Manual for Sunday school teachers
Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto, 2010-2011
4-A. Substitutes — taking care of yourself — spiritual growth as a teacher
4-B. Supplies and equipment
4-C. "Right Action": behavior and discipline
4-D. About our child and youth protection policy
4-E. Safety concerns
4-F. Communicating with Dan
Section 1: Goals and Visions
Transforming ourselves, each other, and the world.
(1) We want children to have fun and feel they are part of a community.
-- How to achieve this goal: Opening and closing circles in Sunday school; allowing time for fun and games; overnights; etc.
-- One way to measure this: Track attendance as a percentage of enrolment. 50% attendance is average; 70% attendance is excellent.
(2) We want children to gain the basic religious literacy expected in our society.
-- How to achieve this goal: Work from the curriculum books, or plan lessons based on the master list of topics for religious literacy.
-- Possible ways to assess this: Children present evidence of what they've learned either during an annual Sunday school Open House in mid-May, or during the Children's Sunday worship service on May 23.
(3) We want children to learn the skills associated with liberal religion, things such as public speaking, singing, basic leadership skills, interpersonal skills, etc.
-- How to achieve this goal: This goal may be incorporated into regular Sunday school curriculum. It will also be addressed in other activities such as Children's Chapel, Children's Choir, the first 15 minutes of worship, etc.
-- Possible ways to assess this: Children demonstrate their competence in class, in Children's Chapel, or in a worship service.
(4) We aim to prepare children to become Unitarian Universalist adults, should they choose to become Unitarian Universalists when they are old enough to make their own decisions. To this end, we help children to become sensitive, moral, and joyful people, people who have intellectual integrity and spiritual insight.
-- How to achieve this goal: Young people learn about this best by living their religion and by spending time with appropriate adult role models.
-- We typically assess this when children go through the Coming of Age program.
Goals of this volunteer job:
• “Transforming ourselves, each other, and the world.”
• The overall goal of UUCPA Sunday school is to help children meet our four big educational goals: have fun and build community, gain religious literacy, learn basic religious skills, and prepare children to become UU adults should they choose to do so.
• To grow spiritually and religiously yourself, to deepen your own Unitarian Universalist faith.
• Working in a team, serving as a Sunday school teacher on Sunday morning 1 out of 2 weeks (i.e., about 15 times), for an average of 2.5 hours a week when you are lead teacher, one hour a week when you assist (i.e., total of about 30 hours over one year). Scheduling to be arranged directly with your teaching team.
• Teachers are asked to commit to serving for at least one church year (September through March).
Statement of Accountability:
Sunday school teachers report to the Assistant Minister of Religious Education, and are also supported by the Children/Youth Religious Education Committee, the Board member whose portfolio includes youth ministry, and adults who provide logistics support.
• Sunday school teachers help children feel a part of the UUCPA community.
Teachers meet educational goals through using appropriate curriculum resources.
• Teachers concern themselves with issues of safety and logistics. Safety includes emotional and physical safety, and teachers must attend an annual safety training session.
• Teachers pursue their own personal spiritual growth by attending worship services when possible.
• Have fun!
Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities:
• Willingness and ability to do ministry with children.
• Willingness and ability to grow and develop as a Sunday school teacher.
• Teachers should take advantage of in-service trainings when offered, and/or engage in self study of teaching in a religious education setting.
Benefits and opportunities:
• Opportunity to be a positive influence in the lives of children.
• Expenses for workshops and trainings paid upon prior arrangement with the Assistant Minister of Religious Education.
• Direct access to Assistant Minister of Religious Education for support.
Volunteers who work with legal minors must receive annual safety training, and must agree to and sign the Code of Ethics. UUCPA may request reference checks of volunteers who work with legal minors.
The job description on the previous page gives a general idea of what your responsibilities are. Below are more specific listings of your responsibilities, along with a suggested schedule you can follow that will make it easier and more pleasant to be a Sunday school teacher. You'll see that there are two listings of responsibilities. When you are a lead teacher, you are in charge of preparing a plan for the session. When you are assisting a lead teacher, you do no preparation.
1. When you are the lead teacher
The preceding Sunday...
a. Check in with this week's leader or teacher to see what your group did (to make sure you don't do the same thing over again)
b. If you are using a printed curriculum, read the lesson plan for next week. Begin thinking which of the activities you will actually have time to use next Sunday. If you are creating your own lesson plan, write an outline of what you'll do.
c. Begin gathering any books or other materials you will need next Sunday.
During the week...
a. Review your revised lesson plan, and put it into its final form
b. Make sure you have back-up plans ready to go
c. If you have any problems, send email to Dan by Thursday afternoon or (if you wait until the last minute) call Dan at church and leave a message.
The day you teach...
a. Arrive at least 15 minutes early to organize room and materials; pick up the notebook for your group, check in with your assisting teacher, have some coffee or tea.
b. Attend the first fifteen minutes of the worship service.
d. Before the end of the lesson, be sure the children have helped you clean up (remember, they need to learn to take responsibility for their space.)
e.Fill in the weekly evaluation form, titled “Note to Dan,” that you'll find in the notebook for your group.
2. When you are assisting a lead teacher
The preceding Sunday...
a. Check in with the lead teacher.
The day you assist...
a. Arrive at least 15 minutes early to check in with the lead teacher.
b. Attend the first fifteen minutes of the worship service.
d. Before the end of the lesson, be sure the children have helped you and the lead teacher clean up.
Section 2: Organizing a Sunday school session
Here's a blank session plan form for you to use as you're planning your session.
Typically, everyone is together in the sanctuary for the first fifteen minutes of the worship service. Church school participants usually leave right after the children's story. Then the children all go to their assigned rooms, and every group starts with a sharing circle (more about those in a moment).
But what do you do in those two to five minutes as some of the children tear into your room, and others drift in slowly talking to their friends? Those first two to five minutes can set the stage for a wonderful, cooperative session that's enjoyable for teacher and children alike. It is important to engage the attention of the children at the very beginning of a session.
Here are ten ways for you to "set the stage" for a dramatic opening to your session:
1. Greet each child as she or he arrives... "Welcome! I'm glad you're here!"
2. Enlist the help of the early arrivals in getting ready for the others.
3. Have "straggle-in" activities ready to engage interest and energy... Something to do!
4. Have a new picture on the wall, or an interesting object... Something to see!
5. Play a recording of music or speech... Something to hear!
6. Begin with a startling statement or question: " How do you think that..." or "What if I told you that..." Something to wonder about!
7. Begin with a mystery or a puzzle.... Something to figure out!
8. Have things to pick up and handle: a chalice, a menorah, a prayer rug... Something to touch!
9. Begin with a game that gives everyone a chance to meet everyone else... Something to play!
10. Start with a song... Something to sing!
(—adapted from material by Ann Fields)
All this is to set the stage. But also remember that children are ritualists. Where and how will that need be met? Keep reading for one way to create comforting ritual with your group....
I strongly recommend that every session begin with a sharing circle (or similar opening circle). Many other Unitarian Universalist Sunday schools use some variation on sharing circles. Here are some good reasons to use the opening sharing circle as an important addition to your teaching toolbox:
1. Sharing circles are an excellent way to provide a regular age-appropriate worship experience for children. To have the same worship experience every time they meet can help children to feel some stability in the program. Even though teachers change week by week, even if a child misses a few weeks, he or she will know at least one thing will remain the same.
2. Everyone has an equal chance to be heard in sharing circles. Statistics show that even in the most enlightened classrooms, girls are not given as much time to be heard as are boys. Giving everyone an equal chance to be heard also improves group dynamics by helping children learn to affirm the personal concerns of each other.
3. Sharing circles calm children down after their mad dash to get to the classroom. Calm children tend to be better-behaved children. In addition, important personal concerns brought up in the sharing circle can help group leaders understand weekly changes in behavior. Begin every class with a sharing circle and you will have fewer behaviour problems!
4. Sharing circles help meet one of our big learning goals, to make children feel they are a part of a community.
How to lead a sharing circle
Have a the children sit in a circle, on rug squares on the floor, or in chairs depending on their ages and on the room you are in. In the middle of the circle, place an unlit candle or an unlit flaming chalice. (It helps the children settle in if the carpet squares or the chairs and the candle are in place when they arrive in your room.)
Invite the children, and all adults who are present, to sit and participate in the opening circle. (To help build a truly intergenerational community, adults participate fully in the sharing circle with the children.)
Before doing anything else, take attendance.
Light a candle or flaming chalice. you might wish to do the words with hand motions that begin: "We are Unitarian Universalists...."
As group leader, you next state the rules for the sharing circle:
"In just a moment, we will go around the circle, and each person will get a turn to speak.
"When it is your turn, begin by saying your name. Then you may tell us one good thing and one bad thing that has happened to you in the past week. You may also choose to pass, which means you only say your name.
"Only one person speak at a time."
You, as the group leader, should begin the sharing. Know in advance what you will say, so you can set the tone for everyone else. When one person is talking, you should make sure no one else talks. And don't fall into the common trap of responding yourself to what someone has said -- be sure you bind yourself to the rules as well!
Your curriculum and lesson plans are useful educational tools, but you have to use them well. Here's some tips for using curriculum and lesson plans:
Think through in advance what you're going to do with the children Sunday morning. Know the central idea. Keep the overall goals of our program in mind when you plan and as you teach. Have your materials (supplies, props, etc.) ready in advance.
Keep in mind a basic class schedule, something like this:
Begin (9:45 or 11:15): Go to classroom, use something to engage the children's attention from section above, "That first moment in class...."
5 minutes (9:50 or 11:20): Sharing circle. You must do a head count and take attendance during the sharing circle. See the section on emergency evacuations below.
10 minutes (9:55 or 11:25): Start the session. Give a short introduction to today's class -- tell them what the topic is, and give them an agenda for the morning. (Remember the old saw: "Tell 'em what you're going to do together -- do it -- tell them what you've all just done.") When you do the main activities for the day, a useful rule of thumb is that the attention span of the group in minutes equals the age of the youngest member of the group. Thus, if you have eight-year-olds, plan at least three eight-minute-long activities.
45 minutes (10:30 or 12:00): Start cleaning up. Be sure the children help clean up.
50 minutes (10:35 or 12:05): Have a brief closing circle (this is your chance to sum up the class — see section on closing circles below). If parents are present to pick up their children, invite them into the closing circle.
Snack: We only have the children for less than an hour, and they can live that long without snack. However, if you want you can integrate snack into the session. Another possibility is to schedule snack after the closing circle. That gives you and the children something to do if the worship service runs long.
While you should try to carefully plan ahead, don't worry too much if you diverge from your plans. A Director of Religious Education from the First Unitarian Society, Columbus, Ohio wrote:
"The most important thing that happens in our religious education program is the interaction of adults and children. If you don't get to the planned lesson because the children were very involved in discussing something important to them, great! Our children are more important than our curriculum."
Why a closing circle?
Children, and adults, need a sense of closure. They need to know when church school is over. In terms of group dynamics, a group needs to come together as a group one last time before they go off to whatever they are going to do next.
Like a sharing circle, a closing circle can be a good way to keep the religion in religious education. However, sharing circles deal mostly with group dynamics and building community. By contrast, a closing circle offers a chance to sum up the session, a chance for you and the children take another look at what you have learned together. Because of this, when I lead closing circles, they tend to vary from age group to age group, and maybe even within age groups from week to week. Some ideas for different types of closing circles follow:
Closing sharing circle
You can have your closing circle be a simple sharing circle:
Everyone sits in a circle. Everyone has a chance to share, though anyone may pass and choose not to share. Only one person shares at a time, and everyone else should remain silent while that person is sharing. The group leader ends the circle (and the class) with some sort of closing words, or the group sings a familiar song together. Suggestions for ways children can share:
-- Each child shows something that he or she has made in class that morning. They might pin a picture on a bulletin board, or hold a mask or a sculpture up and tell the group about it.
-- If you have done movement or acting or role-playing in class, each child might act out a character from a story they have heard that day. Have them say which character they have chosen first. They can stand up and do a speaking role, or just sit and make the kind of face they think that character would have.
-- Do a simple review session, asking easy questions, and repeating correct answers, e.g.: "What did we learn today, anyone remember? Who was the person we learned about? John Murray, right! And what did he do? Got stuck on a sandbar, right!"
You can find other appropriate closing words in the hymnal. Some of the printed curriculums include closing words appropriate to the various sessions.
Sometimes even the most experienced teachers find that the session they had planned just doesn't work out. No one knows why this happens -- maybe it's something in the water supply, or Mars is retrograde, or all the children had two servings of Honey-Dipped Chocolate Sugar Bombs for breakfast -- whatever the cause, even the best teachers find have session plans that don't work out. But the best teachers always have a back-up activity ready to go in case the main session fails. Here are some suggestions for back-up activities:
- Active games are always a good bet. (Think of playing active games as a way to build community.) "Duck, Duck, Goose" is great for younger kids, and can go on for an hour or more. Older kids may want more variety, so look for books on cooperative games in the library (list of games books), or play classic children's games like "Concentration 54," "Red Light, Green Light," or "Simon Says." Theatre games work particularly well for young teens and older kids.
- If you or a co-teacher is musical, singing usually works.
- Reading aloud usually works.
- Over time, you usually discover that there is some activity that always works with a certain group of children. I remember a third grade class that loved to draw, and you could always get them to settle down by bringing out paper and crayons. Another group of fifth and sixth graders really liked to do guided meditations, so I always had a guided meditation ready to go. If you can find what it is that they love to do, back-up activities are easy to plan.
Section 3: About teaching and learning
Scroll down for a chart summarizing some ways to think about developmental stages in Sunday school.
What are developmental stages? Anyone who has spent time with children knows that they change as they grow older. Developmental stage theory says that certain developmental changes take place at somewhat the same age, on average.
Jean Piaget did the groundbreaking work in developmental psychology. Piaget said we could predict with a fair degree of accuracy when most children would gain certain cognitive abilities. Since cognitive ability is only one of the areas we work on in church school Piaget is of limited use to us, but is widely used in weekday schools.
There are a number of models for psychosocial development. While models by Erik Erikson and Robert Kegan have proved to be useful in church school settings, no model of psychosocial development has sufficient experimental proof to be considered a well-established theory, and substantial debate continues in this area.
There is one model of so-called “faith development.” While it is used by some religious educators, including the UUA’s Department of Lifespan Faith Development (formerly the Religious Education Department), I’m not convinced by the evidence accumulated so far. James Fowler is the originator, and best-known proponent, of faith development.
Religious education scholars like Gabriel Moran and Robert Pazmino have been critical of any developmental theory as applied to religious education. Pazmino and Moran argue that anyone, of any age, can have direct experiences of God (or, as we might say, of the transcendent mystery of the universe). Moran has also argued that the very concept of development leads to the uncomfortable sense that children aren’t fully “developed,” and therefore may not be fully human.
In another criticism, a number of scholars have argued that any developmental theory should be able to accurately predict developmental changes. Yet since all developmental theories are really designed for large, statistically valid, groups of individuals, it is not clear whether developmental theories can be usefully applied to individuals.
In spite of the criticisms, developmental theory can be a useful tool for Sunday school teachers. It can be useful to have a general idea of what to expect from different age groups. And developmental theory can help us to understand which types of activities work best with which age groups.
|Social skills||Cognitive abilities important in regular schools||Skills and abilities important in UU congrega-tions||Religious experiences||Good choices for Sunday school activities|
|Babies||Focused on self and parents||Begin to talk||Love and joy||Security, love||Loving care|
|Young children (age 3-5)||
• Parallel play develops towards real friendships
|•No strong division between reality and fantasy||
• Sing simple songs
• Lots of questions about "God" and other big religious issues
• Hear stories
• Lewarn how to be in a group
• Ask questions and be listened to seriously
|Primary (ages 5-7)||• Peer friendships
• Imaginary friends
• Boys and girls strongly separate
• Church and school as institutions begin to be important
|• Beginning of reading and writing
||• Know songs and hymns
• Sit in worship services
• Guided meditations
• Memorize things (e.g., congrega-tion's covenant)
|• Transcen-dent experiences, including direct experiences of "God" or similar
• Early under-standing of what it means to be part of a religious community
• Hear stories
• Guided meditation
• Simple yoga
• Ask questions and listen to answers
|Elementary (ages 7-11)||• Best friends important
•Self-sufficiency and competence
•Institutions and persons held to standards of fairness and justice
|• Can read and write easy texts
• Can listen to lectures
|• Participate in meetings
• Understand worship services and sermons
• Know facts about religion
• Ask good questions about fairness and justice
• Initiate social action projects
|• Experience religion as institutional
• Experience common worship and other communal experiences as communal
|• Play group-building games
• Hear stories
• Discussions about their questions
• Social action projects
• Learn facts
• Perform plays
|Intermediate (ages 11-14)||• Family and institutions begin to become secondary to shared internal experiences with peers and trusted adults
• Gilrs and boys begin to mix again
• Sexuality re-emerges as a powerful force
|• "Concrete operational" thinking — understand complex concepts||• Question things that are "givens"
• Understand and act on feminism
• Come to terms with homophobia
• Do social justice
• Open to new ideas and concepts
• Speak in public
• Basic leadership
|• Experience the religious dimensions of friendship
• Experience the religious dimensions of sexuality
• May have profound religious experiences that they want to make sense out of
• Questions and question boxes
• Social education, social service, and even direct action
• Group-building games and initiatives
• Worship services
• Spiritual practices
|High school (ages 14-19)||• Progressive social separation from family of origin
• Progressive integration into peer group and (ideally) wider community
|• Full abstract thinking develops: "formal operational thinking"||
• Serve on committees
(Essentially same as adults)
|Same as above, same as adults||•Building community
• Worship and spiritual practicies
• Leadership development
• Classes and discussions
For may years, educators recognize that individuals differ in the ways they find it easiest to learn, and we say that people have different learning styles.
Howard Gardner, a psychologist at the Harvard School of Education, has done research into learning styles over the past two and a half decades. Gardner started out interested in assessment, or testing. Most assessment has been done with paper-and-pencil tests, but Gardner started to question whether paper-and-pencil tests were always effective. For example, if you ran a baseball team and were trying to find the best pitcher for your team, would you give potential pitchers a paper-and-pencil test to find out how good they were — or would you ask them to throw some pitches at your best batters? Similarly, if you were the conductor of a symphony orchestra and you needed a new flutist, would you give a paper-and-pencil test to potential flutists — or would you ask them to play a piece of music for you in an audition?
From asking these questions, Gardner began to grow interested in the different ways people learn. He began to research brain physiology, and he looked at experts in a variety of fields. Gradually, he came to believe that there are at least eight “intelligences” that human beings can have, rather than the one so-called intelligence that is tested by the usual paper-and-pencil intelligence tests. According to Gardner, each of us can have a different mix of strengths among these eight intelligences. He began to talk about “multiple intelligences,” and it is through this term that his theory is best known. His theory has been widely criticized for lack of experimental evidence, yet at the same time his theory has been embraced by practicing educators who find it a useful model to help understnad how different people learn in different ways.
The eight intelligences that Gardner believes he has identified are listed in the table on the next page, along with a brief description of each intelligence, an example of an expert who rates high in that intelligence, and some activities that educators can use to reach persons strong in that intelligence.
Howard Gardner’s theory is useful for those of us who are Sunday school teachers. Most Sunday school teachers will be personally strong in two or three of the multiple intelligences. For example, Mark, a Sunday school teacher I worked with some years ago, worked as an architect, and he had particularly strong spatial, linguistic, and interpersonal intelligences. Yet Mark was less strong in musical and bodily/kinesthetic intelligences. Not surprisingly, Mark did lots of art projects in Sunday school, and he also liked discussions and group activities. Multiple intelligence theory helped Mark understand that he tended to neglect musical and bodily/kinesthetic intelligences — yet there were children in his group with very strong bodil/kinesthetic andquite strong musical intelligences. He was then able to plan activities that would play to the strengths of those children. For the bodily/kinesthetic children, he planned building projects that involved manipulation, and he also planned active games that promoted cooperation — thus combining his strengths with the strengths of those children. He felt he was absolutely hopeless at music, so he made a point of inviting another adult to visit his group and sing some songs.
The net result for Mark was very positive. He came to realize that some of the behavior problems he was having were with the children who had strong bodily/kinesthetic and musical intelligences. When he helped them use their strengths in church school, they became much more involved and created fewer behavior problems. Second, he felt he was doing the right thing. We Unitarian Universalists say we believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and using multiple intelligence theory can be a way of valuing the peculiar strengths of each child in your church school group.
|Name of intelligence||Brief description of this intelligence||Experts who rate high in this intelligence||Activities to use in UU Sunday schools|
|Linguistic||"sensitivity to spoken and written languages, ability to leanr languages, capacity to use language"||Lawyers, speakers, writers, poets||Tell stories, lead discussions, ask questions, give children opportunities to speak (in worship, in front of class)|
|Logical / Mathematical||"capacity to analyze problems logically, carry out mathematical operations, investigate issues scientifically"||Mathematicians, logicians, scientists||Use worksheets and puzzles, offer logical presentations of materials, count things, argue|
|Musical||"skill in the performance, composition, and appreciation of musical patterns"||Musicians||Sing songs, listen ot music, compose songs and raps, play rhythm games|
|Bodily / kinesthetic||"the potential of using one's whole body or parts of the body (like the hands or the mouth) to solve problems or fashion products"||
Dancers, athletes, actors, craftspeople — To some extent also: surgeons, mechanics, bench-top scientists
|Play active games, use dance and creative motion, act out skits, manipulate or make objects|
|Spatial||"the potential to recognize and manipulate the patterns of space"||Navigators, pilots, sculptors, chess players, graphic artists, architects||Do art projects (e.g., make drawings), explore church buildings, make forts or hiding places, draw maps|
|Interpersonal||"a person's capacity to understand the intentions, motivations, and desires of other people, and consequently to work effectively with others"||Salespeople, teachers, clinicians, religious leaders, political leaders, actors||Group problem-solving and initiatives, group games, diversity or anti-racism activities, worship services|
|Intrapersonal||"the capacity to understand one's self, to have an effective working model of oneself"||(Religious leaders?)||Meditation, worship services, silence, personal growth activities|
|Naturalist||capacity in "the recognition and classification of the numerous species — flora and fauna — of his or her environment"||Naturalists, biologists (esp. tzxonomists), hunters, anglers, farmers, gardeners, cooks||Plant seeds or bulbs, cook starting with basic ingredients (i.e., not from packged mixes), watch animals, go outdoors|
Multiple intelligence theory (see above, section 2-B) suggests that teaching must be more than lectures and discussions. Lectures and discussions are great for people with a strong linguistic intelligence, but lectures and discussions may not reach children with, say, strong bodily/kinesthetic or naturalist intelligences.
Since different people have different strengths when it comes to learning, the best church school teachers will plan a variety of activities over time. With that in mind, below is my list of the top five most-neglected teaching methods in church schools today. Try some of these, and see what a difference it can make with children.
1. Acting, skits, and plays — When you act out a story or skit, you can reach just about every one of the multiple intelligences. Since we can’t always assume children can read, the church school teacher can narrate the skit or play, or children can memorize simple lines.
2. Play cooperative games — I like The New Games Book best, but it’s now out of print (try your local library). Any cooperative game book will do though. Cooperative games work well at developing interpersonal intelligence, and can also feed bodily/kinesthetic, spatial, logical/mathematical, and other intelligences (depending on the game).
3. Sing songs — 40 years ago, music used to be a central part of Sunday school, but it has become neglected. Many of the standard curriculums have songs included, or ask me for suggestions. If you can’t sing, find an adult who can help you out.
4. Do creative movement — You don’t need to be a dancer to do movement with children. You can do silly hand motions with songs, create weird dances together, take stretch breaks. Most children like to move.
5. Go outdoors — Unitarian Universalists claim to value the interdependent web of all existence, so go outdoors and experience it with the children. Please stay on church property unless you get field trip permission slips signed by all parents.
Section 4: Procedures and policies
You're sick. Your child is sick. Your spouse's parents drop in for the weekend without any warning. Or you're just plain stressed out to the max. Whatever the reason, teaching is going to be a problem for you this week.
Don't worry! Call members of your teaching team and arrange for one of them to fill in for you. Call someone who teaches in another time slot and see if she or he can substitute for you, or trade with you. If it's a real emergency, call me to find someone to fill in for you.
People who do religious education with children need to remember to take care of themselves. We are role models to the children in our classes, and one of the best things we can do is show them that living your faith is a matter of joy, not of drudgery and burden.
So have fun in your classes! One thing many teachers mention when asked why they teach is that they want to get to know the kids at church. Make that one of your goals: play games together, talk together, have fun together, spend time just getting to know each other.
Seek out joy. While curriculum and content are important, it's more important that you and your class live your faith rather than talk about your faith. If it's a gorgeous day, it may make sense to take the class outdoors — it may mess up the lesson plan, but you will all get more joy from being outside on a beautiful day. (Having said that, if you do go outside, for safety reasons it's crucial that you let someone know exactly where you are going to go.)
Ask for help. Get a substitute when you need one. Get help with classroom discipline, or lesson planning, or whatever before it becomes a problem. If your personal life gets overwhelming, arrange a meeting with one of the ministers, or get in touch with me, and tell us what's up—if you need to bow out gracefully, we'll help you make it happen.
Use the support that's around you. Talk with your fellow teachers about your common endeavour. Talk with other people in the church about what you do. Make an appointment with me to talk about teaching, or to talk about your own personal spiritual growth.
Meditate or sing or engage in social action: do whatever it is you do for regular spiritual practice. When you do religion yourself, it comes through to the children, for you will be calmer and close to your spiritual center.
Basic supplies should be in a rolling cart in each room.
Other consumable supplies are available in two places. The most commonly used supplies are in the Religious Education Supply Room, Room B. More specialized supplies are in the closet in Room 5.
How about buying special supplies for a special project for your class? Our budget for supplies is fairly tight, and I have to approve any purchases in advance. (Also, we may already have what you need.) Once I approve the purchase, you can go out and buy the materials, submit a reimbursement form to me with all receipts attached, and I'll get you the check. Or if you give me enough advance notice (2-4 weeks), I can order supplies for you.
Audio-visual equipment is available by contacting me in advance. I will reserve the audio-visual equipment (TV and DVD player on rolling cart, LCD projector and screen), and get office staff to place it in your room on Sunday morning.
Snacks and food
Simple snacks (pretzels, rice cakes, pitcher for water) are supplied in your rolling cart in your classroom.
Sunday school classes have baked fantastic things to share with others at social hour: cookies, cake, bread, etc. Children enjoy sharing baked goods with parents and others. If you need the kitchen, we do need to arrange well in advance to make sure there are no conflicts with other groups in the church — the more advance notice, the better.
Like the Buddhists, our philosophy on discipline includes the virtue of "right action." Right action assumes that everyone has a role in preserving harmony.
Teachers must create a comfortable, inviting environment. This means that you should prepared in advance for each session, and have back-up plans ready in case your main plan does not work. Since every child has different abilities and a different learning style, you may find that frustration with or inability to do a project can lead to behavior problems; thus you should have independent projects or books available in your room.
Teachers must set firm limits. You need to make clear what your expectations are, and what the consequences are if children do not live up to your expectations. Standard guidelines for behavior are set out below, in "Setting limits."
Children should help to develop and agree upon a set of expectations and consequences. Children can be allowed to help one another to engage in "right action," by reminding one another which actions are acceptable and which are not.
In district youth activities, one big rule is "No harshing on anyone's mellows," i.e., no put-downs, statements that disparage others, or any actions that hurt someone else's emotional well-being. The youth developed this rule, and are quite firm about enforcing it — if anyone (including adults) trangresses, they are made to say three nice, affirming things about the person whose mellows they have harshed.
Children should have a hand in setting rules for the classroom. While you may develop a group consensus over time without a formal procedure, I recommend that you establish a written covenant of behavioral promises in the first session. In some cases, you may find that you need to spend an entire session with the children developing behavior guidelines, perhaps even inviting me, as Minister of Religious Education, to sit in and assist all concerned.
There are some non-negotiable rules for everyone in the religious education program. You should make these rules clear to the children in age-appropriate ways:
- No interpersonal violence (or "No hitting")
- For reasons of safety, children must ask an adult before leaving the room ("Ask an adult if you can leave")
- Be good stewards of the church property ("No breaking things or wasting materials")
- Everyone waits their turn to speak
- Everyone cleans up their own messes
- Disparaging comments are not appropriate to a church setting ("No put-downs")
If these expectations are not met, you, the teacher, should use one of the following techniques. They are listed in approximate order of severity:
(1) Remove the disruptive child from the group for a while by having them work on a quiet independent project, or read a book quietly.
(2) Give the child a "time out" in a quiet corner of the room.
(3) Get the Assistant Minister of Religious Education involved.
If you run into behavior problems and discipline problems, be sure to tell your co-teachers exactly what happened and what steps you took so that we can keep a consistent approach. At the same time, remember that children, like adults, have bad days and grouchy days, and that as they grow their whole attitude can change very quickly.
Finally, if you expect children to be troublemakers, eventually they will turn into troublemakers. If you expect them to become better behaved, they will become better behaved.
The interrelated issues of child protection, child abuse, and domestic violence can be intimidating. Remember that you are doing ministry with children because you care about children, because you want them to grow up safe and happy. Protecting our children from physical violence and sexual abuse is one of the most fundamental things you can do towards that end.
Child and youth protection policy
The role of adult leaders:
Adults working with children and youth in the context of our Unitarian Universalist faith have a crucial role and a privileged one, one which may carry with it a great deal of power and influence. Whether acting as youth advisor, chaperone, child-care worker, teacher, minister, registrant at a youth-adult conference, or in any other role, the adult has a special opportunity to interact with our young people in ways which are affirming and inspiring to the young people and to the adult. Adults can be mentors to, role models for, and trusted friends of children and youth. They can be teachers, counselors, and ministers. Helping our children grow up to be caring and responsible adults can be a meaningful and joyful experience for the adult and a lifetime benefit to the young person.
While it is important that adults be capable of maintaining meaningful friendships with the young people they work with, adults must exercise good judgement and mature wisdom in wielding their influence with children and youth. They must especially refrain from using young people to fulfil their own needs. Young people are in a vulnerable position when dealing with adults and may find it difficult to speak out about inappropriate behavior by adults.
Adult leaders need to possess a special dedication to working with our young people in ways which affirm the UUA principles. Good communication skills, self awareness and understanding of others, sensitivity, problem-solving and decision-making skills, and a positive attitude are all important attributes. Additionally, adult leaders should 1) have a social network outside of their religious education responsibility in which to meet their own needs for friendship, affirmation, and self-esteem, and 2) are willing and able to seek assistance from colleagues and religious professionals when they become aware of a situation requiring expert help or intervention.
It is ultimately the responsibility of the entire church, not just those in leadership positions, to create and maintain a climate which supports the growth and welfare of children and youth.
Code of Ethics
Adults who are in leadership roles are in positions of stewardship and play a key role in fostering the spiritual development of both individuals and the community. It is, therefore, especially important that those in leadership positions be well qualified to provide the special nurture, care, and support that will enable children and youth to develop a positive sense of self and a spirit of independence and responsibility. The relationship between young people and their leaders must be one of mutual respect if the positive potential of their connection is to be realized.
There are no more important areas of growth than those of self-worth and the development of a healthy identity as a sexual being. Adults play a key role in assisting children and youth in these areas of growth. Wisdom dictates that children, youth, and adults suffer damaging effects when leaders become sexually involved with young persons in their care; therefore, leaders will refrain from engaging in sexual, seductive, or erotic behavior with children and youth. Neither shall they sexually harass or engage in behavior with children or youth which constitutes verbal, emotional, or physical abuse.
Leaders shall be informed of the Code of Ethics and agree to it before assuming their role. In cases of violation of this Code, appropriate action will be taken. (adapted from materials published by the UUA, 1986, 1992.)
There are two serious, basically incurable diseases which are spread by mixing of bodily fluids: AIDS and hepatitis B. Every class supply crate comes with a first aid kit which contains a supply of latex gloves. For any activity which will bring you into contact with another person's bodily fluids (child or adult) — changing diapers, putting on a band-aid, etc. — use those gloves. It may seem cold to wait to put on rubber gloves before you comfort a child who has cut him or herself, but you can learn to comfort children with words first, hands later. Daycare centers and preschools, and some other schools, have been using this policy for years, so you might find that children are quite accustomed to it.
After an emergency evacuation (e.g., a fire drill), all religious education groups will assemble in the Til Evans Garden, or in the play area behind Room 6 and the church office, where we will do a head count and take attendance. Remember, we want to be out of the way of emergency vehicles, so stay out of the driveway.
Now you know why you must do a head count and take attendance during the opening sharing circle of your class. You must bring your attendance record with that information on it during emergency evacuations.
Parents/guardians will be informed of the assembly point for children during evacuations.
In case of an earthquake, follow these recommendations adapted from the Federal Emergency Management Agency Web site:
DROP to the ground;
Take COVER by getting under a sturdy table or other piece of furniture; and
HOLD ON until the shaking stops.
If there isn't a table or desk near you, cover your face and head with your arms and crouch in an inside corner of the building. Stay away from glass, windows, outside doors and walls, and anything that could fall, such as lighting fixtures or furniture.
Be aware that some earthquakes are actually foreshocks and a larger earthquake might occur. Minimize your movements to a few steps to a nearby safe place and if you are indoors, stay there until the shaking has stopped and you are sure exiting is safe. Stay inside until the shaking stops and it is safe to go outside. Research has shown that most injuries occur when people inside buildings attempt to move to a different location inside the building or try to leave.
Be aware that the electricity may go out or the sprinkler systems or fire alarms may turn on.
Move away from buildings, streetlights, and utility wires.
Once in the open, stay there until the shaking stops. The greatest danger exists directly outside buildings, at exits and alongside exterior walls. Many of the 120 fatalities from the 1933 Long Beach earthquake occurred when people ran outside of buildings only to be killed by falling debris from collapsing walls. Ground movement during an earthquake is seldom the direct cause of death or injury. Most earthquake-related casualties result from collapsing walls, flying glass, and falling objects.
Wait till the shaking stops, then gather in a safe outdoors location such as the Til Evans Garden or the fenced-in play areas.
How do you keep in touch with me, the Assistant Minister of Religious Education? I am always happy to schedule a face-to-face meeting with a church school teacher or youth advisor, and I am typically in my office Monday 10-5, Tuesday and Wednesday 12:30-9:30. Sunday school teachers and youth advisors are my top priority, and you should always feel comfortable about scheduling a meeting with me.
One thing you should know about me: If you tell me something important during Social Hour, or in that crazy time just before church, chances are good that I will forget it later. So if you need to tell me something important, make sure you see me write it down, and then make sure you see me put that note to myself in my mailbox in the office. Better yet, just send me email after you talk with me.
"Note to Dan" and Attendance Forms
I like to hear from teachers on a regular basis, to hear how classes are going, and who's coming to class. The most efficient means I have found to do this is to ask you to fill out two forms every week you teach. Please remember to do this. I depend on knowing what's happening in each and every class.
First, the "Note to Dan" in your class notebook. The lead teacher should fill out this form. Extra copies of the form can be found in your class book. On the "Note to Dan" you can tell me about the exciting things that happened in your class that day. You can tell me about what worked and what didn't work in your lesson plan and in the printed curriculum. You can ask for help if you need it. In short, this is how we evaluate the program from week to week to make sure everything is going smoothly — or if it's not (for example, if your printed curriculum is not working with your group), we can make changes before major problems arise. I read every "Note to Dan" you write!
Second, the attendance from in your class notebook. You can find the class list in your class book. If a child's name isn't on the list, please write in names on the attendance form. The attendance record is really easy to fill out—just check off children's names! By filling out the attendance record, you can immediately know if there are any newcomers to your class. Also, in case of an emergency evacuation, bring your attendance record so that we will know when all the children are safely out of the building.
Other forms you may have to fill out:
I appreciate it if all teaching teams fill out the "Team Teaching Calendar," found in the front of each class notebook. It is helpful when I know who is teaching which Sundays.
In case of a medical emergency, you should fill out the "Ouch Report." If you or another adult have to administer any form of first aid, including just putting a band-aid on a child, you must fill out one of these forms. One copy of the form then goes to the parent or guardian of the child, and a second copy gets attached to the "Note to Dan." In our increasingly litigious society, we really need to do this. (Copies of all these forms are in your class notebook.)
Another optional form, to use if it helps you, is the one on planning a Sunday school session. Some teachers use them regularly, some never do — it's your choice.
Appendix: Games to play
1. Good board games:
a. "Chutes and Ladders" is a good game to play with younger children. (If you find the old Sunday school curriculum "Why Do Bad Things Happen?", it has a version of "Chutes and Ladders" designed to teach children the concept of karma, and this can be a fun game to play with older children.)
b."Apples to Apples Junior" is a great card game to play with older children.
2. Good games that get you to move around:
a. "Duck, Duck, Goose": Good for all ages from 3 up; can also be played in mixed age groups.
Everyone sits in a circle on the ground, facing inwards. One person is the "ducker." She goes clockwise around the circle gently touching each person on the head, saying "Duck!" each time she does so -- until finally she taps one person on the head and says "Goose!" whereupon he must immediately try to catch her by chasing her clockwise around the circle.
If the "ducker" gets all the way around the circle before the "chaser" catches her, and sits down in his place in the circle, then the chaser becomes the next "ducker," and he immediately begins walking clockwise around the circle touching people on the head and saying "Duck!" each time.
If, however, the "chaser" tags the "ducker," then she goes into the middle of the circle, which is called the "stew pot," while he becomes the next "ducker." She will sit there in the stew pot until the next time the "ducker" is tagged by the "chaser," at which time she gets out and sits back down somewhere in the circle while the new person sits in the "stew pot."
b. "Red Light, Green Light": Good for ages 5 and up; can also be played in mixed age groups.
One person is It. With pre-teens, best if an adult is It.
All the other players begin at a well-defined starting line (line in sand, wall, etc.) It turns around while saying "Green light!" Upon hearing and seeing this, the players advance towards It. At some random time (usually very quickly), It turns around to face the players again, and shouts out "Red Light!" If It sees anyone still moving, It calls out their name, and sends them back to the starting line.
The goal is for one player to tag It without being seen and sent back. Therefore It has fairly complete control over the game; it can be difficult for children to deal with this amount of power and control, and until you have built up a sense of community in your group, it is best for the adults to always serve as It.
c. "Zip Zap Zoop"
There are many variations on this game. I describe this game in an entry on my blog (including photos of the three moves used in this game) -- scroll down about 1/5 of the page, or search the page for "zoop".
3. Sources for more good games:
Below is a list of game books to which I refer constantly. While many of these books are out-of-print, they are widely available in church libraries and public libraries, or through onlines used booksellers.
- Andrew Flugelman, The New Games Book (New Games Foundation, Main Street Books: 1976); and More New Games. Still the very best books full of non-competitive games that you can play with all ages (best with ages 6 and up). I have led these games with hundreds of people of all ages on Boston Common, and in a tiny Sunday school class in a small church.
- Sambhava and Josette Luvmour, Everyone Wins!: Cooperative Games and Activities (Philadelphia: New Society, 1990). Good solid collection of games, if a little unimaginative at times.
- Karl Rohnke, Silver Bullets: A Guide to Initiative Problems, Adventure Games, and Trust Activities (Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt, 1984).
- Karl Rohnke and Steve Butler, Quicksilver: Adventure Games, Initiative Problems, Trust Activities, and a Guide to Effective Leadership (Dubuque, Iowa: Kendall/Hunt, 1995). Both the Rohnke books are excellent sources of more complicated games and initiatives for older ages (best junior high and up). You will want to read the introductory material carefully, so you understand the philosophy behind Project Adventure games.
- Denny Rydberg, Building Community in Youth Groups (Loveland, Colorado: Group, 1985). The best source of games for high schoola ged youth. Please read the introduction carefully, to understand the five stages fo building community in youth groups.
- Viola Spolin, Theater Games for the Classroom: A Teacher's Handbook (out of print). Dynamite collection of theatre games for children, teens, and adults.
- UUA Youth Office, Deep Fun. A real mixed bag: some good games, some not-so-good games; but they're online which makes this book easy to access. (Be careful, because some of the games are really placed in the wrong section and have a much higher emotional risk than the book says.)
- Matt Weinstein and Joel Goodman, Playfair: Everybody's Guide to Noncompetitive Play (San Luis Obispo, Calif.: Impact, 1980). Another solid, if unimaginative, collection of games.