Transform and grow your RE program, questions

Below are the questions asked by participants in the workshop “Transform and Grow Your RE Program,” a workshop I led at the Pacific Central District annual meeting on April 28, 2012. (First post in this series.)

Questions about tracking attendance

(1) Under “policy governance,” should religious education [RE] attendance numbers be shared with the Board? (every month?) — the congregation? — or just the executive team?

I don’t think it matters whether you’re using “policy governance” or any other kind of governance, I believe we should share attendance figures as widely as possible. In my congregation, I report RE attendance every month to the Board, key staffers, the RE committee, and the Committee on Ministry. Attendance figures for the year always go in the annual report, which goes to all congregational members. I also sometimes report attendance to parents/guardians and volunteers.

One key strategy for transforming a congregational system is building in as many positive feedback loops as possible. Positive feedback loops are those ways that people learn how things are going, and that they receive good feelings when things are going well (negative feedback loops are destructive communications like malicious gossip, triangulation, scolding, meanness, etc.). So as a general principle, I say we should be building lots of positive feedback loops all the time, especially with crucial metrics as attendance figures.

(2) Can we see a sample of the spreadsheet you use to track enrollment and average attendance?

Here’s a PDF of our Excel attendance spreadsheet for April, 2012, at the UU Church of Palo Alto: REAttendSample.xls

Unfortunately, I cannot share the spreadsheet we use to track enrollment, as it contains the names and birthdates of legal minors. Continue reading “Transform and grow your RE program, questions”

Teaching teachers to teach

Joe introduced me to, a Web site with online resources for professional development for schoolteachers, as well as classroom resources. Joe particularly mentioned the online videos that are designed to help schoolteachers become better teachers. So I watched a video of a fourth grade teacher leading a small group literature discussion. The small group setting was somewhat akin to a Sunday school class: plenty of personalized interaction between the teacher and the students, and teacher-guided interaction between the students. The general subject area, responding to literature, is also akin to Sunday school classes: discussing a work of literature, and talking about what’s going on in the work. The video shows an experienced teacher, Rich Thompson, actually teaching children, and the video also includes Thompson reflecting on how he teaches.

I found I learned a lot from watching this experienced teacher. I learned a lot just from watching his body language with the children, e.g., as the two boys drift away, Thompson puts his hands on the backs of their chairs to keep them included. I also liked the tone of voice he used: he was warm and calm, open and friendly; you can tell he likes the children he’s working with. I noticed the way he expressed his own thoughts and ideas about the book they were discussing, so he could model how an experienced reader engages with a text (“Did you notice that the book was War and Peace? Do you know how big that book is? That’s the book she used to hit the bear with”). And I really liked the way he did formative assessment at the end of the lesson, talking briefly with each child about what they did well, and where they could improve.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have resources like this for volunteer Sunday school teachers? Unfortunately, producing a series of twenty-minutes videos like this would be expensive, and liberal religious institutions don’t have the resources to do something of this caliber (and I feel that producing a poor video would be worse than no video at all). But given how hard it is to deliver training to volunteer teachers, it is something to think about.

Reasons for decline

In yesterday’s post, I talked about the numerical decline of Unitarian Universalism, and asked why we are declining. Readers left thoughtful and interesting comments giving their ideas of why we’re declining. In tomorrow’s post, In Thursday’s post, I’ll suggest some ways we might reverse our numerical decline. Now are some of my thoughts about why the numbers of certified members of Unitarian Universalist congregations are declining:

(1) During the Great Recession, congregations have been facing budget shortfalls, and one obvious way to cut costs is to reduce the number of certified members. Congregations pay dues to the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and to their local district for each certified member; fewer members means less dues to pay.

(2) UUA salary guidelines are pegged to congregation size, so a congregation that is hiring a new staffer may have motivation to have fewer certified members in order to drop down to a lower salary range in the guidelines.

(3) People who come from no previous religious background may see no benefit in becoming members of a congregation, or may not understand membership.

(4) Membership is declining because there are fewer people in our congregations — more on this in this next set of comments. Continue reading “Reasons for decline”