What is the most important thing you do as an SRE teacher?
How would you answer this question? Perhaps preparing your lesson well or having a clear aim and objective for you lesson. These things are important.
However, educational research tells us that the most important part of teaching is the relationship you build with your students.
Theodore Roosevelt once said, ‘People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care’. This is as true of students in school as anyone else, so it would be wise for us to adapt this saying and use it as a principle for teaching SRE:
Students don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
There are lots of challenges to building positive student-teacher relationships in SRE, including the fact that we have less than one hour a week with our classes. But with time and intentionality you can build these relationships with your students. And when positive student-teacher relationships exist, your students are more likely to enjoy class and to engage with what they are learning.
Some of the benefits of these relationships were described to the Youthworks Ministry Support team by Stage 3 SRE students in a survey conducted last year. Here are a few key learnings.
“I really enjoy my teacher and her American accent. I also like how she speaks to us as if she really wants to teach us.”
Chances are there has been a time when you have been listening to someone speak and wondered if they believe or care about what they are saying. You probably don’t remember what they were talking about. On the other hand, think about a sermon or speech that’s had a big impact on you. Did the person speaking seem like they cared about their subject? Did you get the feeling that they wanted you to know what they knew?
Teaching your students is no different from this. They will sense your enthusiasm (or lack of) for what you are teaching. They will know if you care about what you’re teaching, or if you’re just trying to get through the lesson. There’s been many times when I have felt like I need to rush through a lesson just to get everything done. But, I know that when I slow down my lesson I can show my love of the Bible, and my students are much more engaged. This will often mean leaving parts of the lesson out. That’s okay. Sometimes less is more.
“The teachers are calm and kind, and patient and they try to make lessons different and interesting time after time. “
“What I like about SRE is that you get to learn and express your emotions to the teachers about God and they always give answers about God.”
I often wonder how my students would describe me to someone else. I hope they would use the words ‘calm, kind and patient’. The way you teach will be noticed and remembered by your students as much as what you teach. And I don’t only mean the teaching methods you use. Your manner as you teach will have a significant impact on the students. The SRE class should be an environment that is safe for children to explore not only their faith but also their doubt or questions about Jesus. A positive student-teacher relationship allows students to do this with confidence.
The first step to building these kinds of relationships in the classroom is to get to know your students. At the very least this means learning their names. While your SRE lesson is short, there is time to start to get to know your students.
The first few minutes
Most SRE classes are a little chaotic in the first few minutes. Students are moving from classroom to classroom, SRE teachers are getting their resources ready, and classroom teachers are making sure everyone is where they are supposed to be. This is one of my favourite parts of the lesson because their chaos also means I have a few moments to welcome students and talk to them about their week. If there’s been a big event on at school that week I can ask them about that. They’re often eager to tell me about their birthday party last weekend or the play date they have coming up. These moments feel incidental but they can have a big impact on your students.
The Way in
Every lesson in the Connect curriculum starts with the Way in. These opening minutes of a lesson are designed to help connect with the lives of students. In my Stage 1 class, I introduce the way in question with a chatterbox. Inside the chatterbox are various tasks/questions (for example, do a silly dance on the spot or share something you’re thankful for). I choose three students to have a turn, and on the last one I use a question related to the Way in activity. This has been a great way to give the students an opportunity to share, as well as a smooth transition into the lesson.
My Stage 1 class love their workbooks, so I make sure to leave time for this each week. It’s tempting to leave them to it and use that time to pack up and get myself sorted for my next class but there’s a better way to use this time. Each week I choose a table of students to sit beside and chat to as they are working. We talk about what they’re doing in their books, I ask them questions about what we’ve learnt, and I give them an opportunity to ask me questions. This time has led to many fruitful conversations with my students. This has been especially important in a multi-age class to make sure that the younger students aren’t getting left behind, and that the older students aren’t bored.
These are just three small things I do to build positive student-teacher relationships in my classes. There are many other things that you could do in your classroom. Remembering that this takes time and intentionality, what’s one thing you could do this week to building positive relationships with your students?