Category Archives: Communication

On Supporting Your Students Throughout the Summer

Summer has come upon us in the Northern Hemisphere! And with it, summer vacations, and (in some parishes, at least) a break from Sunday Church School. If that is the case for your parish, how do you plan to continue the relationship you have built with your Sunday School students? Several years ago, we published this blog post that suggests a few ideas for keeping in touch with your Sunday Church School students over the summer: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2014/05/30/keeping-in-touch-with-sunday-church-school-students/.

What other ideas do you have? How do you continue to care for your students outside of the Sunday Church School room? Please share your suggestions and ideas with the community!

Here are a few ideas (besides those mentioned in the blog) of ways that you can show your students that you care about them, even when you are not in class together:

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Praying for your students is, first and foremost, the best thing you can do for them, both during the Sunday Church School year, and over the summer. Here’s one way to do so: by praying for different areas of their life, arranged alphabetically by theme: http://www.courageouschristianfather.com/abcs-praying-students/#axzz49gBvdT94

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Summer is an excellent time to review your job as a Sunday Church School teacher. How did you do this year? What seemed to work? In what areas could you have done better? Read over this (non-Orthodox, but still helpful) list of 8 qualifications for a Sunday Church School teacher, and challenge yourself to improve in at least one of the areas during the coming year. https://disciplr.com/8-qualities-great-sunday-school-teacher/

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“Get to know your students outside of class. This is what makes the difference between a Sunday School teacher and a Christian who is trying to help disciple her students towards God.” Find this quote and more in this great (not Orthodox, but very helpful) article: http://www.parentinglikehannah.com/2013/09/how-sunday-school-teachers-can-partner-with-parents.html

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Several times throughout the summer, write each of your students a letter. It can be lengthy, thanking them for the positive ways they contributed to your SCS class this year, or just a short note wishing them well and encouraging them to keep studying the scriptures and their faith throughout the summer. Consider printing a free coloring page (perhaps this site would have a verse you studied, or one that will encourage your students?) https://papergiftsforestefany.wordpress.com/2015/03/25/scripture-doodles1/ and writing the note somewhere on that printed page. Or perhaps you could find an activity page based on a story you studied in class during the year (here is one possible source:http://sundayschoolzone.com/resource-type/activities-for-kids/). Be sure to mail the letters to your students, even if you see the students at church every week: everyone loves to get “real” mail! (Who knows, maybe one of them will write back to you, as well!)

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Consider hosting a “class reunion” in your Sunday Church School classroom during coffee hour one Sunday during the summer. Eat your coffee hour food together or share ice cream and talk about how the summer is going.

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Near the end of the summer, invite last year’s students to come help you clean up the room and get it ready for the next class. Spend a few minutes after a coffee hour working together to get the room ready for the new group, and, in the process, find out what your students remember about class. This will give you a great chance to touch base with each of them one more time while also finding out what worked and did not in the past year!

 

Partnering With Parents

As Sunday Church School teachers, we strive to do everything to the best of our ability and for the glory of God. Unfortunately, there is an important area of Sunday Church School that can be easily overlooked. As a rule, we are rightfully busy with two primary tasks: engaging our students and working to effectively communicate the lessons in our curriculum. However, we tend to be so intent on these tasks that we spend our time focusing intensely on them, and we may miss the opportunity to be effective in other ways. This article is about a third important aspect of our job.

It is our job to engage our students: not to just find what to teach them, but how to best teach that to them. It is also our job to teach them the lessons that will strengthen their faith: our teaching task/goal is infinitely more important than just reading or writing (and those are very important); our goal is to teach/train the children’s very souls. A third important task that we have, however, and one that we often neglect, is to partner together with the parents of our Sunday Church School students: eliciting their help in attaining our common goal of helping the children to learn about the Faith, while also helping them in any way that we can. When we communicate effectively with the parents of our Sunday Church School students and give them tools with which to work, we enhance our own efforts in the classroom by having parental reinforcement of the learning we are working to achieve! That reinforcement that results from a teacher/parent partnership can leave an infinitely more lasting impression in the lives of the students.

Parents are natural teachers. The children learn by watching their parents; by listening to them speak; and by absorbing their attitudes. However, generally speaking, many parents do not have formal teacher training, which could also benefit their children. As teachers, we know that, even with training, we always need more support! So, let us do what we can to help the parents of our Sunday Church School students by offering ideas of age-appropriate books, tasks, games, etc., to enhance the children’s learning. Since we have access to age-appropriate curriculum, as well as some training and/or experience, it falls to us to help them out in any way that we can.

Ideas of ways to do so (select as many as needed):

  • Think like a parent. What would YOU like to know about how to teach your child about the Faith? If you were not a teacher, what kinds of things would you find most helpful for educating your child? Start helping the parents in your Sunday Church School class by offering help in those ways.
  • Have a classroom library of age-appropriate books related to the faith that families can check out and use.
  • Create some teacher-made games based on the concepts you study in your class throughout the year (Bible stories, tenants of the Faith, saint stories, etc.). Have these games available for families to borrow.
  • Have a white board or poster in your classroom listing the theme(s) being studied along with hands on ideas of how to extend the learning at home. These do not even have to be original: you could brainstorm them in class with your SCS children, and encourage them to tell their parents about them.
  • Work together with other Sunday Church School teachers to offer a class or seminar on extending Sunday Church School learning at home.

Parents are working to raise their children in the Faith. Minimally, the parents of our Sunday Church School students are making church a priority, and bringing their children to church (and Sunday Church School). Most likely, the parents are also actively teaching their children about the Faith as opportunities arise at home as well, modeling living life as an Orthodox Christian.  However, often parents have no idea what we are teaching in our classrooms. It behooves us to keep in touch with the parents of our Sunday Church School students, keeping them informed of what goals we have for the class, and what we are teaching to their children.

Ideas of ways to do so (select as many as needed):

  • Think like a parent. What would YOU like to know about what happened in Sunday Church School this week? What would be helpful to you as you raise your kids, trying to reinforce their learning outside the home? Be sure to communicate those things to the parents.
  • Speak to the parents in person, either before or after Sunday Church School.
  • Send home a weekly lesson review sheet that they can go over with their children after Sunday Church School is over.
  • Send home a regular newsletter that informs parents of what you’ve been studying recently as well as what you will be studying in coming weeks.
  • Email the parents with occasional updates.
  • Send a weekly email summarizing the lesson and offering review and deeper-thinking questions that parents can go over with their children.
  • Incorporate a weekly take-home activity sheet or craft into each week’s lesson, that offers the parents the opportunity to question their children about Sunday Church School.

There are certainly many more ways in which to provide parental support as well as communication with parents about what’s being taught in class. These ideas are far from comprehensive, but they are a place to begin. The suggestions above may feel overwhelming to a Sunday Church School teacher who has not yet focused on supporting parents in their role as catechists or on keeping parents attuned to the goings on in the classroom. The intent of this article is to offer suggestions from which the reader may pick and choose: perhaps incorporating one or two items into the Sunday Church School year ahead, and slowly building from there in years to come.
St. Theophan the Recluse said, “Of all holy works, the education of children is the most holy.” Let us do all that we can to educate the children whom God has entrusted to us. Let us also reach out to the children’s parents, offering whatever support we are able, and thereby working alongside them in the holy work of educating their children.

Keeping in Touch With Sunday Church School Students

It is nearly the end of the school year, and many parishes take the summer off from Sunday Church School. Whether we are continuing to teach our Sunday Church School students throughout the summer or we have a summer break, it is important that we stay in touch with our students. God has entrusted them into our care for this season of their lives, we’ve had time with them in our classes (and hopefully positive interchanges with them, outside of class, as well), and they now know and trust us. Whether or not they’ll still be in our Sunday Church School class in the fall, it falls to us to keep building relationships with our students and encouraging them in any way that we can!

Here are a few ideas of ways to work at relationship building with our Sunday Church School students:

1. Continue to pray for them. Lift them to God daily, and ask the Theotokos and the saints to pray for them as well.

2. Seek them out after church. When you are able, touch base with the students at church, asking them about their week, what they’re learning, etc. A little attention and compassion goes a long way in letting someone know that they’re important to you.

3. Use electronic resources to keep in touch. For example, send out an occasional email. Or text the children if they have phones. Check out the free teacher/parent/student texting services offered at http://thejournal.com/articles/2013/06/11/7-free-apps-for-keeping-parents-and-teachers-connected.aspx.

4. Remember the students with summer birthdays (or namedays), and send them a card or give them a call on their special day.

5. Consider doing some sort of church service project (weed the flowerbeds or clean the church or bake something special for coffee hour) together, for an excuse to be together again.

6. Invite the children and their families to a picnic, pool party, miniature golf outing, or hike together.

7. Take advantage of every opportunity to remind the students of things you studied together in class this year: Bible or saint stories you studied, Bible verses you learned, information about The Church, etc. Whenever you see an opportunity in your conversations to make a connection, do it! That will help to cement those concepts into their minds.

Regardless of the means we use to stay in touch, it is important that our students know that they are cared for by their Sunday Church School teachers. Let us do what we can to help these young members of our parish know that they are loved. Let us also continue to find ways to help them learn more about Our Lord and His Church.

Teaching Children about the Creed

The following excerpts on the Creed are an easy way to start teaching children about our statement of faith. These excerpts could be read to/with a Sunday Church School class. They are selected from Natalie Ashanin’s article “The Creed Is What We Believe,” first published in Little Falcons (http://www.littlefalcons.net/) magazine, “Creed,” issue #37. Used by permission.

“Have you ever been asked to describe your faith? To tell what you believe? If you are like a lot of people, you probably got tongue tied and everything you knew seemed to fly out of your head… But all you have to do to avoid this embarrassing situation is to become familiar with the Creed, or, as it is often called, ‘The Symbol of the Faith.’

“The word ‘creed’ comes from the Latin word, ‘credo,” which means ‘I believe.’ The Creed was originally developed for use in baptism, when the person being baptized would make a statement of what he believed. We still use the Creed in baptisms and chrismations… Reciting the Creed is like reciting  the Pledge of Allegiance to our country, but this pledge of our faith in God is a far greater pledge than one to any country on earth. When we sing or recite the Creed during the liturgy, we are acknowledging that we accept and believe in what the Church teaches us and there is an implied pledge to uphold and witness to these teachings…

“Because the liturgy is a ‘work of the people’ in which everyone is called to participate, most of the prayers say ‘we’ or ‘us,’ but the Creed uses ‘I’ because each person is called to make their own statement of faith. In order for Christians to act together as a people of God, they must have a common belief and the Creed serves the purpose of bringing them together in their faith.

“The Creed starts with a statement about ‘God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth.’ God made everything because He is perfectly good. He made everyone and everything so that all would be good and happy with Him.

“Then it continues with a description of our Lord Jesus Christ as the only begotten Son of God and how He came down from heaven to save us, suffered and died and rose from the dead. We affirm that He ascended into heaven and will come again to judge the living and the dead.

“The final part of the Creed speaks of the Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father. It continues to acknowledge faith in ‘one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.’ The word catholic is used here in its original meaning of universal, that which includes everyone. It does not refer to the Roman Catholic church, which separated itself from the Orthodox Church in 1054.

“When you hear the Creed being recited in church try not to use a book, but see how much you can remember by heart. Over time it will become second nature to you and then, when someone asks you to tell them what you believe, you will have it all there on the tip of your tongue. No, you don’t have to recite it word for word, but you will know what it is that you believe and be able to explain it to others.” (pp. 4-8)

There is a coloring book of the Creed as shown through icons, for the youngest students, found at http://www.stnectariospress.com/the-creed-in-coloring-icons-and-stickers/. Slightly older children can learn about the Creed by reading the illustrated “I Believe: The Nicene Creed” found at http://www.amazon.com/I-Believe-The-Nicene-Creed/dp/0802852580. Older students will benefit from studying this guide to the Nicene Creed (with a study guide) available at http://www.stnectariospress.com/the-nicene-creed-for-young-people-with-study-guide/.

Let us as Sunday Church School teachers pass on the Faith by teaching “The Symbol of the Faith,” the Creed, to our children. We should carefully examine the Creed phrase by phrase with our students, helping them learn what it means. Once we have done that, we can help them memorize the Creed and encourage them to find ways to embrace it for themselves.
Most importantly, let us live lives that exemplify to our students that “I believe…”

Teaching About New Life in Christ (connecting spring with Christ’s resurrection)

It is spring in the northern hemisphere, the time of year when we witness new life everywhere we look outside. Seemingly dead plants and empty ground are busting forth with leaves, buds, and flowers. With the death and glorious resurrection of our Lord fresh in our minds, this is the time of year for us to make connections for our students between what is going on in the world and what has just happened in the church year.

Here is one suggestion of how to do so:

1. Talk about fall/winter and how it looks outside during those seasons. Ask the students what the church building/property looked like in those months. Show pictures if you have any available, to remind them of how cold and dead the outside of the church looked, during the winter months.

2. Then, take your students for a little walk outside the church now that spring is here. Walk around on the parish’s property, looking for growth/signs of life. Talk about each thing you find, and how it looks different from its winter look.

3. Back in the classroom, make a comparison (verbal or a chart) of the church grounds’ winter look with the spring one.
4. Ask the students what is the difference between the two. Talk about new life, and how it makes you feel: Hopeful? Excited? Happy? Right?

5. Ask the students what just happened in the church year (we celebrated the death and resurrection of Christ). As the students how what they’ve just observed outside is like what has just happened in the church year. Invite them to make the connection between the new life of spring and Christ’s resurrection.

6. Talk briefly about the students’ baptisms. Make a further connection by reminding them that baptism is like dying with Christ, and being raised to life again, only now, as a follower of Christ – a Christian. Help the students make the connection between the new life they received in baptism and Christ’s rising from the dead. (You could also refer to the recent singing of and/or actually SING the Apolytikion of Palm Sunday, which again demonstrates the connection:  “O Christ God, when we were buried with Thee in Baptism, we became deserving of Thy Resurrection to immortal life. Wherefore, we praise Thee, crying: Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord.” Note: if you do so, you may want to talk about “immortal life” being the new, forever life that is granted to us through Christ.)

7. Brainstorm with the children ways in which they can live their new life that Christ has given them through His breaking the power of death and raising us all with Him to new life through baptism. What are the best ways for them to “blossom” as Christians? Talk about how the students feel when they live in those ways: Hopeful? Excited? Happy? Right? Encourage them that, though they may not be “blossoming” perfectly all the time, just like spring plants, in our lives there is also room for growth, for more “blossoming.”
8. Craft/extender: use brightly colored cupcake liners to create “flowers.” Glue a bright paper circle to the middle of each liner, as the flower’s center. On each flower’s center, have students write one way that they can live their new life in Christ (ie: being kind to my sister; saying my prayers; paying attention in church; etc.). Mount the “flowers” on paper with hand-drawn stems (if they’re being taken home immediately) or on a bulletin board in the classroom labeled “Blossoming With New Life in Christ” (or something similar).
9. Challenge each student to look for ways to show their new life in Christ, at home or at school, this week. (And then, the next time you meet, remember to ask them for stories of how they or someone they know showed that they are blooming for Christ!)

Mothers In God’s Service (reprinted with permission from Life Transfigured: A Journal of Orthodox Nuns, Vol. 21 #2)

The following article applies to all Orthodox women: mothers, grandmothers, godmothers, Sunday Church School teachers, and fellow parishioners alike. Each woman in the Church has an important role in the parish, and can be used by God to be a great blessing to the children and young people of the parish! May the article encourage the women who read it to “serve God in motherhood,” as we work together to raise the little ones in our parishes to love and follow God.

“Whether we are aware of it or not, we are all called to serve God. Whatever talents He has given us, we should choose to use in the service of His glorification.
One such talent is the ability of a woman to care for the children she bears. She takes care of their physical needs and also tries to promote what she herself perceives as a need to know God. To women, God has given the wonderful mission of raising children, of building little temples for Him, raising another generation inspired to praise God.

Orthodox Christians understand just how exalted motherhood is. Has God not willed to be incarnate of a woman – Mary, the blessed offspring of aged Joachim and Anna? She was found worthy to take part in the mystery of the incarnation, having perfected in her soul purity, humility, obedience, silence, simplicity and a gentle disposition. She knew that such is precious in the sight of God (I Pet. 3:4). And in the environment of her purity of mind and speech, as well as her quiet comportment, she raised her holy Son with gentle love and care. While she is unique in her holiness, she is absolutely beautiful in her humanity. Perhaps every woman cherishes the wish in her heart to have the special grace that renders the Mother of God the saint of saints and the model of purity and silence.

To all who are called by God to motherhood, may it be granted not only to be worthy servants of His chosen flock, but also to take part in raising that God-glorifying generation. While God entrusts the leading to spiritual growth and development of virtues to many people, including priests and godparents, He chooses women to serve Him in motherhood, and we ought to understand that it is a holy calling. A woman worthy of being called “mother” is also worthy of being deemed “martyr” because raising children is a great sacrifice of self. Do not underestimate the serious and holy service you render when you accept from God to raise the little ones He gives you.

Happy Mother’s Day! ”

Reprinted with permission from Life Transfigured: A Journal of Orthodox
Nuns, Vol. 21, No. 2, Summer 1989, p.10. Holy Transfiguration Monastery, Ellwood City, PA.

Gleanings from a book: “Conversations With Children” by Sister Magdalen

Sister Magdalen, of the Stavropegic Monastery of St. John the Baptist, Essex, England has been working with children and helping them grow in their Orthodox faith for many years. In 2001 she published a book called Conversations With Children: Communicating our Faith. The book walks the reader through important tenants of the faith, via many of Sister Magdalen’s conversations with children.

“For a Christian adult, to speak with a child is a refreshing experience. New light shines on aspects of life which we may either take for granted or refuse to face.” (pp. 13 – 14) Sister Magdalen interacts with children about “games, clothes, films, lessons, and about ‘nothing in particular,'” (p. 14), which is likely the reason why the children in her circles have been so open to learning from/with her. We as SCS teachers do well to follow her example: not simply talking at the children in our Sunday Church School classes, but speaking with them; listening to their questions and comments; and learning from/with them as well.

Conversations With Children is divided into three chapters. “Theology has a direct relevance to the Christian education of children. Those who speak with children need a vision of the human person God calls us each to become; this is therefore the focus of Chapter 1. Chapter 2 concentrates on the educator’s vocation to be a channel of life-giving Tradition… Occasionally I give … talks in a more formal setting… to young people… Some of these feature in Chapter 3.” (pp. 14 – 15) Each chapter is divided into sub-headings, where Sister Magdalen writes about the topic of the subheading, and then incorporates quotes from conversations she has had with children regarding that subheading.

Throughout the book, Sister Magdalen refers to the adults in a child’s life as “teachers.” This is intentionally done, as all adults are teaching the children around them: whether by word or deed. “From the outset I remind the adults who hope to learn from this book that children must know us as real people, not merely as educators…. If teachers are themselves grateful children of our Heavenly Father, their children will learn from this attitude more than from anything else… We teach best when we simply enjoy the company of our beloved children.” (p. 16)

On every page, the reader is challenged by Sister Magdalen’s insights and her wisdom in speaking to children. It is apparent that she has great love for God’s little ones, and that He has granted her a gift to be able to effectively teach and guide them. And though she is older than they are, she is not above learning from them. She says in the book that the “…conversations recalled here will make it obvious how much I gain from the children.” (p. 15) Thus, the conversations she carries on with children are not only for their growth, but also for hers; and, by her writing, for the reader’s, as well.

This week’s daily inspirations will feature quotes from the book, intended to challenge our faith and make us better teachers. May we indeed rise to the challenge of teaching our Sunday Church School students. Most importantly may even our conversations with the children in our class point them (and us) to the Faith.
Conversations with Children
by Sister Magdalen
Published by the Patriarchal Stavropegic Monastery of St. John the Baptist
Essex, England

2001