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The Teacher's Handbook

for Orthodox Christians

Worship

Formal Learning

Praxis

The purpose of this study is to develop and validate a process model for the design of curriculum in Orthodox Christian religious education.  The model reflects basic elements of curriculum design, while remaining faithful to the tradition of the church as expressed in the Orthodox Christian family of churches.  It assumes an educational paradigm in which education takes place in three contexts of church life: worship (church), teaching (school), and praxis (home and community life).  – Dr. Constance Tarasar, A Process Model for the Design of Curriculum for Orthodox Christian Religious Education

 

Worship:

attending and participating in the services

“…‘ Liturgical catechesis’ is not just an interesting custom of the ancient Church, but the traditional method of religious education…”
– Fr. Alexander Schmemann, Liturgy and Life

Who is a Teacher?

Our parish priest helps to guide us on our spiritual journey and thus is a teacher to our entire community.  Each of us within the community are also a teacher to every child and adult in the parish as well.

John Boojamra explains in his book Foundations for Christian Education, “The image of the adult Christian is formed in the child’s mind by what he sees and hears adults doing.”

If we take into account the words of Saint Seraphim of Sarov, “Acquire a peaceful spirit, and around you thousands will be saved.” – we can see that our behavior and choices have a influence on those around us.  When we see someone who has an internal peace and love for every person around them, we are drawn to them to see why and how they accomplished it.

Sophie Koulomzin states in her book, Our Church and Our Children“Everyone would agree that the capacity to love children is the most important trait to be looked for in teachers.  It is important, however, to realize just what we mean by love.  It certainly does not mean finding them ‘cute’, or  ‘adoring the little angels.’ …Again I have to go back to the definition of love given in 1 Corinthians: ‘patient and kind, not jealous or boastful, not arrogant or rude, not insisting on its own way, not irritable or resentful, not rejoicing at wrong, but rejoicing at right, bearing all things, believing all things, hoping all things.’ ”

 

Community as Educator

John Boojamra shares with us, “The early Church always placed learning in the context of the experience of the community as shared work and worship.”

Each family is a little church where a great majority of our spiritual upbringing takes place.  But…it’s also within the context of our parish community where we learn stories from an older generation, socialize with other like-minded people, exchange tips in the art of getting our prosphora to turn out just right, support during our times of need (illness, birth of a child, death of a loved one), and any other number of scenarios.  We come together to worship and to share in the Eucharist as a family.

Formal Learning:

expanding our knowledge

“Perhaps the best metaphor we can use as Orthodox is not that of product, but of process and pilgrimage:  Christian education, as a curriculum, is the route over which we travel under the leadership of an experienced guide and companion, and in the community of the faithful.  It is not a once-and-for-all given, extrinsic to human participation.”
– John Boojamra, Foundations for Christian Education

The Basics: What do I believe?

Please read:

There is a wide selection of books to further your knowledge and understanding about Orthodox Christianity.  Three major publishers of Orthodox books are:

The most important aspect to remember is that Orthodoxy is a way of life.  It is a life long process that is formational instead of informational.

What is an Orthodox Approach to Education?

Please read:  (Listed in order of publication)

The Epic Search for an Orthodox Christian Curriculum by Jennifer Hock

Adult Education: The Lost Key

Returning to her statement “you can teach only that which you have made your own, ” it is worth drawing out the book’s overarching invitation for adults to know their faith so that they may convey it to children.  Contemporary religious educators have intently focused on the fact that without great adult education, there is little hope for the great education of children!

– Ann Mitsakos Bezzerides, Foreward from Our Church and Our Children

In the early Church, educational efforts were focused on adults.  The religious education of children was left to their parents and even then it was primarily taught through example rather than formal instruction.  The formational learning of each Christian was acquired over a lifetime.

With the invention of the printing press in the 1500’s and the introduction of Sunday Schools in the 1700’s, we subsequently begin to see a shift in religious education.  Protestant and Catholic churches began focusing their educational efforts on children and through time, Orthodox parishes picked up the same practice even though this was not the traditional Orthodox approach to religious education.  Is Sunday School, in itself, bad or wrong for our children?  No.  But…we’ve lost sight of religious education being a lifelong process which is not solely learned in a classroom.

How can we teach our children about God when we, ourselves, only know a summarized, child-friendly version of Orthodoxy we learned as children?  How can we deepen our own relationship with God if we do not see being a Christian as part of our daily life?  What if we did not grow up Orthodox and do not know how to incorporate this way of life into our daily lives?

What are some ways to implement more adult religious education?  This is not going to be an easy change but here are some possible ideas:

  • The parish priest can hold an adult Sunday School in the church while the children are in their classes
  • Organize a retreat where activities are arranged for adults, children, and the group as a whole
  • Have the older generation teach and share with the younger generations how they participated in the life of the Church when they were younger – going to services, fellowship, baking bread at home to bring to the Liturgy, getting together in the hall to fold palm crosses
  • Encourage a summer reading program for the entire community – old and young alike
An Introduction to Learning Styles and Methods

“The focus of any program, of any content, or any format is three-fold – God, people, and method.  The matrix is always the Church as the ‘faithing’ community.” – John Boojamra, Foundations for Orthodox Christian Education

Boojamra writes about several foundations for Orthodox Christian education:

  • It is formational not informational
  • Originally directed at adults rather than child centered
  • People are both the same and different and both aspects must be explored in formulating programs, producing materials, and organizing learning situations
  • It is a route over which we travel under the leadership of an experienced guide and companion, and in the community of the faithful
  • Education must begin where people are and bring them to where the Church feels they should be
  • First I do, and then I learn about what I did
  • Include Church, family, and the nature of human development
  • It is worship, witness, service, and fellowship

The Divine Liturgy offers us an example of the teaching method we can incorporate with our students by using our five senses.  During the Liturgy, our entire person is engaged in worship – we hear the hymns, we smell the incense, we see the icons, we touch our forehead, shoulders, and chest as we make the sign of the cross, and we taste the Holy Eucharist.  As we plan and create our lessons and activities, it’s important to remember this method of learning and involvement.  How can we include as many of our senses as possible during the lesson or activity?

Howard Gardner devised an outline of different methods of learning he calls Multiple Intelligences. You can read more about this here.

Linda Silverman explains the visual-spatial learner and the auditory-sequential learner in this introduction.  Her research is based on recent brain research.

Using the 5 Senses as a Teaching Model

The Divine Liturgy offers us an example of the teaching method we can incorporate with our students by using our five senses.  During the Liturgy, our entire person is engaged in worship – we hear the hymns, we smell the incense, we see the icons, we touch our forehead, shoulders, and chest as we make the sign of the cross, and we taste the Holy Eucharist.  As we plan and create our lessons and activities, it’s important to remember this method of learning and involvement.  How can we include as many of our senses as possible during the lesson or activity?

 

How to Create a Lesson Plan

It is vitally important that we prepare for our classes before walking through the door of our classroom.  If we do not take the lesson seriously, why should our students?

How should we prepare for a lesson?

  1. Decide on a topic
  2. Say a prayer asking for guidance and illumination as you learn more about the topic
  3. Learn about the topic
  4. Seek out a mentor when unsure about an aspect of the lesson (i.e. your priest, your church school director, a seasoned church school teacher)

How do I create a lesson plan?

A lesson plan can be as simple as an outline to use as a guide and reference during your lesson or as elaborate and detailed as needed.  This is dependent on your needs and teaching style.

  1. What are your goals for the lesson?  What are you hoping to accomplish?
  2. How are you going to introduce the topic to your students?  Do you need to ask certain questions to find out what the group already knows?  Do you need to give a short re-cap?  Do you need to explain it in its entirety?  How are you going to present the topic – lecture, story, video, presentation?  How am I going to include as many of the students’ senses as possible in the lesson or activity?
  3. How are you going to reinforce the lesson?  What activity are you going to use – discussion, worksheet, game, make something, song?
  4. How are you going to connect the lesson to home/everyday life?  For example, if you are doing a lesson on a specific hymn, send home a note with the words to the hymn and ask parents if they can sing it with their children during their next meal prayer or bedtime prayer.  You can also send home a CD with the hymn on it for parents to learn it also.

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Special Needs

Belonging and Special Needs:

Everyone has a need to belong. In fact, the psychologist Abraham Maslow included “Belonging and Love” in his list of basic needs.

Dr. John Boojamra stated in his book, “Foundations for Christian Education”, “None of us stands alone before God; we are all part of the body, the Church. The experience of being part of a community belongs to the essence of spiritual growth. The infant or child deprived of the experience of belonging to a close, organized ‘family’ unit is significantly handicapped. Doing something together at home or in the liturgy is extremely important, and all the traditions and celebrations go a long way toward establishing this sense of belonging. Children need a sense of belonging, accomplishment, and acceptance in the process of developing a sense of self-worth as a basis for faith…He (Dr. Saul Levine) suggests that belief and belonging are one step above the physical needs of people, but no less vital for functioning, competence, and adaptation.”

It’s important not only for a special needs child to feel they belong to the parish community but it is also important for the parents of a special needs child. Both the parents and the child can often times feel isolated and alone. Most of the time, it takes minimal effort on our part that will allow a child with special needs to participate along with their peers.

Talk to the parents!

Each child is going to be unique even if they are classified with the same special need. It’s important to get input from the child’s parent at the beginning of the year so that you can provide the best experience possible for their child in your class. If you have a child that is being excessively disruptive, then maybe you can politely let the parent know that their child is being disruptive, ask for suggestions to curb the behavior or offer to let the parent attend the class with their child.

Teacher Resources:  (Well worth the time to read or watch the following)

  • Fr. Stephen Freeman:  “The Spiritual Life of the Creative Person” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w2h6HJz8154  (The entire talk is excellent and worth watching.  However, the part about autism starts at the time marker 1:19:26)
  • Maura Oprisko: writes about “raising autism in the church, with dignity.  Her blog is called “The Least of These” and you can visit it at: www.mauraoprisko.com  (She has three YouTube videos talking about “Autism and Your Parish”.  This is a great resource for those of us who would like to understand more about autism and a wonderful support for those of us who have children with autism.)
  • Liturgy PECS cards: It is essentially a way to create a timeline of events for a child with autism or the short attention spans of children with ADHD.  Children with autism thrive off of a routine and a disturbance in that routine or the unknown can be overwhelming to them.  Children with ADHD want everything to be short and quick.  If they know that *this* lesson isn’t going to last forever (in their mind) then they are more likely to be able to complete the lesson knowing what is coming next.  To learn more about how a PECS system works visit this site: http://www.pecsusa.com/pecs.php and pictures for including Divine Liturgy on Sunday morning in your timeline here: http://illumination-learning.com/main/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Unit-Special-Agents-of-Christ-from-Jennifer-Hock-1.pdf

For antsy children, provide these options:

  • A prayer rope during church services: teach them how to say the Jesus prayer and how to use the prayer rope
  • Fidget items for the classroom: artist eraser, pen with a cap, or other items

Praxis:

living our faith

“Yet the family is recognized as the ‘home church’, and the task of the parents is really a kind of lay priesthood.”
– Sophie Koulomzin, Our Church and Our Children

Connecting Parish and Home

One of the keys to successful religious education is making a connection between the parish and home.  Orthodox Christianity is a way of life.  It is not something you simply learn about in a book for only 45 minutes once a week. Here are some ideas and suggestions for helping to make that connection for your students:

  • Send home a weekly, monthly, or quarterly note to parents informing them about the lessons being taught in the classroom
  • Hold an open house for parents to meet the teachers and see the classroom up close
  • Use portfolios – keep each student’s work, their attendance, progress, and other information from throughout the year to give to the parents at the end of the year
  • Send home CDs with hymns, prayers, and lessons – Ask parents to listen to it in the car on the way home from church.  It can be used as a discussion starter between parents and child or to help the child (and parents) learn hymns and prayers together.
  • Hold adult education classes as well and encourage parents to share what they have learned in their classes with their children
  • Have family/community retreats throughout the year – session for adults, children, and then a group activity
  • Revive some of the traditions for the younger generations by having seasoned bakers and gardeners teach others in the community how to make prosphora, kollyva, artoclasia, or tips for growing plentiful basil for September
Living My Faith

Do I:

  • Go to Liturgy every Sunday?
  • Go to Liturgy during the week whenever possible?
  • Follow the fasts?
  • Pray daily?
  • Celebrate name days?
  • Give of my time and money freely?
  • Read the Bible and continue learning about my faith?
  • Arrive on time for services?
  • Pay attention and refrain from talking during services?
  • Attend classes or retreats at church?
  • Ask for forgiveness?
  • Show kindness and patience to others even when I’m tired or had a rough day?
  • Give my full attention to the person talking to me?
  • Go to confession regularly?

These are a few examples for us to reflect upon.

“You can teach only that which you have made your own, and this means that there is always the danger that your personal mistaken judgment of insufficient knowledge will be reflected in your teaching.”

– Sophie Koulomzin