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Recently I was meeting with a group of Sunday school teachers in preparation for the start of the season. I asked them to form trios and create a list (or express in some other way) of what they see as their role this year—all the things they hope to do and be as a teacher. Each group reported a whole slew of interesting words representing roles they would likely play—from entertainer, to mentor, mediator, to facilitator. But one word that every group mentioned was “listener.”

I was surprised that there was such consensus over a role that isn’t typically written into the job description or teaching materials for Sunday school. As teacher’s it’s so easy to just plow through the material, trying to figure out how to squeeze in all the key activities before time runs out. But these wise men and women know the value of being present with children and teens, hearing their stories, sharing in their lives.

We dug a little deeper into times in the classroom when we could and should be listening to kids. Listening naturally occurs during prayer request time, or the first few minutes when kids are arriving and you’re greeting each other. But other suggestions included times of transition—when the kids might be moving from one station or activity to another and the teacher might overhear their chatting and gain an insight about whether that activity was interesting to them or what they hope to do next. There are also times when we share a little of our faith journey with kids, and those are perfect times to pause and ask, “what about you? Have you ever seen God work that way?” Rather than always asking straightforward questions with clear answers, we can also broaden our questions to include wonderings that draw out kid’s thoughts: “what would you have done in that situation?” “What do you like about this story?” and so on…

Being a listener gives us the chance to learn along with the kids, to value their voice and to offer them room for them to articulate their own faith. It’s not always easy to squeeze in this kind of quality time, but this year I’m going to read each lesson with an eye for places where I can pause to listen more fully.

What about you? When have you had meaningful times of listening to kids in your classroom?

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