Implementing a New Curriculum

It is my honor to introduce you to Shannon Rains. Shannon is the Children’s and Family Minister at Kingwood Church of Christ. She has been journeying in ministry for over fifteen years. Shannon is currently a D.Min. student at Abilene Christian University and will join the faculty of Lubbock Christian University this fall as the Assistant Professor of Children’s Ministry. Shannon is married to David and has two children. Please help me welcome Shannon to the conversation.

I will never forget my first experience with implementing a change in curriculum. I evaluated our current ministry and made a list of goals for the future. I formed a team of stakeholders: parents, volunteers, and leaders in our congregation. We reviewed curriculum and compared them to our goals. Through prayer and discernment, we made a final selection. The team was excited about the new possibilities. We scheduled a meeting with the teachers and rolled out the new resources.

During the meeting, the teachers seemed excited about the new curriculum. Or, maybe they were a little nervous. In hindsight, they were probably more nervous than excited. I was excited. I misread their feelings through my own lens of excitement.

A few weeks later, reality set in. The volunteer teachers were now investing more time and effort in this new curriculum. They made new visuals and gathered supplies for games. The pedagogy was different and was forcing them out of their comfort zone.

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The next weeks and months told the real story of the effectiveness of the change process. There is a management style called “management by walking around”. I use this style to support the volunteers. I pop in and out of the classrooms, thanking them for their service, and completing brief observations. I began to notice a common theme in the classrooms. The teachers were slowly reverting back to their old-style of teaching, and, in some cases, their old curriculum.

I learned that choosing a new curriculum was easy. Implementation is a whole other ballgame.

Children’s ministry leaders are often coached to follow a good evaluation process, select the curriculum, and the implementation will be easy. If not, it’s a failure in leadership skills.

This is a self-inflicted lie. In reality, children’s ministry resources may have been less than honest with the ministers they seek to equip. At least in our fellowship, implementation is where the hard work is at. Choosing to change is easy. Actually changing, well that is hard!

A few years ago, I took courses from a new-to-me discipline: organizational management for educators. These courses provided valuable information that I had been missing for much of my ministry career. I had never considered how change occurs.

The following steps should help with any implementation process. Remember, though, that there is not a tried-and-true method to achieve successful change in our churches. Why? Because people are involved! No one person or strategy can predict how a person or group of people will react when confronted with change. However, awareness of certain principals goes a long way towards effective implementation of a new curriculum, program, procedure, or activity.

1. Conceptualize your implementation process.

Many people view change as a linear process. A linear process, though, reflects that change is completed at the end of the process. This is rarely the case. Instead, it is helpful to conceptualize a circular model that includes evaluation, implementation, sustaining, and re-evaluation. I have linked to two web resources as an example of linear and circular models of organizational change.

2. Identify Your Stakeholders

Often, curriculum changes fail because we did not identify all of the stakeholders that feed input into the ministry. Stakeholders include: volunteer teachers, other ministers, elders, deacons, parents/guardians, children. Who else would you include?

3. Implement your new curriculum by training and encouraging all stakeholders.

Instead of holding a curriculum meeting for just the volunteers in the meeting, consider inviting parents and other leaders. Give the volunteers and parents language for discussing the change with their children in class and at home. Johnny will complain that he “wants the old class back” so equip the stakeholders to reframe the change for Johnny in the positive.

4. Train your teachers on the curriculum, pedagogy, and spiritual goals.

Invite the teachers on a mission. Encourage them to give the new materials a good, solid try for three to six months. Reassure the teacher that you will be with them on this journey. Reinforce the spiritual goals and educational theories that this new curriculum seeks to accomplish. School teachers attend hours of in-service each year to learn new research about children and pedagogy. We should expect our volunteers to have some training each year, as well.

5. Re-evaluate regularly.

One of the critical mistakes many churches make in any ministry is the failure to re-evaluate regularly for micro-changes that makes change more likely of succeeding. The circular model of organizational change assumes that there is always room for improvement. Evaluate your new curriculum often for small changes will help avoid another overhaul of your educational ministry. Be sure to include your original team or other key stakeholders.

6. Remember the implementation dip.

The excitement of a new curriculum or style of ministry will eventually wear off. Volunteers and leaders, once positive, may become critical. This is called an implementation dip. If we don’t recognize it as a natural part of the process, we may throw out our change and start all over. Guess what, no curriculum is perfect. It is natural that people will become frustrated during a period of change. Do not misread the implementation dip for failure. Implementation dip is simply the new wearing off and the warts showing up; keep a positive attitude, and address those warts!

7. Resistance is often a smoke-screen for fear.

Change is scary. It costs time, energy, and money. Change carries inherent risks. Address fear, ask good questions, stay positive, and talk it out. A great resource for understanding change in the local church is A Door Set Open: Grounding Change in Mission and Hope, by Peter Steinke. 

Leadership is often confused with casting vision. Yes, painting a picture of God’s preferred future for a ministry is part of leading. However, real leadership is the ability to walk along with the servants in your congregation, showing them how to best minister to children, and always as a reflection of Jesus’ unwavering love and commitment to bringing others into relationship with God. Implementing a new curriculum requires the minister’s commitment to stay in the trenches with those serving children. May God shower blessings over your ministry.

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