Here’s how to make sure all children feel valued and loved in your ministry by creating bias-free classrooms in your church.
“Teacher’s Pet” is a painful reality in most classrooms because not all kids get the same attention in public schools, according to a recent report by American University education professors Myra and David Sadker.
In their book Failing at Fairness, the Sadkers report that 10 percent of students in a classroom are the “star students” and get 25 percent of the teacher’s attention. About 20 percent say nothing at all. The remaining 70 percent of children get “nominal” attention. The teacher asks them one or two questions each class period. The top attention-getters? White boys, followed by minority boys, white girls, and minority girls — in that order.
But is the same true in Sunday school classrooms? Are there star students who teachers teach to — excluding other children?
Sadly, the answer is yes — in some churches.
First Thessalonians 5: 11 admonishes us to “encourage and build each other up” — to create a safe zone for each other. In a safe environment, children feel valued. They’re enjoyed for their individualism and encouraged to pursue their thoughts and dreams. But in a classroom where bias exists, children are insecure and fearful. They compete to gain attention and approval.
Matthew came into our classroom with Down’s syndrome. He couldn’t communicate with us and his frustration was apparent. Matthew yelled and hit others when he felt uncomfortable or unaccepted.
But our class treated Matthew like everyone else. He was included in discussions and invited to join in prayer. Although the children couldn’t understand him, they’d smile and nod when Matthew spoke. Matthew learned to respond in turn. He’d found a place where he felt accepted.
If children who feel loved, affirmed, and valued isn’t reason enough to create a bias-free classroom, consider this: Attendance remains steady in a bias-free classroom because children feel safe.
Here’s how you can create a bias-free environment for kids:
- Be positive about kids. “If you want your students to feel positive about themselves, you must feel positive about your students,” says child development expert Karen Owens. Spotlight kids’ strengths. If Robert is a good reader, have him read Scripture passages. Allow sports-minded Jamie to organize a group game. Let kids shine at what they’re best at.
- Celebrate individuality. Every child is special. Rather than treat differences as annoyances, look for the special qualities of each unique child. I had a kindergartner in children’s choir who insisted on yelling out the words. She just had to shout about God’s greatness. Rather than squelch her exuberance, I gave her a speaking solo. Her enthusiasm delighted the congregation and greatly raised her self-esteem. We need to give children the right to their identity and encourage them to express themselves positively.
- Monitor your interactions. Are you drawn to certain children at the exclusion of others? Think about your background. Are you more comfortable with underprivileged children but actually a little prejudiced toward kids from wealthy families? Or vice versa? Bring in an assistant who’ll complement you and reach out to those children that may not get equal time in your classroom.
Once you treat children equally, classroom management will improve. Children will realize they don’t need to assert themselves to be important in the group. Removing bias in your classroom diminishes harmful competition.
Shower kids with love, laugh together, and encourage each child to participate. Children will grow because of the love and respect you give them.
Kandi Elliott is a Christian education chairman in Illinois.
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