Category Archives: Sunday Church School Teachers

Brain-Based Education and Quantum Learning Core Concept 2: Atmosphere

This post is the third in a series of blogs focusing on the comprehensive model of education called “brain-based learning” and the Quantum Learning method that most effectively applies that model. It is our hope that this series will help you to learn more about both the model and the method. Utilizing this methodology in Sunday Church school lessons will enable teachers to heighten the learning ability of each student in their class.

 

In this part of our series on the brain-based learning program, Quantum Learning, we will explore the first of the five core concepts in this method of teaching. (If you missed our introduction to the program, you can find it here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2020/03/13/brain-based-education-and-quantum-learning-an-introduction/. Brain-based learning is a teaching methodology based on research that helps teachers to be more effective while also helping students to learn in the best way possible.) The five core components of the Quantum Learning System are Foundation, Atmosphere, Environment, Design, and Delivery. All five of these components work together, but even if you are only able to implement one of them in your Sunday Church school class, you and your students will greatly benefit.

This post will take a closer look at the second core concept, “Atmosphere.” In this context, the “atmosphere” of a classroom is not a physical aspect of the room. It is, rather, the general feeling that everyone in the room – teacher included – senses while there. This atmosphere of a classroom is critical to quality and quantity of the learning that can happen therein.

When the atmosphere of a classroom is optimal for learning, the following happens:
The students in the class feel that they are supported and that this is a safe place for them to be. Those in the classroom feel strongly that they belong there. The teacher sets a tone that implies that work will be done, but they do so in a comfortable and motivating way. Everyone in the classroom is working to develop their character, which in turn grows respect and rapport between students and between students and the teacher. Effort is acknowledged, every time that it is put forth, and learnings and achievements are all celebrated.

In any classroom seeking to be successful, but perhaps especially in the Sunday Church school classroom, the atmosphere should be full of joy. The teachers or catechists in a joy-filled Church school class aim to create a sense of community, and koinonia, or fellowship, in their classroom. One way they do so is by showing genuine interest in each student, caring and respecting each of them, and encouraging the students to respond to everyone else in the same way. If each person in the classroom is growing in the “Eight Keys” (the virtues), their growth will help to set such mutual respect in motion. Although the room should have a relaxed atmosphere, students should still be able to pray reverently. The “opening prayer” before each lesson should set a tone of holiness for the forthcoming lesson. Each lesson should contain joy and wonder. Catechists (and students alike) in a joyful class should acknowledge every effort that is made in the classroom and celebrate all learning and achievement.

The atmosphere of your classroom includes the way that you choose to speak to and with your students. It is heavily influenced by your rapport with them. Your personal attitude about Church, Church school and even about learning itself will all contribute to (or detract from, depending on your attitude!) the atmosphere of your classroom. If you work to grow an atmosphere of joy in your Sunday Church school classroom, you will create an atmosphere of joyful learning for both you and your students!

In the future, we will be taking a closer look at the other core components of the Quantum Learning system, and offering ways to apply this method in your Church school lessons.

 

Here are some links related to the atmosphere of a classroom:

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As we wrote before, extending hospitality to our students is a very important way to work towards a healthy atmosphere in our classroom. Here’s what we wrote before, in case you missed it: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2019/09/20/pursuing-church-school-success-offering-hospitality-in-the-classroom/

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This Methodist-created document offers teachers a few important things to consider when planning for the atmosphere of their classroom. It suggests that students will respond best if “a friendly voice calls; everyone knows my name; there is a place for me at the table; I feel comfortable here; (and) God is in this safe place.” Read more about each of those learning-enhancing student impressions here: https://nccumc.org/christianformation/files/Classroom-Environment.pdf

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“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 decision to face time with her class, including 5 practical ways in which a teacher can choose happiness, here: https://teresakwant.com/choose-to-be-happy-teacher/

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Check out the practical suggestions for improving the atmosphere of your classroom through classroom climate, stress reduction, and individual differences as suggested here: https://thesecondprinciple.com/optimal-learning/brain-based-education/

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Boost  your students’ achievement by focusing on two of these ten boosters which are related to the atmosphere of your classroom. Booster #3 (Connections) and #7 (Engagement) will both help toward that end: http://www.jensenlearning.com/survey/Top-10-Boosters-Student-Achievement.pdf

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“Building rapport and safety takes intention, compassion and risk on your part… The Quantum Teaching way suggests that from Day One, we get out from behind our content and policy, and just get to know our students and build rapport with them. It’s part of establishing an open, effective atmosphere…” (pp. 25-26) If you are interested in implementing the Quantum Learning Method in your classroom, you’ll find an entire chapter dedicated to the concept of Atmosphere in “Quantum Teaching: Orchestrating Student Success”  by Bobbi DePorter, Mark Reardon, and Sarah Singer-Nourie, published by Allyn and Bacon in 1999. It is available for sale here https://www.amazon.com/Quantum-Teaching-Orchestrating-Student-Success/dp/020528664X

 

Brain-Based Education and Quantum Learning: an Introduction

This post is the first in a series of blogs focusing on the comprehensive model of education called “brain-based learning” and the Quantum Learning method that most effectively applies that model. It is our hope that this series will help you to learn more about both the model and the method. Utilizing this methodology in Sunday Church school lessons will enable teachers to heighten the learning ability of each student in their class.

Brain-based learning is a learning model that combines many educational theories into one comprehensive package. Lozalnov’s Accelerated Learning; Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences; Grinder and Bandler’s Neuro-Linguistic Programming; Hahn’s Experiential Learning; Socratic Inquiry; Johnson and Johnson’s Cooperative Learning; and Hunter’s Elements of Effective Instruction are all blended in this learning model. Because so many different theories work together in unison in this model, students in a classroom where the model is applied find meaning and relevancy in the content that they are learning.

And it is not just the students who benefit! Teachers who apply the brain-based learning model find joy in teaching, because it creates engaging content, it increases moments of discovery, and it blends learning with life skills. All of this shapes students and teachers alike into life-long learners, and it is a joy to be around people who WANT to learn! Brain-based learning also features teaching strategies that are more likely to permanently implant the information into students’ long-term memory, so they are not just temporarily engaging with the ideas.

Quantum Learning is a program based on the brain-based learning model. This research-based educational methodology increases the effectiveness of the teacher while simultaneously enhancing student performance through the cooperation of these five core components: Foundation, Atmosphere, Environment, Design, and Delivery. This program takes everything into account: the classroom, the curriculum’s design, and how the curriculum is presented. The program embraces the intentional use of music, pays attention even to peripherals, closely scrutinizes presentations, and promotes active engagement.

Quantum Learning recognizes that the whole student must be involved in order for genuine learning to take place, so it focuses on this simple directive: “Theirs to Ours, Ours to Theirs.” In other words, we teachers need to enter our students’ world first before we can begin to teach them. Building authentic bridges between ourselves and our students is imperative, because we need to make a connection with something from their life before they will be able to learn. When we are able to connect like that in the lesson’s introduction, that connection becomes a “hook”. It allows the gap between us to be bridged, and at that point, the student is ready to learn. In the Quantum Teaching model, we teachers must at this point prepare ourselves to learn together with our students. We will know that our students are successfully learning when they grab hold of what we are learning together and begin to apply it for themselves.

There are five tenets of Quantum Learning, and all of them require intense teacher attentiveness:

  1. Everything “speaks” (including the classroom, any handouts used, each person’s body language, and – of course – the presentation itself)
  2. Everything is on purpose (the intention for the lesson, and the goal)
  3. Experience before label (complex stimulation will create a “need to know” in students)
  4. Acknowledge every effort (find positive ways to respond to every effort in the classroom)
  5. Celebrate learning (anything that is worth learning is also worth celebrating)

Quantum Learning requires intentional teaching, commanding a fair amount of prior thought and careful planning. If we really want our students to learn all that they are able to learn in Sunday Church school, it is worth the extra effort both to learn how to apply this methodology and then to actually do so.

Take a moment to think about everything that each student is learning in their life right now. Nothing is more important in the long run than what we are teaching them (and learning along with them).  Our class is not just about great ideas or lifelong skills: we are learning eternity-long skills. Because of the importance of what we’re teaching, it is imperative that we find the best way to reach each child, and to learn alongside them. Quantum Teaching will help us to build bridges between ourselves and our students, enabling us to maximize the learning that takes place in our Church school classroom. We will all be better for having applied it.

 

In future weeks, we will be taking a closer look at the core components of the the Quantum Learning system, and suggesting ways to apply this method in your Church school lessons.

Here are some links related to Brain-based learning and Quantum Teaching:

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Today, more and more teachers are basing their interactions with students on the field of brain-based learning instruction, which the CogniFit article “Brain based learning: What is it and how to apply it” describes as a new educational discipline that “unites the knowledge of neuroscience, psychology, and education, with the objective to optimize the learning and teaching process.” Its effects have been powerful in classrooms all over the world.

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“Anyone working in education knows the importance of finding the most effective way to impart knowledge. Brain-based learning is an advanced teaching method that aims to increase the speed and efficiency of learning.” Read more of this article on brain-based learning, including principles that will help you to improve your students’ learning: ttps://www.classcraft.com/blog/features/what-is-brain-based-learning/
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“There have been teachers of all sorts for centuries, but until the past 20 or so years they all had something in common—their teaching wasn’t based on detailed knowledge of how brains work.” Read this article so that your teaching can be different from theirs!  https://globaldigitalcitizen.org/10-benefits-brain-based-learning-instruction

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Find the history of brain-based learning; some of its core principles, as well as implications and suggestions for optimizing learning in this article: https://thesecondprinciple.com/optimal-learning/brain-based-education-an-overview/

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A very helpful book for applying the Quantum Teaching and Learning model is “Quantum Teaching: Orchestrating Student Success”, by Bobbi DePorter, Mark Reardon, and Sarah Singer-Nourie, published by Allyn and Bacon in 1999. It can be found for sale here: https://www.amazon.com/Quantum-Teaching-Orchestrating-Student-Success/dp/020528664X

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Khouria Terry Rogers, a retired teacher, used the Quantum Learning method when she was teaching, and she has written that this method is “extremely effective and [a] positive model for presenting material to learners.” She felt so strongly about it that, in addition to teaching in a classroom, she was a trainer/facilitator for the Quantum Learning method. You can read more about the method, and about Kh. Terry’s use of Quantum Learning in her classroom in this article: http://www.qln.com/downloads/nashvilleparentqlarticle_2.pdf

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Gleanings from a Book: “50 Ways to Improve Student Behavior: Simple Solutions to Complex Challenges” by Annette Breaux and Todd Whitaker

“50 Ways to Improve Student Behavior: Simple Solutions to Complex Challenges” by Annette Breaux and Todd Whitaker is a general-education resource full of ideas and suggestions that will be helpful to any teacher, including Sunday Church school teachers. It is not a religiously-oriented book, but many of the suggestions of ways that teachers can better connect with their students honor those students (even the “difficult” ones) in a very godly, loving manner. Teachers who read this book will be challenged to be the best that they can, and will likely re-read it over the years, in order to continue improving.

The book offers simple suggestions of ways that teachers can improve the environment and interactions that take place within their classroom. The book is based on the premise that “you have to reach a student before you can teach him” (preface), and suggests 50 ways that teachers can best reach their students. The underlying premise is that students are more likely to behave and be engaged in a classroom where they are welcomed, their presence is desired, and they feel valued.

Ideas include: writing to students (and their parents) before the year even begins; greeting every student as they come into your classroom each day; learning about your students’ individual interests; being enthusiastic about what you are presenting in order to breed enthusiasm for learning; being humble enough to admit mistakes rather than covering them up; bragging on your students to others instead of using guilt trips to modify behavior; and much more. Each of the 50 ideas is presented in a bite-sized mini-chapter, including the reasoning behind the idea, how/why it works, points to ponder related to the idea, and classroom strategy(ies) for successful application of the concept.

Orthodox Christians reading this book will see the love of Christ shining through the suggestions that it offers. Teachers who read and implement this book will be honoring and loving their students in an even better, more godly way. Although it’s not “preachy” or religious, it engenders the application of the virtues within a classroom setting. Teachers who read this book from a Christian perspective will feel encouraged to become a more caring teacher, and thus better follow the loving, caring example of Christ.

“50 Ways to Improve Student Behavior: Simple Solutions to Complex Challenges” by Annette Breaux and Todd Whitaker can be found here: https://www.amazon.com/50-Ways-Improve-Student-Behavior/dp/1596671327

Here are a few “gleanings” from the book, to give you a taste of the ideas therein:

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“In a classroom where teachers separate themselves physically from their students, behavior suffers. Want a simple solution? Get out from behind your desk or podium and get right in the middle of your students and teach away! This simple act, on your part will send a message that you are ‘right in there’ with them.” (p. 14,  “50 Ways to Improve Student Behavior: Simple Solutions to Complex Challenges” by Annette Breaux and Todd Whitaker)

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“When students think they have gotten you, you lose every time. When they begin pushing your buttons, there’s no stopping them. But wait a minute. Who showed them your buttons? You did… Students have to think that you are one of those teachers who just does not have any buttons… So what do you do when a student really aggravates you? …You maintain a calm, composed demeanor and deal with the misbehavior in a rational, controlled way.” (p. 45,  “50 Ways to Improve Student Behavior: Simple Solutions to Complex Challenges” by Annette Breaux and Todd Whitaker)

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“In the classroom, we tend to see more of what we encourage… The very best teachers always ‘catch’ their students behaving, thus discouraging the students who are misbehaving. They know what to ignore and what to notice.” (p. 59,  “50 Ways to Improve Student Behavior: Simple Solutions to Complex Challenges” by Annette Breaux and Todd Whitaker)

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“…take note of your actions and ask yourself if you are ever prone to intentionally embarrassing students in front of others. Do you single out students who are not paying attention so that everyone else can be made aware of that student’s lack of attention? …Do you ask for public apologies when a student has misbehaved in front of his peers? The list is endless, but we believe we have made our point… There simply is no justification for humiliation… We have yet to meet a truly effective teacher who uses humiliation as a form of behavior management.” (p. 67,  “50 Ways to Improve Student Behavior: Simple Solutions to Complex Challenges” by Annette Breaux and Todd Whitaker)

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“…students like and need to feel that their teachers find them interesting. Convince a student that you like her and find her interesting, and you’ve forged a connection. When students feel connected to their teachers, they achieve more and behave better.” (p. 84,  “50 Ways to Improve Student Behavior: Simple Solutions to Complex Challenges” by Annette Breaux and Todd Whitaker)

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“If one of your goals is that you aspire to be the perfect teacher, we advise you to run away from teaching… there is no perfect teacher. Even the very best teachers make mistakes. But one trait that separates the best from the rest is that the best teachers are not afraid to admit their mistakes, even (and especially) in front of their students… part of being a positive role model involves teaching students, through example, how to admit mistakes and how to use them as stepping stones to achievement.” (p. 89,  “50 Ways to Improve Student Behavior: Simple Solutions to Complex Challenges” by Annette Breaux and Todd Whitaker)

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“Success comes from taking small, consistent steps toward a goal. Effective teachers make their students successful on a daily basis by making everything doable and chewable. Just as, in eating, small bites are better for digestion, in learning, small bites are better for success!” (p. 101,  “50 Ways to Improve Student Behavior: Simple Solutions to Complex Challenges” by Annette Breaux and Todd Whitaker)

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“…a simple strategy is to get to know your students and find out who they are as people. Do you know your students’ dreams? …Do they know you care? Do you make a concerted effort to show them that you value them as real people with real dreams?” (p. 111,  “50 Ways to Improve Student Behavior: Simple Solutions to Complex Challenges” by Annette Breaux and Todd Whitaker)

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“We have all experienced the phenomenon of telling a problem to someone who listens intently, only to realize that in sharing the problem we were able to devise our own solution. We often leave that person saying, ‘Thanks for all of your help.’ He often replies, ‘But I didn’t do anything.’ Oh, but he did. He listened… sometimes that is exactly what we need—for someone to simply listen to what we have to say. So listen, lisen, listen to your students.” (p. 124,  “50 Ways to Improve Student Behavior: Simple Solutions to Complex Challenges” by Annette Breaux and Todd Whitaker)

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Pursuing Church School Success: Reaching Students Who Face Other Challenges

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

For this final post of the series, we have gathered a handful of resources for challenges that we have not yet addressed, which teachers in this community may be facing regularly in their Sunday Church school classroom. The resources are as varied as the challenges they address. Perhaps you may find it helpful to review all of the resources, in the event that one or more would suddenly become helpful in your classroom.

Here is an overview of the challenges which these resources address. Students with invisible disabilities may have physical pain or mental or emotional instability which affects their learning. Students with Oppositional Defiant Disorder may unintentionally disrupt the classroom as they try to make sense of their world. Students who are constantly wiggling may have a physiological or cognitive reason for doing so; whether or not they have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Students who struggle with anxiety may need additional margins or space in which to decompress. Gifted children may react intensely to their world; perhaps even with unpredictable angry outbursts because of the difference of their mental capacity from that of their peers.

Each of these challenges is unique and requires a different approach, so we will share a link or two related to each. It is our hope that one or more of these links will be helpful for your Sunday Church school classroom. If none seem necessary at the moment, hang on to the list; next year could be entirely different in your classroom!

Here are the links that we found related to the above topics. Do you face any of these challenges in your classroom? If so, what has worked for you? What related resources would you recommend to the community? Please share them below!

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Some time ago, we shared the following resources that can be helpful to Sunday Church school teachers who are working with students with invisible disabilities. Here they are again, in case you missed them the first time around:

https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2018/12/07/a-handful-of-resources-to-help-us-better-care-for-children-with-invisible-disabilities/

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Here’s a wish list for churches, written by one person who is experiencing an invisible illness. This list applies to Sunday Church schools, as well. https://morningcoffee.blogspot.com/2011/09/i-found-out-just-now-that-someone-out.html

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“Their disabilities are invisible to our eyes but complicate their every waking minute. As sojourners in a world that seems too bright, too loud, too harsh — too much — they need our love, as an echo of the perfect love they’ll find in Christ.” Read more about the reality of individuals with special needs who sojourn in our midst here: https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/not-wired-for-this-world?fbclid=IwAR3o

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Find a helpful definition of Oppositional Defiant Disorder, as well as 9 hands-on steps to work with a student with this disorder, here: https://www.merakilane.com/dealing-with-oppositional-defiant-disorder-18-tips-for-parents-and-teachers/

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What happens if one of our students is unable to “sit still and listen” or doesn’t turn around and look when we’re talking to them? Why is this happening, and what should we do about it? It may be occurring because the student is simply tired of being still during Liturgy, or it could signify more. Learn what different types of movement from your student could indicate, and how you can handle each, here: http://mcnattlearningcenter.com/files/Turning-Point.pdf 

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Teachers of students who may have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder will find helpful suggestions here:

https://incm.org/what-to-do-with-the-movers-and-shakers-in-your-sunday-school-class/

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Find a host of suggested ways to help students who struggle with anxiety, here: https://adayinourshoes.com/anxiety-iep-504-accommodations/

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Gifted people can be very intense. This intensity can affect their relationships, but it is not always a bad thing. Find 11 suggested strategies for embracing the intensity of gifted people here: https://reneeatgreatpeace.com/embracing-gifted-intensity/#_a5y_p=3284209

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The mother of gifted children (who sometimes has angry outbursts) has written this piece to help others understand and learn how to best work with her children: https://www.notsoformulaic.com/angry-gifted-kid/

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Pursuing Church School Success: A Handful of Resources Related to Autism

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 have gathered a handful of resources related to autism, the brain disorder which affects an individual’s ability to communicate, nurture relationships, and interact with their environment. Although more people have been diagnosed with autism in recent years, it is still unfamiliar to many others. Every person with autism is different, so there is still much to learn, even if we already know or have worked with someone with autism. In order for us to be better prepared to meet the students that may come our way, it is important that we prepare by learning about some of the best ways to welcome and suggestions to try when teaching someone who is autistic.

Summer Kinard is an Orthodox Christian teacher who is well prepared to teach other teachers about autism. She is an autistic mother raising five children on the autism spectrum, so she is familiar with this challenge from the inside. Summer does an excellent job of finding beautiful ways to teach others with autism, and sharing those ideas with other teachers. She offers so many resources at her site, SummerKinard.com. She even has identified patron saints who can be helpful with autism, and you can read about them here: https://summerkinard.com/2018/05/10/patron-saints-of-autism/! Her site is an excellent place to start looking for resources related to autism. (We will share a few of them below, but we recommend that you visit her site for more!

We have found a few other resources as well, and will share them below, in no particular order. These resources are not all Orthodox, but all are helpful, nonetheless.

How about you? What is your experience with autism? What resources have been helpful? What strategies have helped you teach autistic students? Please share them below!

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Summer Kinard has shared a wonderful four-part autism series for autistic people which is invaluable for teachers to read before welcoming a student with autism. The series begins here:https://summerkinard.com/2018/05/15/autistic-brain-owners-manual-1-make-yourself-at-home/

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Frederica Mathewes-Green wrote a poignant article called “Loving a Child with Autism” that Church school teachers would do well to read. It includes important insights and reminders like this one: “Parents are pained by their inability to reach an autistic child; he’s only a few feet away, at the other end of the sofa, but might as well be circling the dark reaches of space. But he is known by God.” Read the article in its entirety here: http://ww1.antiochian.org/node/17970

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An adult on the Autism spectrum shares in this blog post how his mind processes the world, and suggests ways that parishioners can help to better understand and welcome him and others on the spectrum. https://www.hospitablehomemaker.com/autism-spectrum-disorder/

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While this article (written by a pastor’s wife who is the mother of a child on the autism spectrum) may be old, it helps Sunday Church school teachers to think of the intangible things they can do to welcome a child with autism: https://theinclusivechurch.wordpress.com/2010/09/30/teaching-children-with-autism-the-intangibles/

She continues with this followup, which offers tangible ways to welcome the child(ren): https://theinclusivechurch.wordpress.com/2010/10/03/teaching-children-with-autism-the-tangibles/

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Find ten possible scenarios that could happen with a special needs (especially autistic) child in your classroom, together with safeguards to put in place and suggestions of ways to respond to each, here: https://theinclusivechurch.wordpress.com/2014/04/30/orange-conference-workshop-notes-including-students-with-autism/

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An Orthodox Christian mom speaks frankly to Church school teachers about her son, to help them better welcome him into their classroom, in this blog post. (In the process, she presents a series of questions teachers can ask all of the parents about their students, before they ever even meet the class, so that they know what will be helpful to each child!) Find a link to a questionnaire that you may wish to send out to parents in the future, as  well. https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/raisingsaints/unaskable-questions-answered-open-letter-sunday-school-teachers-autism-mom-plus-free-printable/

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This presentation is over an hour long and highly worth the time to watch it!  However, if you can only watch a couple of minutes of the video, please fast forward to 1:19:27 for an important message for all of us about special needs children (autistic, in this case) in our parishes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w2h6HJz8154&feature=emb_title

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This blog site offers resources for Sunday Church school teachers to use (or modify for use) in their own classroom that includes students who would benefit from visual supports to the teaching. http://specialsundayschool.blogspot.com/p/visual-supports.html Find pictoral directions, visual schedule and prayer guides, and more at this non-Orthodox, but very helpful site.

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Maura Oprisko speaks to Bobby Maddex in this podcast about raising autistic children in the Orthodox Church. We were unable to find a working link to her blog, but this podcast may be helpful to teachers and parents working with children with autism. https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/features/the_least_of_these

 

Pursuing Church School Success: a Handful of Resources for Welcoming Students with Special Needs and Handicaps

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. 

Every student who steps into our classroom is unique, and has needs that are individual to them. It is a great challenge for a teacher to teach such a great variety of individuals and lead them together through a lesson or learning time. It is a challenge, yes, but it is also a great honor and blessing.

From time to time, God gives a teacher the gift of a student whose needs are so unique that the teacher has the opportunity to seek new ways to teach. The student may have physical limitations, social struggles, or mental challenges that require special accommodations in a classroom setting. At first, it may be tempting for the teacher to greet those challenges with fear or dread, simply because they are new and different. However, it is our duty as Christians to love our fellow humans so much that we will help them in any way that we can. It is our honor as servants of God to extend mercy as completely as we are able. And it is our job as teachers to rise above our hesitance and learn all that we can about our students’ needs, then make the necessary adjustments in our classroom space, our teaching style, and our expectations of our students. When we take the time and effort to do so, we will not only do a better job of welcoming our students, but we will also be better able to receive from them the gifts that God intends to bestow.

In this series on pursuing Church school success, we would be remiss to not share a few resources that help Sunday Church school teachers to prepare to meet the needs of their students with handicaps or other special needs. We have encountered a few materials that can help teachers to teach such students. There are so many different kinds of handicaps and special needs that we will neither be able to include all of them, nor thoroughly address any of them. However, we will share a handful of assets which we thought may be of help to the community in this regard. We will begin by sharing general resources as well as some which focus on physical challenges and limitations. It is our hope that these will be a helpful starting place for us all as we seek to better love and help our students with extraordinary challenges.

May the Lord have mercy on us and on our students, as we learn how to learn together!

 

Here are some links that you may find helpful as you work with students with special needs and/or handicaps. Do you have any related resources that you would recommend to the community? Please share them below!

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This article may be a decade old, but the thoughts it contains and the questions that follow would be a valuable basis of a discussion amongst any group of Sunday Church school workers who desire to better welcome students of all abilities and needs. https://www.oca.org/parish-ministry/parishdevelopment/disability-and-communion

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Summer Kinard’s book, “Of Such is the Kingdom: A Practical Theology of Disability” is a wonderful Orthodox resource that helps parishioners to embrace each other, whatever their challenges may be. If you have not yet read it, we encourage you to do so, as it will bolster your love for Christ by helping you to better value and love everyone around you. We wrote about this book here: https://orthodoxchurchschoolteachers.wordpress.com/2019/10/25/gleanings-from-a-book-of-such-is-the-kingdom-a-practical-theology-of-disability-by-summer-kinnard/

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Summer Kinard’s website offers so many resources (many listed here: https://summerkinard.com/special-needs-resources/). Check out her free month of hands-on Sunday Church school lessons (which offers a glimpse into a teaching style that reaches a variety of needs of the students in your class) here: https://summerkinard.com/2019/08/11/free-month-of-hands-on-Sunday-school-curriculum/

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Those among us who “thought we had the advantages in life… find that on a spiritual level we can be severely disabled compared to our brothers and sisters who lack those intellectual giftings, but whose spiritual life can be marked by abilities and giftings we never suspected.” Read this perspective in this reflection on what the scriptures have to say about those in our midst with special needs: https://www.bethinking.org/human-life/a-biblical-view-of-disability

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“Church, we have a great opportunity to show love! The need is great. Kids are hurting. Adults are too. Families are struggling. The first step in being able to help is understanding the need. Jesus met people where they were, and so can we.” So concludes this presentation of the findings of one study on disability and the church. Read the findings here: https://church4everychild.org/2016/02/09/what-are-the-stats-on-disability-and-church/#_edn1

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This webinar can be a helpful starting point for Sunday Church school teachers and/or parishes desiring to better embrace the parishioners in their midst who face disabilities and other special needs:

https://www.goarch.org/en/-/the-church-and-families-of-children-with-special-needs-webinar

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Check out this list of resources: https://www.goarch.org/-/families-of-children-with-special-needs-resource-list

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This article offers suggestions of ways to make a church building more accessible for those with physical challenges. The article is not written from an Orthodox perspective, but many of the accessibility suggestions can be helpful as we plan (or alter) our physical space, to make it more accomodating. https://churchesbydaniels.com/four-ways-accommodate-special-needs-church-design/

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Something as seemingly innocuous as food can be very dangerous to someone who is allergic to certain ingredients. Summer Kinard’s free printable is a quick and easy way for parish members to communicate what is in the foods that they bring, so that people with allergies can be aware as they choose what to eat at coffee hour or in the Sunday school hall. It is so important that we take steps like this to show every member that their parish cares enough about them to ensure their safety. https://summerkinard.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/allergen-check-list-free-printable.pdf

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In Russia and Greece, parishes are including their deaf members by signing the liturgy. It is beautiful to behold, as evidenced in the video clips found here. https://orthocath.wordpress.com/2010/11/17/orthodox-christians-who-are-deaf-and-blind/
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In addition to Byzantine music, you will find some liturgical texts in braille at this page: http://www.stanthonysmonastery.org/music/BrailleByzantineMusic.html#Links

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In this article, a mom of a child with a genetic skin disorder expresses her wishes with regard to what happens when other children notice her daughter and her challenges. She says, “What I wish you would do? I wish you would leave this conversation with your children open to me and my family, so it could become with us, instead of about us…When your child points and tells you to look, I wish you would respond clearly, ‘Yes, look at that sweet little girl. It looks like she’s having so much fun playing, just like you are!’” Read the article in its entirety here: https://community.today.com/parentingteam/post/dear-parents-what-i-wish-you-would-do-when-your-child-comments-on-my-daughters-special-needs

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Here are helpful tips for those in our community who do not have a child with a disability, for awareness: https://www.facebook.com/ellenstumbowriter/videos/371339980392324/

 

Pursuing Church School Success: Working with Difficult Students

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. 

Have you ever experienced something like this: right in the middle of a Sunday Church school lesson, one student attempts to derail the class by creating unrelated noise, making faces, and/or answering questions with sass or inappropriate answers. What do you do in this scenario? How can you best care for and help this student, while also continuing to teach the rest of the class?

We set out to find some ideas for how to handle difficult students (or students having a difficult moment), and found quite a wide range of ideas. We will share a few of them with you, in the event that any of them will be helpful. Should you ever find yourself in a situation similar to the one described above, perhaps having read several of these ideas will help.

As always, we would really love to hear what you do. How do YOU handle difficult students or difficult moments in the classroom? Please share your wisdom with the community, so that we can all benefit and better lead our Sunday Church school students to Christ and His Church!

Here are the links that we found, in no particular order:

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Have you found any of the 10 “tricks of the trade” mentioned here to be helpful as you face a student that’s disrupting the class? https://ministry-to-children.com/manage-behavior-problems/?
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The author of this article suggests that teachers pretend that their most difficult students are well behaved, explaining why this suggestion works, and how to carry it out. “Practically, you’re going to smile and joke with them like you do those students who are near perfectly behaved. You’re going to make eye contact with them. You’re going to believe in them and have the expectation that they will follow rules and behave as you desire.

Although you’ll never stop being a vigilant observer of all your students, you’ll find yourself quite naturally refraining from hovering and micromanaging, warning and reminding, and glaring and glowering around them… Your stress level will drop a few notches and a sea of tension will drain from your classroom… But the real benefit resides within the heart, mind, and self-worth of the difficult students themselves.When you treat them like everyone else, they begin to feel like a valued member of the class.”

Though the article is not specifically Orthodox, showing this degree of acceptance and mercy to all is certainly how we Orthodox Christians should be treating our fellow humans! Read the article in its entirety here:
https://www.smartclassroommanagement.com/2017/01/07/why-you-should-pretend-your-most-difficult-students-are-perfectly-well-behaved/

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Many of the ideas offered here for working with difficult students (and/or a challenging class) are for a regular classroom with all-day classes. However, a handful of them can certainly apply to a Sunday Church school class. The tenth suggestion is particularly important, regardless of class size or length:

http://dragonsdencurriculum.blogspot.com/2015/08/ive-lost-control-now-what.html

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The author of this article offers four strategies for working with students who are disrupting a lesson. The  strategy of addressing sensory needs is not an oft-considered strategy, but it should be!

https://educationtothecore.com/2015/11/strategies-for-disruptive-behavior/

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The writers of this article emphasize again and again the importance of communication: whether while setting up, justifying, or enforcing expectations, communication will need to be clear in any classroom, especially one which includes difficult students. https://www.thoughtco.com/tips-on-handling-difficult-students-2081545

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What about older students with rude or disrespectful attitudes? This transcripted podcast offers some helpful suggestions, including the following twist in our way of thinking: “A discipline problem is anything that disrupts instruction. Anything. Which means that a child can be a discipline problem, but it also means that a teacher can be a discipline problem. When you choose not to escalate the situation as a teacher, you choose not to become a discipline problem, because the moment that you start getting in the last word with that student, you now are playing that student’s game. What you’re trying to do is get the student on your page, not get on the student’s page.” Read more (or listen to the podcast) here:

https://thecornerstoneforteachers.com/truth-for-teachers-podcast/respond-rude-disrespectful-student-attitudes/

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What if a “difficult” student is in truth genuinely upset about something, and not just trying to disrupt the class? This article encourages teachers to think about themselves and how they would react to an upset student, long before they experience something like this, so that they are able to better react in the moment. The author encourages teachers to think through what pushes their buttons, how they feel when their buttons are pushed, and how it impacts their relationship with the students. (The article also includes 5 ways to deescalate an upset student.) Read the article in its entirety here: http://friendofreading.blogspot.com/2015/08/5-ways-to-deescalate-upset-students-in_15.html

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What if you don’t have just one difficult student in class? In this article, a classroom management expert addresses the concern of a reader who had not one or two, but SIX difficult, intentionally disruptive students in class.

https://www.smartclassroommanagement.com/2016/03/12/how-to-handle-six-disrespectful-students-in-one-class/

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