Lead an Inspired Discussion
A discussion can be very profitable but it has to be well structured and monitored so it stays on topic and is led by the Spirit. It is but one tool we use to hear from as many members of the class as we can.
The goal of any line of questioning or discussion is to invite the Spirit and to encourage introspection and change. Every lesson should be taught with the goal in mind of increasing the desire of all in the room to choose to change for the better.
Create an Environment That Encourages Discussion
To create an environment that encourages discussion includes, as mentioned in the manual, your words and actions. It also includes the physical setup of the furniture in the room. Sometimes setting up the chairs to face or at least angled to face each other helps. People feel more comfortable talking to each other when they can look directly at them, rather than when they have to talk to someone behind them.
In some rooms, it is even possible to set up chairs in a circle. The goal in room arrangements and how you address the class is to create an environment of safety. Our classrooms need to be like our homes, places people can feel safe expressing themselves. If expressing an opinion results in attacks or derision, then you can kiss a Spirit-led discussion goodbye.
The We Share video mentioned in the manual brings up a good point to remember. When people of a certain age group get to share their own experiences with each other, they not only feel the spirit of testimony expressed but they come together and become more closely knit because of the spiritual intimacy of the experience.
This method of teaching has been available to the youth for a couple of years now but it is completely new for most adults who were raised primarily on lectures. As teachers, we need to be very mindful of helping people feel comfortable with the sharing process in our class. There will be many who are timid at first, who will need extra support before they feel safe sharing.
I have spoken with many adults raised in the Church who still feel very uncomfortable about their personal level of knowledge about gospel principles and doctrines. They don’t tend to voice their opinions because they are unsure of themselves. These are the people we need to draw out and support so they gain confidence in their ability to learn and to share their testimonies.
Ask Questions That Encourage Pondering
Pondering is a skill or an art that takes practice. We can teach pondering in class in small ways through encouraging questions that cause people to examine their lives and how they are living. Pondering helps us think through ideas and try to connect one part of the gospel to another part to see how they affect each other. This kind of thinking leads to a greater desire for personal study and prayer.
Sometimes teachers spring a question to the class and expect an immediate and thorough answer. This causes frustration for the class as well as the teacher. If you have an important question that you will want an answer from later in the lesson, try writing it on the board at the beginning of class.
As the class begins, point out the question. Ask the class to think about it while you talk about other things that will lead up to the question. Encourage them to think about how this question may change how they study, how it might affect their prayers, etc. As you go through the lesson, you may find it useful to refer the current topic back to the question on the board.
By the time you finally ask the question and wait for an answer, the class has had ample time to try to connect what has come before to what you are now asking. You might be surprised at the depth of some of the responses when you master this technique.
Allow Everyone to Take Part
We have probably all been in a class where one or two people dominate the conversation. Often there are those who make a joke of everything or try to bring up controversial topics just to witness the chaos. Oh, sorry, those are just in my ward, not yours (wink).
Remember that in our efforts to include everyone, we will occasionally run into people who are on probation who are not allowed to participate yet. We might have people attending who are not yet members who are not able to answer many of the questions. We might even have those who are just painfully shy and unsure of themselves who may need to be worked with on a personal basis to help them slowly become comfortable saying anything at all.
I have been in classes where there were those with physical disabilities from strokes or other health issues. These can often talk if given enough advance preparation and the request is small. As the teacher, we must learn about our students. We will have to become better acquainted with them and their personal situations outside of class so we don’t embarrass them inside of class.
Remember not to share personal information about someone unless you have prior approval from that person. We need to honor each other’s privacy.
What do you think? What should you do or say if you ask a question and the response you get from someone is completely unrelated or is clearly, to you, not correct doctrine? How can you handle it? How have you seen such situations handled? How do you think the Savior might deal with something like that so the person learns the truth but still feels loved and accepted?
The manual makes a wonderful point about being appreciative of the contributions people make to the lesson. We may be the teacher, but they are doing much of the teaching when they contribute to the lesson and answer your questions. For many people, it is difficult to speak up or speak out in class. Let them know that you understand and appreciate their part in the Spirit in the class.
Let the Spirit Guide
This section keeps the focus on where it belongs, keeping the Spirit in charge of the lesson. How can you tell if the Spirit is guiding the lesson? What are some signs to look for? That can be difficult to tell because the Spirit speaks to each of us in a different manner that is best for us.
Some signs to look for include:
- You notice that you are being taught new things, even as you are speaking the words.
- You see that people are anxious to share their experiences and that they are all bearing testimony and sticking to the subject at hand.
- People are feeling and experiencing an increase in the amount of gratitude to the Lord.
- People who are often timid are speaking powerfully and with confidence about the topic at hand.
- There is a pervasive sense of peace and tranquility that runs through the class conversation.
- The class is experiencing an increase in joy. When this happens you will probably sense it in their comments.
These are just some things that might happen when the Spirit enters into your lesson. The class members will each feel the Spirit in their own way.
Ask Follow-up Questions
The importance in the follow-up question is the teacher’s sensitivity to the Spirit. As you listen to someone speak in class, be listening inwardly as well. If you notice a desire to ask for more information or you see an opportunity to prompt them with a deeper question, do it.
The teacher, once set apart in the calling, has the right to inspiration to guide and lead others in their learning experience during their class time. Be fearless if the Spirit prompts you to do something. The thought may enter your mind that you are spending too much time on this one person’s comments but if the Spirit is guiding you to follow the conversation then others are going to profit from the conversation as well.
Encouraging class members to think more deeply or broadly about a doctrine is a good thing. This is what we do with many of our follow-up questions.
The manual says, “[Listening] requires that we care more about what is in another person’s heart than what is next on our agenda or outline.” This is true, but this also requires that we be intimately familiar with what we want to teach that lesson. Often someone’s comments can be beautifully answered with something that is coming up later in the lesson. It is okay to jump from place to place in the lesson if that is how the students need the information.
By spending our energy on what they are saying, and thinking about what they are understanding, we are better able to help them explore further what they need next. Often a lesson becomes a bouncing act where you jump from one need to another. The Spirit can help you juggle everyone’s needs if you are in tune when you teach. This takes practice but it is very fulfilling when it happens.