Discover the ABCs of great Sunday school teaching that are foundational to great Christian education.
Children usually learn to read by recognizing combinations of letters. Learning to teach is similar. Qualities and skills combine to make the teaching process understandable and enjoyable. As you read this alphabet of teaching qualities and skills, you may discover new combinations of letters you need to be an effective teacher.
Availability: Don’t turn off when the last “bell” rings. Kids still need hugs and attention when they see you in the hallway. And be available for training. It’s the best way to become a better teacher. Make it a goal to incorporate one new idea from each training session you attend.
Boasting: Be proud of your children. They need someone who thinks they’re special and who says so. Let your children hear your praises of them.
Coping: Many children have difficult lives. You need to be able to cope with what’s happening to them. Don’t avoid children with problems, but embrace them and counsel them when necessary. When a child makes a need known to you, pray for that need and seek to minister to that child.
Discovery: Explore biblical truth with your kids in every lesson. You’re an expedition guide into the most exciting territory ever for kids: the Bible.
Encouragement: Your positive support will encourage learners to risk new things. Pepper your speech with comments such as, “I appreciate the way you tackled that mural” or “You worked hard during that game.”
Flexibility: Children develop at different rates — even children of the same age. Be patient with them while they develop. Don’t ask them to do things beyond their physical or intellectual capacity. Praise them for trying rather than only for achieving.
Guidance: Proverbs 22:6 says if we guide children biblically, they’ll not depart from the training when they get old. That’s a promise for every teacher and parent!
Hesitation: When you ask a question, wait for children’s responses. After ample thinking time and if someone doesn’t attempt a response, rephrase the question.
Interaction: Don’t lecture! One of the most effective teaching methods Jesus used was dialogue. Take turns in talking and listening. Maintain eye contact to underscore your interest in what the child says.
Joviality: A good sense of humor that leads to hearty laughter is good medicine for everyone. Remember to laugh with children and not at them.
Knowledge: Learn about developmental characteristics and effective teaching methods. Put your knowledge into practice to develop age-appropriate lessons for kids.
Love: Your children must feel you love them by how you act, what you say and the tone of your voice. Love costs us nothing, but it can make all the difference to a child.
Modeling: You are Jesus to your children. Jesus welcomed the children with open arms. He had standards and expectations for them, but he’d forgive them without fail. Model Christlikeness.
Naturalness: Don’t read the lesson as written by an editor 2,000 miles away; teach the lesson in your words. Familiarize yourself with the content, write specific questions and don’t read the curriculum word for word.
Order: Children constantly ask non-verbally, “Who’s in charge here?” Discipline is maintained through a loving relationship with each child, not by authoritarian power. If a child is misbehaving, pull the child aside, and kindly remind him or her of the classroom rules.
Preparation: The “Saturday night scramble” can be avoided if you start lesson planning early in the week. Begin on Monday. Review your lesson and start gathering supplies. Through the week the Holy Spirit will provide real situations to illustrate the lesson objectives and provide quality learning for you and your children.
Question asking: Ask questions beyond who, what, when and where. Help your children understand the causes behind the story and make present-day applications. Encourage kids to put themselves in a character’s shoes. Ask how they would feel had they been that person.
Respect: Children are God’s gifts to us and are entrusted to our care for only a short while. Give them choices and respect their opinions.
Spirituality: Make sure your well doesn’t run dry. Daily Bible reading and prayer will keep your pump primed to give to the kids in your class.
Tolerance: Children will misbehave. Expect it, deal with it appropriately and forgive it. Whatever you do, don’t leave kids with the impression that church is a place for punishment.
Understanding: Children are unique genetically, socially, intellectually, physically and spiritually. Appreciate and respect their differences, and provide ways for each child to contribute to the class.
Vitality: Teachers who bore children with the Bible should sing in the choir instead! Enthusiasm for God’s Word is contagious. Teachers don’t have to be cheerleaders but neither should they be as dead as King Henry!
Warmth: Sunday school should be a good place to be — like going to grandma’s. The classroom should be “child friendly” with materials and resources easily accessible. The surroundings should be pleasing to the eye, ear and touch.
XP: These Greek letters represent Christ — and so do you. You are Christ’s ambassador. Disciple, train and teach children as Jesus would.
Yoking Up: Don’t go it alone. You need a partner who’ll pray for you. Teaching children is a tremendous task, and the extra support you get from having a prayer partner will be invaluable.
Zeal: Teachers shape the attitudes and values of future generations. And Christian teachers have a direct impact on children and eternity. Get a vision for the difference you’re making in each child’s life.
Mary Ellen Drushal is academic dean at Ashland Theological Seminary in Ohio. She is also the author of On Tablets of Human Hearts (Zondervan).