Seminary and institute teachers must look to the Savior's example as they teach gospel doctrines and principles, Elder Dallin H. Oaks of the Quorum of the Twelve said during the annual Seminary and Institute August Broadcast for Church Educational System Instructors. The broadcast, which originated in the Conference Center Theater on Aug. 7, was translated into 23 languages and is available to instructors from countries all around the world via the CES website — si.lds.org..
Drawing from the new handbook for seminary and institute teachers, Gospel Teaching and Learning, Elder Oaks shared the defined purpose of teachers.
Teachers are called and hired "to help youth and young adults understand and rely on the teachings and Atonement of Jesus Christ, qualify for the blessings of the temple, and prepare themselves, their families and others for eternal life with their Father in Heaven" (p. 1).
To achieve that purpose, the handbook encourages instructors to implement various fundamentals of gospel teaching and learning.
"A good teacher, like the Good Shepherd we serve, concentrates entirely on the needs of the sheep — those being taught," Elder Oaks said. "As true undershepherds, we never focus on ourselves or let our presence or our teaching methods obscure our students' view of the Master. We do not look upon our calling as 'giving or presenting a lesson,' because that is self-centered. We are not called to perform some personal task that can be measured by our efforts and our accomplishments. Our responsibility is to be instruments in the hands of the Master, to do His work — teaching the children of God — in His way.
"In furtherance of that sacred responsibility, we will never be satisfied with going through the motions of teaching — however excellently done — but will measure the effect of our teaching by its righteous impact on the life of each individual student. Students with gospel teachers who desire that result and measure their efforts in that way will feel and be influenced by the true love behind that desire — not only the love of the teacher but the love of the Good Shepherd whom we seek to serve."
To illustrate some of the fundamentals, a pre-recorded video showed a discussion between Elder Oaks and five seminary and institute instructors and administrators: Chad H. Webb, Administrator of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion; Zachary Horton, a seminary teacher in the Salt Lake area; Kevin Brown, a coordinator from Jamaica; Matthew Pope, from the training services division; and Colleen Terry, an institute teacher at the Orem, Utah Institute.
Each participant shared personal insight and experiences to help teach some of the fundamentals of the gospel relevant to teaching. They focused on four topics and offered tips and ideas for teachers.
Creating unity with those we work with, serve and teach.
"How can we achieve unity with those of whom we teach?" Elder Oaks asked the group, and added. "Surely love for the students is an essential ingredient for a seminary or institute classroom."
Unity with other teachers and with students is crucial to effective teaching, and one of the key elements of unity is love, said some of the participants.
When students feel loved, they are more apt to be taught, the panel discussed. Some of the ways teachers can show love is through how they invite and respond to class participation, and by fostering an environment where students feel safe to share their thoughts and express testimony.
Teaching as directed by the Spirit.
"When we teach gospel doctrines and principles, we can qualify for the witness and guidance of the Spirit to reinforce our teaching," Elder Oaks said. "It is our duty and our privilege to seek to obtain that level of spirituality where the topics we teach to our students will be directed by the Spirit, rather than being pre-arranged for our own preference or convenience."
It is through preparation and relying on the influence of the Holy Ghost — setting aside personal expertise and preferences — that teachers are able to reach the hearts of those they teach. Instructors should help students experience the Spirit, rather than just telling them about it.
Encourage daily scripture study.
One of the key elements of effective teaching is teaching students how to read the scriptures on their own. Teaching students how to apply the scriptures to their lives and find insight in their reading helps encourage making scripture reading a priority in life.
"It is going to change more lives to read carefully and ponder, than it is to cover a certain number of pages." Elder Oaks also spoke of the need to encourage the quality of study, rather than the quantity.
An important part of scripture study is prayer before reading. "When I go to the table to eat I don't take physical nourishment without asking the Lord to bless that food to nourish and strengthen my body," Elder Oaks said. "Similarly, I think when we study the scriptures we should bow our heads and pray ... that the Lord will bless us that we will understand what we are reading."
Enrollment and retaining more potential students.
One of the challenges facing seminary and institute programs today is students dropping out of seminary or not enrolling. Among available resources to help become aware of potential students are bishops and local church leaders who have greater information about individuals in their units. Another effective tool includes enlisting the help of active students — their influence has a great impact on other students, the instructors said.
With all of the fundamentals, the most important principle is to become like the Savior by concentrating on the personal needs of those being taught, Elder Oaks said.
"These principles are true," he concluded. "This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As His servant I invoke these blessings upon you in your sacred responsibility of teaching, whether professionally or as a calling."