Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sunday School General Presidency Stresses Improved Learning and Teaching

Last summer when I was called to serve in my stake’s Sunday school presidency, my brother (currently serving in a bishopric) said that he had told his stake president that he’d pay 20% tithing for a “peripheral” calling like that.  I replied that the calling’s lower demand nature would be great were it not for my four other (actually five other) callings, one of which is quite demanding.

Each year prior to April general conference, the LDS Church’s Sunday school general presidency holds training sessions for Sunday school leaders at the Conference Center in Salt Lake City.  Since I was unable to attend last week’s session due to another commitment, I drove straight to Salt Lake after work last night for the reprisal of that session.

I’m not a guy that likes to have meetings just to have meetings, but I’m pretty faithful in attending meetings that I should be at.  It really wasn’t my idea of fun to leave the house at 6 am when most family members were still asleep and not return until 9 pm when the youngest are heading to bed.  But the stake presidency asked me to go to the meeting, so I did.

Having attended many church training meetings in my lifetime, I think last night’s event was one of the better ones.  Quite frankly, it has been fairly common for me to leave priesthood leadership training meetings feeling beat up, having been told with great boldness the manifold ways we are screwing up.  To top it off, the leaders for whom those messages are mostly intended are rarely in attendance at such meetings.  (Go figure.)  I know I’m not the only one that feels this way about those meetings.

Last night was different.  I left the meeting feeling spiritually uplifted with some valuable tools I can use in my calling.  The 90-minute meeting was engaging and interesting.  The general presidency purposefully, yet skillfully used a variety of communication and teaching methods that kept the attendees involved.  This was a departure from the standard two-hour lecture series common to most large leadership meetings.

Well, most of the attendees appeared to be engaged.  The brother seated behind me fell asleep and started making funny high-pitched whiny noises until the gentleman next to him woke the man from his nightmare.  I’ve heard snoring in meetings plenty of times, but rarely have I heard people talk or make other noises during their meeting time slumber sessions.

The main emphasis of the event was on improving learning and teaching in the church.  Learning can take place without a teacher, but teaching cannot take place unless learning occurs.  One may go through the actions of teaching without reaching the students.  Church leaders and teachers should be the best learners so that they can help others learn.

One of the communication methods used was interactive polling.  Each attendee was given an electronic device.  The speaker would put a polling question up on the screen and we’d click a button to respond.  The responses were immediately calculated before our eyes.

One such question dealt with providing orientation for members that receive new callings.  It was clear from the responses that local church leaders need to do much better at this.  Orientation sessions should be sit-down affairs that last 15-30 minutes, not something that happens in the hallway.

During the orientation, one or more members of the presidency of the organization in which the member will be serving should provide the member with the resources needed to properly fulfill the calling.  For example, when orienting a new Sunday school teacher, members of the ward Sunday school presidency should:
  • ·         Provide the class roll, help familiarize the teacher with the class members, and explain any important issues.
  • ·         Explain protocol (meeting room, time, classroom procedure, etc).  Maybe the meeting could occur in the room where the class will be held.
  • ·         Provide the current curriculum.  Tell the teacher it’s theirs to keep and mark up.  Show the teacher which lesson will be taught next.
  • ·         Give the teacher a copy of Teaching, No Greater Call, and go over the section on preparing lessons (chapters 30-35).
  • ·         Address any concerns the new teacher has.
One brother asked whether the Sunday school presidency should train all newly called teachers in the ward.  The answer was no.  Although the ward Sunday school presidency is responsible for all teaching that occurs in the ward (including visiting teaching, home teaching, and family home evenings), they should only orient Sunday school teachers.  They can and should invite leaders of other organizations to receive training on how to manage their organization’s teachers, but such invitations should be free of coercion (D&C 121:41-42).

Organization presidencies are also responsible for ongoing teacher support.  Among the ideas offered were:
  • ·         Visits.
  • ·         Group training.
  • ·         Individual contact.
  • ·         Asking teachers to review specific chapters of Teacher, No Greater Call.
  • ·         Asking teachers what the presidency can do to help them.
The general presidency wants church members and leaders to make much greater use of the church’s online resources.  One question dealt with how often and why people have accessed the Sunday school website.  I thought this was funny because I had been using the site via my phone while waiting for the meeting to start.

We were told to watch for a new teaching website to come online within a few weeks and for a leadership library show up this summer.

Finally, the general presidency wrapped up with each member emphasizing one of Elder Bednar’s three points of gospel learning as described in Sunday School General President Russell T. Osguthorpe’s October 2009 general conference talk:
  1. Teach key doctrine.
  2. Invitation to action.
  3. Bear witness of promised blessings.


All teaching in the church should be both spiritually edifying and doctrinally correct.  Sunday school presidencies are responsible for ensuring that proper doctrine is taught in church settings.  It was noted that teachers are sometimes so disorganized or vague that it’s not clear what doctrine is being taught.  The Spirit has difficulty bearing witness of such insubstantial stuff.  And while discussions about peripheral matters can be stimulating, we are to focus on key doctrines in church settings.

Invitation to action on the principles taught is essential to people enacting positive changes in their lives.  Failing to do so is like a chef taking people on a tour of a marvelous feast prepared in his kitchen without inviting them to partake.  Teachers should not shy away from issuing properly inspired invitations to implement gospel principles.  Learning theory is great, but the real value lies in doing.

It was noted that some teachers don’t like promising blessings because they are not priesthood leaders.  But teachers aren’t being asked to invent new promises.  They are being asked to gain their own witness and then testify of the promises that God has already made through proper channels.  People need to understand the positive consequences that will result from their honorable actions.  This helps provide motivation to act.  It is an essential element of improving lives.

Church teachers and leaders should always be asking themselves how people’s lives will be improved by what they do as they carry out their callings.  If it what they are doing won’t improve people’s lives, they’re doing it wrong.

As I left the meeting last night, I was glad I attended, despite the inconvenience.  Our presidency now has material to use for the training meeting we are going to lead next month.  But more importantly, I left the meeting smiling, feeling spiritually uplifted and empowered to better fulfill my calling.

4 comments:

BDH said...

Reach,
WOW, great information, I really wish I could have been there. With your permission, I'd like to use your post for training in our ward. I'm looking forward to the new websites and updated material. Thanks for sharing your experience.

Reach Upward said...

Go ahead and use what you would like. But note that the content comes from one person's notes and is necessarily tainted by my personal interpretation of the meeting.

No doubt the notes of others that attended the meeting would differ from my own notes. There is always some risk when disseminating second-hand information as opposed to an actual transcript.

So I'd advise using the spirit of discernment that comes with your calling and listening to the Spirit when deciding what is appropriate to use for your ward's training purposes.

BDH said...

I hope you're still planning on attending this conference season. I'll look forward to your post.

Reach Upward said...

I was released from the stake Sunday School presidency a couple of months ago, so I won't be attending the general Sunday School meeting this time around.