This article is intended to help readers better utilize the new Teaching in the Savior's Way manual that was recently released.
The gospel does have an academic element about it. At some point, you have to learn the language of the plan of salvation. Everyone who discusses the gospel has to understand what is meant by the word salvation, the Atonement, baptism, or ministering. But once the basics have been taught everything else we need to concern ourselves with is in the act of becoming more than we currently are.
The gospel was given to us to prepare us, to shape us, to create something greater within us than what we came to earth with so we are prepared to return to our Father in Heaven. This is why the introductory paragraph talks about trying to figure out how we as teachers are going to help influence our class members to want to behave differently today and tomorrow than they did yesterday.
The gospel is not learned out of a book. To truly learn to be Christlike, one has to learn to act like Christ. This takes action and habits that need to be developed a little each day. This is why we read scriptures, attend church, pray, pay tithes and offerings, and serve each other.
The trials and mundane tasks of everyday living are the tools we harness to craft a new character, a new perspective. With the ever-changing landscape of our mortal life, we use the principles given to us in the gospel of Christ to become like God. He came to earth once too. Wise use of His time in mortality is what set him on the path to where he currently is. We, as his children, need to follow in our God’s footsteps and do likewise.
Encourage Learning Outside of Class
We, as teachers, patiently try to show our class members that the meager diet of one or two hours of teaching the gospel each week is not enough to change a life. Becoming godly in our thoughts and behaviors takes daily effort that has to become directed from within, not from without. No teacher can save us. Salvation is a personal effort between the Holy Ghost and the individual who wants to become saved and it takes 24-hours-a-day, every day to accomplish the task.
Some might feel discouraged, thinking that this will be hard to do. The manual says, “The things you say and do as a teacher can reinforce this principle.” This means that we need to focus on the joys associated with the changes and accomplishments we are trying to create. This is why we bear our testimonies and encourage our class members to see that their testimonies are growing and expanding and that they are experiencing joy from their discoveries as well.
A great option for encouragement suggested in the manual is to offer a scriptural reference that will help the class members learn about a certain principle. Once you have urged them to go home and study this tidbit, be sure to spend a few minutes getting feedback on their experience with it the following lesson before moving on to new material. If they don’t see that you will always follow up on your assignments, they won’t take them seriously. It is a good idea to ask specific people before church or before Sunday to be prepared to report or talk about their feelings about the assignment at the beginning of class.
Put Responsibility on Learners
Some of us who are older may be more of a challenge to teach personal responsibility for personal learning. This has not been the style we were raised with. But that doesn’t mean we can’t improve. Old dogs can learn new tricks, it might just take a few more repetitions to teach it.
The youth, on the other hand, are pure gold. Teaching that each person is responsible for their own learning, then following up with expectations and loving invitations to demonstrate what they have learned, will prove very fruitful for the future. We are teaching correct habits as the Savior expects us to have.
When you read a scripture in class, you may have a point and purpose for that scripture that you want to teach the class. But what might happen if you first check for their understanding of that same scripture? If you have given the background and set up the situation you are trying to teach about beforehand, you may be surprised to find that they have not only gotten a grasp on what you wanted to teach but they may have other important views you haven’t considered yet.
This kind of discussion invites the Spirit to enter into the conversation and allows everyone to teach by the Spirit. Thus we all leave edified by each other. It also shows each student that their insights are valid and can be used as powerful learning tools for when they are studying alone at home. We always need to return to the subject of the lesson of course, but we can’t forget our need for personal study and learning. We also need to bolster each class member’s confidence that they can study the gospel on their own and learn valuable things without always needing to be in class to learn them.
Express Confidence Through High Expectations
Many class members come with serious doubts about their ability to have a valid opinion about gospel principles. They lack confidence. The expectation of outside study alone is not enough. The teacher needs to help them explore their own views to see where they are on solid footing in the gospel, as well as where they might need to go and do some more research.
Patience with each other’s lack of understanding is a must in the classroom setting. We need to expect and require of our class members that we each be tolerant of other’s opinions and views. We are all on different levels and have had different experiences. It takes time to come to a consensus of opinion and views sometimes.
Though there are absolute truths out there, we don’t all arrive at these truths in the same way or at the same time. And rarely is a truth so cut and dried that it cannot be viewed and dealt with from multiple perspectives.
Take murder (killing), for example. Yes, murder is a serious sin, but there are times when murder is not only condoned, but expected by the Lord. In the case of defending our families or our country from attack, bloodshed is expected and commanded. We need to be careful about stating absolutes without allowing for mitigating circumstances. Sometimes the class members will have views we, as teachers, haven’t fully thought through before. Don’t be afraid to admit to your class that you hadn’t thought about a point they bring up in quite that way before. Seeing that you are learning as well will bolster their own confidence in their ability to have and express an opinion about gospel topics.
Encouraging others to share what they have learned or are learning while in class is both a blessing and a frustration. To a newer teacher, one who is uncomfortable with following the Spirit and is able to change according to the promptings they receive while they are talking or listening to others, the act of sharing can easily derail where the teacher wanted to go with the lesson.
The important part about getting people in the class to open up and share with each other is that the teacher gains insights into where people are in their learning on specific points of doctrine. This opens the door for the Spirit to teach the teacher how to address the topic so more people leave class having learned valuable tools for change for the upcoming week.
It takes practice to learn to appreciate group discussions. You have to learn how to not only monitor the number of points made but direct them along the path that will help you arrive at those points the Spirit and the class need made that week. The more discussion you have, the less of the actual lesson material you will get through, generally speaking.
But it is more important to get the class talking in a productive way (not just joking around or one-upping each other) than it is to simply get through material from the manual. Learning to ask thought-provoking questions is an important skill. Yes, no questions don’t encourage discussion. Questions with pat answers don’t encourage discussion.
We also don’t want to ask controversial questions just to get people talking. Questions posed to the class need to have a spiritual purpose. Be prepared to change your questions if the Spirit prompts you to do so. This requires preparation and spiritual readiness on the part of the teacher.
Be prepared to follow the Spirit in a discussion. If it is Spirit-led, the discussion—as the manual points out—can become the lesson. The Spirit knows what each person needs the most. Be prepared to learn how to follow your feelings as you listen to people’s responses. With practice, you will be able to feel when it is right to follow through with a point someone has brought up. You can get back to the prepared lesson topics in a few minutes.
Teach Learners to Find Answers in the Scriptures
Much of the Lord’s power is in his words. The scriptures are powerful. They have the ability to change our lives, open our minds, touch our hearts, and change our opinions. When we teach, the scriptures need to be part and parcel with any points we make in the lesson. We need to be able to back up anything we say with scriptural passages or teachings from the prophets. There is very little room in the gospel-centered classroom for speculative talk. Focus on the scriptures.
Our students’ confidence in the gospel will grow in proportion to their comfort with being submerged in the scriptures. This means they need to learn not only the stories in the scriptures but how to extract the principles behind those stories. The teacher should be demonstrating this during each and every lesson.
Teaching the art of asking profitable questions is invaluable. This is not easy to learn, and it takes a lot of practice. Teachers must learn just like their students that there is power in learning how to ask the right question. Relying on the Spirit for how to word a question will help a lot. When we become sensitive to His promptings, he can show us how to ask a question so that it sparks the right thoughts in our class members.
Learning to ask questions, and how to ask questions, is a skill we need to help our class members learn as well. The manual points out that even though the scriptures were written a long time ago, they still have answers that are valid in our lives today.
We each need to learn that every generation of God’s children who have come to earth have had the same basic needs to learn how to return to their heavenly home. The requirements are not based on whether or not they had electricity or planes. What is required to return to our heavenly home is to become more receptive to the Spirit and to learn to keep the commandments. It doesn’t matter if we live in huts or mansions, the lessons are the same.
Invite Learners to Record Impressions
Just as the teacher needs to learn to listen to and feel the promptings of the Spirit while preparing and giving the lesson, so do the class members. When we ask questions, do we just ask for facts? These are easy questions. Asking for opinions and feelings are far more difficult to deal with, but far more profitable for learning.
How often have we had the Brethren tell us that when we listen to general conference they want us to write down our impressions, even if they have nothing to do with what the speaker is saying? The Spirit will teach us and reach us when we are ready to be taught. If He has to wait until we are in the middle of a class to teach us something that has nothing to do with the class, He will do it. He teaches us what is most important for our personal progress as soon as we are ready to receive it.
This is why it is valuable for class members to come with paper and pen. When the Spirit prompts them about something during the lesson, they need to learn to be ready to write when the prompting comes. If they don’t, the prompting will quickly fade and they will often times not be able to remember it later.
When teaching children or young adults, allowing them to draw or color what they are feeling at the moment can prove invaluable. This is all part of teaching individual accountability and personal learning when not in class.
The difficulty in teaching class members to write down their impressions is that many people are not comfortable writing. They have not learned to express themselves on paper. When we first start to record impressions, we need to learn to write the feelings or ideas that are most pressing in our mind and heart. As we go back and think about them other feelings and thoughts will rise that will help us flesh out what we recorded. We will get better with practice.