What the Olympic Games and 'Teaching in the Savior's Way' have in common

Recently, I marveled as I watched competitors from around the world compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics. As I observed their performances, I couldn’t help but think of the many hours of disciplined practice they must have logged in order to perform with such incredible agility, strength and grace. Each athlete offered compelling evidence of the value of practice in skill development.

As difficult as consistent practice can be at times, no one would dispute its importance in developing a talent. The Bible teaches a supporting principle — you reap what you sow (Galatians 6:7).

How does that relate to teaching at church or in our homes? President Boyd K. Packer once said, “The gift to teach must be earned, and once it is earned, it must be nourished if it is to be kept” (Boyd K. Packer, Teach Ye Diligently, pg. 345). My interpretation of that quote is, “If you want to be a more Christlike teacher, it’s going to take a lot of effort and practice, and then in order to improve as a teacher, you must continue to practice, practice, practice.”

With the introduction of Teaching in the Savior’s Way in April of 2016, we were given a comfortable and convenient venue in which we could practice — teacher councils. A teacher council consists of three elements:

• First, we are invited to Share and Counsel with each other.

• Second, we Learn Together one or more principles related to learning and teaching.

• Third, we Practice.

How are you doing as a ward with these three primary areas of emphasis? In my observations, we are doing a stellar job with Share and Counsel. It’s easy and comfortable. What about the Learn Together section? Is there room for improvement here? In a few teacher councils I have observed, there was minimal use of the scriptures during Learn Together and/or the Teaching in the Savior’s Way manual was largely ignored. With a little effort, that can easily be improved in our teacher councils.

Our biggest area of struggle seems to be the third element — Practice. We tend to avoid the Practice element in teacher council for three reasons:

• First, we don’t know how to practice a teaching skill.

• Second, practice can make us feel uncomfortable.

• Third, we don’t leave enough time to practice.

Recently, I asked a Sunday School president why they didn’t practice a teaching skill in teacher council. He was very direct in his response. He said, “We don’t know how to practice.” In response, I suggested we open the Teaching in the Savior’s Way manual and I invited him to read a Practice suggestion in the “For The Discussion Leader” section which is found in each of the outlines. He did so and smiled. He could see the vision of meaningful practice for his teachers. He then committed to making Practice a part of all subsequent teacher councils in his ward.

I recall how awkward I felt when I was first asked to practice a teaching skill as an adult. It happened in the MTC as I was preparing to serve with my wife, Julie, as a mission president couple. I felt inadequate in my first attempt. But as I continued to practice, my confidence grew and each practice became more comfortable. I was later in a position to invite my missionaries to practice their teaching skills. I was able to observe in myself and later in my missionaries, the importance of practicing our teaching skills.

The scriptures teach that the Holy Ghost helps us remember the things Jesus Christ taught (John 14:26). As we strive to improve our teaching, the Holy Ghost can more readily perform His important role in the learning and teaching process.

I invite all Sunday School presidencies to ask themselves after each teacher council, “Did our teachers improve their teaching skills by attending teacher council today?” I believe the more you allow your teachers to practice during teacher council, the more that answer will be, “Yes.”

Lastly, if you find you don’t have time to practice during teacher council, consider occasionally starting off your council with the practice portion or diligently reserving the last 10-15 minutes of each council as practice time. May the Lord bless each of you in your ongoing teaching efforts at home and at church and may we always remember, “the gift to teach must be earned.”

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