Aug 27

What Works in Classroom Discipline: Ways to keep your class focused and learning

List the top five fears of beginning teachers, and you’ll find “classroom discipline” near the top of that list. List the top five frustrations of many seasoned teachers, and you’ll find “classroom discipline” near the top of the list, too!

For those who teach in church, this issue can seem even more daunting. Many of us are volunteers. We’ve had no formal training. We’re not sure how to handle a chatty third grader or the cliques among our ninth graders. What we do know, almost instinctively, is this:

To learn anything, students need to pay attention.

Students who focus on the tasks at hand learn more—much more—than those who don’t. Educators call this “time on task.” Research has shown that in some classrooms, students spend only about 20% of their time on task! In the best classrooms, students spend more than 70% of their time on task. Guess who learns more . . .

Would you like to increase the learning that goes on in your youth Bible study or the midweek CCD class you teach? Research points to these “best practices” for keeping kids on task and learning.

Be (Over) Prepared 

  • What are you praying for yourself and your students? This is no “pious suggestion” that’s included here because readers will expect it! It’s a very practical measure you can take to set the stage for student interest and involvement. Have you told the students you’re praying for them? Have you asked them to pray for you—and included specific needs in your request? (E.g., “Ask that Jesus help me explain things clearly”; “Ask that I can find projects that help you learn what the Holy Spirit wants to teach you.”) 
  • How do you set the stage for success ahead of time? Do you plan thoroughly and know exactly what you want to accomplish? Do you have all the materials you will need on hand? Have you verified that the Mp3 player works? If the lesson wraps up more quickly than you think it will, what meaningful extra activities will you be ready to pull out of your hat?
  • Do you expect the best and look forward to meeting your class and learning with them? Studies have shown time and again the power of high expectations and sharing them with learners. When we treat our students as partners in learning and anticipate having a great experience with them, that’s often exactly what happens. 

Initiate Proactive Procedures

Think in terms of routine classroom events and the needs of your students. Ask yourself questions like these:

  • How quickly do I get into the lesson? What keeps me from beginning the moment the clock strikes 9:00? Do I prepare materials before class? Could students help me rearrange chairs or tables before class if rearranging is necessary? How could I incentivize everyone to arrive few minutes early? (E.g., providing highly engaging activities that begin as soon as the first learners arrive.)
  • How could I distribute materials more efficiently? Could learners pick up Bibles, pencils, and snacks as they arrive? What other routines would help avoid delays in learning activities? Learners who stay engaged in learning activities have less time to create disruptions.
  • What events consistently interrupt learning? Does a bell ring mid-way through class? Who could help prevent that? Does someone enter your learning space to collect the offering or day’s attendance record at the same time every week? How else could that process be handled?

Have the Fewest Rules Possible—and Enforce Them

Do your students know what you expect? Experts suggest these approaches:

  • Let class members help you set rules. Accept ideas and suggestions, but make it clear that as the adult in the room you have final responsibility and, thus, authority.
  • Limit rules to no more than 4-6 in number. Then make sure everyone understands both the “what” and the “why” behind each rule. Post a list. If you share a space, put the rules on a poster and bring it back week by week.
  • Attach clear and appropriate rewards and consequences to each rule. Remember, rules that are unenforced become unenforceable.
  • Don’t over-react.Your goal should be to de-escalate disruptive behaviors. That means you won’t want to “up the ante” by elevating the situation beyond its current level. Many times, you can regain control simply by pausing and looking the offender directly in the eye. If not, walk toward him or her—but not in a threatening or menacing way. Standing nearby will often re-set everyone’s focus, moving it back to the lesson.

Stay “With-it”

“With-it-ness” is that sixth sense, the “eyes in the back of a teacher’s head.” As students enter your classroom, notice what’s going on. Does E.J. seem unusually quiet? Is Jill’s fidgeting? Does Madeline look sleepy? And—here’s the key—we act on what we see to prevent problems. We move to stand beside Jill. We ask Madeline a question. We take a moment to check in individually with E.J.

This, of course, may mean arranging the furniture in your space to make it possible. You may need to be creative, but do think about how you could set the stage for a “4 X 4 Approach”—a practice whereby the teacher moves to within four feet of each learner every four minutes.


Effective procedures combined with teacher “with-it-ness” will prevent many disruptions, and prevention is your goal. But disruptions will occur in even the best classrooms. When you notice an issue developing, address it immediately! Students who have collaborated in developing rules and who have seen you enforce them with firm, caring consistency will generally respond to a simple, quiet reminder.

Stay calm. Remember, most rule breaking is not intended as an insult. Usually, disruptive learners have been distracted. Or they are hungry. Or they haven’t fully engaged with the concept you’re communicating. When you avoid personalizing disruptive behavior, you can deal more effectively with it. Address the underlying problem, and the disruption disappears.

Here’s the Key: Maintain Good Relationships with Each Learner

I’ve saved the most important point for last. When, in Christ, we care about our kids, they know it. They respond, in turn, by loving us in the Savior, too. Care is never a “group policy.” One by one, child by child, youth by youth, we notice new shoes, we pray for ailing grandparents, we phone or text to ask about that geometry test.

In maintaining a well-managed classroom, we make learning possible. But even more important, we model Jesus’ concern and His love for our students. 

Think about it: How much time does your class spend “on task”? Want to know? Have a friend sit in the back of your room with a sheet of paper and a list of numerals from 1 to 50—assuming your class session is 50 minutes long. 

Your partner should put a Y (yes) or an N (no) next to each numeral in answer to the question: Is the class focused on learning now? 

Then plug the data into this formula: (Total number of minutes available – Number of No’s) ÷ 100 = % time on task.


© 2014 CTA, Inc.





Aug 25

Jesus, My Good Shepherd – a free devotion for this week’s meetings

Editor’s note: This week’s free devotion includes a prayer/meditation written by faithful pastor Walter E. Schuette who has since gone to be with the Lord. We pray that his witness will encourage you for your own life of witness.

As you begin read Ezekiel 34:11–22.

Jesus, guard us with a shepherd’s love. Storms and dangers appear suddenly, when we least expect them. Just about the time we think everything is going fine—wham!—problems hit us right and left. And often when we think we are walking with you, safe on the path of righteousness, we discover that we are lost in the wilderness.

Your voice calms us when you call, searching for us. Oh, what a shepherd you are! You gave your life for your sheep. We need not worry that you will desert us like some hired hand who works only for pay. You feed us, lead us, and guard us because you truly love us. If one of your lambs is lost, you don’t stop looking until you have found it and brought it safely back into the fold.

We run to you in the mountain shelter and huddle close on cloudy days. Do not allow us ever to take your goodness for granted.

We ask it for ourselves and our brothers and sisters in the faith, because you gave your life for all of us. Amen.


© 2014 CTA, Inc. 



Aug 20

Sunday School: It Takes a Church Family

Editor’s note: We are reprinting this month’s Customer Comments article from CTA’s monthly Grab N’ Go newsletter just in case you missed it. As children’s ministries begin again all across the nation, we thought you might find it encouraging—and glean a helpful idea or two along the way! 

Teaching Sunday school requires a few specific personality traits. You must have the patience to cut out dozens of circles for craft time without pulling out your hair. You can’t be vain, because you will most likely be covered in marker, paint, or some type of sticky substance by the time most classes end. You have to be enthusiastic because if you aren’t having fun, the kids will lose interest fast. And of course, you need to love Jesus and love and care about the children you are teaching.

Now, we all know that no teacher can maintain these perfect traits for long. Teaching Sunday school can be a challenge at times. The path is often bumpy: A lesson that won’t come together, that one child who won’t pay attention, the week when every instructional approach fails. Sunday school volunteers desperately need the support of the church staff, congregation, and their fellow teachers.

Katie McNeece, a children’s minster at Carterville Baptist Church, directs a staff of 40 Sunday school volunteers and takes pride in supporting her teachers. The Sunday school year is long—September through July—and the church serves more than 125 kids. How does she make it all work?

The first step is a teacher orientation. “At the initial meeting for Sunday school volunteers, we get together for lunch on a Sunday afternoon for about an hour and a half,” Katie says. “We fill out get-to-know-you forms and talk about our expectations for the teachers during Sunday school hours and for responsibilities outside of the classroom. We discuss our curriculum and talk about any questions the teachers have.”

To help ensure this orientation runs smoothly, Katie uses CTA’s volunteer management resources. These products give Katie the tools she needs to stay organized and bring energy to the 40-plus volunteers attending the meeting. She also takes advantage of the free resources CTA offers, like name tags and water bottle labels. Follow the link and scroll down to “Volunteer/Staff/Church Worker Appreciation.”

“I really like the CTA items for volunteer training,” she said. “It looks really nice to have everything match. It is easy and the materials are especially relevant. CTA always has great prices and good stuff. I’m always pleased!”

Katie has been working at Carterville Baptist for the past seven years, and she continues to be amazed by the level of volunteer commitment from the congregation. She never struggles when recruiting volunteers, and she’s always supported by the church’s Sunday school committee.

“We have a wide variety of teachers. From seniors to young mothers,” comments Katie. “We even have some college students that volunteer. All of our teachers really enjoy the kids and have a good time with them.”

Every church uses volunteers in some capacity. Don’t let your volunteers go untrained or unnoticed! CTA offers everything you need to get your volunteers trained and started on the right track. Plus, you can choose from a wide variety of thank you gifts to show appreciation to your volunteers. Click over to our home page to see which resources will work best for your ministry.


© 2014 CTA, Inc. 



Aug 19

8 “Thanks for All You Do” Ideas

Would you like to be more intentional about saying thanks in the months ahead? Wouldn’t it be great to let people know how grateful you are for the many ways they serve?

Then consider blocking out an hour or two to create a list of thank-you ideas. Add the ones you like and that fit your setting to your calendar, one at a time, over the next twelve months. You’ll be surprised at what you accomplish as a result. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

  1. Send one handwritten note each week. Consider notes that will . . .
  • acknowledge someone’s thoughtfulness
  • thank someone who demonstrated a servant heart
  • express appreciation to someone who has been of help to you
  • describe how helpful the person has been in using his/her specific gifts for Christ

Then list the people you want to contact and jot down why. Put each on a specific date on your calendar. When it is time to write each note, you need only refer to your list.

  1. Give a group of volunteers (e.g., Sunday school teachers) a small piece of candy with a note attached that says, “A little thanks for all the big work you do!”
  1. Host a meal for a group of volunteers. Invite a small group to your home, plan a larger gathering at church, or take a few people out to lunch/dinner. Say “thank you,” and build relationships all at the same time!
  1. As you notice people who are busy serving, stop and take a second to give them a hug or a smile—or both! Say, “Thanks for all you are doing! You make an important difference!”
  1. Use your church newsletters, social media, bulletin boards, and other communication channels publicly to affirm those who serve. Consider letting those who are being acknowledged know that this is happening. (Busy, active people may overlook it!)
  1. Surprise those who serve with a small gift or a simple bouquet of flowers. Include a note saying how important their gift of time is to the ministry.
  1. Take pictures of people as they serve. Print a few of the pictures. Send those who served a picture with a note thanking them for their servant heart.
  1. When you talk with your volunteers, ask them how you can pray for them. This conversation communicates your care for each individual, not only as a volunteer, but as a valued partner in ministry. Support and nurture one another!

Now that you have read these starter ideas, try to come up with a few. Then implement them one or two at a time as you are able.

May our Lord bless you as you intentionally continue to celebrate those who serve!


Editor’s note: If you’re looking for ways to recognize, connect, and celebrate volunteers in any or all of your ministries this fall, CTA can help. Check out the many resources we’ve developed, lots of them free! 


© 2014 CTA, Inc.



Aug 18

Jesus, Our Victorious, Coming King – a free devotion for this week’s meetings

Editor’s note: This week’s free devotion includes a prayer/meditation written by faithful pastor Walter E. Schuette who has since gone to be with the Lord. We pray that his witness will encourage you for your own life of witness!

As you begin, read 1 Corinthians 9:24–27.

Lord Jesus, you fought the kingdom of darkness and won, yet the battle still rages. Though victory belongs to you, many “mop-up” operations remain. We find ourselves enveloped in that combat, honored to be counted among your soldiers. You have filled our hearts with peace, but Satan still stalks the earth, intending to steal our peace. Where he roams, harmony dissolves.

So many on earth naively believe peace on earth lies just around the corner. This treaty or that new medical technology will solve all human turmoil in the next few months or years. Yet we know errors and violence, sin and turmoil, will plague our planet until your return.

Teach us to respond with godly lives and hard work. Keep us ever watchful, eager for your coming. Help us control our bodies and discipline our souls as we look forward to the crown of righteousness you have prepared for us by your grace.

We ask these things, relying on your love to hear us. Amen.


© 2014 CTA, Inc.



Aug 13

Train Every Volunteer!

Employers train new hires. Teens are trained to drive. Personal trainers help you reach your exercise goals. Training is common everywhere . . . except the church. Most churches feel they’re doing well if they offer Sunday school teacher training. The reality is that every church volunteer should be trained for ministry.

But aren’t most volunteer tasks simple enough that anyone can do them? Can’t they just learn as they go? Who has time to plan and lead training sessions, or even attend them?

Actually, volunteers want training. They want to do the job right. They don’t want to embarrass themselves. They want to learn the nuts and bolts. They want a safe place to ask questions.

Even if I already know how to do a task, training tells me how that task is done here, what the expectations are, how the equipment/schedule/procedures work here. It tells me how this task relates to other tasks in this setting, and how it fits into this church’s mission and ministry.

Training . . .

  • can be scheduled or offered ‘on demand’;
  • helps both new and long-term volunteers;
  • can be led by leaders or fellow participants;
  • communicates new information or reinforces previous information;
  • can be combined with fellowship or appreciation activities; and
  • should be fun!

Training can take many different forms, developed by you or others . . .

  • written instructions;
  • audio/video recordings;
  • a buddy system or mentoring;
  • group classes or one-on-one instruction;
  • website information (and assessments);
  • commercially available trainings;
  • books, magazines, articles; and
  • conferences.

Training builds leaders and it often goes beyond specific ministries. For instance, conflict management and communication skills are useful for nearly everyone who serves. Faith-sharing is a key skill, since serving often opens doors for sharing the Gospel within and beyond our church. Leaders often value training in how to effectively recruit, delegate, supervise, and train those with whom they work.

So many options! Our challenge is helping each ministry, and the church as a whole, determine the how, when, and what of specific trainings. When the importance of training is emphasized from the top down, when the topic is regularly revisited and people are held accountable, training becomes expected and, eventually, taken for granted.

Training advances the church’s mission. It reduces conflict and many other common problems. It builds teamwork and unity. It increases volunteer retention and improves results. It’s an investment in the body of Christ.

Here are some training resources you may find helpful. The author of this blog offers several resources:

  • free worksheet for planning specific trainings
  • for purchase, a package of two presentations, focused on the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of training, with participant handouts and leader’s guide.

In addition, check these out:


Editor’s note: If you’re looking for ways to recognize, connect, and celebrate volunteers in any or all of your ministries this fall, CTA can help. Check out the many resources we’ve developed, lots of them free! 


© 2014 CTA, Inc.



Aug 12

Grandparents Day Is September 7

Looking for a way to make it memorable? CTA offers some touching and affordable gifts to help your church or Sunday school celebrate Grandparents Day. This year’s selection includes a new (and adorable!) flipbook, a magnifier bookmark, a magnetic photo frame, and more!

Choose from among several favorite themes—and our new Grandchildren Are a Blessing from God.


© 2014 CTA, Inc. 




Aug 11

A Prayer for the Persecuted Church—a free devotion for this week’s meetings

Over the past few years and especially the past few months, many people both inside the Church and out, have pointed to a rising tide of persecution in many places around the world. Just as thousands of early Christians were displaced from their homes, exiled and isolated, robbed, imprisoned, and even killed, so too many of our brothers and sisters in the faith face these kinds of violent persecution today. As you pray this week, we encourage you to consider remembering the persecuted Church. This video song, The Faithful, by Steve Green may help guide your meditation: 


Dear Lord Jesus, you have warned that in this world we will have tribulation, but you encourage us with your words of promise, “Take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Lord, we come to you today on behalf of our brothers and sisters in the faith—your dearly beloved brothers and sisters—who face hardship and persecution. You know their pain, their struggles, their grief much more deeply than we do or can.

Lord Jesus, surround each of them with your consoling presence. Let that presence bring with it the peace that surpasses all human understanding. May your peace stand guard over their hearts and minds, admitting no temptations and abolishing all thoughts of vengeance (Philippians 4:7).

Show yourself strong on their behalf, Lord God! Fill their hearts—and ours—with love, even for those who hate you and us. Fill their minds—and ours—with joy and a desire to use every circumstance as an opportunity to serve as mighty witnesses for you. Just as the blood of the martyrs proved to be the seed of the Church in earlier centuries, so use the suffering of your people today to create a mighty harvest of souls from every tribe, language, people, and nation on earth (Revelation 5:9).

Lord, you are faithful, even when we are not (2 Timothy 2:13). Teach all your people to trust your promise that not even the gates of hell itself will prevail against your Church (Matthew 16:18). Forgive our apathy and our other many sins and teach us to love and care as you yourself love and care for us. We pray in your name, Lord Jesus. Amen.



Scripture quotations marked ESV are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


© 2014 CTA, Inc. 




Aug 06

Building a Christ-Centered Learning Community

It’s time! The new school year is here. If you are a teacher for Sunday school or weekday programs, you are probably eager to gather with your class and start learning more about Jesus together.

What’s the most important part of your time together? Is it learning Bible stories, Bible truths, and how they apply to our lives? Of course! Is it creating a Christ-centered learning community where all feel welcome? Of course! Is it engaging students in prayer and in living out their faith in tangible ways? Of course! It’s all of these and more besides.

For now, let’s focus on creating a Christ-centered learning environment. The church is the only place where some children will experience such a warm, welcoming place, a place where the Savior’s love is lived and felt. Being intentional about creating it is key for us as teachers.

What makes a Christ-centered community unique? Such a community is about faith, it’s about . . .

  • Acknowledging that we, like all other people, often make wrong, hurtful choices.
  • Trusting in Jesus as our Savior, whose death on the cross and resurrection provides the antidote for all our sinful, hurtful choices.
  • Receiving God’s unconditional love and forgiveness in Christ.
  • Forgiving others, just as we have been forgiven.
  • Caring for one another, because Jesus has shown his great love and care for us.

In a community like that, we are comfortable asking questions about our faith. And we invest time and energy talking and thinking about practical ways to live as Jesus’ faith-filled people.

Of course, only the Holy Spirit can create a community like that. But he invites us to create an environment where it can flourish. Here are just a few ideas to get you started. (We would love to have readers add to this list! Hit the comment button below to do that!)

Build Relationships

The more we know each other, the more comfortable we are being in a group. It’s true for children as well as for adults. Here are some “getting to know you” activities you might consider using. 

  1. Learn about what everyone did over the summer as you play a yes / no game. Post a yes sign and a no sign on opposite sides of your class area. Then ask yes/no questions and have the children stand near the sign that corresponds with their response. After each question, give individuals time to chat with each other about their answers. For example:
  • Did you travel anywhere?
  • Were you by water? Mountains?
  • Did you go to a baseball game?
  • Were you part of a team?
  • Did you take any lessons this summer?
  1. A similar game is “Either/Or.” You might develop questions like these, then talk about the students’ answers:
  • Would you rather get up early in the morning or stay up late?
  • Would you rather study math or language arts?
  • Would you rather eat at home or go out for dinner?
  • Would you rather attend early service or late service at our church?
  1. Celebrating birthdays and/or Baptism birthdays is an excellent way to create community. Make a birthday poster with everyone’s birthdays listed. Decide how to celebrate. For instance, you could decorate for each other, bring treats, play a game the “birthday person” chooses, or . . .

Build Routines

Your group may meet only once a week. Still, establishing a predictable routine is worth the effort. Even young children can help with this. For example, ask volunteers to be responsible for each of these activities:

  • Distributing materials and equipment needed for the lesson.
  • Recording prayer requests in your class prayer journal.
  • Leading an opening/closing prayer.
  • Cleaning up debris before you leave.

Giving the children an opportunity to be involved with these can help promote a sense of responsibility and belonging. Consider changing up the assignments every month or quarter.

Set Clear Expectations

Children feel much more secure when they understand the behavioral expectations—and when those expectations are enforced consistently and fairly. Consider working together to establish these expectations.

For example, you might lead the group in listing behaviors necessary to help everyone learn more about Jesus. After you make the list, talk about how to frame the rules positively. For example, instead of, “Don’t hit or say mean things,” the rule could say, “We use kind words and actions.” Keep the list brief (3-5 rules is enough) and include an expectation like this: “We will forgive one another because Jesus forgives us.”

†  †  †

From time to time throughout the year take time to include relationship building activities. Keep on involving students in the routines. Review expectations. Your Christ-centered community will continue to grow closer in faith and love, under the blessing of our Savior. 

Editor’s note: If you’re looking for ways to recognize, connect, and celebrate volunteers in any or all of your ministries this fall, CTA can help. Check out the many resources we’ve developed, lots of them free! 


© 2014 CTA, Inc. 




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