Weighing Needs: Communicating the Better Way


There has been no time in the history of the world when the challenge to follow our Savior, Jesus Christ, has been greater than it is in our day. There is, therefore, no greater challenge that can come to any person than to have the great privilege of teaching youth to place their hands in the hand of our Savior, to help them strengthen their testimonies, and to build their relationships with him.

This challenge is greater today because of the many subtle temptations and destructive forces that the adversary is using. The fulfillment of this challenge lies in our ability to communicate to those we teach the urgency and desire to be true to the covenants we have made and to follow the brethren who lead this great latter-day work.

Too often, however, our communication is a communication of words, not a communication of spirit. We as teachers forget that our students do not care how much we know until they know how much we care. It is so easy for us to become wrapped up in our own affairs that we lose sight of the Savior’s exhortation that blessed are those who lose their lives in the service of others. As we analyze our ability to communicate with the young, let us keep foremost in our minds the fact that effective communication—that which will change undesirable behavior or sustain good behavior—is based on our ability to communicate at the feeling level and not just at the telling level or the reasoning level.

A teacher who communicates at the telling level does not take sufficient time to prepare, and even if he does, his main concern is subject matter. His class is typified by lectures, unloading of information, and even reading of parts of the lesson in class. The students become passive listeners who wait patiently for the class to end. While they find themselves physically within the confines of the class, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally they are miles from the physical setting.

A teacher who feels he has discharged his duty when he has merely unloaded subject matter has failed to communicate positive feelings and attitudes. If the subject matter is learned by the students, it is rapidly forgotten and never considered significant. There is a better way to communicate, if we will pay the price.

The second level at which a teacher may communicate can be called the rational or reasoning level. At this level the teacher gives more time to preparation and subject matter and perhaps to its relationship to students. However, he is still primarily concerned with the subject matter and not the student’s needs. He goes to class with the lesson prepared and well-thought-out, and uses lecture, discussion, and questioning techniques. He desires students to wrestle with subject matter and to give their reactions.

The class may be interesting to the students; they may even find themselves challenged in relation to the subject being taught and the problems being considered. They are apt to remark when the class is over that it was an interesting class, and the teacher will probably go from the classroom feeling that he has taught a good lesson. It is doubtful, however, whether he has really communicated to students in a “me-here-and-now world” in a way that is lasting. There is a better way to communicate, if we will pay the price.

The final level of communication, and by far the most important, is at the feeling level. This is communication with the heart. It is important because testimonies come mainly from an education of the heart.

In working for this level of communication, the teacher places the students and their needs first. He realizes that his students do not care how much he as a teacher knows or how cleverly he can manipulate the subject matter. They are deeply concerned with such things as these: “Is this teacher interested in me?” “Does he really believe what he is teaching?” “Is he totally committed to the gospel?” “Does he know our Savior and our Father in heaven?”

In striving for this level in communication, the teacher realizes that he can educate the mind without educating the heart, but he also realizes that he cannot educate the heart without also educating the mind. He knows that behavior patterns are based on the attitudes and feelings people have on certain principles, and that for desired behavior patterns to be achieved, he must weave them into the experience, attitudes, and emotional framework of the student’s present needs.

The teacher realizes that every student has deep within him an inner circle within which resides a real, genuine, and yearning self. That circle is holy ground. It cannot be entered from without, for there is no force on earth strong enough to unlock the door that forever guards it. A teacher can enter this holy sanctuary only by invitation, and that invitation can come only from the student himself. This invitation will never be given until the student feels the teacher’s sincere, unselfish concern. He will open the door only when he feels he can trust the teacher and realizes that the teacher will treat him with the respect and dignity he deserves.

Needless to say, this level of communication is based on the teacher’s ability not only to understand each student but also to see as the student sees, to hear as the student hears, to interpret as the student interprets, to feel as the student feels. A teacher who communicates at the feeling level never feels a need to convert his students to himself, for he knows that such conversion can be shallow and dangerous. He tries to convert his students to the principles of the gospel and to Jesus Christ. The teacher realizes, then, that he must not stand between the students and God, but that he must forever strive to help students place their hands directly in the hand of God. When a teacher obtains a commitment to communicate with the student at this level, he becomes a great and effective force for good in that student’s life.

Merely desiring to communicate at the feeling level is not sufficient to accomplish the goal, however. The teacher must continually work to realize his objective. There are many specific things he can do.

First, he can prepare himself spiritually. He can devote some time each day to the study and understanding of the great principles of the gospel and how they relate to the whole process of current-day living. He will allow himself time to communicate with his Father in heaven through prayer. During such communications he will listen for answers and discuss with the Lord specific problems that relate to specific students. In prayer and quiet meditation he will seek greater insight and understanding concerning specific students, for he will realize that his Father in heaven holds the key to every person’s heart.

Second, he will seek to become acquainted with the parents, families, and friends of each of his students. This will give him insight into each student’s life and to forces that mold the student’s life. He will concern himself with the student’s daily activities, his hopes, the kinds of activities in which he participates, and something of his successes and failures.

Third, he will make it his business to be in strategic places at strategic times—such as the speech festival when a student is participating, or the concert or the school play, or even just the right seat in sacrament meeting. He will come to know each student well. He will seek opportunities to compliment, to say hello, and to interact with each one.

Fourth, when it comes to giving lessons the teacher will seek to interpret the content in the light of current events and current student needs and problems in order to make the principles of the gospel live. He will see the various achievement programs as opportunities to work with the students in specific ways and to give them opportunities to discuss their aspirations and goals. He will never see such programs as mechanical awards and achievements to be gained, but as opportunities to relate to students in relation to important and eternal principles.

Fifth, a teacher should never pass up the opportunity to share his testimony with his students by the way he lives, the language he uses, and the things he says. Foremost in this regard is the testimony he shares by the way he sustains and supports the inspired leadership of the Church. He lives so as to ever say to his students, “Let us always serve the Lord.”

Yes, to communicate at the feeling level is the better way. It is a wonderful challenge and a great responsibility, for at this level peoples’ lives are changed. It is the better way. Will you pay the price?

Dr. Burton is currently serving as president of the Ohio Mission. He is a past director of personnel for the seminaries and institutes of the Church and a former member of the Sunday School general board. His home is in Provo 21st Ward, Provo North Stake.