Knowing is Always Communal

Some folks are drawn to teaching. These lucky folks know that one of the absolutely best ways to expand your own faith is to lead an RE class. Whether in a class with preschoolers, elementary age kids, or youth,  exploring the ideas and stories central to Unitarian Universalism allows teachers to find a piece of their own truth.

I have seen all sorts of people become excellent RE teachers. New teachers often come to me unsure and worried that they “don’t know how” to teach a class. More important than teaching technique, is the ability of religious education teachers to share of themselves in relationship to the participants in a religious education program. We as a congregation need to help the development of a “faith-filled” teacher, not just people with specific techniques, strategies, and procedures.

Parker Palmer writes in Courage to Teach:

If we want to grow as teachers, we must learn to talk to each other about our inner lives, our own identity and integrity.
Knowing is always communal. Knowing is a human way to seek relationship, to have encounters and exchanges that will alter us.
To teach is to create a space in which the community of truth is practiced.

This year, we are refining the teaching experience at Channing. Emphasizing the faith development inherent in the act of leading an RE class. Highlighting the positive aspects of being in the class, the personal growth advantages, as well as the way teaching helps the good of our community. There are volunteer opportunities for folks who want to teach a lot, and folks who want to help with less time commitment.

Each season (Fall, Winter, and Spring) there will be a Lead Teacher to organize lessons in each class with help from our DRE and RE Committee. Each lead teacher will teach 9 Sundays. So that means we need 12 lead teachers for the year. These Lead Teachers deserve the respect of the entire congregation for the important role they play in our congregation’s health and vitality!

Supporting the Lead Teachers are Assistant Teachers. An Assistant will be in the class each week, helping as needed. Each assistant will be in the classroom over the course of the year 6 Sundays. So that means we need 20 assistants for the year.

We are now signing up both Lead Teachers and Assistants for next year’s classes. If you would like to expand your faith development, get to know some amazing and curious UU’s, and make a difference to your congregation, please contact Halcyon to find out more!


“Oh, I Am Not Good At Getting Kids To …”

Half of the people we ask to teach express reticence about managing behavior in the class room. Even seasoned volunteer teachers can sometimes get leery about a particularly active group, bouncing around. (Now, I’m not saying which of our classes …)

Classroom management is a real part of teaching any age group, from pre-school to adult! There WILL be days where the children are talking non-stop.  There WILL be kids who disregard common acceptable behavior.  There WILL be lessons that go chugging off-track into the distance. AND we can work with these situations successfully.

I recently came across this list from the UUA website of tips for managing an Our Whole Lives class. Here are some highlights adapted for all classes:

How do I manage the classroom?

“My class is bouncing off the walls and acting out. They can’t focus or pay attention.  What should I do?”

Examine your assumptions about what it looks like for a person to “pay attention.”

Some people need to focus their attention on more than one thing in order to stay engaged. Make the ground rule that participants can do what they need to do to keep them engaged, as long as they are not distracting or disturbing other participants.

Respect participants’ dignity and their right to make their own decisions:

  • Make a class covenant in the beginning of the program, in which participants list what is acceptable behavior and what is not. When there are problems, ask if their behavior is consistent with the group covenant.
  • Allow participants to self-select a short break if they can’t focus. Let them leave the circle, go out into the hall, and do what they need to do to refocus. The other teacher can be available to make sure they’re not “refocusing” in destructive ways. If the group knows anyone has the option to take a break when needed, it feels less punitive if a teacher asks if an individual needs a break. Some participants may want to sit or lie on the floor outside the circle but within earshot.
  • Rather than scolding or criticizing behavior, use, “When you … I feel … because …” statements, so they know why the behavior is a problem. Saying, “[Name], I’m having a hard time hearing [Other Name] when you’re having a side conversation,” will likely have a better effect than, “Can we stop with the side conversations, please?”

Incorporate structures that allow participants some control over the flow of conversation:

  • Use a “talking object”—where only the participant holding the object may speak. Ideas for objects include a beanbag or plush stuffed toy.
  • Use a bell or chime, rather than shouting over them, to bring participants back to focus.

Give more focused attention:

  • Have a teacher who is not leading an activity sit next to or between two participants who are having a side conversation.
  • It’s hard for anyone, especially young people, to sit still for a long time. Make sure you have enough breaks built into each session. Make sure there’s space for active movement during a break. Add an occasional game.
  • Invite participants to help by doing readings, offering chalice lightings, or writing lists on newsprint during brainstorming sessions. Participants will be more engaged if they are a critical part of the session’s activities.

Attend to different learning styles and needs:

  • If you have a very physically active group, incorporate more physical activity into some of the sessions. For example, you could add movement to a values continuum by inviting participants to run across the whole continuum before settling in the place that reflects their values.
  • Enabling fiddling and doodling can channel fidgety energy and help participants pay attention. Have paper and pencils available for doodling, or have clay or beeswax for manipulating.

Don’t be afraid of teaching. Your RE teaching experience will be fantastic! Children and youth want structure and meaningful connection with each other. Our Sunday classes can provide that and more! Give me a shout to talk more about classroom management or any RE topic!

The children and youth of this congregation are amazing, bright and creative. We learn so much by being with them. Don’t miss out on sharing our faith journey together!

Look a Little Closer


I sometimes am so mired in administrative tasks that I lose sight of WHY we do this work.  When each kid becomes a registration form and each teacher a slot in a calendar, I need to stop and back up for the big picture.  But apparently I can also get out a magnifying glass to get perspective.

I came across this article by Susan Erickson at the teaching tolerance website recently.  Erickson is a teacher, she sends a baggie of different colored sand to each student in her class in the week before school.  Then when the class gets together on the first day of school they have a ceremony of investigating with microscopes and combining their different sand.

” To the naked eye, sand may look quite dull.  But under a microscope, the students can see all the beautiful little rocks or shells that make it distinctive.  Getting to know my students is like that. Initially one may appear too shy or way too talkative. But when you look at a student under your teacher microscope, you start to learn and appreciate individual characteristics—what makes that student special. 

Equally important during the beginning of the school year is building community. Here the sand comes into play again. Once we scientifically examine the sand, it’s time to create our own “beach.” Sometimes we make the beach right away; other times, it takes longer. This all depends on how long it takes for the individual students to truly become a class.”

Our classes are filled with beautiful children who are bursting with thoughts to share and experiences to add to discussions.  The strength of our religious education classes is the mix of people who are all searching for their own truth.    Just like the different colors of sand, we each bring beauty and our own qualities to the whole.

With all our diverse theologies, we do need to make an effort to create intentional community in the classes.  This can be done with the creation of a class covenant.  Another way is to use the community building games that are in your curriculum.  If you are nervous about doing the games, ask me or one of the older kids to help you – they love playing games!

At Channing, we all have something in common right from the beginning- our Unitarian Universalist faith.  Our covenant (the Seven Principles) calls us to celebrate our individuality while at the same time live in the benefits of community.   I am reminded of our water gathering celebration.  We bring our scattered experiences and combine them into something holy.

It is beautiful!  See you Sunday!