“Safety Slims:” a tool for traveling!

Hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving! I’m hoping to post more regularly now…I have missed the back-and-forth of blogging (and I’ve missed all of you!)

I want to share a handy little tool with you today…Those of us who work with kids who have disabilities in school and in church know that safety is critically important for ALL kids. For children who have communication, behavioral, emotional or health issues, however, we often need to plan proactively to ensure safety…especially when we take our show on the road! Traveling with kids requires us to think through the logistics of managing these needs on the road. We want to include students in retreats, field trips and service projects to the greatest extent appropriate; the extra care we take contributes to increased participation.

And so I’ve hopefully made this a bit easier by developing “Safety Slims.”

These safety cards were created using a Word bookmark template. They can be printed and laminated. If multiple kids have special needs, these can be hold-punched and held together with a vocabulary ring. One leader can hold these in a backpack or purse (and it’s always wise to have a duplicate set kept in the bus or retreat center…just in case!) Therefore, in case of emergency, all of the critical information is easily accessible. Hopefully this will lighten the load…these safety cards are easier to carry than large folders of information.

A couple of notes:

  • Be sure to get permission from parents when using any photograph of their children
  • Take care when sharing this information with volunteers and staff. Confidentiality is so critical to building a trusting relationship with kids and families. Be certain that safety information is shared on the foundation of confidentiality and respect.
  • Modify the template to fit the needs of your church, school, program and individual kids! This is just one way to share information…not the only way!
  • Download the template here: SafetySlims

Hope this is helpful, friends!

Be safe…

Relational Recruiting: Finding volunteers through friendship

Today, I want to introduce you to two wise ladies who are expert volunteer recruiters: Margo and Marilyn.

Margo Most is the Director of Middle School MInistries at Fellowship Bible Church. In addition to planning retreats, teaching Bible Studies and working with parents and students, Margo devotes time and energy to recruiting volunteers. Recently, Margo told me, “I always try to build relationships with people BEFORE I ask them to volunteer; No one likes to be hunted down by a stranger on Sunday morning and asked, ‘Hey, do you want to teach a small group?'”

Oh, how right she is!

Often, we recruit out of necessity and panic.Weary from the lack of response to bulletin blurbs and pulpit announcements, we scan the fellowship hall for anyone who might be willing and able. Sometimes, we resort to that most-dreaded phrase: “Hey…I just need a warm body for my ministry. Want to volunteer?”

Enticing? I don’t think do.

By taking a page out of Margo’s book, we increase the likelihood of recruiting volunteers for inclusion ministry that will be a good “fit.” Here’s why:

  • By building a relationship, we learn about the volunteer’s gifts. We might find out that someone has a background in speech or occupational therapy, or that he enjoyed working for a camp for kids with disabilities while in college. We might learn that she has a fabulous sense of humor or a talent for music. With this information, we can ask God how these gifts might be used with the children in the program.
  • We learn about the volunteer’s temperament and personality. Some very successful volunteers don’t have a background in education or therapy, and yet, they have experienced great success in inclusion ministry. Through relationships, we might learn that a prospective volunteer has a wonderful sense of humor or immeasurable patience or a calm, quiet presence.
  • We learn about the volunteer’s life. By building relationships, we find out who is out of work, and who has just signed a contract to build a new house. We know that someone is dealing with a challenging teen or providing care for aging parents. While we never want to presume that someone is “too busy” or “too overwhelmed” to volunteer, we do want to be sure that our timing and our words are appropriate.
  • We build the Kingdom. When we recruit through relationships, we increase the likelihood that our volunteers will experience success in their service…and the resulting enthusiasm will be caught by others!

Recruiting for a new program year can be intimidating. However, by considering relationships you have, and purposefully forming new ones, the process may be more manageable.  My friend Marilyn Johns, from Union Presbyterian Seminary, offers this encouragement: “Never be afraid to ask people to volunteer; you’re giving them an opportunity to serve the King!”

Serving with you!


Pick a Partner: Behind-the-scenes planning

Last week, we discussed why working in groups might be tricky–or even anxiety producing–for students with special needs. To make this type of activity easier, teachers can take several proactive steps.

Think it through. As the adage goes, “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” The danger with this, for teachers, is that lack of planning on the teacher’s part can result in failure for the students. Therefore, teachers need to define objects for both the product and the process. For example:
By working in a small group, students will create a booklet that summarizes the story they have read (product)
As they work in groups, students will take turns sharing ideas without interrupting. (process)

By clearly defining the end-results for product and process, teachers provide structure and purpose.

Do a little choreography.  Just as a choreographer plans each move of a dance, teachers must plan for group work. Moving from individual or large group work to small group work takes tremendous energy and concentration for many students. While some students move easily to new activities, students with hidden disabilities may face several hurdles such as  following multi-step directions, difficulty moving through a crowd without bumping into others, anxiety at the change of activity. Therefore, it’s critically important for teachers to plan where groups will sit, how the students move through the room, and what directions will be given to minimize confusion.

For example:
“Pick up your pencil and markers. When you’re ready, look at me….Students in group A can now stand and walk to the story corner….(wait until group A is seated) Great! Group B students can stand and walk to the art table…”

Create Boundaries Group work allows students some freedom to explore ideas and collaborate. However, this freedom requires boundaries and structure to ensure student success! Teachers can set students up for success by providing parameters that help productivity. A checklist for the components of the project provides a visual reminder of the directions, and prompts students through the task. In addition, some students with hidden disabilities have a poor sense of time. Teachers can support task completion by providing prompts to move through the activity, such as a bell or chime. Visual timers can also help students manage their time.

With all of the planning necessary for group work, it may seem easier to plan a teacher-directed lesson! However, the opportunity for students to take charge of their learning–and learn from and with each other–makes this behind-the-scenes planning worth all the effort.

From behind the scenes…

Next: Teaching kids how to work together