Monday, January 11, 2016

We Stagnate Without Feedback

            I have not posted anything in this space since last June. When I retired from my teaching career that month I stepped away not only from teaching but also from thinking about it. It was just a natural response to not being directly connected with the teaching/learning process professionally.

            Last week my wife and I began a 2 year mission for our church – The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – and will be in the Boston area for that time. Since missionary work is real teaching work I now have a new motivation to begin seriously thinking about teaching and learning again. I am going to write about things that come to me as a full time missionary, related to the subject at hand. Here is the first one.

            When we were in the Missionary Training Center (MTC) last week I had forcefully come to mind two very basic thoughts about teaching the gospel. The first was that a teacher can never improve without practice and feedback. It can’t be done. We can watch and listen and observe all we want. We can go into our classrooms and try on our own. Nothing will change until we open ourselves to an observer who loves us and cares for our progress and is willing to be bold enough to tell us what was seen and offer some ways to improve. Lacking that, we will limp along forever in our old habits, perhaps trying very hard but not making any real improvements.

            In the MTC we had to role play at teaching on 3 of the 5 days there. Most people did not want to do it because it is a new thing and becomes painful when we have to discover that we missed the mark, either slightly or by a lot. But we all had to participate – no one was exempt. When the little teaching session was over, there was competent feedback and by the end of the week there was obvious improvement seen among many people. The cycle that leads to this improvement is: instruction, practice, feedback, and correction – repeat as often as necessary until competency rises. If you are a teacher who wants to improve, there is no short cut around this process.

            The second thing driven home again to me is how much the Spirit is involved in gospel teaching. My wife was nervous about the role playing but once she opened her mouth and allowed her reliance on the Spirit to shine through, she was great. One time our instructor was listening to her specifically and when she finished the instructor started to applaud. It was that good, from a woman who didn’t think she could teach very well. On our own, none of us is very good but with the Spirit we can all rise up and be very effective.

            Keep practicing, continue to seek competent feedback, and remember where the power comes from in gospel teaching. Learn to trust the Spirit in the gospel classroom.