Learning about learning
Learning about learning

Young learners

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of posts by students in Kyle and Lisa’s Digital Media for Ministry class at Virginia Theological Seminary.

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

Clergy 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 and book studies to Theology on Tap, our leaders often find themselves being asked to teach new material to (mostly) eager learners. Yet historically we have done little in the way of empowering our leaders with the necessary tools to be successful.

Sure, specific parishes may have one or two trained people doing the heavy lifting, but their training is often only specific to the program they’re using and does not address the larger question of how and why we teach 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.

We have to educate ourselves about 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.

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.

Nic Mather is an M.Div middler at Virginia Theological Seminary. His Digital Media for Ministry class project involves creating online modules for an evangelism training program. You can read his original post here.

Image credit: “First grade reading” by Woodley Wonderworks via Flicker (CC BY 2.0).

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