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The interactive teacher: Sister Neill F. Marriott shares how to lead students to deeper conversion

The interactive teacher is one who allows the learners to engage in discussion as they work to apply the gospel principles to their own understanding. It takes courage to be an interactive teacher! It means breaking away from the old methods and trusting the learners to participate and sometimes lead the discussion. This nurturing of understanding requires the teacher to step back and give the learner an opportunity to express himself or herself.

“Teachers should believe that the Holy Ghost will carry the gospel message to each student and prompt application of gospel principles according to their needs and circumstances. A teacher should remember that it is ‘the Comforter which was sent forth to teach the truth’ (Doctrine and Covenants 50:14)” (“Preparing to Teach,” Gospel Teaching and Learning: A Handbook for Teachers and Leaders in Seminaries and Institutes of Religion (2012), pp. 47–57).

Elder David A. Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught, “Learning by faith requires spiritual, mental, and physical exertion and not just passive reception. ... A student must exercise faith and act in order to obtain the knowledge for himself or herself” (“Seek Learning by Faith,” Ensign, September 2007). How does applying these principles of teaching change the way we teach?

Consider this familiar situation: An earnest teacher prepares diligently for her upcoming class by studying the “Prepare Yourself Spiritually” section of her Come, Follow Me outline. She comes to class filled with testimony of the doctrine of the lesson, she has several pertinent examples which she shares as well as a video to back up the principles. She offers her solid understanding of truth as the lesson progresses and ends.

Now consider the question: Did she follow the inspired guidelines for teaching in the pattern of Come, Follow Me? Her teaching was filled with good things, but she could do more to engage her young women in the discussion. She can invite them to interact and share their insights about the doctrine. She can help them gain confidence in articulating their personal faith or understanding. She can invite and encourage the girls to share their understanding of the scriptures they’ve read. Her class can apply the doctrine to their individual lives through discussion. If the teacher does all or most of the testifying, teaching and sharing, then the lesson will not reach its full potential. Perhaps the underlying question is: Does the teacher believe her young women have personal belief and insights to share? If so, she can create a climate of sharing and then allow them to offer these feelings.

The “Prepare Yourself Spiritually” section of each Come, Follow Me lesson is for the teacher’s personal, spiritual readiness as she plans the lesson content. It is not the full content of the lesson and it is not intended to be the outline for the lesson. Teachers should use this section to prepare to lead a discussion. This way, students’ personal engagement in doctrine, that is, their pondering, applying, and discussing, brings about the true learning environment in the classroom. These activities usually do not happen if the teacher is only pouring out what she prepared and planned for the lesson. True learning comes best when the learner is actively engaged in the learning process.

That is not to say that the teacher should open up a Ping-Pongmatch of questions — you’ve experienced it — the teacher asks a question; a student gives an answer. The teacher asks another question, and a student gives an answer. Back and forth, back and forth like a Ping-Pong ball being batted to and fro. Information may be shared, but personal understanding and application may not be happening. Teaching can and should be much, much more than the dissemination of information.

For that earnest teacher in the example, letting go of the dialogue in her class may be unnerving. She knows where she is spiritually prepared to go in the lesson, and she may be concerned that if she opens the class for discussion, it might take a turn she didn’t expect. A student may take a principle and apply it personally in a way the teacher didn’t anticipate, but that is probably an indication that the Holy Ghost is working in that student’s heart and mind. That is good. From such spiritual moments, true learning will come. And as the Spirit touches a student, others (including the teacher) can be inspired by the insights to deeper understanding and relevance to their own lives.

As students are encouraged to articulate their understanding of truth, the truth will begin to take root in their hearts. It will be as the seed in Alma 32:28, “Now, if ye give place, that a seed may be planted in your heart, behold, if it be a true seed, or a good seed, if ye do not cast it out by your unbelief … it will begin to swell within your breasts; … ye will begin to say … that this is a good seed, or that the word is good, for it beginneth to enlarge my soul, yea it beginneth to enlighten my understanding, yea, it beginneth to be delicious to me.”

A teacher can have the good seed in her heart through her spiritual preparation but the more she allows the students to plant this truth in their own hearts by their own questions, thoughts, and sharing in class, she then “gives place” for optimal growth of faith in the learners’ testimonies. Teachers, have courage! You are prepared. Trust that the Spirit will guide you as you open your lesson and invite the young women to participate. Together you’ll discover how delicious, nourishing, and sustaining the gospel can be.