When a teacher makes use of reasonable consequences in her classroom, she is teaching her kids to be accountable for their actions.
“The purpose of a consequence is to retrain the brain and transform the heart.” (Jody Copehart)
I love this quote! I think Jody said it very well. The reason we use consequences in our classrooms is to retrain how our kids think , feel, and behave.
It’s important to make sure that the consequences for actions in our classes are reasonable. Remember, we are lovingly training our kids to love God and to love people. Kids pick up quickly on actions they consider unfair. A reasonable consequence would never be considered unfair. They may not like it, but they can’t call it unfair.
For example, during snack time a child spills their juice. An unreasonable consequence would be to tell the child that they cannot have snack for the next month. Kids would consider that unfair (and rightly so!) A reasonable consequence would be for that child to clean up the mess. That consequence is logical. They had a spill so they clean it up. Logical and reasonable.
Keep in mind that reasonable consequences are not just for misbehavior. That is why I am talking about them during this series on classroom management and not during a series about discipline. Reasonable consequences are about teaching kids the result of choices. Sometimes these are related to unacceptable behavior and sometimes simply poor choices.
Here are some other examples of reasonable consequences:
- If a child plays with a toy, they are responsible for putting it away.
- If a child spills their apple juice, they clean it up.
- If a child spills a friend’s apple juice, they apologize, clean it up, and make sure their friend gets another drink.
- If a child uses rude or inappropriate speech during class, they need to find a nice way to say the same thing.
- If a child hurts someone, they need to do something kind for them.
- If 2 children are talking to each other instead of listening to the story/lesson, they need to move so they are not sitting together anymore.
Let me encourage you as a Sunday School teacher to start using reasonable consequences in your classroom. Teach your kids that they are responsible for their behavior and the results of their behavior.
Let’s talk about reasonable expectations and how to let kids know what is expected of them.
It’s important for teachers to remember that children need to be taught how to behave in the classroom. They will not automatically know. So talk with your students about what you expect during class. This is important for all ages, but especially young children who do not yet attend school and therefore do not have experience to draw on.
First, ensure that your classroom expectations are reasonable.
Here you need to consider the age and developmental stage of your students.
5 years olds do not have the attention span to sit still through a 30 minute story. It would be an unreasonable expectation. However, 5 year olds can sit for a 10-15 minute story that is engaging, age-appropriate, and interactive.
If you are not sure what your students can do developmentally, there are lots of resources out there that will give you good information about age-level characteristics.
Second, tell your kids what is expected of them for general classroom behavior and for specific classroom situations.
General classroom behavior includes how students should address you, knowing the rules and that students are expected to follow them, how students should treat you and each other.
But it is also important to let students know what your expectations are in specific situations. For example, if a student has a question at any time, they should raise their hand and wait for you to call on them.
Specific situations include story or lesson time, application time, games and activity time, craft time, group projects, dismissal time.
Here are some examples of reasonable expectations:
“Any questions asked will be about the lesson topic.”
“If you have a question, raise your hand and wait for me to call on you.”
“I expect everyone to participate during lesson time.”
“After playtime, I expect everyone to help clean up.”
“Before we eat snack, everyone washes their hands.”
“During application time, we will respect what each other has to say.”
Rules and expectations are similar. Rules should be clearly stated, ideally posted, and repeated often. The expectation, then, would be that students will obey the rules.
Not all expectations are directly related to rules however. Some expectations are about how we handle snack time or bathroom breaks. They are more about how things are done in this classroom.
Don’t make the assumption that children will know how to behave or participate in your classroom. Let your kids know what your expectations are. And then watch them rise to the challenge!
Ryan was a great kid! He had a huge heart. I saw him take care of his little brother and do the nicest things for other children. Ryan was also stubborn. He could really dig in his heels. There were mornings when he just didn’t want to be at Sunday School and he let you know it!
One morning his teacher came to get me because Ryan wouldn’t come into the classroom. His mother had already dropped him off and he had decided that he didn’t want to join the class. When I got there, I took a minute to talk with Ryan and then I offered him a choice. I told him that we cared about him and it was important to us that he was safe. In order for us make sure he was safe, he needed to be in the classroom where we could see him. I told him, “You need to come inside. Would you like to sit with your friends or would you like to sit by yourself on this bench?” He came inside. He still chose to sit by himself, but he was inside the classroom.
Now, Ryan hadn’t been given a choice whether to come to Sunday School or not. There are a lot of things in kids’ lives that they don’t have control over. Ryan was trying to exert some control by refusing to come into the classroom. By offering him a choice, I was giving Ryan some control and he didn’t feel to need dig in his heels quite as much.
Here are 4 tips for offering choices in the classroom:
1. Make sure the choices are acceptable.
Another way of saying this would be make sure that you can live with either choice. When you offer a child or your entire class a choice, make sure that both options are acceptable. For example, “Which of these 2 activities would you like to do (or do first)?” Plan two activities that are fun and engaging and highlight the central theme of your class. That way the kids stay focused and learn no matter which activity they choose. Another example would be, “Would you like to continue playing or come join the story circle?” This is an example where one of the choices isn’t acceptable. We want all children to join in for story time, so don’t offer them a choice that lets them choose to sit out.
2. Make sure the choices are legitimate.
Kids will quickly pick up on it if you are not offering them real choices. When you offer choices you are letting the kids practice making decisions and accepting responsibility. So offer real choices. “Would you rather work alone or with a partner?” “What should we do first: have snack or play a game?”
3. Make sure the choices are significant.
It’s important that the choices you give kids are legitimate, but also that they are significant. Give them opportunities to make important decisions. If you are planning a class party, for example, let the kids help decide the theme of the party by offering significant choices.
4. Finally, make sure the kids know the rules.
It’s important that kids understand the rules of making choices. Tell them that you will offer a choice, but it they refuse to choose, you will choose for them. For example, when I teach Sunday School, one of our rules is that the class does activities together. That means that during story time, every sits in the story circle. If a child is misbehaving you could say, “It’s not a choice not to join us. So, would you rather sit here in the story circle or sit there in the story circle.” If they refuse to choose, then you choose one of those spots for them.
Give over some of the control in your classroom to your students by offering acceptable, legitimate, significant choices. They will have an opportunity to practice decision-making and taking responsibility for their actions and you will be practicing solid classroom management.
The teacher planned a whole bunch of activities for the kids. They were going to measure the height of their pumpkins, weigh their pumpkins, guess what was inside their pumpkins, learn the circumference of their pumpkins and carve their pumpkins. It was a lot of fun!
This nursery class had 14 four & five year olds and one teacher. I was really impressed by how prepared this teacher was and how smooth the class went. I think that there is a direct correlation.
First, this teacher knew that it was going to be a busy day so she made arrangements for extra help. Usually she had one parent helper. That day there were 7.
Next, she carefully thought out what she wanted to do and how she was going to do it. She let parents know ahead of time and asked the kids to each bring a pumpkin. She set up 5 stations around the room and had the activity for each planned and prepped.
When the helpers arrived, she got the kids busy playing and then went over the morning with us and gave us our specific responsibilities.
Then she enjoyed her time with her class. It was a busy morning and there was a lot going on, but she didn’t get stressed. She had prepared well and so was able to really enjoy her class. Also, the kids had a great time and there were no hiccups or behavior issues to deal with.
This was an example of a really well-managed class because the teacher was prepared.
It is unlikely that any of you have 7 helpers in your class on a Sunday morning! But there are some great principles from this example that we can use.
Mainly this – be prepared! Be prepared yourself as a teacher and make sure your classroom is prepared for whatever you have planned for the morning.
First, prepare yourself.
This means taking the time during the week to plan your class time and study your lesson. Plan out illustrations, games, crafts, and activities and gather all the supplies you will need. And pray for your class and for the lesson you will teacher. Pray that God would already be at work in the hearts of your students.
Once when I was a Director of Children’s Ministry I got a phone call from a panicked teacher at 8pm on a Saturday night. She was just looking at her lesson and realized that she needed certain things photocopied and certain items from our supply cabinet for activities. I told her that I would have them for her in the morning. I can imagine though that she would have been stressed and uncertain about whether I would find everything she needed. She was not prepared and I can imagine how it affected her class.
Preparing yourself also means having everything ready to go when the kids arrive. A huge part of being a Sunday School teacher is building relationships with your students. When they arrive, they are eager to interact with you and talk about what’s going on in their lives. If you are distracted preparing an activity or finalizing a lesson, you miss out on that opportunity to build relationships. Also, kids want your attention. If they see that you are distracted or even just ignoring them, they may try to find another way of getting your attention. Acting out will cause negative attention, but it is still attention.
So, take the time you need to be prepared.
Second, prepare your classroom.
When I volunteered for pumpkin science day, the teacher had set the stage in her classroom. She had prepared station areas ahead of time and gathered all the materials for each station into bins. Her classroom was prepared.
Knowing the goal for the class will help you as you prepare your classroom. When you know ahead of time what you want to accomplish during your class, you can set up your room to aid you in reaching that goal instead of distracting from it.
For example, put away toys that you won’t be using and get rid of clutter. Take the time to look at your classroom with a child’s eyes. What might be distracting for them? Is it easy for them to use and put away toys and other activity items?
Classroom management is really about setting kids up for success. You want them to learn and be engaged during class. You want to minimize distractions and give them opportunities to show love and kindness to others.
One way you can do that is to make sure that you are prepared ahead of time and that your classroom is set up to enhance the learning experience and not distract from it.