In addition to ordering Sunday school curriculum and buying supplies for classrooms, take a few moments to consider steps to ensure safety for the Sunday school students at your church this fall. Equipping teachers with the information and tools they need ahead of time can go a long way in supporting a healthy environment for all.
1. Follow the two-adult rule: Dove’s Nest recommends two adults (preferably unrelated) in all settings with children. Avoid one adult and one child situations at all costs. This means two Sunday school teachers or youth leaders in each class. One model is a lead teacher and teacher’s assistant. The lead teacher is responsible for lesson planning and leading the class, while the assistant offers support and help during the class. Lead teachers should volunteer for at least one quarter to ensure continuity and relationship building, but assistants could serve for month-long terms, for example, to help share the responsibility in smaller church settings. Also consider a roving hall monitor to check in on classrooms. See our video on the two-adult rule:
2. Check out classrooms: Invite teachers or Sunday school coordinators to check out and evaluate the classrooms ahead of time. Remove unsafe items, check electrical cords, and make sure the heating/cooling system is working properly. If you don’t already have windows in doors, install them; this aids in supervision and accountability. The space should be ready, inviting and safe for all.
3. Schedule a teacher training: Plan for a Sunday school teacher training and/or orientation led by a Sunday school coordinator or a Dove’s Nest speaker. We offer in-person trainings and live Zoom video trainings. See our offerings here. Topics covered could include the following: nonviolent, positive discipline and classroom management techniques; consent, healthy touch and boundaries; signs of abuse and how to report abuse; supervision before and after Sunday school sessions; and other information from your protection policy.
4. Plan a blessing: Consider planning a back-to-school and/or first day of Sunday school blessing during the worship service. This is a time to recognize students, teachers and Sunday school volunteers. You may consider a small gift of school supplies for the students and a token of gratitude for the Sunday school teachers. Books about safety can also be utilized in a children’s time in the early fall. See book ideas here.
5. Consider Circle of Grace: The fall is a good time to consider what month to implement the Circle of Grace curriculum, a Christian safe environment curriculum. April, Child Abuse Prevention Month, is a great option. The curriculum for ages pre-K to 12th grade is available in Spanish and English and includes 2–4 sessions, depending on the age group. The Circle of Grace curriculum teaches children and youth how to identify and maintain appropriate physical, emotional, spiritual and sexual boundaries; recognize when boundary violations are about to occur; and demonstrate how to take action when boundaries are threatened or violated. The 2019 update is now available online.
6. In general, remember to:
- decrease isolation and secrecy,
- increase supervision and accountability,
- and make sure activities are observable and interruptible.
Dove’s Nest can work with your faith community regardless of where you are on the child protection journey. If you don’t have a policy, we can help you create one. If you’ve never held a teacher training, let this year be the first. We are honored to work with churches of various sizes and structures across North America. Churches with an Everence stewardship advocate may apply for a one-time $350 Safe Church grant to cover the cost of a Dove’s Nest training.
Anna Groff is executive director of Dove’s Nest. She is a member of Shalom Mennonite Fellowship in Tucson, Arizona. A version of this article originally appeared at dovesnest.net.