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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virtues project workshop

to give and be generousThis past weekend, a bunch of us had the chance to attend a workshop on The Virtues Project. If you haven’t heard of them, they give seminars/courses and produce materials that promote virtues—spiritual values that are independent of any particular religious tradition—in all walks of life. The organizers of a local Bahá’í summer camp arranged the workshop for their camp counsellors, but opened it to the wider community too, so there was a nice mix of all kinds of people in attendance, including plenty of children’s class teachers. I took a few notes from the presentation and thought I’d present them here in point form.

Why are virtues important?

  • Virtues are the building blocks of the spirit. We are at our happiest when we are developing our virtues. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá said: “Man is, in reality, a spiritual being, and only when he lives in the spirit is he truly happy.” (Paris Talks, p.72)
  • When we cultivate virtues in ourselves, we’re not the only ones who benefit. To paraphrase the Chinese philosopher Lao Tse, cultivating virtue in ourselves has an effect on our families, our villages, our nations, and the world. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá declared: “Until the moral degree of the nations is advanced and human virtues attain a lofty level, happiness for mankind is impossible.”

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now comes the real learning

The month of November has been a pretty intense one. First of all, we’ve welcomed into our lives a new soul, who’s been taking his introduction to the physical world fairly well—although not well enough to sleep through the night. Becoming a parent is already a transformative experience, one that’s sure to give us countless new insights into the work of teaching as we strive to find the gems of virtue hidden in the mines of our son’s soul.

November was intense for another reason, as well: throughout the month I’ve been participating in a certification course for TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages), equivalent to a full university course. It was a great experience that brought me a lot of insight into not only working with and accommodating speakers of other languages, but teaching as a profession as well. Since we deal with speakers of English as a second (or third, or fourth) language in our current children’s class, taking this training will undoubtedly have a big impact on what we do, and allow us to explore new ways of teaching and interacting with our children and their families. Throughout the course, I was able to glean a number of really useful tips that I’ll do my best to share here in the weeks and months to come—keep an eye on the blog and on the language and literacy tips section for new tidbits.

To close out, I’d like to give a special welcome to my fellow classmates, many of whom are just finding out about this website as we start to share ESL and teaching resources online! You’ll note that this website is geared towards general teaching resources as opposed to ESL, and is aimed mainly at teachers of moral and character education classes offered by the worldwide Bahá’í community. All the same, you’ll probably find a lot of these resources useful to ESL teaching, including our vocabulary builders, ideas for activities such as arts, crafts and games, our section on teacher tips, and of course the blog, where we write down our experience with lesson plans, classroom management. Take a look around, print out and use whatever you’d like, and feel free to leave feedback!

baha’i children’s class symposium

Today, baha’i children’s class ideas is live-blogging and tweeting the Baha’i Children’s Class Symposium, organized by the Baha’i Community of Ottawa, Canada. Although the Symposium is now over, you can participate in future live discussions by following us on twitter at @childrensclass!

5:02 PM, Dec 5th:
Baha’i Children’s Class Symposium closes with a presentation from the children. So wonderful! #bahai #education

5:00 PM, Dec 5th:
FYI, today is @UN’s International Volunteer Day—what better way 2 celebrate than 2 reflect on service as a children’s class teacher? #Bahai

4:58 PM, Dec 5th:
Many concerns aired about keeping an up-to-date list of children’s classes in the city: Assembly rep says this is an ongoing issue. #bahai

4:47 PM, Dec 5th:
Returning from groups, great reflection on Ridván 2010 message & further guidance, discussing local children’s classes. #bahai #education

4:15 PM, Dec 5th:
Discussing duality btwn “Baha’i schools” & “neighbourhood classes”: regularity vs. inclusivity. #Bahai #education

4:06 PM, Dec 5th:
Breaking up into groups now, for further reflection.

4:05 PM, Dec 5th:
“[We] cannot ignore children and junior youth, if the victories won in one generation are not to be lost with the passage of time.” #bahai

4:01 PM, Dec 5th:
Local Assembly rep. now addressing the >30-strong crowd, composed of parents, teachers, community members.

3:47 PM, Dec 5th:
Break ends with an extremely well-executed #Bahai joke. And now we’re onto a clip of anecdotes from the Arising to Serve video.

3:33 PM, Dec 5th:
Break time. Lots of encouraging stories abt engaging w/ parents, reaching out to new families.

3:26 PM, Dec 5th:
Parents know that the development of good character is important, so they sign up. Learning about the Faith itself happens over time.

3:24 PM, Dec 5th:
Another parent: “I have no concerns w/ my daughter attending, b/c she always comes home happy and talkative—I know it’s something good.”

3:22 PM, Dec 5th:
One parent: “Even tho I hv a prejudice against [Baha’is], I don’t want my daughter 2 grow up with the same prejudice, so I let her attend.”

3:20 PM, Dec 5th:
@DASLucas speaks abt his experience with expanding children’s classes: When ppl feel Baha’u’llah’s msg can make a difference, they’ll join.

3:13 PM, Dec 5th:
Floor open to feedback. Comments about the need 2 multiply children’s classes 2 gain experience on how 2 make them better. #bahai #education

3:07 PM, Dec 5th:
Discussion of current revisions of Ruhi Book 3, 3A, 3B. These books will make up a “branch” that provides an updated CC curriculum. #bahai

3:01 PM, Dec 5th:
Q&A: All of the classes we’re having in #Ottawa are held in ppl’s homes. Heavy neighbourhood focus.

3:01 PM, Dec 5th:
Wide variety of curriculum used, supplement each other: Ruhi Bks 3, 3A; Dr. Furutan’s books; Core Curriculum; Historical narratives. #bahai

2:58 PM, Dec 5th:
Age breakdown: 11 classes for 5-7 yr-olds, 7 for 7-9 yr-olds, 5 for 9+ yr-olds. Mostly younger kids, but often w/ major age gaps in classes.

2:57 PM, Dec 5th:
Local coordinator: #Ottawa’s #Bahai community is cur’ly organizing 23 children’s classes, w/ 123 children, 77 from Baha’i families.

2:54 PM, Dec 5th:
“#Justice demands universal participation.” —Universal House of Justice, Ridván 2010 #bahai #education #unity

2:50 PM, Dec 5th:
#Education is not just abt academic knowledge, but acquiring good character & becoming ready & able to serve humanity. #bahai

2:49 PM, Dec 5th:
Ms. Scoffield reads a disabled child’s poem abt bullying, asking “What is the remedy to bullying?” Answer: #Education. #bahai

2:42 PM, Dec 5th:
Opening: Aux. Board Member Rhona Scoffield speaks, explaining importance of the core activities (incl. children’s classes) #bahai #education

2:07 PM, Dec 5th:
The #Bahai Centre is steadily filling up, as we see highlights from the “Arising to Serve” video (http://www.bahai.org/arising/).

an engaged crowd at the children's class symposium

game: birds of a feather

This video comes to us from a children’s class teacher training in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam. Participants are practicing a non-competitive variation of the game Birds of a Feather (with various animals in place of birds). Very simply, the game proceeds like this: exchange slips of paper with animal names written on them at “go”. Read the paper at “stop”. Make your animal’s noise at “action” and try and flock together with others making the same noise.

The game’s original rules (given in the link above) describe a competitive version, in which the last team to “find their flock” is counted out, leaving winners and losers. We chose to eliminate this competitive element, to focus on the cooperative skills required in matching oneself up with one’s flock; instead of being counted out, we simply play the game as many times as we wish, with everyone participating. To keep the game interesting without resorting to competition, we can introduce different modes of play. For example, instead of using sounds, we can use nonverbal visual cues. Players might mime flapping wings for birds, or walking like a cat or a dog; or, conversely, they might mime taking care of one’s animal—calling to a bird on one’s finger, petting a cat or walking a dog, etc. Competition, which can lead the children to develop the undesirable habit of seeking conflict, is thus avoided by the application of creativity—finding different, innovative ways of keeping games interesting.

allah’u’abha from vietnam

if you so happen to be subscribed to doberman pizza, my personal baha’i blog, you probably know that I’ve been busy over the past few months planning a voyage to Vietnam. I just so happen to be blogging from a Hanoi café (wireless internet café) at this very moment. With my usual children’s class safely in the hands of Baha’i friends back in Ottawa, I’ve turned my attention to such exotic projects as developing a national Baha’i website in Vietnamese for the community here. as well, seeing as I have a fair bit of experience holding children’s classes, I’ve been asked to put together a skills training workshop for prospective teachers of children’s classes, to be held in Ho Chi Minh City in July. A number of youth have eagerly signed up for the training, which will happen as part of a week-long intensive training session aimed at mobilizing Vietnamese youth into service, especially to support the growing intensive program of growth (IPG) in Ho Chi Minh City (previously known as Saigon) and two burgeoning IPGs in Da Nang and Hanoi, both to be launched soon.  I imagine that if the training session in HCMC is successful, it’ll be replicated in the other two places.

I’ll probably blog more about what the training workshop will look like, but just to give you a quick idea, I’m planning four days’ worth of sessions, with each day focusing on a particular aspect of children’s classes: arts and crafts, songs and memorization, storytelling, and games/drama. Each day will consist of an introduction / theoretical portion in the morning, followed by practical advice on how to plan for the day’s activity, and, after a lunch break, an afternoon of group work and presentations in which participants practice planning the different activities: telling stories, memorizing songs, and so on.

Has anyone had experience offering these kinds of workshops or training sessions? How about Book 3 refreshers in which lesson planning played a part? I’d love to hear from Baha’is who have tried this out before.