I said those words today when I began my Relief Society lesson on the atonement (Gospel Principles, Chapter 12).
As I look out at a room full of women, I see a vast array of experience, knowledge, and understanding. Who am I to assume that I can “teach” any of them one thing? When I approach my lesson, I do not think it is my job to instruct or to teach; I consider myself a facilitator of a discussion. To me, it is my job to prepare in such a way that I can lead and guide the discussion, but for the most part, I try to let the discussion lead the lesson….not have the lesson lead the discussion.
I don’t “have material to get through.” I have content that is valuable to facilitating our discussion. To me, a lesson is not a monologue where one person stands and postulates and “delivers a lesson.” I did not come for a lecture; I come to church to LEARN. I learn best by discussion.
I try to never, ever use the words, “We didn’t get to all of the lesson today.” A good discussion leader can make it seem that the lesson we shared was EXACTLY what we had planned for the day. I learned a long time ago that I will always over plan and over prepare for a lesson, and that is OK. My lesson does not have to incorporate every single thing I have prepared, in fact, I sometimes spend hours reading secondary source documents and scriptures that I will never share with a class. I do this to ready myself and become prepared.
I am most frustrated by lessons that are lectures. I don’t like being talked at… not engaged in the conversation. There is an important distinction between a lecture, a lesson and a talk. In my experience, the lessons that engage and encourage conversation are the best ones. I learn when I hear the thoughts and ideas of others.
I can’t teach anyone anything; the spirit teaches. It is my job to create an atmosphere where that spirit can reside and facilitate a lesson/discussion.
What do you think?
I was re-reading my previous post about how I approach a lesson, and I forgot the most important thing: Prayer. I cannot teach well if I haven’t asked God what he would have me teach. I will tell you that there are weeks where I haven’t felt the spirit one bit, but when I crack open my scriptures and sit in front of my computer to prepare a lesson, I pray. Every time…without fail…I am deeply touched by the spirit and inspired.
I cannot over-emphasize the importance of prayer. There are so many things you “could” teach in a lesson, but you are called to teach your class, in your ward. The participants have special needs, and only God knows of them.
I consider myself a participant in the process, and I consider it my duty to make sure I’m preparing the lesson that the Lord would have me teach. Sometimes this can be difficult…especially if you feel that you have a lot to say about a particular topic. I have to constantly remind myself that it is “not about me.” It’s not about “getting through” the lesson. It’s about a unique and precious opportunity to facilitate an experience for the members of the class. The lesson is the tool, and your are the vehicle. The rest is the spirit.
As always, I welcome comments on this topic.
There is no “right way” to prepare a lesson, but there are some strategies that can help almost any teacher. For me, it is all about being prepared. There is nothing more frustrating to me as a learner than to be in a class where the teacher is clearly not prepared. So, I make it my primary objective to be prepared.
How do you prepare?
For me, the answer is “it depends.” If I am preparing for a Gospel Doctrine lesson, I first read all of the required scriptures for the lesson and try to determine how those scriptures relate to the them. I used to read the lesson first, but I found that this hindered my thought process because it biased how I would actually “think” about the scriptures related to the lesson. Neither strategy is better than the other. I just prefer to read the scriptures first and then use the lesson outline to frame the discussion.
When I teach Relief Society, I take the opposite approach. Since the scriptures SUPPORT the lesson, I read the lesson first and the identified scriptures next. Again, this is not “how it should be,” this is just how I choose to do it.
How long does it take to prepare?
As with the previous question, the answer is, “it depends.” I ALWAYS familiarize myself with the topic several weeks in advance of my lesson. This may be simply looking at the lesson manual to see the topic, or it may be actually reading the scriptures and/or lesson. I’m a thinker, and the longer I have to process a topic, the more fully it develops for me. My “crunch time” is the night before my lesson. I spend anywhere from one to several hours carefully structuring the lesson.
What are the elements of a good lesson?
A strong introduction is always important. One of my favorite ways to begin is with a thought question related to the lesson. This gets the class thinking and sets the tone for the lesson. I encourage (if not thrive) on an actively participating class, and to establish this at the onset of the lesson helps with the flow. Of course, there are other ways to begin a lesson. There is absolutely nothing wrong with beginning at the beginning…and using the first thought, quotation or scripture in the manual.
Make your points clear. Tell the class what you plan to cover. This will help you stay on track and give them an idea of where you are headed.
Receive feedback from the class. If you ask a question and everyone just stares at you, there is a problem. Most of the time I see this when teachers are a bit unsure of themselves. As a question only if you expect and WANT an answer. If you ask a question for the sake of simply asking one, the class can tell. This is not engaging.
Speaking of engaging, ask individuals to read. I must tell you that I RARELY ask folks to read. I find that it takes a lot of time, can cause a bit of confusion (even if you have handed out the reading assignment), and I find that it can generally be more distracting than it is worth. Others really prefer this method. If you are uncomfortable asking questions, you can engage learners for by asking for this type of participation.
My biggest piece of advice….understand that you are facilitating a discussion. I have nothing to “teach” the class. I am presenting the lesson. The teaching occurs when there is understanding and advancement. I have no disillusion that I am the one who is educating. In fact, I learn far more as a facilitator when I actually listen to the comments than I do when I’m presenting the material.
There is no “right way” to do this. These are just some of my thoughts and things that have worked for me over the years!
Please feel free to add your thoughts or comments to the discussion.
I have been a member of the LDS Church for nearly 20 years. During those 20 years, my primary callings in the Church have revolved around teaching. I have taught Gospel Doctrine more than anyone else I know! Over the years I have compiled a library of lesson plans. For the most part, they are taken directly from the official Church teaching manuals. I use http://www.lds.org to obtain lesson plans, cut and paste web content into a word document then edit the word document to prepare my lesson.
I have created this blog to store my work in the cloud so that it can be easily retrieved by me and others. This is not an official website that is endorsed by the Church. The content here is for personal use only. Any commentary or notes are my own ideas and opinions and should not be misinterpreted as anything beyond what they are.
I have also taught Relief Society for many years and have quite a collection of Relief Society lessons, too.
It is not my intent to engage bloggers in debates related to LDS doctrine. However, if you have ideas, questions, or opinions, I will do my best to respond.
There are many great teachers who serve in the Church, and if my small contribution can assist one person in getting “over the hump” on one of those rough days when the whole lesson just needs a bit of structure, then this site has more than served its purpose.
Best wishes as you prepare your lessons!