Learn Best Teaching Practices from “Gifted Teachers”

Contributed By Brother Devin Durrant, Sunday School general presidency

  • 25 August 2015

A well-worn copy of the standard works shows a teacher’s love for the scriptures.  Photo courtesy of Brother Devin Durrant.

Article Highlights

  • We can learn from teachers that teach in the Savior’s way.
  • One teacher showed her love for her class by knowing them by name and finding sincere ways to have them participate.
  • Another teacher balanced teaching doctrine and allowing students to search for their own answers.

“In my opinion, one of the best ways to improve as a teacher is to watch other gifted teachers teach.” —Brother Devin Durrant of the Sunday School general presidency

Members of the Sunday School general presidency have the opportunity to visit various wards and observe the teaching that takes place. After my visits, I often walk away with a feeling of gratitude in my heart for the excellent teachers I have witnessed as they blessed the lives of their learners.

In my opinion, one of the best ways to improve as a teacher is to watch other gifted teachers teach. Our prime example of perfect gospel instruction is our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We should all pay particular attention to how He taught His gospel as we study His life and do our best to follow His example.

Improvement also comes as we observe our fellow teachers who teach in the Savior’s way. New thoughts and ideas come to each of us as we feel the promptings of the Holy Spirit when we observe and enjoy the instruction given by a fellow teacher.

In recent months, I have enjoyed being taught by two terrific teachers. Let me share with you some of the lesson highlights with the hope that you might gain an idea or two that would help you feel more effective and confident as a teacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Sister Farnsworth

I first attended an adult Gospel Doctrine class taught by Sister Kristen Farnsworth of the South Mountain 1st Ward in Draper, Utah. She has been serving in her current calling for two years.

Early in the lesson, Sister Farnsworth caught my attention after a class member made a heartfelt comment about what his recently deceased wife had noted in her copy of the scriptures, which he was using that day. She said, “I wish I could print what you said on a card and hand it out to everyone.” I thought to myself, “What a wonderfully warm and sincere response to a class member’s comment!”

I then observed the following during the balance of the class:

  • She called each person who commented by name. It was evident she had made an effort to get to know each of her learners and to remember their names.

  • She was skillful in inviting comments from her learners. She enhanced the conversation by highlighting key elements of what was shared by the class members. She also clarified doctrine as needed. In addition, she used class comments to set up other principles she planned to teach later in the lesson.

  • She enhanced her lesson with the use of pictures from the Gospel Library. These visual images helped invite the learners into the lesson.

  • Her questions invited powerful responses. After class she told me that she spends time carefully crafting questions that will invite thought and testimony sharing.

  • As we discussed the parable of the prodigal son, she invited each of us to look at this parable with new, fresh eyes. She asked us to consider what name we might have given to this parable if we would have had the responsibility to name it. I enjoyed this mental exercise and the time to reflect on this story about a father and his sons. Beautiful and insightful titles were given: “A Good Father’s Hope,” “No Servants Here!” “The Challenges and Blessings of Parenthood,” as well as opportunities to share the thoughts behind the “new” titles for the parable.

  • In her wisdom, she found the perfect balance between her instruction and the instruction that was coming from the learners under her direction. So often as teachers we feel compelled to share everything we have prepared, and in so doing we stifle those we teach who also have studied the lesson in advance.

She concluded her lesson by asking us to consider how we might apply what we had discussed.

I could feel the love Sister Farnsworth had for those she was teaching (see Handbook 2, 5.5.4).

Sister Heriford

Two weeks later, I visited a youth Sunday School class made up of nine girls and boys ages 14 and 15. This class was taught by Sister Jan Heriford of the Grandview 21st Ward in Provo, Utah.

Sister Heriford started her class by saying, “I absolutely love the lesson we are going to have today.” What an upbeat way to start class! Sister Heriford’s positive opening comment drew me into the lesson. I was anxious to hear what she was so excited to teach about.

Prior to class, she had written six words on the board: Who? What? Where? When? Why? How?

The discussion centered on personal scripture study and the blessings that come when we consider the answers to those one-word questions as they relate to a particular verse or verses of scripture.

She then gave a sample verse and shared with the class her answers to the six questions. With a clear understanding of the learning method, she invited each class member to find a scripture they would like to share with the class along with the answers to the six question words.

What followed was uplifting and inspiring as these young people each took a minute or two to share their understanding and feelings regarding verses of scripture that had touched them personally in one way or another.

As each person concluded his or her remarks, my heart was warmed as I listened to sincere praise from a loving teacher. I also watched Sister Heriford skillfully add to the doctrine being taught by her young class members.

I was impressed at the balance this sister found as she taught true principles and also gave time to her learners to apply these principles in a testimony-building way. Sister Heriford was so skillful at inviting diligent learning (see Handbook 2, 5.5.4).

She then asked her class for other ideas on enhancing the learning and understanding of the scriptures. They responded by sharing the importance of reading the footnotes, using the Topical Guide, taking time to look at cross-references, reading from the Bible Dictionary, looking for types and patterns, and using Preach My Gospel as a study tool.

As she concluded she said, “I love spending time in the scriptures.” The visual—her well-worn copy of the standard works, which she had placed on the table at the front of the class—was evidence of her love for God’s words.

She then invited her learners to try out one of the new study methods that had been suggested during class in the coming weeks. She asked her class members to be prepared to share what they learned when they met again.

What a blessing it is to be a teacher of the gospel of Jesus Christ! May we strive to magnify our callings and teach to strengthen conversion as these two sisters are doing.