Some thoughts about the adults’ responsibilities in Godly Play
- What is the pedagogy of Godly Play?
- How is the teaching and learning distinctive?
People often ask about the role of adults during a Godly Play session. Two adults are always present, and not only for safeguarding reasons. Each has a defined and significant role – the storyteller and the doorperson – and it is important that they have a shared understanding of Godly Play’s approach to teaching and learning.
If you were to look through the keyhole at a Godly Play session, you might get the impression that the adults are rather passive, un-teacherly, permitting everything to be child-led. But this is not the case. In Godly Play’s pedagogy, the adult roles are of huge significance, akin to spiritual mentors or guides. As with Montessori pedagogy, Godly Play is far from laissez-faire. In fact a huge amount is being intentionally taught by the adults as models, through the adults’ preparation of the teaching space and more. There are goals and objectives which inform every aspect of the sessions. Far from being surplus bystanders, the adults need to be constantly engaged in a process of discernment that informs how progress towards the goals is going.
The difference from some other methods lies in the way the Godly Play’s aims are about teaching children the art of using Christian language to make meaning in their lives, rather than the adults delivering ‘teaching points’. In Godly Play, Scripture and other forms of Christian language are shared in such a way that children and adults can discover the questions the Bible and the Christian tradition ask of us, rather than as a process of installing a collation of decoded answers. This requires adults to commit to a ‘pedagogy of listening [and observing]’ – a term coined by Carlina Rinaldi, a leading figure in the ground-breaking Reggio Emelia schooling approach. Adults are no longer ‘implementers’ of generic, pre-planned learning outcomes devised for non-specific children and non-specific contexts. Instead, the adult is engaged with these particular children, in this particular place, and in this particular moment – often resulting in a process of deeply reciprocal learning.
The Godly Play adults do, however, take steps to be mindful of the inevitable power imbalance and their larger presence when working with children. Looking and listening through the keyhole of a Godly Play room, it is clear that good adult behaviour depends on reducing the adult’s dominance and intrusion in specific ways, and in particular parts of the session. For example, sitting to welcome the children at the doorway to meet them ‘at their eye level’, or leaving space for children to think non-verbally during some of the wondering, and respecting the privacy of their spiritual work and place during the response time whilst being available if they wish to come to you to share it.
Without a doubt, Godly Play requires adults to think and behave differently. The role of ‘teacher’ is redefined to make space for both the child’s voice and the voice of God – a three sided relationship of learning together. Transitioning to this way of teaching and learning can be exciting and difficult in equal measure. What keeps me focused is Sophia Cavalletti’s comment that ultimately- ‘the only teacher in the room is Christ’.
You can read more about the role of the adults in Godly Play in Jerome Berryman’s Teaching Godly Play: How to Mentor the Spiritual Development of Children, Morehouse Publications, 9781606740484.