learning about learning

“The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher,that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens—wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught”-Isaiah 50:4

Priests and Lay leaders do a surprising amount of teaching that closely models what you’d find in a generic classroom setting. From Sunday School to Adult Forums, Lenten Bible/Book Studies to Theology on Tap, oftentimes our leaders find themselves being asked to teach new material to (mostly) eager learners, and yet historically we have done little in the way of empowering our leaders with the necessary tools to be successful. Now your specific parish may have one or two trained people doing the heavy lifting, but their training is often only specific to the program they’re utilizing and does not address the larger question of how and why we teach in the way we do. In order to be successful as Christian educators, we have to learn what makes those things we teach engaging and memorable. We have to learn about learning.

In order to reach the students, we as teachers must hold up this simple question: What do students need to learn?

To answer this question, it is important that we go beyond learning specific skills and programs to implement. We have to educate ourselves to the why behind these programs. What about them is successful? How do they connect with learners? And, perhaps most importantly, where do they come up short?

If we do not first learn how to engage students at a basic level, we cannot hope to successfully reach all of these learners. It is important to understand how learning styles, unfamiliarity with teaching techniques, and general life interruptions have an impact on learning. It is also important to understand how these things impact our own teaching. If we choose to not recognize both sides of this coin, then we are setting up ourselves for failure. It is imperative that we recognize this shortcoming and commit to learning about learning, holding all educators in our churches to this same standard.

This realization has been especially interesting for me to digest and process. Confidence can only carry one so far, there has to be a firm foundation upon which to build a successful learning environment. This means getting to know our students, their backgrounds, and their expectations for learning. It also means continuing to educate ourselves. Without the education on learning, our programs will be sure to sputter and have a rough go at it, something that I am intimately familiar with as both teacher and student.

In the passage from Isaiah posted above, we see the relationship that exists between teacher and student. Having received the gift for teaching, we are tasked with “sustaining the weary,” encouraging the dejected, empowering the faithful. And yet, we must also listen. We must listen “as those who are taught,” for if we assume that as the teacher we know it all, we are almost guaranteed to lose those students who have come to us seeking to learn. We have to be willing to utilize our spiritual gift of teaching, and in so doing, continue to be open to the education that comes from God in many different forms.

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