10 Tips for Church School Classroom Management

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Kids at churchPerhaps you’ve had a student like Aiden in your Church School or other ministry class. A young and energetic boy, Aiden was constantly interrupting his class with, “Teacher, teacher!” He began to dominate the classroom with his frequent talking and interrupting, distracting his peers and making it difficult for his Church School teacher to get through the lesson.

Knowing that it was important to share expectations for the class and teach Aiden and his peers the appropriate behavior, his teacher made a sign in the shape of a hand and explained that if you wanted to ask or answer a question, you needed to raise your hand and wait to be called on to speak.  When Aiden would begin to speak, his teacher would simply raise her sign, prompting him to remember the rules and stop speaking until she called on him.  Aiden learned that it was okay for his teacher to call on his peers and he felt rewarded when he was called upon to give an answer.

If you have ever led a Church School class or another ministry event with children, you know that classroom management is important. From my experience as a parent, special educator, and children’s ministry leader, I’ve learned that many issues that arise with classroom management can be prevented by being proactive, just like Aiden’s  teacher communicated classroom expectations. I hope you find these suggestions for classroom management helpful; feel free to share your ideas in the comment box!

  1. Understand the age group.

    Before you begin leading, it’s important to understand the developmental level of the age group you are teaching, as it will help you plan your activities. If you’re unsure where to begin, talk with your children’s pastor or a local teacher to get some insight on realistic expectations for the children you serve.

  2. Preparation is key.

    If you are a teacher at your church, you should plan for the lesson and have all your supplies ready to use. Don’t try to pull everything together when the students are with you.

  3. Focus on routine.

    Set up a basic routine for classroom time and communicate it with students and helpers. This is important especially because many churches have volunteers that rotate from week to week, so it is helpful if they are all using the same basic schedule for the class.  Students will then know what to expect, taking away some anxiety.

  4. Set clear expectations.

    Tell your students what you expect at the beginning of each class. For example: when you raise your hand, students should raise their hands, stop talking, and look at you for instructions.

  5. Use motivational tools.

    Implement reward systems for participating or good behavior (for example: if you answer a question two times, you get to pick something from the prize box). Words of affirmation can also be motivating to students.

  6. Be a student of the kids in your class.

    Think about how you can get kids involved in your ministry or class, allowing them to contribute their gifts (for example: allow them to write the verse on the board, pass out a snack, assist another student, or put story figures away).  Giving students purpose within the class helps them know that they’re important, which can help them behave and even attend more often. Focus on their giftings and even ask them how they would like to serve.

    For help with this, ask their parent/guardian to fill out a short survey. (We created one that you can download for free at this link. Though this survey was designed to help you get to know the gifts and needs of individuals with special needs in your church, many of the questions can help you get to know persons with a variety of ability levels.)

  7. Think about special needs.

    Understand if there are any special needs (physical, socio-emotional, or cognitive disability, medical condition, or allergies) that students have in the classroom. We blogged about that recently in this post, “Preparing Your Ministry to Receive Individuals with Disabilities”.

  8. Be prepared for misbehavior.

    Before a student misbehaves in class, it’s important to have a plan. Often, many ministries have a discipline plan, so be sure to check with your children’s pastor or appropriate leader. Share with your class what students can expect if they misbehave (for example: they will go back to their parent for the remainder of the class, take a break, miss an activity, etc.).

  9. Communicate difficulties with your leader.

    Whether it’s over a phone call, email or coffee, share your struggles with your children’s pastor or leader before the situation gets out of hand. Conversely, if you are the children’s pastor or are in charge of volunteers, be sure to provide an opportunity for teachers to express any difficulties they may be having by checking in with them throughout the year.

  10. Know how to utilize helpers in the room.

    Often children’s classes have teens or adults on hand to offer assistance with students who are being disruptive or need some extra assistance. To make the most of these extra volunteers’ time, consider these suggestions:

    1. Plan for how you want to use them. Can they run a station? Get a craft ready? Sit with a particular child? Think beforehand how you would like them to serve in your class.
    2. Communicate with them beforehand. Be sure to connect with the helper before class and share how you would like them to serve in your upcoming class or ministry gathering. When the helper is prepared, they will be able to take more initiative within the classroom setting.
    3. Share ideas for how to help particular students. Again, preparation is key. If the helper is working with a particular student, brainstorm some ways that they could work with that student. If you’re out of ideas, talk with your ministry leader or collaborate with other classroom or ministry teachers.

Kim LuurtsemaKim Luurtsema is a church consultant for CLC Network. She has a background in special education and has served in children’s ministry for more than twenty years.

 

photo credit: via photopin (license)

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Preparing Your Ministry to Receive Individuals with Disabilities

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Kids at churchBefore you know it, school will be starting and your children’s and youth ministries will be starting again. How can you prepare your church to welcome the magnificent variety of God’s children into your community this ministry year? Director of Church Services Barbara J. Newman shares four tips for preparing your ministry to receive individuals at all levels of ability this year.

1. Offer a preview on your website.

“Something I’ve been recommending to many churches lately is to utilize your church website to give a preview of what visitors can expect at your church,” said Barbara J. Newman. “Similar to checking out hotel photos and your seat on an airplane prior to a trip, some individuals will benefit from photos or a video of what they can expect when they come to your church, church school class, or youth group.”

What does worship look like at your church? What kind of music can one expect? Who are the key people a child or teenager might meet? What does the building look like? Consider including photos, video, or music snippets on your website for potential members to use in getting to know your church. We share other items to consider on your website in this post.

2. Work with parents to create an information story.

Church Welcome StoryUsing elements from your website above and more personalized photos, create a story about what MAY happen when this individual comes to your church or a specific ministry. (For a pre-written story with customizable pages, consider the Church Welcome Story by Barbara J. Newman.) You can show details such as where they might pick up snack during children’s church, where they may stand when they sing in the choir, some of the friends they may meet on Wednesday night, and other details of their time at the church program.

“It is important to include words such as ‘maybe’, ‘perhaps’, and ‘probably’ in your preview so that if the order or details change, your story is still accurate,” shared Newman, “Also, try to stay away from giving specific times, and instead provide a sequence of events. Some individuals get upset if you are off by a minute or two if the specific time is listed.”

3. Ask the right questions.

The information you collect about an individual during the intake process can help you and appropriate leaders understand their gifts and needs, and use this information to create an environment where they are included and supported.

As you’re getting to know individuals and families at the beginning of the year, consider asking them to complete a survey to help you get to know God’s handiwork in their son or daughter. (Don’t worry, we have already created the survey for you — you can download it for free here)! This survey asks questions such as:

  • What activities does your family member enjoy doing the most?
  • Tell me a bit about your story. What has your journey been like over the last few years.
  • What are your goals and dreams for your family member as it relates to the church environment?
  • What is your biggest concern for that type of environment?

We invite you to use the information collected on this survey to create a confidential “welcome page” to share with appropriate leaders so that they can get to know God’s knitting pattern in this individual and create a place for him or her to grow in Christ.

4. Be equipped with the right tools.

“The furniture, seating options, toys, writing instruments, and other environmental factors can tell you a lot about how a school or church thinks about children,” said Newman. “I encourage children’s ministries to have a variety of seating options and attention tools (think wiggle cushions, carpet squares, thera-band and exercise balls), writing tools (such as fidget pencils and various pencil grips), and reading tools (like highlighter tape and EZC Readers) to accommodate for a variety of learning and attention supports that children need.”

Inclusion Tool KitWhen parents are determining if a church or program is the right fit for their son or daughter, the ministry setting helps them know if a church is open to a variety of individuals. “At CLC Network, we wanted to make it easy for churches and schools to try out different attention, writing, and reading tools, so we created the Inclusion Tool Kit. The kit contains tools with instructions and websites to create or order more. I always recommend that anyone that works with kids give these tools a try!” said Newman.

 

Barbara J. Newman photoBarbara J. Newman is the director of church services and a teacher consultant at CLC Network.

photo credit: 20120801-519 via photopin (license)

5 Tips for Summer Church Inclusion

First Baptist NashvilleIn the summertime, many churches put their Church School programs and other school-year activities on hold, which creates a new routine for everyone involved.  While some of us like change, a new routine can be difficult for some individuals, particularly individuals with disabilities. Here are some tips for your church to make sure everyone has a smooth transition into the new routine during the summer months.

  1. Communication with Key People

    As you are trying to develop a plan for the summer months, make sure you communicate with the individual, his or her family members, and any care providers. Creating a survey is one way these needs can be communicated to one another (download a free sample survey here). Or, something more informal, such as sitting down and grabbing coffee, works well too. Just be sure to ask rather than assume, what exactly is needed during the summer months.

  2. Summer Church Inclusion Action Plan

    Once you have spoken with the correct people, come up with a plan together about the best way to include the person who has a disability during these summer months. The plan should include ways an individual can use his or her gifts to be involved in areas such as worship, fellowship, and service. This plan should include steps and recommendations for the individual as well as the congregation.

    For example, an individual might worship with praise ribbons during Church School. During the summer months (or even during the rest of the year!), you may want to make praise ribbons accessible during your congregation’s worship time. Make sure that everyone is aware of this change, and that all are welcome to participate. If you are looking for an action plan guide, CLC Network has a “Church Inclusion Action Plan” in the G.L.U.E. Training Manual (available for purchase here).

  3. Schedule/Calendar

    Create a schedule or calendar for the person who has a disability so that he or she is able to anticipate the new summer routine. For example, create a schedule of the order of worship for your service. Or, a calendar of special events your church has over the summer. Be sure to communicate this schedule in a way that is best for the individual, such as using pictures in addition to words.

  4. Preview the Setting

    Allow the person with a disability to come to church before the service and allow him or her to walk through the new routine. For example, rather than heading to Sunday School right before the sermon starts, have him or her practice walking back to a seat in the sanctuary.

  5. Respite Care

    While respite care is hopefully happening throughout the year, this care can be especially important in the summertime as school is out and there is ample amount of free time during the day. Recruit volunteers to spend time with the person who has disabilities while his or her family runs errands, goes out to eat, or simply takes a nap.

As you continue to include those with disabilities into your congregation and navigate the new routine that summertime brings, we hope you find some of these tips helpful and beneficial! You can find additional inclusion tips for Vacation Bible School in this blog post.

 

Jacki Sikkema photoJacki Sikkema has a background in Special Education and is a former church consultant for CLC Network. She will work at Grand Rapids Christian Middle School as a 5th grade teacher in the fall.

 

photo credit: 2008-VBS-Monday-272 via photopin (license)

 

 

 

The Journey of Inclusion at Calvary Church

Inclusion has been 25 years in the making at Calvary Church, and as Judi Warner, director of special needs ministry, says, “Like every church, we’re still on a journey”.

Judi Warner

A former church consultant at CLC Network, Judi began at Calvary Church four years ago with a vision to bring inclusion to the 4,000-member Grand Rapids congregation.  The church had a well-established special needs ministry for kids and adults that grew out of Calvary’s belief that each individual has a place in the community of believers. Building on this foundational value, Judi and her three-person team have helped the children’s, youth, and adult ministries receive the gifts of persons with disabilities in an inclusive and interdependent environment by focusing on each person’s gifts:

“[From what I learned during my time at CLC Network], first and foremost, you look at the individual first and you ask, ‘What are their gifts? What are their weaknesses? What are some of their challenges?’ You focus on the gifts and what their desires are to serve, be served, and serve alongside. It all begins with getting to know that individual first,” shared Judi.

Paving the Way with Children’s Ministry

In such a large church environment, the natural place to begin inclusion was with the children’s ministry.

“It began with me sharing the vision that God put on my heart to see all of his kids included together. And I began asking, ‘How could special needs ministry become more ‘one’ with the children’s ministry (with special needs staff being the support piece)?’ In a beautiful way, God made that gradually happen as parents had their kids included at school and expected the same at church.”

Though they met with initial hesitancy, Judi and her staff consulted often with the children’s ministry staff, parents, and kids to make sure everyone felt supported and equipped.

Through this gradual process, the children’s ministry has been transformed. This fall, Judi’s dream for a unified children’s and special needs ministry will come true with combined staff personnel and training for staff and volunteers. The efforts to unify the ministries are a reflection of the impact inclusion has had on kids. Judi notes,

“It’s an amazing thing when you talk to kids in a classroom and you try to bring awareness about a child with a disability. The kids ‘get it’. It’s like they’re not even different.”

Focusing on Youth Groups

Calvary ChurchBut inclusion doesn’t stop with the children’s ministry at Calvary Church. The middle and high school youth groups focus on identifying the gifts and needs of students with disabilities and placing support structures around those students. “One of the more significant challenges is sensory overload. The youth group spends lots of time in large groups and the room itself can be over stimulating. The special needs ministry staff works with the youth group staff to accommodate or adapt different portions of the ministry.”

Because teens are used to inclusion at their West Michigan Christian and public schools, it was natural to have teens with disabilities in the middle and high school youth groups.

“The high school staff has done a great job of identifying [typical] students who can offer support to a student when needed. And if the staff needs us, then our team jumps in to offer assistance. It has been fun to watch the youth group staff and students take ownership of it. And if inclusion is difficult for an individual, then we invite them to worship and participate in Go-Getters, our adult program.”

Creating Interdependence among Adults

Go-Getters, which began 25 years ago as a self-contained program for kids with disabilities, evolved to serve adults as its attendees grew. Today the program offers worship services, activities, classes, and faith mentoring for more than 130 adults with disabilities and their families.

“God paved the way for each of these individuals to be part of a community within themselves. Our challenge now is to allow the entire Calvary Church community to learn and benefit from one another,” shared Judi.

Calvary Church Go-GettersThe adults are taking steps toward serving together in various ministries. If a member of Go-Getters wants to join a class or church activity, Judi meets with the individual to learn about their gifts and challenges and then matches them up with the right small group or activity. Judi and her team will offer assistance as needed to the leader and participants so that everyone feels equipped and informed. Through small groups, church baptisms, congregation-wide meals, and worship services that are open to everyone, full inclusion is gradually happening among the adults at the church.

“It’s a journey,” Judi acknowledges, with the hope that as kids and teens grow, they will become adults who view inclusion as normalcy. “And that’s what gives me so much hope for God’s vision of it all. These kids will be the adults of tomorrow who will welcome and embrace people with disabilities because ‘why wouldn’t you? These individuals have been part of my life growing up and they’re part of God’s creation just like I am…there’s no setting them apart.’ I look forward to the day when the majority of adults with and without disabilities serve alongside one another in the church.”

Providing Options for Families

Calvary Church The special needs ministry staff recognizes that an inclusive environment does not work for everyone all of the time. While Calvary Church responds graciously to distractions during the worship service, Judi knows that a large worship environment is not always the right fit. She acknowledges the importance of providing people with options and helping each one find their place in the Calvary community.

“We want to provide an opportunity for people to worship the Lord, and for their kids to be well cared for and to share the love of Christ. If that means a separate classroom for a time, then we provide them with options,” said Judi.

Though Calvary Church is still on a journey, their story serves as a testament to God’s faithfulness and desire for each of His children–regardless of their level of ability or disability–to worship and serve together.

Judi’s Advice: Don’t Say “No”

She encourages congregations of all sizes to make a place for each person in their community, “Get to know that individual and their family. Embrace them, welcome them. Have an opportunity very shortly after you meet them to interview them (and their family) and visit their home. Use that information to put together a profile on that individual. Don’t say, ‘No’, instead say, “We’re glad you’re here. We want to get to know you.”

 

Katie Barkley ImageKatie Barkley is the marketing communications manager at CLC Network.

Meet Chris and Heather-Lee Wysong

The Wysong Family

The Wysong family, from left: Conner, Heather-Lee, Chris & Pierce

Back in December, Chris and Heather-Lee Wysong challenged CLC Network donors and friends to help send CLC Network’s message of inclusion to church leaders around the country. Chris shares, “Too often, group leaders, volunteers, and pastors lack the training to effectively welcome persons with disabilities into church life. Inclusion and understanding of disabilities needs to be the norm, not the exception.”

Chris and Heather-Lee offered to match all gifts to CLC Network, up to $2,500, on Giving Tuesday (December 2) in order to send Barbara J. Newman to church conferences this spring, to speak about inclusion in churches and provide practical advice to church leaders. Donors responded by giving more than $3,800!

“I was thrilled to be able to introduce the idea of inclusion from a Christian perspective to pastors, church staff, and volunteers who may not have thought about it before,” shares Newman. “This information is so needed by many leaders, and I am grateful to CLC Network donors for helping me make inroads into so many new communities while also supporting communities already welcoming individuals with varied abilities.”

The Wysongs got to know CLC Network and Barbara J. Newman through Zeeland Christian School, where their son Pierce attends and is included socially and academically. At their church, they hoped for the same level of inclusion for Pierce, who has autism spectrum disorder.

“We attend a large church with someone designated to help those with special needs,” explains Chris. “Even with that commitment from the church, getting one-on-one help so that Pierce can participate in all the activities such as Sunday worship, summer camps, and overnighters, is almost an impossibility.” Since Pierce’s disability is more hidden, church leaders, such as volunteer group leaders, often expect him to act in a “normal” way. Instead, Pierce acts as a person with autism spectrum disorder will — from his own unique perspective. As a result, his behavior is not often managed in a helpful way.

“I wish that our church leaders, both pastors and lay people, would seek out the training that Barb offers at these conferences and through CLC Network. This is NOT just for the volunteer who is designated for special needs!” Chris reflects. “That’s why we are excited about supporting CLC Network. We don’t want to see kids drop through the cracks at church.”

While Pierce no longer attends youth group with his peers, missing out on the opportunity to build friendships and causing the other children to miss the chance to be “Jesus with skin on” for Pierce, he has found a way to contribute to the life of the church. He persistently asked to help with the younger children. Today, he volunteers to help every other week during the service. In addition, he helps out other kids who have special needs.

Chris explains, “We are sad that Pierce isn’t participating in youth worship and at camp, but there just isn’t the support for his needs. Hopefully Barb’s training for pastors and youth leaders (parents and volunteers) will open more eyes to kids in congregations who are different.”

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2015 “Inclusive” newsletter

Elizabeth Dombrowski photoElizabeth Lucas Dombrowski is the advancement director at CLC Network.