Make No Assumptions

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Your teacher training session is just around the corner, and
you’re staring at a list of volunteers — a mixture of people from
various backgrounds. You have Rookies, Veterans, and Experts with a
wide range of abilities and teaching experiences. How can you
possibly meet all their needs?

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Identify which category your volunteers fall into, and then
customize training to meet their unique needs. Rather than having
individual meetings for Rookies, Veterans, and Experts, sprinkle in
a variety to meet all their needs. The following ideas will help
you understand your volunteers and provide them with the basic
skills needed for each experience level.

Rookies

Your new teachers and assistants come to training with
preconceived ideas about what’s going to take place in their
classrooms. They’re either eager to pitch in and make a difference
– or terrified at the possibility of being asked to pitch in and
make a difference! This is your opportunity to set their minds at
ease, inform them about the basic ins and outs of their
responsibilities, and let them know what’s really going to take
place in their classrooms.

Training Needs

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  • Relationships — Introduce all new teachers to your team. Let
    your Rookies know that they’re a welcome, valuable part of your
    team. Present each new teacher with a tote bag of supplies or a tub
    of materials as a welcome gift. Intentionally plug Rookies into
    relationships with Veterans and Experts by having them pair up for
    discussion and prayer times.
  • Mission Statement — Provide Rookies with the written mission
    statement for your ministry. Let them know that accomplishing this
    mission will be their motivation for all that takes place in their
    classrooms.
  • Job Descriptions — Develop job descriptions for the different
    positions within your ministry. By the way, these can be
    one-paragraph long. Give each Rookie the appropriate job
    description.
  • Age-Level Characteristics — Provide age-specific information
    for the grade level each Rookie ministers to.
  • Curriculum — Review the curriculum you’ve chosen with your
    Rookies, focusing on each component of the lesson. Consider having
    a mock classroom to demonstrate teaching a lesson. (Your Experts
    can even teach this.) Include a suggested schedule that’ll also be
    posted in the classroom as a backup reminder to keep things moving
    in class.
  • Safety — Review safety procedures and administrative policies
    regarding finding substitutes, chain of command, discipline
    methods, and confidentiality agreements.
  • Supplies — Tell Rookies about your resource area. Discuss your
    system for checking out resources, purchasing supplies, and
    adhering to classroom budgets.
  • Partners — Pair Rookies with Veterans or Experts in
    classrooms. Have partners evaluate the teaching sessions in
    four-week intervals. Encourage teaching teams to pray together for
    the children in their classes as well as for each other.

Veterans

With one year in children’s ministry under their belts, your
Veterans can be a valuable resource. They’ve learned by trial and
error how to run a classroom and have experienced success in making
curriculum and schedules work. It’s time to take your Veterans to a
deeper level and further develop their skills and interests to make
an even greater impact on children.

Training Needs

  • Mission Statement Review — Keep your mission statement and
    policies in front of your Veterans. Everyone needs a “refresher
    course” on these topics.
  • Job Description — Have your Veterans review their job
    descriptions to see if they’ve been taking on too much or if there
    are responsibilities they’ve let slip through the cracks.
  • Skill Development — Help Veterans pinpoint their “specialties”
    so you can help further develop those skills. Provide training from
    guest speakers or team members on worship, prayer, Bible teaching,
    and creativity geared toward children.
  • Growth Plan — Have Veterans identify personal areas for
    improvement. Connect your Veterans with other volunteers who have
    strengths in these areas.
  • Deeper Training — Provide in-depth training on teaching skills
    and understanding the needs of children. Duscuss learning styles,
    involving the five senses in lessons, delegating responsibilities,
    in-home visitation, and outreach projects.
  • Veteran Stories — Have your Veterans share testimonials with
    Rookies about what they learned during their first year in the
    classroom. Use their enthusiasm to make announcements to the
    congregation about children’s events and recruiting needs.

Experts

Volunteers who’ve put in five or more years of service are
unique in their own way. They’ve gained a great deal of experience
in the classroom and have seen their assistants and other teachers
come and go. They may’ve begun teaching out of guilt or just to
fill a slot, but they’ve found a reason to stay. Your best way to
provide continuing training for your Experts is to find out why
they’ve stayed in the game and maximize on their desires. Show
respect for the years of service your Experts have given to
children’s ministry. Help them stretch beyond their experiences by
introducing them to new resources and strategies for ministry.

Training Needs

  • Ministry Reminders — Remind your Experts of the nuts and bolts
    of your ministry, such as your mission statement, administrative
    policies, and procedures. Provide Experts with age-level
    characteristics, curriculum overviews, and administrative policies
    annually. Go over any changes to curriculum, schedules, classroom
    assignments, or teaching teams on paper and in person. Ask for
    Experts’ feedback the first week after any changes have been
    implemented.
  • New Job Descriptions — Have your Experts create or edit their
    job descriptions to fairly represent all they’re doing. This will
    provide affirmation about the impact they’re making on children.
    It’ll also give them an opportunity for personal evaluation in
    areas where they may’ve started “coasting” through the preparation
    process out of familiarity with the curriculum or children.
  • Personal Touch — Spend one-on-one time with your Experts
    outside of your regular training sessions. Ask for their input on
    special events and additional programs for your ministry. Train
    them to handle responsibilities in these areas with less
    involvement from you. Ask these volunteers to tell you what’s
    working in their classrooms. Affirm them for the work they’re doing
    and ask how you can help.
  • What areas of development would your Experts like to explore?
    Just ask them. Have them suggest possible topics to cover in future
    training sessions, and see if they’d be willing to serve on a
    question-and-answer panel or teach about a topic they’ve
    suggested.
  • Extended Training — Pay for your Experts to receive training
    at national and regional conferences where they can choose the
    seminars they want to attend. Have them report what they learn to
    your Rookies and Veterans.
  • Leadership Development — Help your Experts recognize their
    opportunity to make contributions to the teachers with whom they
    teach as well as the children in their classes. Pair these teachers
    with Rookies and Veterans. Your volunteers will learn from each
    other if you promote these relationships.
  • Feedback — Allow Experts to offer advice on problems in the
    classroom and share common experiences and struggles. Before making
    any dramatic changes in curriculum choices, teaching teams, or
    classroom assignments, ask for your Experts’ feedback. Valuing
    their opinions and insights will make them stronger team players
    when changes are implemented.
  • Update — Some Experts may feel close to retiring from your
    team because they think children today have changed too much since
    their first classroom of kids. Other Experts are teaching in your
    children’s ministry because they know it’s what God created them to
    do, and they wouldn’t consider doing anything else.

Either way, Experts need to keep in touch with today’s kids.
Create a “What’s Hot” list detailing the interests of kids in each
age group. Include movies, books, hobbies, clothing trends, and
other details, with a brief description or blurb about each topic.
Give your Experts their own copies of Children’s Ministry Magazine
to keep them in the know. Better yet, encourage your Experts to
survey kids about their interests.

Although members of your ministry team have different levels of
experience and talents, your training can level the field and help
all of them — regardless of their years of service — feel
confident and equipped to accomplish the mission the Lord has laid
out for them and the children in your church. Your sensitivity to
your volunteers’ needs and understanding of how to effectively
address their concerns and interests will lay the foundation for a
strong and effective team that sticks together for the long
haul.

Encouraging Long-Term Service

While many people are willing to volunteer for a year or so,
long-term workers are harder to find. What can you do to turn your
Rookies and Veterans into Experts? Make a strong start with the
following steps.

  • Pray, pray, pray. When facing the challenge of recruiting
    volunteers and assigning teachers to classrooms, ask God to lead
    you to the specific people he wants ministering to children.
  • Make it personal. Approach each individual personally, focusing
    on gifts rather than availability. When you know the specific
    positions you need filled and the best types of people to fill
    them, seek out individuals who are good matches — not just warm
    bodies.
  • Connect consistently. You’ve only begun your job when your
    classes are staffed with equipped teachers. Your volunteers need to
    see your face and hear your voice weekly. Lend support verbally and
    physically. Offer to serve as an assistant from time to time.
    Volunteer to take over a class to give a teacher a non-
    vacation-related break. Call, visit, and send notes.
  • Listen as you lead. Ask for input from your teachers about
    ideas, implementing as many as you can to give them ownership in
    children’s ministry.
  • Offer timely training. Meet in large and small groups
    throughout the year. Hold weekly or monthly prayer times whenever
    possible.
  • Develop relationships outside of your roles. Take time to
    invest in the lives of your volunteers, not just in their
    ministries.
  • Practice what you preach. Demonstrate the level of commitment
    you expect from your workers. Treat your volunteers as if they were
    your class.
  • Be flexible. Keep in mind that children’s ministry isn’t the
    only area where your workers are involved. They need personal
    ministry, time with family, and occasional breaks from the grind.
    Keep the doors of communication open so you’re approachable when
    your workers need to ask for getaways. Better yet, build into each
    person’s job description a clause that provides for refueling and
    time off at the end of a yearly rotation. When people know they
    have a break coming, they’re likely to be more consistent.

Becky Ussery is a writer, speaker, and creator of Kid
S.T.U.F.F. ministry for children in Woodstock, Georgia. Please keep
in mind that phone numbers, addresses, and prices are subject to
change.

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