Designing Greatness into our Teaching Programs
God requires two things from us as teachers: our best effort and faithfulness. He does not demand perfection but at the same time, He does not accept mediocrity. It is therefore vitally important that we take our role as teachers of God's word seriously and do the best we can. These two requirements, our best effort and faithfulness, involve doing the best we can with what we have, seeking to do more, and keeping true to God's will for us as teachers. To this end we study and apply knowledge and skills from both scripture and the body of knowledge around us. We bring to bear all we can to enhance our teaching so that learners may in turn grow and develop as disciples and teachers in their own merit. To meet this, we need subject matter expertise, strategic vision (looking beyond the here and now), tactical skills (ability to effectively plan and carry out the strategic vision), and passion.
Designing greatness in our teaching and learning begins with knowledge of who is determining if something is great or not. As teachers we have input and influence on whether a teaching effort is great but ultimately it is determined mostly by the learner. Here are some ways we can design greatness into a class.
Keep the class simple
Simplicity does not necessarily mean it is easy; rather it means that it is straight forward and facilitates understanding. It is also enhanced when we present complex information in smaller segments allowing students to master it before moving on to new information. This serves to build confidence in students that they can comprehend the material.
The information must be based on learner needs
All learning efforts and content must be developed from what learners needs. It is not important what we know but rather what the student needs to learn and how well we help them learn.
Engage the learner
We want learners to desire to continue seeking and learning. We must determine if the class is seen as dynamic and interesting, compelling students to learn. It is OK to have an air of excitement that engages the learner. Show relevancy to learners by answering questions such as:
- Why is this important to me?
- Where am I going?
- How do I apply this?
Try to develop an element of uniqueness
This can be a challenge for teachers, especially for subjects covered many times before. To be unique means that something has not been seen before or is seen as a solution before. May have seen it but now see it in a different light.
The listeners to Peter's sermon from Acts 2 found uniqueness in Peter's words. He wasn't necessarily telling them something they didn't know but explaining it in a new light with a new understanding.
Something familiar may be where we start but it is not where we finish. We must insert some element of uniqueness at some point. It might be a new look or new approach and may uncover new insights, new discoveries. When this happens, real growth happens.
It must be natural
This means it is not forced or awkward. It should be instantly familiar (recognizable) and useful. This is a good place to warn about the use of "churchy words." Every group has its own language or ways of saying things. Be careful of words that we understand but others don't. If you are using a new term or word that you suspect some learners may not understand as you intend, give a quick definition and move on. Remember that we start with where learners are and take them to where they need to be.
It should have a specific call to action (CTA).
A CTA is a specific statement or question that is designed to illicit a response from the person viewing or listening to the materials. We see these in marketing materials all the time. For example, "Press send now!" Send your name and email for more information" "Call now!". A CTA should begin with a strong action verb and not be more than one or 2 sentences. We use these frequently at the end of sermons and refer to it as an invitation. The value of a CTA is that it takes the student from a passive role into an active role and encourages them to apply the materials in a concrete way. The also serves to bring about commitment to the materials.
When we look at greatness from the world's perspective we generally tend to think in terms of sports stars. We applaud the winners of championships. We sometimes tend to think of a champion as someone who is "great" at what they do. The word "champion" comes from the Latin word for gladiator or fighter. So we can think of a champion for learning as a person who fights for a cause. With that thought in mind, we should strive to be champions. Here are some ways we can become champions for learning.
There are two perspectives for becoming a champion for learning. One is from a teacher's perspective. From a teacher's perspective we teach to the best of our ability (noun – champion teacher). Another is that we compel others to learn to the best of their ability (verb – we take actions to encourage learning). We strive to create in learners a, "Yearning burning for learning."
Another perspective on becoming a champion for learning is from a learner's perspective. This means being identified as a successful learner (noun – exhibits/characterized by what they've learned). It also is seen as one who seeks to learn more than is expected (verb – going above and beyond; dissatisfied with minimums; seeks additional opportunities to learn).
How do we start?
We start with how we want learners to feel and understanding how they might currently feel. Eventually, we want them to feel connected and complete (different from now). Although learning involves changing knowledge and behavior, it's also important to understand how we feel (attitudinal) about a subject. Changing how learners feel and adding knowledge enables changes in behavior.
Teaching God's word is at the heart of who we are and what we do as disciples of Jesus. Truly, if we are disciples then we cannot but help teach. We must make the effort to do the best we can for our Master.
Always remember that we have been given a sacred trust. As Paul would say, "We have a treasure in earthen vessels so that God's power is seen." (II Corinthians 4:7)