"Ways to Connect and Care Beyond the Classroom" is one of our Teaching Training Handouts. See more!

While it was written in the first months of COVID-19 Pandemic which shut down "in-person" Sunday Schools and churches across the country, it is the sort of outreach ministry we hope every Sunday School leader and teacher is regularly taking part in, virus or no virus.  

That said, many of us are wondering what teaching is going to look like this summer and fall. Many are suggesting we use this time to reconnect with kids and families in pastoral ways. So perhaps the following 13 Ways was written "for just such a time as this."

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The following is an updated version of the original PDF. It has more info about some of the ways. You will also see additional suggestions below it posted by members.

We invite you to POST your suggestions and best practices! 



Connecting and Caring Beyond the Classroom

caringOne of the best things about being a Sunday School teacher happens when we connect with students outside of the classroom. The kid running up to you in the hallway with news they can’t wait to share. The impish wave across the pews or restaurant. The high-five at the game. These connections not only feel like a moment in the Kingdom of God, they are an awesome opportunity. For in addition to being teachers, we are role models and caregivers  --“God making his appeal through us.” (2 Cor 5:20).

And lest we forget, God is also making his appeal to us through them.

Rather than being "one more thing to do," an intentional plan of outreach is actually one of the "secret sauces" of a successful teaching ministry. Reaching kids where they are can help make kids better students in the classroom, and keep kids coming back year after year. It also makes us better teachers as we get to know our students and their families.



Starter List!

Below is a “starter list” of ideas for connecting beyond the classroom. We hope you will discuss it, adapt it, and expand it with your own great plans.

  1. Ask your church office for a classroom roster with the addresses, phone numbers, names of parents, and student birthdays. Add notes about each student’s interests. This roster can also be an excellent prayer prompt.

  2. Review your church's safe-children policies and make sure parents are aware of your outreach plans.

  3. Use the power of your cellphone to collect numbers, mark special dates, send reminders, and take and share classroom photos with parents and those older students who have their own phones. (Get parental permission and always copy a parent on every communication.)

  4. Never pass up an opportunity to greet your students (and their parents) at church events and ask how they’re doing.

  5. Create a plan for brief “doorstep visits” with your students and a parents and don't go empty-handed. Bring details about an upcoming event, a fun photo and story about a recent lesson, and a food item your student will appreciate. For example, call ahead and ask them "Chocolate or Vanilla?" 

  6. Make plans to attend a special event in the life of each of your students during the year. Bring a member of your family or a fellow teacher with you. Ask parents to keep you in the loop about upcoming school events, games, recitals, grade-level "graduations," and the like. Doing so sends a powerful message to both the student and family. 

  7. Drop in on your students’ church fellowship events to join in a game, chaperone, or help serve.

  8. Plan a class picnic or outing and ask someone else to be in charge of it so you can focus on being with the kids. This is one of those "old fashioned" ideas we used to do more often because they worked.

  9. Send a personal note via "snailmail" to thank a student for their participation on a particular Sunday, or at other times to congratulate, console, or encourage.

  10. Use social video apps such as Facebook Live or Messenger’s “Rooms” to connect with groups of students during breaks or to broadcast your class to those who cannot attend due to an illness or other circumstance.

  11. Pay attention to unusual or extended absences and kids with health problems. Get information from your pastor, parents, and classmates. Ask for an opportunity to drop by with some classroom materials (such as a bag of art supplies and printables from lessons they missed).

  12. Look for church service opportunities that you can ask a student or two to help you with. For example, invite a student and parent to help you pack groceries for the pantry, or collect the offering in worship, or help with “Hanging of the Greens,” or set up a game at the church picnic.

  13. Help your students see you as you normally are, not just as a “dressed up teacher.” Wear your favorite team’s jersey to a class. Bring in your favorite snack. Share appropriate details about your life, interests, and especially your pets.

Challenges and Plans

Numbers and geography can be challenging. And not every teacher has the time or temperament for regular outreach (so they will have to get creative). To those who make the effort, the rewards can be immediate and uplifting.

You don't have to overthink this. Just get your roster, decide on how you want to connect, let parents know, and pick some dates on the calendar to let God make your appeal through you!

Looking forward to seeing what some of you have done to reach your kids beyond the classroom! 


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Last edited by Amy Crane
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MORE OUTREACH IDEAS!

Some of the IDEAS I've used to reach out to my students over the years were directly lifted from my work in youth ministry where one-on-one and home visits are also the "secret sauce."

The "Ice Cream Visit"
I love the ice cream photo above. Reminds me of the approach I took with Confirmation kids -- inviting them two at a time for ice cream at one of their homes. I asked them in advance what their favorite Ben and Jerry's flavor was, and picked up pints for us to share at the appointed place and time. The kids called it their "ice cream visit."   What kid wouldn't love that? (I also came with some questions about their life and our church.)

Tip: Bring an extra pint for parents and siblings!

School Plays and Musicals
When I heard that one of my students was in a play, I made an effort to show up.  It was harder during the day, but many schools have moved their "older kid" plays to the evening which is easier (and my wife would often go with me).  I let the parents know I was coming ahead of time but not to tell their kid. On more than one occasion, I made a few phonecalls to other kids from Sunday School. Many of them thought it was cool to "meet up and sit together."  I'll never forget the look on Cara's face when our entire row gave her a "Standing O" when she stepped forward for her bow.

Tip: Don't show up unannounced or unaccompanied. That's creepy. Instead, enlist parents to feed you date and time, and always bring one of your own family members or a fellow teacher with you.

Kyle, that One Kid
Everybody has that one hard-to-reach kid or that one with the discipline problem. "Kyle" was mine. I'm sure his disruptive behavior was in-part due to dealing with other kids being mean to him. He had childhood alopecia (hair loss). I was at a high school basketball game one night when Kyle came up to say hi. His cousin was playing (who also belonged to our church), and that's how I got invited to join Kyle and his cousin's family at Portillo's HotDogs after the game. What a difference it made in the classroom, and what a difference it made with Kyle's mom in terms of their attendance!  Such a simple thing.

Craig:
Craig was a foot-taller and 25 lbs heavier than everyone else in his class. Sweet kid, great student, but also quite a handful. I was at a Lacrosse game watching my youngest daughter play when Craig and his little brother spotted me in the stands. I was surprised to learn that Craig played Lacrosse and that his game was next. And boy was he surprised when he saw me sitting next to his dad during his game! Not only was Craig happy about that, I got his Dad to come help me with some of Craig's classes. Two birds, one stone. It was after that serendipitous meeting that I started asking parents for "something coming up that I can attend."  

"Ellen"
Ellen was the oldest girl in a very broadly graded class. She had also matured faster than her peers. When I discovered Ellen like video games, Ellen discovered I made video games (once upon a time), so I invited her and her mom to stop by after church to see how we made them. In advance, I asked my oldest daughter Robin to "poke her head in" to our conversation, upon which I introduced my daughter as "the real girl" we had modeled Robin the explorer on in the Exodus game. Ellen thought that was the coolest thing. (I later used Ellen as one of the voices in another program!)

Best part: I asked my daughter to "keep an eye out for Ellen at church," which she did, and I would occasionally see Ellen making a beeline for Robin at church, often bringing a friend with her.  This got me thinking about reaching out to my students THROUGH my family members and some of the older kids in our youth group.

We don't have to do this by ourselves.

Last edited by Amy Crane

Breaking bread together is an important part of community. At church pot lucks after worship and midweek church dinners, I try to sit with some of my children and their families. And I make a point of visiting with the children, not the parents. 

66F2093B-B038-4505-A6BB-EBB280FA83CBDuring the stay-at-home-time, I have been writing letters to my students, talking about my favorite Bible stories and sending coloring pages with some of my favorite Bible verses.  But I am also sharing a bit about myself, including sharing some of my favorite elephant jokes.   (I have attached below the doc files that I printed on cardstock to make notecards in case you want to use them.) And a mom texted me a message of thanks for reaching out to her daughter, along with pictures of her illustrated color version of the card I sent. 

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Last edited by Amy Crane

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