we welcome our students into our classroom: not just at the start of the year, but every time they attend our class. Thus, we will begin this series by taking a look at hospitality in the classroom.

In order to consider the effectiveness of our hospitality as it is extended in our classroom, it may be helpful to take a moment to think about hospitality itself, to make sure we are all on the same page. What exactly does “hospitality” mean? There are multiple definitions.’s definition is easily applied to a classroom setting. It defines hospitality as “the friendly reception and treatment of guests or strangers.” (1) Mind you, our students are likely only “strangers” the first week or two of class, until we’ve really gotten to know them, but after that, we do well to treat them as though they are honored guests, every time they are in class.

Besides thinking about hospitality’s definition, let’s take a moment to consider how we extend hospitality outside the classroom. What about in our own home? For the most part, when we have visitors, we tidy up before they come, prepare a comfortable space for them during their visit, prepare food for them to enjoy, and have a plan for how we will entertain them while they are with us. We expect similar treatment when we are guests in others’ homes. When we go on vacation, we seek lodging and food based on what looks to be a comfortable match for our needs. All of these are our framework for “hospitality”. We know how to offer it, how to receive it, and what it looks like from afar. But how well do we apply these concepts to our Sunday Church school class and classroom?

Dr. Margo Turner’s article “What we get to do: Hospitality in the Classroom”, written for, suggests that friendliness and mutual respect, paired with generous service are what we expect hospitality to look like, whether we are extending it or on the receiving end. Dr. Turner suggests that this holds out in the classroom, as well. “Hospitality in the classroom that allows students to feel welcomed is an important learning tool for all…” (2) Her article goes on to mention that studies have found that students who feel included in the classroom are better empowered to learn. So hospitality in the classroom is not just a nice idea: it actually sets the stage for improved learning ability!

It seems logical that students who feel welcomed and wanted in their classes are better able to learn. But how do we extend hospitality in a classroom? We can begin by looking at our classroom itself with fresh eyes. Does it appear engaging and welcoming? Is there anything that we could add (or remove) that will make it feel more like a place where people want to spend time? Once we are certain that the room is welcoming, we can look at our interactions with our students. Do we physically and verbally welcome them to class? (Dr. Turner sends each of her students an introductory letter, complete with a picture of herself, before the school year even begins, to begin building a relationship before they even arrive on day one! Other teachers have unique handshakes or welcome gestures that they extend to each student at the door before each class begins!) Do we involve our students with the creation of class rules and goals? Do we consider our students’ abilities (or different-abilities) and interests as we plan and present our lessons? There are many ways in which we welcome (or do not welcome) our students into our classroom. Perhaps the above questions can be a good starting place for us to honestly evaluate our hospitality towards our students, so that we can find ways to improve.

Hospitality is important at all levels, even in a classroom setting. Let us take a moment to consider the level of hospitality in our classroom, and find ways to make our classroom even more hospitable. Opening our students’ minds to better learning by extending hospitality to them builds a healthy foundation for a successful Church School year.



  1. Hospitality. (2019). Retrieved from
  2. Turner, Margo. “What We Get to Do: Hospitality in the Classroom – Brain Based Learning: Brain Based Experts.” Brain Based Learning | Brain Based Experts, Jensen Learning Corporation, 5 July 2017,


Note: We will be sharing more about Brain Based Learning, mentioned above, in a series of articles in the spring.

Here are a few resources that may be helpful as you look for ways to improve the hospitality offered in your classroom:


“We can use every interaction to communicate to the student that he/she is important.” Read the rest of this article in which an educator compares classroom hospitality to her experiences with hotel hospitality:


“I’ve taught in both traditional and nontraditional settings for nine years. However, only recently have I begun to understand hospitality as part of that work. When I started to reframe teaching as the work of welcoming, of stewarding a space, of receiving my students with unconditional presence, my classroom and my students’ learning changed.” Read this, and the rest of the article on classroom hospitality from which it comes, here:


Help your students feel more at home in the classroom by providing them with opportunities to share about themselves. Perhaps this “there are four items that tell about me in this bag” idea would work well for your class?


If you are looking for ideas for creating wall displays that can help your classroom feel more inviting, check out the series of bulletin board ideas we gathered, beginning with this one:


Here are a few tips and shortcuts for classroom bulletin boards. They may be helpful as you continue to make your classroom more inviting and hospitable:                                                                                                                                                                                                  


Extending hospitality in our Sunday Church school classroom can begin with something as simple as a greeting at the door when the students enter. What if we would take the time to build a personal greeting for each student? It might look something like this:

Inviting our students’ input in creating classroom rules can be another way to extend hospitality in the Sunday Church school classroom. Here’s a suggestion of basic rules to keep in mind as you work together to create your own set:

Helping our students know and appreciate each other is another way to extend hospitality in the classroom. Need some ideas of ways to help students get to know each other? Check these out:


Hospitality is not just something nice we can offer to our students: it is part of our Faith to live hospitably! This article offers many scripture verses that encourage us to be hospitable. (It’s geared towards families, but the scriptures apply to all Christians!)


A Closer Look at John 3:17

The Antiochian Archdiocese’s 2020 Creative Arts Festival has as its theme John 3:17, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” Learning and understanding the meaning of this verse is pivotal to our Christian life, for it encourages us to examine condemnation, salvation, and judgement. In context, this verse also affords us the opportunity to choose for ourselves how to respond to God’s offer of salvation through Christ. Advance study of John 3:17 will help us be ready to teach our students about it, whether or not our parish is participating in the Festival. 

Rosemary Shumski, Creative Arts Festival coordinator for the Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education, reflects on the theme in this guest blog:
Let’s examine this quote in context. Most of us are more familiar with the quote from John 3:16, which precedes it, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should have everlasting life.” We then have our Creative Festivals Theme, “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:17) This is followed by the quote, “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18)

Here are some comments from the Orthodox Study Bible: “While Christ comes to save and not to condemn, man has free will. Thus he can reject this gift, and he becomes condemned by his own rejection.”

Jesus came into the world so that we could be rescued from condemnation. The name “Jesus” literally means “God saves.” He came to show us how we could be reunited with God. In his book, The Great I Came’s of Jesus, Fr. Anthony Coniaris states, “Before Jesus came, we were a fallen race. We needed not a judge to condemn us but a Savior to raise us from our fall…Jesus said, ‘Those who are healthy do not need a physician, but those who are sick. I have come not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.’ We needed someone to lift us, to heal us, not someone to judge and condemn us.”

Because Jesus became incarnate, He is like us in all ways except sin, so He understands His people. Jesus is compassionate, because He knows what it’s like to be tempted. But we have to make the choice as to whether we want to turn away from Him or repent and turn to Him. God didn’t create us to be robots. Because He gave us free will, we have to make that decision for ourselves.


Find more information about the Creative Arts Festival theme for 2020 here:

Here are a few lesson plans and ideas for teaching children about John 3:17:


Preschool and Kindergarten students will take a look at Adam and Eve’s disobedience and contrast it to the Theotokos’ obedience in this Church school lesson that helps to prepare them to artistically respond to John 3:17:


Students in grades 1-3 will discuss terms like “condemn” and “save”; put in order line art icons that illustrate phrases from the Creed describing Christ; and brainstorm ways to unite themselves to Him in this Creative Arts Festival lesson:


Students in grades 4-6 will talk about salvation without judgement, using fun activities involving Lifesavers candies and some role-play; then closely examine how the Church helps us on our journey to salvation in this lesson on John 3:17:


Middle and high school students preparing for the Creative Arts Festival will engage in discussions about condemnation, the stages of salvation, and judging self vs. judging others in this lesson:


Find ideas of ways to incorporate the Creative Arts Festival theme, as well as additional activities for teaching about it here:



Introducing a Resource:

(note: the emailed materials in the subscription arrive in full color, but are depicted here in black and white)


“You’ve got mail!” Oh, how I loved to hear these words when I was a child! It was the same for my children as they grew up, as well. Each piece of mail “just for them” was met with great enthusiasm and eagerness. At least in our family’s experience, it is a joy for children to receive mail of their very own!

Did you know that there is an Orthodox resource that will send your child(ren) mail of their own? And this is not just any old mail: this mail builds the faith of its recipients, preparing them for each Sunday’s Divine Liturgy! The resource is called, and while most SaintsBox mail is delivered electronically, some of it arrives via the postal service. offers two different weekly email subscriptions, as well as optional accoutrements such as a “Saint of the Month” vinyl icon cards subscription (complete with a small tin for housing the collection), and other related products which are sent through the postal service. The weekly email subscriptions at are geared towards two different age levels of children. Each aims to “reinforce what the Church has already established so our children will embrace the True Faith for life!” (home page,

“St. John’s Clubhouse” (named after St. John Maximovich of San Francisco) is the SaintsBox email subscription that is full of ways to help children ages 4-8 prepare for Sunday’s Liturgy. A cast of characters called “the Clubhouse Kids” help the “clubhouse members” learn something about Sunday’s Gospel by sharing a related “story from their life” that bring the Gospel reading to life. They include the passage, so that parents and children can read the Gospel reading together before the Liturgy. They also challenge clubhouse members to anticipate or look for a particular thing during the upcoming Sunday Liturgy. This may include explaining an unfamiliar vocabulary word or upcoming event in the life of the Church. A printable sheet including a beautiful line-art icon (by Kiah Boyd) and a brief explanation will give the member an opportunity to learn more about the saint or featured feast/event for that particular Sunday. Find more information about St. John’s Clubhouse here:

“TQ6:21” is the SaintsBox email subscription which is actually a treasure quest for 8-12 year olds. Named for Matthew 6:21 (“for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”), this subscription club helps its readers seek treasures of the Faith in the context of the Scriptures. In order to complete the puzzles in each week’s quest, “questers” need to read the Epistle and Gospel readings for the forthcoming Sunday Liturgy. In the context of clues and riddles, questers will learn about the Faith, the Scriptures, the saints, and more. Find more information about TQ6:21 here:

Both subscriptions offer activities that parents and children can experience together, or parents can participate with part of the adventure, and the children can do the rest. (SaintsBox suggests that parents of the 4-8 year olds will likely spend 15 minutes per week and parents of 8-12 year olds, only 5-10 minutes each week, most of which is reading the Scripture passages together.) In other words, this subscription will also help the parents prepare for Sunday’s Liturgy as well, but it is not a huge time commitment!

Besides the two email subscriptions, also offers materials such as their SaintsBox, which is a pocket-sized tin filled with a baker’s dozen vinyl icon cards, each written by Elina Pelikan and featuring a different saint or event. (The SaintsBox is also available as a larger set which includes information sheets about each saint and an olive wood cross from the Holy Land.)’s tin “Trisagion Pocket Prayer Corner” includes the trisagion prayer; a vinyl icon of Christ, the Theotokos, and St. John the Forerunner; and an olive wood cross. Each of the vinyl icon cards are also available for individual purchase. So if you have a child who particularly loves one of the featured saints, you may wish to have just that saint’s card mailed to them. (Vinyl icons include: Christ/Theotokos/St. John the Forerunner; St. Patapios; St. Katherine of Alexandria; St. Jonah Bishop of Manchuria; the Nativity of the Theotokos; the 7 Holy Youths of Ephesus; Sts. Aquila and Priscilla; St. Columba of Iona; St. Irene the Great Martyr; St. Mary of Egypt; St. Patrick; St. Haralambos; St. Mugo; and St. John of San Francisco.)

We have seen samples of’s materials and would highly recommend this resource to Orthodox parents and teachers with children aged 4-12. The subscription materials are appealing and fun but also quite helpful. The icon cards/tin sets are sturdy, useful and interesting. The artwork is beautifully tasteful and engaging.’s materials will help Orthodox children (and the adults in their life) grow closer to Christ and His Church, one Sunday’s Gospel reading at a time.

If your child (or grandchild, Sunday Church school student, or godchild) enjoys getting mail of their own, we encourage you to check out Whether you decide to mail a vinyl saint card to them, or to send a full subscription to the program, your child(ren) will enjoy receiving the mail that comes their way. And this extraordinary mail will help them (and you!) to grow closer to Christ and His Church!


Here is a little more information about and its offerings which may be of help to you:


“Our goal is to help children engage with more of the service and make deeper connections with Christ and His Saints.” ~ Annalisa Boyd, creator/writer of
Read more from her, and meet the creative team behind this wonderful subscription service here:


“Welcome to St. John’s Clubhouse, a subscription box club for your 4-8 year old. As parents, we understand the importance of instilling a love for Christ and His Church in the hearts of our children. We want them to embrace the True Faith as taught through Holy Tradition and the Living Church, but it’s hard to know where to start. St. John’s clubhouse offers the tools you need to help prepare your child to participate more fully in the Divine Liturgy each week. They will become friends with the Clubhouse Kids as they share from the Holy Scriptures, meet a Sunday saint and… do activities that inspire them to live the faith in every life situation. As you know, kids this age are CONSTANTLY learning. Providing teaching materials that feel like play, opens the door for your child to make long lasting positive connections between Church and home.” ~from the SaintsBox facebook page, Sept. 18, 2018

Find more information about St. John’s Clubhouse here:


“TQ6:21 (Treasure Quest – Matthew 6:21 “Where you treasure is, there your heart will be also”)

We have all been called to the challenging and amazing life-long quest of storing up treasure for heaven by being transformed into the image of Christ. This quest, as you well know, is a matter of life and death, and our kids need all of the tools that the Church has to offer if they are to endure to the end. In order to help our children on that journey into Life, we have created the TQ6:21 program, which provides practical and engaging ways for kids to learn to own their faith and live it daily. We have aimed, in our theming of the activities, to tap into the natural love for adventure of 8-12 year-olds, helping them to develop their unique talents, godly character, a deeper understanding of their faith, and a lasting love for Holy Tradition as expressed in the living Church — all while just plain having fun! We’ve prepared this guide for you as the adult assisting them, to help explain the basic format of the program, and how it is designed to function.” ~from the SaintsBox facebook page, Sept. 18, 2018

Find more information about TQ6:21 here:


Watch SaintsBox creator Annalisa Boyd’s video podcast “The Ascetic Lives of Mothers”, in which she introduces SaintsBox, here: (Note: at the time of this podcast, the subscriptions were not all electronic. The podcast does a good job of describing the program and how children have interacted with it. However, several times in the podcast Annalisa mentions receiving the subscription items in the mail. Listeners will need to keep in mind that the subscriptions are now emailed, not snail-mailed to the child.)


Find a sample of the beautiful icon line art which Kiah Boyd creates for St. John’s Clubhouse here. (This one was for Pentecost.)


“I just love Saint John of San Francisco! Our family had the amazing opportunity to visit his relics when we lived in California. We got to go to the home that had been the location of the orphanage he began in San Francisco. We got to sit in his chair in his cell and say the Our Father. We even visited the original wooden church he had established and were blessed to have his Philonion (the cape part of his vestments) draped over us as the priest prayed for our family. From then on, each time we have seen an icon of Saint John, it has been like seeing a dear friend. That is our goal with presenting these icon cards…” ~ Annalisa Boyd, offering a bit of the back-story of the St. John of San Fransisco icon card available from at