Glancing at church websites, it looks like the program year is getting into gear. Classes are starting up, Confirm not Conform among them I'm sure. And so I thought I'd offer some thoughts on classroom management.
First thought: talk to professional teachers about classroom management! A number of years ago now, we offered a workshop at our parish for our Sunday School teachers taught by a highly effective elementary school teacher who was a member of the parish. She had so many wonderful suggestions on how to set up a classroom so that it would run smoothly. I only wish I could remember them all to share them here. So first thing, check with the experts! They can help you!
Second thought: Be prepared! I realize there's nothing earth-shattering in this suggestion, but it still makes a huge difference in your likelihood of success. Your classroom success has much less to do with how much you know or how good you are with kids than that you have some of these basics in place:
- Know the teaching material At the very least, read through the material in advance--not because you need to follow it slavishly. It's going to be much easier for you to improvise if you already know the material you plan to present.
- Know what material you need to get In Confirm not Conform, we tried to create a list for you of the materials you will need for each session. But whatever program you use, make sure you have the stuff you need so you can do the lesson you want to do. There's nothing like starting a class and then realizing you need scissors or animal crackers or a recording of blackbirds singing or what-have-you to make you scramble.
- Prepare the environment Be sure to set aside time before the class starts to make sure the room will work for what you want to do. Don't spend time you could spend on an activity rearranging furniture!
Third, and this is tricky--for me, anyway: when you're teaching a class, respond to what's in front of you. What's tricky is that what's in front of you may not match what's in the session. What's also tricky is the nuance between responding to a real need or being sidetracked by a side issue.
This is one reason why setting up Rules of the Road in the very beginning is important. When you lay out for everyone the expectations for behavior, then for many situations that crop up in the classroom, you can simply point to the Rules of the Road and say, "Here's our expectations."
What's tougher to determine is when there's a serious question or an emotional issue that crops up out of the blue. Is this something that should be dealt with in the moment, or held for a later time? The thing to keep in mind is: will the change in direction be beneficial to the group or not? Suppose someone has a tough issue they're facing; is that an issue that could lead into a more general discussion? Or is that something that requires some one-on-one attention afterwards? I know -- believe me!--that this isn't always easy to tell at the time.
However, here's the key point: the kids in front of you always trump the words on the page. You do not have to get through that whole session in the time allotted! Really! There is no standardized test. Your funding won't be cut if they don't know the material. The information on the page is not as important as the people in the room. Love trumps information. And sometimes the information required is not on the script.
Finally, evaluate what happened. In the 2012 edition of Confirm not Conform, we added a section at the end of each session suggesting questions to ask yourself or your team about what went well and what could be improved. But this doesn't need to be a formal evaluation. Simply spend a few minutes reflecting on what happened, and if there's anything you learned from what you did that you can apply towards the next class or meeting or program.
Please remember that evaluation is not about beating up on yourself for what went awry; it's a chance for you to learn. It's never going to be perfect. Don't get down on yourself when it isn't. Take some time to celebrate the things that went well, the small victories and the moments when you found yourself thinking, "By George, I think she's got it!" Ask how you can build on that. Evaluation is about building on success, not just avoiding failures. So how did you succeed? How was God at work through you?
Image (c) Dave Walker at cartoonchurch.com. Full-sized image here.