No matter how long we have done something, most of us want to be better. We know we may never be “the best ever” but that does not mean we can not improve at a skill or hobby. We want to see some type of sign that we are improving. We may not run as fast as we once could but we can improve in our distance or keep our weight at a certain level. If we teach a Sunday School class or lead a Bible study group, we can improve as a teacher or leader no matter how long we have done it. Here are five ways to improve as a teacher or leader.
Here are the five actions:
- Use the provided plans.
- Read on purpose.
- Redefine success.
- Do something outside your comfort zone.
Use the provided plans. Most Bible study resources include some type of group or teaching plan. In resources like Explore the Bible, these plans are written by people who teach a class. They are putting on paper the steps they will be taking to teach their class. We may need to adapt them but the plans give us a solid starting place. Recently, I followed the group plans found in the back of the Daily Discipleship Guide as written just to see what happened. One session required an adjustment because of the needs of the class, but otherwise stayed with the plans. They worked! By using the provided plans, we come to understand the principles behind each step and can then make adjustments as needed. This also saves us some time since we at least have a starting place.
Read on purpose. When selecting books to read, include a book or two on teaching or presenting. Begin by looking in the education section at your local bookstore, ask a person who teaches in the local schools for a recommendation, or search the internet for books on the subject. Do not forget to read some of the older books or rereading a book! One of my favorites is The Seven Laws of Teaching by John Milton Gregory. This book was first published in 1884 with several revised editions since.
Tip: While traveling to lead a conference, I read a book on presenting. The book covered some of the finer points of presenting and included exercises to help master some of these finer points. The book was organized for reading a chapter and then completing the exercise before moving on. I simply read the book from cover-to-cover while traveling. My conference began as soon as I arrived and all I could think about were things I did wrong based on what I had just read. The conference went fine but I was miserable. In hindsight, I should have read the book on the way home and selected a different book to read on the way.
Practice. This may sound strange but we need to practice teaching. We can use a mirror or use a video recorder. At the very least, we can review our notes and imagine each step and how we will lead it. The only way we will improve is to practice. Work on the things that need improvement, usually focusing on one area at a time. We may not be able to fix everything at once, but we can at least work on one thing.
4. Redefine success. Too many times we define success as finishing the lesson or not being asked a question we didn’t want to address. While both of these have some value, other definitions for success may need to be examined. Success may be that one person participated in the class discussion for the very first time. Another day, success may be found in that the hard question was asked and we decided that the group needed to do more research based on the discussion that ensued. Providing a book for everyone in the group like the Explore the Bible Personal Study Guide or Daily Discipleship Guide frees us to not finish the lesson. We can encourage our group to use the provided books to examine the passages not examined during the group time.
Excursion: A teacher always began his class by asking for prayer needs. On this Sunday, the first expressed prayer need was about doubts. The teacher shared his story about overcoming doubts and a conversation began that led to the person coming to faith in Jesus. The class watched all this unfold and there was no time for “the lesson” to be taught. The teacher directed the group to review the comments in the Personal Study Guide and reach out to someone else in the class that week to discuss one thing they learned about the passage they would have examined. He then led them to celebrate the commitment made by this new believer and opened the door for others to offer encouragement. Success was redefined that day.
5. Do something outside your comfort zone. To improve, we need to be stretched. That can be done in at least two ways. One way is to teach a group you feel the least qualified to teach or that scares you. Teaching preschoolers scared me so I volunteered for one of the rotations during the worship hour. I only had to do it once a month but that grew in time (my choice). Teaching preschoolers made me a better teacher of adults. A second way to get out of our comfort zone as a teacher is to use ideas that are beyond our preferred teaching style. We all have a preferred teaching style–it is what we revert to when the pressure is on and we have short notice. You may find options or ideas in the Leader Guides that you immediately think will not work with your group. Sometimes the real issue is we are the one it will not work with. Try and see what happens. The things we think would never work somehow do in part because it is a change of pace for the group. Work to improve on leading the out-of-comfort-zone teaching activities. Doing so gives us extra tools we can use in the future in those pressure moments.
Look at the samples in the Curriculum Sampler, paying attention to the pages that explain the pages designed for the teacher. Consider how the ideas found in the Explore the Bible resources can help you improve as a teacher. What next steps do you need to take?