“for the love of my beauty” (take 2)

Today’s lesson: “for the love of my beauty”.

February 21, 2016: 1.5 hours, 4 children, ages 7–9. After a few weeks’ absence, I was finally able to make it back to class 😛 Everyone seemed a little tired and out of it this week. Not surprising, since this is cold and flu season. At least one of the children was off sick, and another one attended despite feeling under the weather. Things started pretty well, but you could tell it was rough going. We had a pretty awesome drama segment planned, but when the time came around to get in our squares we got some pretty miserable expressions on people’s faces. So we opted for mercy and skipped it, going straight to drawing and colouring. The children enjoyed the story about Ḥájí Muḥammad going to Arabia—it’s a great story that gets the message across quite well (we obey God’s commandments because of our love for Him). It’s too bad we weren’t able to act it out, though, since this story is perfect for that.

We also had a visit from some local youth—two sisters—who agreed to organize the Ayyám-i-Há party that we scheduled for next week. They had already visited our neighbourhood junior youth group and asked them what kinds of things they’d like to do for the party, and today they came to see whether the children had any more ideas. Apparently it’s going to be pretty amazing, with a wide variety of activities. I was really happy to see how well these youth have things in hand, and how they’re interacting with the children and junior youth. It gives me a lot of hope for this neighbourhood. We haven’t had too much experience with reaching out to the wider community yet, but at the very least, we seem to have a core of collaborators that are helping to carry forward community-building activities.

back to class!

Not too long ago we moved to a new area, leaving our previous class in the hands of our stalwart co-teacher. The last time we shared about that class, we were shifting gears for the summer after an attempt to start a new class in a different part of the same neighbourhood. After that attempt fell through, we were back to where we started, although we did learn a lot about team coordination, the effective use of human resources, and being part of a neighbourhood. Since then, that class has continued to evolve, and has ended up migrating towards the part of the neighbourhood where we tried starting the new class, since there seem to be more families with young children in that area. We’re still in touch, and in fact, we had a great chat together at a recent gathering for children’s class teachers based in our part of the cluster (we took notes, which I’ll try to write up and post here soonish).

mooncakes on a folderAnyway, since we moved to our new neighbourhood, we’ve been spending a lot of time getting to know our new neighbours and making connections. Our son is busy making new friends up and down the street, as well as at a local playgroup and at Bahá’í events in our new community. At the same time, another Bahá’í family in the community (though not in our neighbourhood) approached us asking if we would be interested in helping out with a children’s class in their area, with a “world citizens” theme. After a little bit of back and forth, we said sure, we’d love to help out.

We just came back from a great meeting together, where our team of three teachers (wow!) planned out the first lesson together and drew up an outline of what the class would look like—age range, venue, a basic agenda and calendar, and so on. We’ll be using the newest version of Ruhi Book 3, Grade 1, with 24 lessons for the year. It’ll be my first time using the updated Grade 1 lessons, so I’m looking forward to it. Since we’re a team, we’ve divided up the work—I’ll be focusing on teaching songs and prayers, another teacher will focus on arts, crafts and stories, and the third will focus on logistics, along with presenting the lesson itself and the quotes for memorization. We’re also hoping to incorporate presentations about different cultures every other week, so that we can explore the “world citizenship” angle.

All that being said, you can look forward to reading more frequent posts about our experience with this new class in the months to come! It feels like it’s been a while since we’ve been involved in actually teaching a children’s class, so this is a welcome return to this arena of service that’s become so dear to us over the years.

making a class calendar

If you’re teaching a Bahá’í children’s class, one thing you’ll probably find indispensable is the class calendar. At its simplest, this is a list of lesson topics or themes that will be covered during your school year. More complex calendars can also include lists of activities to be included in each lesson, prayers and quotes to be studied, and so on. Over the years, we’ve put together a calendar template that seems to work well for us. We’ve written about it before, but this time around, we’ve prepared some sample templates for you to download and use. Go ahead and download our pre-filled neighbourhood calendar template for Microsoft Excel (.xlsx) and open it in another window, and we’ll run you through the basics of it here. There’s also a blank template if you just want to dive in without having to look through a bunch of fake data.

Our calendar is actually a combination of two things: a class calendar and a class attendance sheet, all on the same worksheet. This means that you can enter the dates for each of your lessons and fill in all the related activities in one section of the sheet, and scroll to the next section to record attendance for the class after it happens.

neighbourhood calendar

Because we had a children’s class and a junior youth group going at the same time in our neighbourhood, we built space for both into our calendar. The “Type” field can be anything, but I usually use the following abbreviations for different activities: “CC” for children’s class; “JY” for junior youth group; “HV” for home visit; “RM” for reflection meeting; “DM” for devotional meeting; “SC” for study circle; and so on. There are enough columns for all the basic elements of a children’s class—quotes, prayers, songs, stories, drama and games, arts and crafts—and extra space for notes.

calendar-2

The attendance sections (one for a children’s class and one for a junior youth group, but you can always copy and paste in Excel to make more) provide space for quite a few participants, and can always be expanded by inserting new columns. As you can see in the figure above, there’s space for a first name, age, family identifier (usually the first name of a guardian), and comments to give some context and help you remember who’s who (such as where you first met them). You can put “yes” or “no” for attendance in a new row each week, and at the very end of the spreadsheet, there are a few “total” columns that will tally up the number of yeses to give you the final attendance numbers.

There are a lot of benefits to using a calendar like this. First of all, because it includes a section for attendance, keeping accurate statistics is easy. If you import the calendar to a service like Google Drive, it can make collaboration within a teaching team easier, too, since different team members can access it and update information in real time. If you’re not a computer person in the first place, you can always print it out and complete it by hand, too! And, of course, it’s a great tool for organizing and planning classes and other activities in your neighbourhood.

a few notes from the regional gathering

We had a wonderful regional gathering for teachers of Baha’i children’s classes recently, and I thought I’d jot down a few notes before I forget. Besides teachers from Ottawa, we were joined by several teachers who are serving in smaller towns just outside the city. Also present were our local and regional coordinators for children’s classes. The focus of our discussions was very practical, starting with a very brief review of some recent guidance from the Universal House of Justice to situate us, then jumping in right away to look at what that guidance meant for each of us.

Besides the systematic training of teachers for successive grades, institutes will need to learn about the formation of classes for distinct age groups in villages and neighbourhoods; the provision of teachers for various classes; the retention of students year after year, grade after grade; and the continued progress of children from a wide variety of households and backgrounds–in short, the establishment of an expanding, sustainable system for child education that will keep pace with both the growing concern among parents for their youngsters to develop sound moral structures and the rise in human resources in the community.  The task, while immense, is relatively straightforward, and we urge institutes everywhere to give it the attention which it so clearly deserves, focusing especially on the implementation of the first three grades of the programme and remembering that the quality of the teaching-learning experience depends, to a great extent, on the capabilities of the teacher.

(The Universal House of Justice to all National Spiritual Assemblies, 12 December 2011)

Among the questions we were asked to consider:

  • What does an “expanding, sustainable system for child education” look like to us?
  • With reference to the quote “…the quality of the teaching-learning experience depends, to a great extent, on the capabilities of the teacher,” what are some of the capabilities we must develop as teachers of children’s classes?
  • How would a focus on “implementation of the first three grades of the programme” look in our neighbourhoods?

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shifting gears for summertime

a hot day in mayAnother year of classes has gone by, and here we are, well into the summer season, looking back on what we’ve accomplished this year. Since the baby came last fall, our biggest challenge has been to adapt to the new constraints on our time and energy. That’s involved bringing in new teachers for the class, and working on creating a good team dynamic. We gathered up enough teachers to try to establish a new class in a park at the other end of the neighbourhood. We hoped starting this new class would allow us to address the issue of age gaps, since many younger siblings and cousins are now starting to follow their older relatives into the class, with often chaotic results.

We ran into some problems, though. First were the scheduling hiccups: after no new children showed up for the first gathering of the new class, we ended up having to skip the next two weeks due to other commitments, losing momentum. Then suddenly, my co-teacher for the new class had to drop out due to a change in personal circumstances. I could have continued and taught the class alone, but we all thought it would be best for there to be two teachers, both to support each other in the class and to facilitate relations with parents. With no one else ready to step in, we decided we would put the new class on hold for the time being, and regroup for further consultation.

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an afternoon at the park (first try)

some nice shade to sit inIt’s late and I’m exhausted! but I thought I’d jot down a few notes about today before bed. A few weeks ago, we did some outreach in a park at the other end of our neighbourhood, and made connections with families who might be interested in having their children attend a class for 6- to 8-year-olds, studying the lessons from Ruhi Book 3, Grade 1. Today was the day we arranged to start the new class, at the same time as our regular Grade 2 class.

We ended up just having the two younger girls who had already been coming to that class, which was great, but not what we had hoped for—despite having called ahead of time and gotten a confirmation for two more children, they never showed up. Oh well. We still had a great time together, even though all we ended up doing was playing together in the park. The girls introduced us to a friend of theirs who lives right across from the park, a 10-year-old. Although she was a little old for this new class, she expressed an interest in joining us anyway, so we went to meet her mother to get permission. There, we learned that she has an older sister who’d turned out to be interested in joining a junior youth group. Woohoo! Things ended up better than we expected.

The main point of sharing all this, beyond keeping you all up to date, is to show that there are always ups and downs when you’re a teacher of children’s classes. These tend to be pronounced when we take on more difficult projects such as gathering support for a new class. Things like no-shows may happen a lot when a class is first starting out, before a strong relationship is built with families. We have to try hard, show steadfastness and perseverance, and eventually, progress will happen. Sometimes the same challenges keep coming back, and it takes us a while to get things right. Sometimes, like that class in Toronto from the Frontiers of Learning video, it takes years for a neighbourhood children’s class to fully mature and come into its own. I sometimes wonder whether the main limitation we experience is really ourselves—our own willingness to do whatever’s needed to apply what we’ve learned from our training with the Ruhi Institute. In that light, I’m trying to work on my capacity to nurture relationships with families and parents, as well as to effectively engage youth. Hopefully, that’ll make a big difference with our new class—so that, with the support of our team, we can rise above these challenges and transform our neighbourhood into a wonderful, vibrant and united community.