Monday, May 31, 2010

See the parents already as participants, see ourselves already as part of the neighborhood

In the Ridvan 2010 message of the Universal House of Justice to the Bahá’ís of the world, the House of Justice states that “. . . efforts need to be made to systematize further the provision of spiritual education to increasing numbers of children, from families of many backgrounds . . .”  Some intriguing and amazing insights about children’s classes have come from Washington, DC (A), where experience with children’s classes, how to sustain them, how to involve the parents, and how to encourage and accompany the teachers, were the topic of an article in the recent issue of the Learning About Growth in the Southeast newsletter.  We are very excited to include some excerpts here, starting where the children’s class teachers shared the Faith directly with the students’ parents, and many of the parents subsequently declared:
The declarations from the first visits have changed the way the children’s class teachers—and others in the cluster—are thinking about growth.  Actually seeing families of children in the classes embrace the Cause has emphasized that building community together with these parents is the purpose of what we are doing as we “extend efforts widely to involve ever growing contingents of participants in classes that become centers of attraction for the young and strengthen the roots of the Faith in society…”  These first experiences have emboldened the teachers to continue, helped advance understanding of how to invite families to the Faith, and shown that growth is possible. . . .

It has been useful to look at what has happened with the teachers over the past 3-4 cycles of growth, particularly in terms of coordination.
There is an increasing ability among teachers to describe what they are doing, and a friendly rapport between the teachers and coordinator that has led to frequent reporting, in the form of phone calls right after a class, descriptive emails or even short text messages about how something went, in person meetings suggested by the teachers or by the coordinator.  This open and regular communication, along with visits to the classes and to the families, helps determine patterns of questions and experiences that become areas of consultation at teacher gatherings.
Like in many other clusters, themes of focus include keeping accurate data, ‘learning how to learn’ about the classes, including refining teachers’ abilities by learning how to talk with each other about how the classes are going and returning to sections of Ruhi Book 3 to see how to improve current classes, developing relationships with children’s families; and keeping track of how each child is doing in the class.
A few other things have stood out as useful for the coordinator to do in this cluster to contribute to an atmosphere in which neighborhood children’s classes are initiated and maintained, and growth around families emerges as possible.  They include:
Emphasizing to teachers not to give up too soon or decide that things are not going well in general simply because they did not come out as expected one or two (or more) times.  Listening and asking a few questions about what seems to be going right has shifted conversations away from breaking down and toward building.
Asking frequently how things are going, and not being satisfied with short answers.  An example of this is the following excerpt from the coordinator’s notebook: Sometimes when a teacher says “No one comes” it actually means something else.  When asked, “What does that mean?  Who didn’t come?” the teacher said, “I felt bad that A, B, and C didn’t come since they usually come every week and it sounded like someone was in the apartment when we knocked but no one answered the door.  At first I thought this was really bad, and I wondered if their parents don’t want them in the class any more, but when Isaw them later one of the parents explained they had something planned that day, and that’s why they didn’t come.”
Learning together with the teachers how to see the impact the class has on the children and the community and to take that seriously – understanding that the children, their families, and the community where the class is held are actually paying attention to us whether we realize it or not.
Encouraging teachers to stay in touch with the parents, even informally, remembering that even if we don’t see the parents the children are telling them what they are doing in the class.  A good example of this was seen on one of the teaching visits to a mother with two children in a neighborhood class.  This mother welcomed the teachers warmly, listened carefully about the content of the classes and about Bahá’u’lláh, and embraced the Faith right away.  Her home is actually a place where a number of children and youth ‘hang out’, and her daughter, who is in the class, was there with some friends.  When her mother said the prayer ‘O God, refresh and gladden my spirit. . .’, the girl came quietly from the other room and sat.  When her mother finished, she said, “I want to read that too.  I know a lot of prayers.”  She read it in a lovely, loud, reverent voice. And then, picking up another booklet, she opened to the page of the photograph of the Master, held it up to her mother, and said, “This is ‘Abdu’l-Bahá.  I know a lot of stories about Him.”
Seeing all of the family members as already being participants.  An example of how one teacher was actually surprised at the declaration of one of the mothers in a class illustrates the importance of cultivating this vision and seeing the parents as people already influenced by Bahá’u’lláh’s Revelation, who want His teachings for their children and themselves.  Since the children of this family had missed a number of classes and the teachers had not seen the mother for a while, it did not seem that she was interested in the Faith. However, they were still very interested.
Seeing the teachers—and helping them see themselves—as people who are inside the community and care about how it can grow.  They teach the classes, and also can explain well about the classes to families and other community members; talk informally with the families; get invited to neighborhood events. They are alert to possibilities to tell others in the community about the class and to open new activities such as devotional meetings, study circles, junior youth activities.
Raising up new teachers by inviting people who have not yet participated in children's classes to try teaching a class, helping with a class, starting a class, and encourage current teachers to invite others to teach with them.  These people can be Bahá'ís who have completed Book 3 (including those who completed when there was less emphasis on the action element of the book), anyone else from among the Bahá'ís who might be willing to try, and friends of the Bahá'ís

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