The Youth Classroom: It Is a Big Deal
What comes to mind when you think about transformational teaching? Dynamic teachers? Exciting Bible studies? Positive mentoring relationships? What about the ministry environment?
You may be thinking, It's just the room - what's the big deal? The learning environment may not be the core of transformational teaching, but it is an essential component of support. The environment serves as the entry point for youth to encounter God through Bible study. Transformational teaching is dynamic and changing. Every week it may vary in mood and tone. The environment should accommodate and support these changes.
Use it to contribute to the Bible study
To begin with, church and Sunday School leaders need to support teachers with necessary supplies and time. Leaders can help by communicating the need for a good ministry environment to other church members. So when teachers wish to change the look of a room, they know they won't be reprimanded.
On the other hand, teachers need to take care of resources. They may find all that they require in class kits, but they need to be purposeful in using their space. Department directors can help teachers make these decisions and offer their time to help create worthwhile environments. A good place to start is with the teaching material. It usually includes items related to the lesson. Beyond that, use the environment to draw youth in and to "transport" them to where you want them to go.
Make it part of how youth learn
Many environment changes involve establishing a strong sense of visuals. This is terrific - although teachers need to be careful not to create "eye candy." Extend the environment to include all the senses and learning styles.
- A natural environment places youth outdoors. If not practical, bring some plants and give youth the responsibility to care for them.
- A physical environments allows teenagers to touch and create as much as possible. Art supplies, clay, balls, costumes, and rope may be within easy reach so that when the lesson calls for a skit, mime, interview, or presentation, these items are available.
- A musical environment means accessibility to instruments or stereos. Why not play music as youth read the Bible or pray?
- A relational environment brings people closer together for easy interaction and cooperation. Open spaces for interactive games, for example, become plentiful.
Use it to enhance relationships
When a youth walks into Sunday School, he or she is surrounded by other teenagers. Without question, the human environment should be nurturing, supportive, and barrier-free. Beyond that, department directors can work with teachers to experiment with seating and traffic flow as the room allows. Traditional classroom congregational seating is great for lectures, when the focus is primarily on the teacher. Youth Bible study should focus on teens.
Circles provide for easy interaction and face-to-face situations but are not practical for written work or drawing. Different ways to position youth and subsequently change the class dynamics include V-shapes, lines, male/female splits and combinations, inside/outside circles, and learning centers. Furniture that is easily moved and capable of frequent handling is ideal for changing the groupings, and youth leaders could make a special effort to provide them youth.
A final word
Because youth are so different themselves, there is no one ideal ministry environment. Creating a good environment gives the teacher another tool to create meaningful relationships with youth. The best environments are barely noticed. Because they supplement the lesson so well, they flow naturally with transformational teaching. These environments lend themselves to dynamic, Spirit-filled rooms bursting with energy.
Conversely, bad environments can ruin a lesson and prevent learning. They place youth in situations they do not want to be in and create distractions for the teacher. Overall, it is clear that adding ministry environment to the list of ways to prepare for Sunday School will make teaching and learning much more real, enjoyable, and life-changing.