The lesson is inside the learner, but it is the responsibility of a teacher to facilitate learning, Brother Russell T. Osguthorpe, Sunday School general president, said during Campus Education Week at Brigham Young University on Aug. 20.
This year's annual conference, from Aug. 19-23, brought more than 18,000 visitors to the BYU campus, including people from almost every state and 14 countries outside of the United States. This year's theme, "A People of Profound Learning," comes from the words of President Brigham Young. The devotional address was given by Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve on Aug. 20 (see the Aug. 25 edition of the Church News, p. 4).
During his presentation, Brother Osguthorpe spoke of the important role of a teacher. "I've got all the content I could possibly ever want right here in my pocket on my smartphone," he said. "I can get content, I can look up scriptures. So to come together to have somebody just deliver content is not very sensible. … What we need to do when we come together is counsel with one another about how we are going to take that principle of the gospel and better our lives."
Looking at the Latin term educore meaning "to educate," Brother Osguthorpe said it is the responsibility of teachers to help learners draw out what already lies inside of them. Rather than just lecturing to a class, teachers must help others start a fire of desire to learn more.
Drawing from the words of President Thomas S. Monson, Brother Osguthorpe said, "The calling of lecturers does not exist in the Church. A lecturer imparts knowledge. A teacher invites class members to participate. A lecturer tries to dump something on the [listeners] and a teacher invites class members to learn and impart the things they have felt."
Teachers must figure out what is going on with the learners by watching, observing and listening, he said. Using Doctrine and Covenants 88:122 as a guide, Brother Osguthorpe said: "Appoint among yourselves a teacher, and let not all be spokesmen at once; but let one speak at a time and let all listen unto his sayings, that when all have spoken that all may be edified of all, and that every man may have an equal privilege."
Sharing examples found in the new youth curriculum, "Come, Follow Me," Brother Osguthorpe said that it is by following the teaching pattern set by the Savior that instructors will be most effective with their students. The Sunday School president told listeners that they can look to many of the same resources to prepare all lessons — including those beyond a Church building.
"Church members oftentimes ask when there will be a new curriculum for adults," Brother Osguthorpe said. "Someday. But in the meantime, we can rely on principles in 'Come, Follow Me' as we teach adults."
One of the most important roles of a teacher is to observe, he said. Instructors need to pay close attention to the signs their class members are giving them to figure out what is going on with the learners.
"We have got to keep watching, observing, listening to what they are saying," he said. "There are so many signals, if you watch them, you will see what they are saying. If they are frustrated, if they don't know what to do, if they aren't understanding something, then you need to — as the teacher — do something to correct that."
It is through paying attention to the class and the guidance of the Spirit that teachers are able to teach more effectively.
"We want to teach people, not lessons," he said. "We can't be too constrained by the lesson plans we've got."
He warned teachers of being too focused on trying to get through and cover every little bit of content they have prepared for a lesson. Teachers must prepare and know the doctrine, not so they can share it all but so they can be flexible within their lessons.
"We stay flexible as teachers, so that we can be open to what might happen next," he said. "Not that everything is programmed or predictable and always rigid and set."
One of the things that makes "Come Follow Me" so effective is the emphasis it places on getting everyone in the class involved, allowing the youth to prepare sections of the lesson to teach.
"Let them teach," he said. "It does not mean that you just turn to a young person and say, 'here is the manual, you've got the lesson next week.' … Give them a chance to stand and bear their testimony of what they know."
Those opportunities invite everyone to participate, Brother Osguthorpe said.
"These young women and young men are standing up and bearing their testimony," he said. "The teacher did not have to assign everyone to do it. … As they start talking to each other they learn from one another and get insight that they would normally not have. … This is what happens when I see a youth class that is doing right."
The scriptures teach that Jesus didn't just lecture, He taught by asking questions, inviting others to talk and by helping others discover the gospel for themselves. He facilitated learning among His disciples and then invited them to act. It is through following the Savior and learning to teach in His way that lives will be changed forever, the gospel will be put into practice and the Spirit will be with the teachers and the learners. As true conversion comes, individuals will make choices to be obedient and worthy.
"A class can be like a council, where we all teach and learn from each other," Brother Osguthorpe said. "This is His work, and He will help us."