Tag Archives: Communication

Pursuing Church School Success: Encouraging Class Participation

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. 

 

Student participation is an important aspect of success in the classroom. Therefore, as we actively pursue student success in our Sunday Church school classrooms, we must consider the level of participation invited and encouraged in the class. This post will challenge us to do so.

Think for a moment about your Sunday Church school students. How well do they participate in class? Do you invite them to participate? In what ways do you encourage participation? How could you better welcome their input and ideas?

We discovered various links and articles that we thought may be helpful to you as you evaluate and grow the level of participation that happens in your Sunday Church school classroom. Each is different from the others, so we encourage you to read all of them, to see what strikes a chord with you for your class. We also encourage you to consider asking your students for input: what do they want/need you to do to better encourage them to participate in class?

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!

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“Starting on the first day of class, arrange the room in a way that encourages active engagement.” So begins this helpful piece that offers practical suggestions for building an environment that spurs participation: https://teachingcenter.wustl.edu/resources/teaching-methods/participation/increasing-student-participation/

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How do we define classroom participation, how can it be encouraged, and what is a good way to assess it? Find the answers to each of these questions here: https://uwaterloo.ca/centre-for-teaching-excellence/teaching-resources/teaching-tips/assessing-student-work/grading-and-feedback/promoting-effective-participation

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Warm up your minds at the beginning of class; use movement; encourage collaboration — these are a few of the tips this author offers to teachers desiring to grow class participation: https://www.edutopia.org/classroom-student-participation-tips

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Here are ten practical, active suggestions of ways to encourage students (most of the video examples are of secondary students) to participate in class: https://www.teachingchannel.org/blog/2018/01/18/10-top-notch-strategies-12-min

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This blog offers four common reasons students don’t participate, followed by several techniques to solve each of those problems: https://www.teachhub.com/top-12-ways-increase-student-participation

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Good teachers will know how to deal with all types of answers that students offer in classrooms where participation is encouraged. Here’s an article that discusses the most common types of answers kids give and suggests ways that teachers should respond to these answers: https://wellequippedvolunteer.com/2015/05/25/one-way-sunday-school-teachers-can-encourage-active-participation-in-class/

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In classrooms where there is more student-directed learning and less teacher-directed learning, it is still easy for teachers to be talking more than they need to. This article offers 8 ways that teachers can talk less and allow their students to talk even more: ://thecornerstoneforteachers.com/2014/09/8-ways-teachers-can-talk-less-get-kids-talking.html

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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 Feast of the Ascension

It is nearly the end of the Paschal season already. We Orthodox Christians have been celebrating Christ’s resurrection for many days, beginning with the glorious celebration of Pascha! The end of the Paschal season offers us yet another opportunity to celebrate: the Feast of the Ascension of Christ, which always falls on a Thursday, is celebrated 40 days after Pascha. This Feast is one of the twelve Great Feasts of our Orthodox Church Year. Yet, for many of us, it goes by nearly unnoticed. Let us learn more about this feast and teach our Sunday Church School students about Our Lord’s return to heaven and His promise to send us the Holy Spirit.

The Ascension is important to us as Orthodox Christians for many reasons: it marks the end of Jesus’ time on earth reassuring His followers, after His resurrection; it is the date on which Christ gave his last commandment to His disciples; and it is the day in which Christ Himself took human flesh (His body!) into heaven, the presence of God, restoring man’s communion with God by giving humanity a permanent place of honor in heaven. (See more at http://www.theologic.com/oflweb/feasts/ascen.htm orhttp://www.metropolitannektariosofhongkong.org/2013/06/celebrating-the-feast-of-ascension/.)

Here are some ideas that can help to teach children about the Ascension:

Troparion (Tone 4)
O Christ God, You have ascended in Glory,
Granting joy to Your disciples by the promise of the Holy Spirit.
Through the blessing they were assured
That You are the Son of God,The Redeemer of the world!

Kontakion (Tone 6)
When You did fulfill the dispensation for our sake,
And unite earth to Heaven:
You did ascend in glory, O Christ our God,
Not being parted from those who love You,
But remaining with them and crying:
I am with you and no one will be against you.

It is important for the children to learn what the Ascension is about; that it is one of the 12 major feast days of the Orthodox Church; and that it is to be celebrated! How you choose to communicate those ideas with the children is up to you. However we choose to do so, may we all be prepared, and properly celebrate the Feast of the Ascension: for, through Christ’s Ascension, we humans have gained restoration with God!

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…”

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.