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)

Inclusion at Zeeland Christian School

Principal Bill Van Dyk

Zeeland Christian Schoool Principal Bill Van Dyk

With more than 54 students who have moderate to significant impairments in a preschool through grade 8 building of 900 students, inclusion is part of daily life at Zeeland Christian Schools (ZCS) in Zeeland, Michigan. That’s just been the reality there for more than twenty-five years, with the help of CLC Network.

Bill Van Dyk, Administrator and Principal, has been a strong partner and advocate for Inclusive Education from the beginning. CLC Network sat down with Bill to interview him further about his experience.

CLC: Tell us about what it was like to start the inclusion program at Zeeland, when no one else was doing it at this scale.

Logan and friends at ZCS

Logan participates in the annual 12-minute Jingle Jog with his classmates at Zeeland Christian School.

Bill: Within two weeks of my first day on the job, a parent called wanting to enroll her son with mild autism at Zeeland Christian School. We met with Doug Bouman from CLC Network, who explained to her that we were not equipped to educate her child. She put her head on her desk and cried, and it broke my heart. I knew we had to do something.

There were conversations at the time about setting up a separate campus for CLC in Ottawa County, so we said we would try it here. At the last minute, CLC proposed to go for including kids with high needs into the school instead of a separate classroom. I knew it was a gamble; it would be an unbelievable success or I would have a short career here at ZCS. Clearly it wasn’t actually a gamble, since God has blessed it so much.

CLC: What impact did inclusion have on your school?

Bill: We were a typical school, where the popular kids were the stars, and all of a sudden the stars were the kids with disabilities.

It turned the peer structure on its head, and in a good way. How powerful to have kids teaching kids how to reflect the body of Christ! Today, the students have to think about who has special needs.

We saw it change whole families, by helping them celebrate differences. Churches became more inclusive as a result of the kids’ friendships with each other. Today we have an extremely compassionate community for all children.

CLC: What have been the benefits of inclusion?

Caleb and classmates at ZCS

Caleb smiles at a joke during “Family Group” time at Zeeland Christian School.

Bill: Without the inclusion program, we would never have been able to launch a Spanish immersion program or our new Mandarin immersion program. Inclusion built an incredibly high level of trust between Zeeland Christian and the community, and popularized the notion that being different here is cool and special.

Of course, no school could have done it alone. The credibility and experience of CLC Network established our inclusion program with a strong reputation. Plus, CLC Network provides a gatekeeper for myself as principal. When a parent has very personal questions or concerns about the level of services their child may need, CLC Network provides a team of experts who can offer an objective assessment of what is best for that student.

CLC: What are the challenges of inclusion?

John and Ryan

John and Ryan have been friends since their early years at Zeeland Christian School.

Bill: You can say it’s money, but it’s not. God has blessed this program. Zeeland has grown by over 100 students during the last ten years, despite the recession. From a purely business perspective, we have 54 students who brought at least 100 additional family members. Inclusion can be part of a growth model for any school.

God also brings the right people to the right places at the right times. CLC Network provides the expertise, so you can bless the whole community with inclusion, and then God will bless your school. CLC Network provides an inclusion program plan for each school, but it’s really God’s plan and it’s been fun to be along for the ride.

CLC: Was there any resistance to starting an inclusion program for students at all levels of ability?

Bill: There were questions in the beginning, but we asked everyone to let us try it, and then to tell us about any concerns. In the 24 years since, no parent has said that the inclusive program is a detriment to their kids’ education.

Many parents have said that their kids are becoming better people thanks to the inclusion program.

Teachers were worried they weren’t qualified to teach kids at all levels of ability, but now CLC Network has the resources to help understand each child, and then the sky’s the limit. We make decisions around each child, and let the program build around that. It didn’t have to be big, it was just a matter of deciding that students with special needs would be part of our community.
There is powerful scripture behind that decision; all children are created in God’s image and God doesn’t really give us a choice about whether or not to include them.

CLC: Can you share any stories about inclusion at your school?

Bill: For the first couple of years, there was story after story. One second grader would slip out of the room through the fire escape every time the teacher turned her back. Finally, the other kids got the picture and surrounded him when he tried. He wasn’t going to fight twenty other second graders, so he didn’t exit the room again.

The cool thing is, we don’t have stories about it now. Miracles are happening here all the time, it’s just life. It’s part of being a school built on relationships; we all have a role to play.

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

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2012 Inclusive newsletter – CLC Network’s semiannual newsletter. Updated Fall 2014.

The Movement Toward Inclusion in Kenya

In today’s post, our friend David Anderson, Ph.D. shares about his experience working alongside Kenyan leaders and schools to welcome persons with disabilities through his role as president of Crossing Bridges, Inc. 

Meet Eva

One of the brightest and most capable students I had in over 30 years of preparing special education teachers was a Kenyan woman whom God led to Lock Haven University (Lock Haven, PA), where I was teaching in the mid-1980s. My relationship with Eva has continued over the years since she received her degree and returned to her homeland, where she eventually opened a private school, Acorn Special Tutorials, and began serving children with various disabilities.

Eva and Clara at Logos Christian School

Eva and Clara, an administrator at Logos Christian School (Nairobi, Kenya)

It has been my privilege to travel to Kenya a dozen times since 1997 to teach at Daystar University or Great Commission School of Theology, to speak at conferences for pastors and church leaders about the opportunity (and responsibility) to minister to and with families affected by disability. I’ve also had the opportunity to teach students in the diploma program Eva created which prepares teachers to work with students who have a disability. Eva has become a widely-respected and outspoken advocate for the inclusion of children with special needs in Kenyan schools, and I am blessed to partner with her in these efforts.

Education for Students with Disabilities

Although Kenya is a signatory of the United Nation’s “Convention of the Rights of People with Disabilities,” (which includes the right to an appropriate education), many social, cultural, and economic factors in Kenya impede full implementation of the Convention (the same is true in many developing nations). Schools in the private sector are more active in seeking to include children with disabilities in their programs. The government schools have been slow to open their doors, especially to students with significant disabilities.

Little Helping Hands School

Students at Little Helping Hands School (Naivasha, Kenya)

In July 2014, Eva and I visited Little Helping Hands School, a private Christian school in Naivasha, to observe several classes for young children with special needs and offer feedback and encouragement to the teachers. It was good to see the effectiveness of those who had attended seminars on special education I presented in 2013, but their need for additional training was apparent. Little Helping Hands School desires to incorporate the children with special needs more directly in its programs. At the school’s request, we will return next year for this purpose.

Visiting Nairobi

Eva also arranged for me to present seminars on inclusive education at two schools in Nairobi. One session was for the Kindergarten Headmistress Association, at the Kensington Kindergarten School. About 30 students studying early childhood education attended this seminar, along with several of their teachers. Questions asked by the students evidenced their desire to understand how to include students with disabilities into their classrooms.

The second session was for the teachers at Logos Christian School, which serves students from early childhood through 8th grade. Although this seminar was on a Friday afternoon at the close of school, roughly 50 teachers and administrators were in attendance—a sign of their interest in moving forward with including students with disabilities in their programs. This school has also requested that we provide more training next year.

I noticed a significant increase in the Kenyan schools’ interest in inclusive education since my first visit in 1997. On this most recent trip, I was able to encourage the Christian schools by sharing information about the effective inclusive programming at Grand Rapids Christian Elementary and Middle Schools. I was also able to help these present and future teachers understand how inclusive education has more to do with the heart than simply head knowledge as we explored what “normalcy” and “disability” mean, and some theological principles that are the basis for inclusion (e.g., interdependence, community, hospitality, etc.).

I’m looking forward to returning next year to continue training teachers and fostering an inclusive environment in Kenyan schools.

How can you support international inclusion efforts?

Prayer. Pray for Eva and Clara as they move forward to implement inclusive education in Kenya.

Connect with Crossing Bridges. Visit our website to learn more about ways you can get involved – directly and indirectly – with our inclusion efforts.


David AndersonDavid W Anderson, Ed.D., is Emeritus Professor of Special Education, Bethel University, St. Paul, MN, where he served for 15 years as Director of Graduate Programs in Special Education. He is also President of Crossing Bridges, Inc., an international ministry focusing on issues of disability and special education, which seeks to promote inclusive practices in churches and schools.

ADHD and Your Child: ADHD Experts Address Your Questions

"ADHD and Your Child" webinarFollowing our free “ADHD and Your Child” webinar last spring, we received a number of questions from parents and teachers alike on understanding and supporting persons with ADHD. For National ADHD Awareness Month, we wanted to revisit a number of these questions and invite you to watch the archived webinar with ADHD experts Doug Bouman, S. Psy. S. and Robert Bulten, M.D. This webinar, hosted by Christian Schools International, covers the symptoms and treatments of ADD/ADHD.

Q: Is ADHD hereditary?

Dr. Bulten: Very much so. It the second most heritable condition in the human genome.  The first is height.

Q: Are there similarities between teenage boys and ADHD?  When should we seek testing and treatment for ADHD?

Dr. Bulten: It used to be thought that ADHD in boys far outnumbered that in girls. But we’ve now realized that this is no longer true, and ADHD is common in both boys and girls. During the teen years, the hyperactive component (which is so common in younger boys) tends to become less noticeable. Testing and treatment should be looked into when the symptoms become a functional impairment.

Q: How much does a child’s diet help or hinder a child with ADHD?

Dr. Bulten: Diet does not usually have much positive or negative effect on a child with ADHD. Now and then, someone will find a particular food (e.g. dairy, gluten, dyes, etc.) that they believe helps to a degree, and then they take that out of the diet. But the return is so small that I don’t recommend that to start treatment. By the time my patients get to me, they will have tried all the non-medical options.

Young Boy PhotoQ: What are some particular gifts kids or teens with ADHD possess?

Mr. Bouman: ADHD in and of itself provides zero benefits to the student with ADHD.  For example, the gift of creativity or artistic ability and ADHD are not linked. However, just like students without ADHD, students with ADHD possess incredible gifts, strengths, and abilities.

Q: Are students with ADD/ADHD more likely highly intelligent and gifted than not?

Mr. Bouman: Students with ADHD are not more gifted and talented than those without ADHD.  ADHD impacts the entire range of abilities.  In fact, highly intelligent children with ADHD frequently experience more frustration since they are painfully aware that their performance and output is markedly below their intellectual abilities and peer performance.  How frustrating and painful for a bright student to “know” what to do, yet are unable “to do what they know”.

Q: Do you see the emotional issues, such as loss of confidence and “self prosecution” (especially in newly diagnosed teenagers) improve over time?

Mr. Bouman: Yes, for sure.  The first step is for the teenager and the significant adults (parents, school staff, etc.) to understand and accept ADHD, and how it is impacting this student’s daily functioning.  Once effective strategies and medication are in place, the student experiences authentic success (i.e. they can now “do and produce what they know”).  This frequently buoys their confidence and eliminates their self-persecution.

Q:  What is one thing you wish parents knew about ADHD?

Mr. Bouman: There is a tremendous amount of misinformation in the media, trade magazines, etc.  Parents need to know ADHD hugely impacts a student’s learning and productivity in school even though their child is not hyperactive or impulsive.  Quiet, hidden (inattentive type) ADHD is more dangerous since it is easily missed or misinterpreted as not trying or a bad attitude.  Complicating things is the remarkable inconsistency observed in a student with ADHD, sometimes called a “picket fence” up-down functioning.  Children, adolescents and adults with ADHD are frequently able to focus and sustain concentration if what they are doing is preferred, highly stimulating, high interest (think video games, legos, T.V., even reading high interest books).  The real test of an individual’s attention is when they must complete tasks that are important yet boring.  Another important parent “tip”, is to watch for limited improvement (e.g. learning, producing, grades, behavior) when individuals, student, teachers, and school support staff have honestly tried their best to overcome the problem using methods that work for most kids.

Dr. Bulten: Probably that they are not the cause of their kid’s ADHD – unless you consider the genetics. It’s not bad parenting–more discipline will not change things—it will probably make things worse.

Students learningQ: What is one thing you wish teachers knew about ADHD?

Mr. Bouman:
(1) All of what I wish parents knew (see above)

(2) Please be careful to simply and thoroughly report to parents what you notice in class and avoid saying a student has or does not have ADHD.

Dr. Bulten: Again, that they are not the cause of the student’s ADHD. “Carrot and stick” discipline will not change anything.

Q: What are a few practical strategies a teacher can use in the classroom to support a student with ADHD?

Mr. Bouman: Move the student close to the teacher. Having the student in close physical proximity to the teacher affords closer monitoring of the student and increased accountability.  Teachers can cue the student that important directions are coming their way (e.g. “students the next two instructions are really important” – sometimes referred to as “verbal highlighting”).  Close proximity also allows ongoing accountability with high frequency feedback (e.g. “do this first row of math computations and then check back with me”).

Students with ADHD need understanding and empathy from their teacher; their teacher needs to recognize that they are fighting upstream against a roadblock that their peers are not.  Teachers can create a “prosthetic classroom” by externalizing (making visible and permanent) instructions, requirements, rules, and steps (e.g. use of post-it-notes, lists, pictures).

Q: What is one thing you wish kids/teens knew about ADHD?

Mr. Bouman: Kids really like the truth about how ADHD is negatively impacting the use of their gifts.  Many students have conjured up something far worse (e.g. “I’m stupid”, “I’m dumb”) than ADHD.  Kids need to understand ADHD is not their fault any more than it is their fault for having brown eyes. Kids need to know there are effective interventions that can ‘even the playing field’ for them. They need to know that things will get better and there is great hope for the future.

Dr. Bulten: I wish kids with ADHD knew they were not lazy. As I interview adults with ADHD and ask them what one comment they remember their parents and teachers said was, “If you would only try harder. You have so much potential and you just don’t apply yourself.” If we could measure “effort”, especially in young kids, we’d find they are trying harder than other kids and the results are poorer. As they get older, they start to give up and they stop trying altogether.

Q: What are some practical strategies persons with ADHD can use to accomplish tasks in their daily life?

Mr. Bouman: First, make sure any prescribed medication is at optimal levels.  Students and adults with ADHD are ideally completing a one or two page symptom reduction form each time they meet with their physician.  Other strategies include:

(1) Writing down your top three non-negotiables for taking good care of yourself.

(2) Enlisting accountability supports – a trusted friend or life coach.

(3) Use technology as a work-around.

Q: Do you have any recommended books or websites to learn more about ADHD?

Mr. Bouman: The best organization with incredible resources is CHADD – Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyeractivity Disorder.

The best book for adults is Reaching for a New Potential: A Life Guide for Adults with ADD From a Fellow Traveler by Oren Mason.  Also check out Dr. Mason’s blog, Attentionality.

At CLC Network, we daily evaluate and create plans for struggling students based on their strengths and areas of need. Learn more about our perspective in this video and visit our website to learn more.

And of course, Dr. Bulten at Behavioral Medicine Clinic does an incredible job monitoring and supporting patients.

 Doug Bouman photoDoug Bouman, S. Psy. S. is the director of evaluation services at CLC Network (Christian Learning Center) in Grand Rapids, MI, a Nationally Certified School Psychologist and a Licensed Master’s Social Worker. He is a graduate of Calvin College and Central Michigan University.



Dr. Bulten photoRobert Bulten, M.D. previously practiced general pediatrics for 12 years and has been practicing behavioral medicine (including ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, and mood disorders) for the past 30 years. He is a graduate of Wheaton College and the University of Michigan Medical School.

“Time Out” for Empathetic Development

I know a few grown-ups who, when confronted about their hurtful behavior, offer this as their apology.  “I’m sorry that you misunderstood what I said (or did)”.  Hmm…I have always wondered why they believe their inability to take personal responsibility for their actions along with their lack of empathy is a real apology.

Grumpy boyDuring my graduate years in college, I worked at a residential treatment center for adolescent boys and girls that used a very rigid behavioral approach to therapy.  There was a complex token economy and level system and very clear guidelines for when and how to use the behavioral strategy of “time out”.

I remember clearly a 12 year old boy named David who had severe anger and who frequently exploded with both physical and verbal outbursts.  After an outburst he would be given the required and necessary “time out” period.  Upon completion, I would ask him if he was sorry.  He would always answer that he was (but under his breath he would add the phrase, “sorry I got caught”).

David’s version of the “Golden Rule” was similar to that of many of the other residents: “Do unto others before they do unto you.”  That was the “ah ha” moment for me.

Psychologists Jean Piaget and Lawrence Kohlberg have provided us with some of the building blocks necessary for understanding that there are clear stages for acquiring empathy and moral development.  Social psychologists believe that although children are born with a capacity for empathy, they must learn to become empathetic.

How can we help children learn to become empathetic? 

Using “time out” followed by developmentally appropriate processing can be very effective.  Before allowing our students and children to re-enter an activity from a “time out”, ask the following questions:

  • Why did I ask you to take a “time out”?
  • What did you think was happening?
  • How do you think you would feel if it happened to you?
  • How would you want that person to respond to you? (Ah ha…the golden rule!)
  • What will you do differently next time?

Saying “I’m sorry” is more than just a formality

As our children grow, we need to model and directly teach them how to apologize. Children in the early stages of social and moral development have not yet internalized the value of seeking and wanting forgiveness.  That of course, requires having empathy and an understanding of “doing unto others as you would have them do unto you”.  Therefore, such values eventually have to become seamlessly spontaneous and sincere.

For example, Erin’s teacher tells her:

“Tyrone is crying. Paint is splashed all over his picture. You must tell him that you’re sorry.”

Although Erin may have participated in a brief “time out”, if she is forced to say she’s “sorry” without understanding why or how it relates to Tyrone’s feelings, she may have difficulty learning empathic behavior. Apologizing just so she can return to an activity might teach her that others’ feelings don’t really matter. Instead, the teacher may need to encourage Erin’s participation in the process by asking:

“How do you think Tyrone is feeling? What might you do to help him?”

Teaching Children to meaningfully apologizeTry the following 3 step process to help your children get started with a meaningful apology.  Ask them to:

  1. Say “I’m sorry for…..(be specific about the behavior)”
  2. Describe how it impacted their friend (or neighbor, etc.)
  3. Tell how they will behave differently in the future

Grampa and the Golden Rule

The other day I was babysitting my 4 year old granddaughter, the one who is the most strong willed and oppositional of all 5 of my grandchildren.  I intervened several times during the day with brief “time outs” because she was not following the house rules or because she was having trouble sharing with her sister and cousins.  After the “time outs” in the morning, we talked about what Jesus would say about the golden rule and about treating others.  After the “time outs” that occurred later in the day, the processing became relatively brief.  “I know Grampy, I didn’t follow the Golden Rule!”  I’m still smiling as I think about her growing realization that Grampy thought this was such a big deal!

Works Cited

W.C. Crain. (1985). Theories of Development. Prentice-Hall. pp. 118-136. By Carla Poole, Susan A. Miller, EdD, and Ellen Booth Church

How to nurture this important gateway to a social and emotional growth
Grades: Early Childhood, PreK–K

Matthew 7:12 English Standard Version (ESV)

The Life Space Interview (LSI) – Behavior Advisor

photo credit: sokabs via photopin cc


Jeff Ashby PhotoJeff Ashby is a School Psychologist at CLC Network where he integrates his  intensive training in the fundamentals of cognitive behavioral psychology with his Christian faith.  He endeavors to help parents and professionals develop compassion in their understanding of the many challenges that students with special needs face throughout their lives.