Teaching: Co-Learning

Sometimes, those of us who teach can take ourselves too seriously.

We can become stressed about our roles, confused about our audience, and worried that we're going to mess something up. This is a true sign of a sincere spirit. To some degree, every teacher should worry about such things.
But we should never lose sight of the fact that--even though teachers and parents might think so--we're not in charge. Ultimately, it is God who empowers us to minister, bring clarity to those we teach, and be merciful when we make mistakes.
When it comes to teaching in particular, we should not take ourselves so seriously, for the truth is that we are more co-learners than we are teachers. You understand this principle on a basic level--how many times have you made a great spiritual discovery while preparing for a lesson?
Moreover, we are more effective in our teaching when we think of ourselves as experts LESS and as co-learners with students MORE.
What I do not mean is that we should abandon all of our authority, or as our role as an adult in the lives of students. What I do mean is that when we assume our own expertise less, we allow for more authentic, honest discussion and discovery with our students. You may agree with this in principle, but not know how to do it. Here are a few pointers to help you take yourself less seriously and embrace your role as a co-learner more.

Talk Less, Listen More
If you want to abandon your position as expert, talk less. Most kids are lectured at every time they turn around--home, school, etc. The last thing they want is to come to church to be told what to do and how to act. Most people don't learn very much by listening alone. Wrestling with an idea, watching a principle put to the test--these are activities that cause a truth to take root. If you want to start being a better co-learner, resist the urge to talk the whole lesson long.
Instead, ask questions. Don't answer your own questions. Let silence linger. And when kids talk, listen actively.
Be Okay With Saying "I Don't Know"
Have you ever answered a question you knew you didn't really know the answer to? I sure have. I meant well--I felt like I was supposed to know the answer, so I gave it my best shot.
How would our teaching change if we grew comfortable saying, "I don't know." What if instead of faking our way through an answer we instead said to students, "I don't know...let's look that up together." Is it possible that our honesty would result in greater study, deeper relationship, and more meaningful discipleship when we grow comfortable with not knowing everything.
Change Your Posture
It sounds simple, but changing the way you present yourself before students says a lot about how you view yourself in comparison to them. If you stand up while they sit, and you position yourself behind a lectern, you are positioning yourself as an expert. You may know way more than your students, but that doesn't really impress them much. How would you be more effective as a co-learner if you sat in a circle with your kids? How might they view you differently? How might they receive your teaching in a more positive light?

There are other things you can do. Making teaching more conversational is accomplished by asking questions and answering them, too. Even placing them in a more relaxing context, or teaching "as you go" instead of in a structured teaching context can help the questions become more appealing to students.
Again, I am not suggesting that we abandon our responsibilities as leaders. What I am advocating for is our own realization that as leaders, we need to be willing to innovate our own methods to reach students better. In thinking about taking ourselves less seriously and considering what it means to be a co-learner, perhaps we can remember the old saying that summarizes this idea perfectly:
"People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care."
May we care enough to worry about our position less and our effectiveness more.

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