Getting Started as a Church School Director
It’s the middle of the summer. It’s vacation time. Vacation Bible School and Summer Camp are over! While Church and school activities have slowed down considerably, it’s not too early for the Sunday Church School (SCS) Director to start thinking about the next Sunday Church School year.
It’s the middle of the summer. It’s vacation time. Vacation Bible School and Summer Camp are over!
While Church and school activities have slowed down considerably, it’s not too early for the Sunday Church School (SCS) Director to start thinking about the next Sunday Church School year. Although some of us are still closing out the 2006-2007 year, we have to begin putting a tremendous amount of effort into planning for the 2007-2008 school year. September will be here before we know it.
We may first begin by thinking of the most important people in any SCS program, the teachers. Now is the time to find out who will be returning to teach SCS and who will not. What’s the most time efficient way to do this?
The easiest way to communicate with a group of people is to take advantage of the Department of Internet Ministries’ Free List Serve Program. It’s fairly easy. You just compose the email you wish to distribute, address the email to the name you have chosen, i.e. AGOCTeachers@listserve,goarch.org, and send the email. The Department of Internet Ministries will help you from beginning to end. Go to helpdesk.goarch.org, and that should lead you to a web form that you will complete.
Send out an email to the volunteers who taught or were on staff the previous year to wish them a happy mid-summer vacation and ask them if their plans for the fall include returning to teach SCS. From their answers you can assess the grade levels that need to be filled.
Some years there may be several teacher slots to fill. Don’t panic and don’t be tempted to fill those positions with just anyone. Attend Church and the fellowship coffee hour and talk to newcomers and parishioners. Become a “bird-watcher” and observe. See who the most faithful people in your Church are. They are the ones who attend Liturgy Sunday after Sunday. Remember that God is in charge of this ministry and He is aware of your needs. Even when it’s just a couple of weeks away from the beginning of SCS, our silent prayer is always, “OK, God, I’m getting a little anxious, but this is your ministry so please send the right people my way.” And He does!
An important planning tool is to set up a calendar for the coming school year. Include the major feast days, the Sundays SCS will be held, seminars, speakers, youth events, etc. If you would like to see a completed calendar for 2007-2008, just email your request to firstname.lastname@example.org.
After the calendar year is on paper, meet with your priest to talk about the plans you have for the coming year as well as discussing your teacher needs. He can be very helpful. Brainstorm with him and go over the programs and speakers you have in mind. Keep him informed. A director must work hand in hand with the Proistamenos or the priest assigned this ministry.
While you are working on the teacher volunteers, begin to assess the materials and curricula that your parish used. Is it Orthodox? This is a very important part of the director’s job. The SCS director and the priest decide on the entire curricula, not the teachers. The Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America curriculum is very good. Order a resource catalog from the Department of Religious Education (800-566-1088). Visit the website at: www.religioused.goarch.org. We can also supplement the curricula materials from other Orthodox jurisdictions such as: The Orthodox Christian Education Commission (OCEC) (800-464-2744).
Work toward providing your teachers with at least two “personal growth” publications: PRAXIS Magazine from the Department ($15/year) from the Department of Religious Education is excellent, filled with information and teaching ideas and resources. So is Again Magazine from Conciliar Press (800-967-7377).
It is especially important to select a good curriculum for high school students. Please try not to allow the middle school or high school teachers to make every Sunday be a discussion group. Many times teachers show up unprepared. Because most students are limited in their knowledge of the Orthodox Faith and life experiences, the topics of discussion are about what they “think” and “believe” and in the end, rarely do they learn what the Church teaches. The Archdiocese has begun a curriculum series for high school. The first high school book is completed and entitled, “Rejoicing in One Lord, Jesus Christ.” Each chapter in this book contains how to conduct the lesson, research on the topic from sources such as the Bible, the Church Fathers, the Divine Liturgy and appropriate activities. All a teacher has to do is read it carefully from start to finish.
The OCEC also offers “The Way, the Truth and the Life” for high school kids. Another 7-week study unit for teens about our relationships and our choices, is entitled, “What’s Love Got To Do With It? Everything!”
Incorporating the St. John Chrysostom Oratorical Festival into the Sunday Church School program from middle school through high school is a wonderful way to get the kids involved in selecting topics, researching, writing and presenting their beliefs on a parish, metropolis and archdiocesan level. In fact, if we begin incorporating the Elementary Oratorical Festival before kids reach middle school, we will see greater participation when those kids reach middle school and high school.
Another important addition to the SCS program for middle school and high school would be to select a book or epistle from the Bible and once a month, read and discuss the same during class. At the end of the year, on the last day of SCS the middle school and high school kids gather in one room and play Bible Bowl.
Every SCS director’s dream is probably to discover how one keeps good and faithful volunteer teachers who can make a difference in a young person’s life. Director, take care of your teachers and staff. Get to know them personally. When you plan monthly meetings with your teachers, include simple luncheons. Make it social. Find occasions to give them presents…books to read that will make them better teachers. Provide speakers for seminars, at least once a year. When they go through difficult times such as sickness or divorce, be there for them. Call them to let them know you care. On the first day of SCS, have the priest introduce your teachers and staff to the parish by having them stand when they are introduced and at the end of the SCS year, have them come up to the soleas and acknowledge each one by calling out their years of faithful service. Let them know how much you and the entire parish appreciate what they are doing for love of children.
But, most of all, Director, pray for your teachers and students, attend Church regularly, read your Bible, be a person of prayer. Be an example to your teachers of what you expect of them.
Preparing for the beginning of Sunday Church School in the middle of the summer is like preparing for a very important party you are going to have in the fall. The more preparations you take care of now, the better things will go on the day of the party. And as an added bonus, the better prepared you are, the more you will enjoy yourself at the party.
Irene Cassis is the Director of Religious Education for the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church, Houston, Texas and the Metropolis of Denver. Her e-mail address is Irenecassis@agoc.org