Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Cycles of Growing as a Godly Play Teacher

I am currently re-reading Teaching Godly Play: How to Mentor the Spiritual Development of Children by Jerome Berryman. The first time I read it was after I had been teaching GP for about two years. I read it, but hurried through some parts that did not seem that relevant to me at the time. Now I am going back to "digest" a few things. 

One of those things is the personal growth of a Godly Play teacher. The last few GP gatherings that I have been to have put an emphasis on this topic, so I am trying to listen with fresh ears and reflect on my own growth and how to keep developing it.

Berryman writes about three year cycles in the growth process. Now that I have been through one of these cycles, his words resonate with me a lot more. (This is also one important reason why a requirement to train to be a GP Trainer is a minimum of three years' experience.) 

 "The first year of a teacher's growth cycle feels somewhat awkward and mechanical, because one is thinking and trying to remember so much . . . One is not yet fluent."

I stumbled upon Godly Play almost by accident. I ordered the first two curriculum guides in German and set out with my friend Galina to try and figure out what to do. While we in general liked the philosophy and the stories, we were completely bewildered by some aspects of the stories. Why in the world would you ask the children to name the bird in the Parable of the Mustard Seed? (What a silly thing to do!) And why would you ask the kids what they would leave out in a story? (Are we saying that certain parts of the Bible aren't important?!!?)

Then, a friend suggested that I try to find another church in Berlin that was also doing Godly Play to find out more. Lucky for me, there was a "Kennenlernen Tag" (Get-to-know GP Day) three weeks later in Berlin. There I saw an experienced storyteller, Ulrike, who would be my future trainer, tell a story from each genre. And I was hooked. 

Thus began a long process of learning stories, experimenting, and making materials. Three months later, I spent a lot of money and a whole week doing the Basic GP Training. (In the States and England, it is a 3-day course, but in Germany it is a week long course.)

"The second year things flow better . . . a teacher's confidence grows. There is enough experience to do Godly Play better, but not enough experience to realize how much more there is to learn."

Boy, does that ever sound like me. I started the blog at the beginning of the second year and I cringe at some of the things I wrote back then.: )  But I don't delete them, because that is part of the journey. At that point, I thought that I really knew a lot about Godly Play and children. I know that I at times probably even sounded a bit arrogant with friends and co-workers about what I knew. I also only had a vague understanding of children's spirituality at the time, and how it might be different from adult spirituality. 

"In the third year of the cycle, confidence about mastery begins to evaporate, because teachers realize how much more they need to know to be really good at this art."

By the third year, I had told a lot of Godly Play stories, but began to see that there were many details that I didn't know. (Do you continually focus on the board in "Faces of Easter", even when the part of the story you are telling isn't in the picture? Or is it okay to glance at the children every now and then?) This sort of thing became particularly evident to me when I was in Belarus last April. People there had lots of questions that I wasn't entirely sure how to answer. 

I also realized that it was important it was to have a solid background in  children's spirituality. I began to read more literature from theologians and researchers in this area. Better than that, I started to listen to the children in a different way than I had before.

"The fourth year a teacher begins again and as a conscious effort is made to get better, awkwardness again intrudes. Teachers also realize that this time a new cycle and real growth is taking place  . . . Each three-year cycle adds to ones wisdom not only about teaching but about ourselves as well."

September marked the beginning of my fourth year.  I am very eager to learn more and allow myself to be stretched in new ways. I think it also a season of allowing God to work on my inner life as well. We'll see what happens next!

What about you?  Have you found this cycle to be true in your experience as well?


  1. I'm still a taking baby steps - not quite through my first year! But having just read that book, I am just beginning to realise that I have an awful lot more to discover! Things that looked simple, (or even as you say, silly!)are much more sophisticated than at first glance. I realise I need time to grow but that it's OK, there's no rush, and what I don't get hold of in this first cycle, I might next time, or the one after...there is all the time I need...

    Having said that, inspired by your Advent clubs, I am thinking of doing something similar, for a small group in my home. Do you have any words of advice? Especially in the choice of stories?

    I haven't been blogging because my camera got sand in it and needs to get an expensive fix! But we have had some health issues to attend to and God has definitely been guiding us to slow down a much as you can with a family and work! But I continue to be inspired by your word, so keep them coming! Hilaryx

    1. Hi Hillary,

      It's so good to hear from you! I totally understand about health issues and slowing down a bit - that is very wise of you. We all need to practice the "ebb" in the ebb and flow that God calls us to. But sometimes I have a hard time with it.: )

      I'm glad that you are reading "Teaching Godly Play". I didn't even know it existed until my second year of teaching. You're right, there's no rush, so we don't have to put pressure on ourselves and we can take time.

      Regarding Advent, I always have a theme and then decide which stories to do around that. For instance, one year the theme was "The Joy of Christmas: Thinking of Others", so in addition to the normal Advent story, I told the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Another year, the theme had to do with great things having small beginnings, so I included the Mustard Seed and Leaven Parables. I have also told "The Great Family" to give background as what kind of family Jesus was born into and what kind of family we come into when we begin a relationship with him.

      I look at how many sessions I will be having and pick a common thread that runs through all the stories. For that reason, i usually tell the Advent story in one session, but it could certainly be broken up into several sessions.

      Will the small group be with adults or children? That will also influence what you tell. With children, you want to make sure that they hear the core stories first, but with adults, you could tell some of the enrichment stories as well. "The Mystery of Christmas" is a great enrichment story.

      Let me know how the planning goes! If I can be of any further help, please let me know.

  2. As I just get started, it's good to be told in a specific way that, like all new things, like all things in life, that Godly Play is a process -- and that to start and trust in God's leadership is a good way to think, instead of being Absolutely Sure of what I'm doing or enter with fear that I'm not doing it "right." Thanks for giving this new entrant another glimpse into the road ahead (: Mama

    1. Hi Mama, Isn't it awesome that we don't have to get it right the first time? I wish you much joy and patience in the process to come.

  3. Yes, Jerome insists that Godly Play is all about language learning and anyone who has learnt a second language, especially as an adult, experiences these cycles... conscious learning v. latent learning, thinking you know more (or perhaps less!) than you actually do... even after 40 years of speaking Spanish, I still feel awkward at times, but that might also have something to do with my age! ;)

    Incidentally, when Volume 6 was published, I made a conscious choice not to start on those stories until I had experienced at least 2 full cycles (x3 years) of telling and seeing others tell the core stories. Finally, with now 8 years of GP under my belt, I have begun to learn those enrichment narratives! :)

    By the way, thanks for having the courage not to delete the early posts!

    1. Hi David,

      Once again you hit the nail on the head with a great analogy. I had never thought of GP in quite those terms, but it makes sense. The fastest that anyone can learn a foreign language is 2-3 years. And there are stages of "fluency".

      That must have taken a lot of discipline to only do the core stories for three years! My need for variety and lack of initial understanding of the spiral curriculum (I didn't know it existed until well into my second year!) probably drove me to do too much too fast. But I can pass that advice on to others who are just starting out.: )

  4. I am so glad you haven't deleted those post! I am an avid reader of your blog(I really should comment more). You inspired me to begin Godly Play at home. I sure wish that I could enroll in one of the training programs. I was wondering is Godly Play similar to teaching Montessori in the classroom, meaning the more children the better the hearing of the story, wondering? My children loved the telling of the stories! Do you have any suggestions for doing this at home? I really need some help and I prefer to get back to the stories before Christmas. I don't want to send mixed messages to my children that it is the only season to worship. Thank you so much for sharing .

    1. Hi Discovering Montessori, Thanks so much for reading along with me! I love your blog as well and learn so much from it. . . . To answer some of your questions, the typical stories for the fall are the Old Testament stories like "Creation" and "The Great Family". I would do a few of those until Advent starts, because they set up where Jesus came from and what kind of family he was born into, as well as what kind of family we come into. . . . Godly Play works just as well at home as in other situations. And it's how I started. You just have to gather/make materials, the same as you would for your homeschool classes. It can be done really with any number of people. The disadvantage with larger groups is that it is more difficult for everyone to have a chance to speak during the Wondering. The thing that seems to make the most difference is when the children know and trust one another. . . . Hope you will post about your journey as well!

  5. Hi Sheila, Still (never?) getting caught up! Great post - and it feels so true to my experience with Catechesis as well. Thanks for highlighting the stages. Patience is hard to come by when you "want it all" for the children, but this is a big work and there is no substitute for time. Its so good to be reminded!