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Perhaps 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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”.
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.).
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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.