We Continually Seek to Improve

Richard Hawks

Seminaries and Institutes of Religion Satellite Broadcast • August 6, 2013


A few years ago, my wife and I stopped by my office late in the evening to gather a few things. In the hallway we met a woman and chatted with her for a few minutes. When she discovered that I was a seminary teacher, her face lit up, and she said, “Seminary teacher? Do you know … ?” and she said a name. I told her that I knew the person, and she responded with much happiness, “Will you please tell him that I finally made it to the temple?” I said that I would, and we said good-bye. I still wonder what her teacher had done to nurture such a long-lasting desire to qualify herself for the blessings of the temple. Whatever it was, it was right!

I express the genuine appreciation of the administration for your dedicated service and for all that you are doing that is right. We value your contribution and know that you are making a positive difference in the lives of your students.

Now, as good as things may be, we still must get better. Many of our leaders have been telling us this repeatedly. We have been asked to “raise our sights.”1 We have been shown that “the world … is changing rapidly,”2 and so are the tactics of the adversary. We have been told that “we … can’t do things exactly the way we did them 10 or 20 years ago and assume that’s enough” because “what was sufficient then will not offer adequate protection now.”3

My message today is intended to inspire a unified and persistent commitment toward getting better. In the words of our objective, I ask all of us to “continually seek to improve our performance, knowledge, attitude, and character.”4

This type of commitment was planted in my heart more than 20 years ago when, as a new seminary teacher, I heard Elder Jeffrey R. Holland offer the following counsel:

“To a group of professional teachers, surely it need not be belabored that after we’ve prepared and purified ourselves to have the companionship of the Spirit of the Lord, it is then required of us to develop genuine mastery in our profession using the best educational techniques we can employ and honing our skills for as long as we are privileged to enter that classroom. We need to devote the same kind of effort toward improving our teaching abilities that men and women in any other profession would exert, be they physicians or attorneys or computer experts or microbiologists.

“In the Church Educational System it is essential but not sufficient that we be good men or women. We must also be good at what we do. We must be very good. Our subject matter and the lives of our students demand that we give our very best effort in our teaching.”5

If that doesn’t motivate us to keep growing, I don’t know what will.

Our Gospel Teaching and Learning handbook reminds us that we all have within us “a portion of divinity that engenders a desire to improve, to progress, [and] to become more like Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. [Teachers] should continually cultivate this desire and, with the help of the Lord and others, act on impressions that lead to improvement.”6

I invite you to listen for such impressions to help you grow. I promise they will come.

Such a prompting came to one of our colleagues in Russia. His name is Aleksandr Drachov. Over a period of time, Brother Drachov had impressions that he needed to learn English. He was also encouraged by a caring priesthood leader and a thoughtful area director who told him that learning English would bring great improvement in his personal life, in his priesthood service, and especially in his career. This all began six years ago, and now Brother Drachov speaks English without much difficulty. I know it wasn’t easy for him, but I also know there have been many great blessings because of it—not the least of which being the help he has provided for the many English-speaking missionary couples that have served throughout the Novosibirsk and Vladivostok missions.

Like Brother Drachov, I believe we all get ideas now and again to improve and learn new things. Such thoughts can be inspired of the Holy Ghost, particularly when the desires are intended to serve Heavenly Father and His children. I felt the truth of this principle a few years ago as I visited the class of one of our newly appointed seminary teachers, Brother Matthew Huffaker. During the lesson, Brother Huffaker discussed with his students the first six verses of Exodus, chapter 31, which describe Moses’s search for servants to help with the construction of the tabernacle. It reads:

“And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying,

“See, I have called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah:

“And I have filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, and in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship,

“To devise cunning works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass,

“And in cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of timber, to work in all manner of workmanship.

“And I, behold, I have given with him Aholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan: and in the hearts of all that are wise hearted I have put wisdom, that they may make all that I have commanded thee” (Exodus 31:1–6).

I was impressed with the principles that were identified by the students that day: (1) that every person has unique, God-given abilities that can help the Church and bless others and (2) the Spirit of God will help God’s children discover their talents, even those of a temporal nature, and then help them use those talents to bless others. I was really inspired. I looked around and was happy to see that all of the students seemed to be feeling the influence of the Spirit and were either writing intently in their journals, searching their patriarchal blessings, or highlighting these principles in their scriptures. It was a day never to be forgotten.

In addition to pursuing talents and skills that interest us personally, all of us can experience steady and rewarding improvement by diligently fulfilling our assignments or callings in Seminaries and Institutes of Religion. For example, regular and meaningful improvement can occur as we prepare lessons using the curriculum and as we faithfully participate in inservice training.

For those of you who are employees, you can also improve by creating meaningful professional growth plans, engaging in regular results discussions, and by pursuing additional education through institutions of higher learning. Furthermore, as of 2012, employees can also improve by achieving professional S&I certifications. Wherever you are in your career, whether just beginning, close to retirement, or somewhere in between, there are talents for you to discover, contributions to be made, and better teaching to be achieved.

Brother Allan Rau is our institute director in Cedar City, Utah. Over the last few years, numerous teaching principles have weighed heavily on his mind. One has been the testimony of Alma, that “the preaching of the word [has] a great tendency to lead … people to do that which [is] just” (Alma 31:5). Another is the teaching of President Boyd K. Packer that “true doctrine, understood, changes attitudes and behavior.”7 Brother Rau believed that if he could understand how the word of God and true doctrine have such great power, it could help him increase the effectiveness of his teaching. He decided to put his thinking into a formal paper and make it a certification project.

His efforts produced more than just a document; through his writing, he came to a greater understanding of these powerful principles, which he has subsequently applied in his classroom teaching, his training of other teachers, his work with priesthood leaders, and even with his family.

I recently hosted and recorded a web conference with Brother Rau and his wife, Susan; Brother Kim Peterson, a member of Brother Rau’s faculty; as well as with President Bruce Crankshaw, a stake president of a young single adult stake in Cedar City. I asked these individuals to comment on Brother Rau’s recent emphasis on the word of God and true doctrine in his work. Here is some of what they had to say:

Susan Rau: When he writes his papers, I get to read them several times. I help edit them, and I give some suggestions. And that’s another way that I’ve helped him, I think.

Allan Rau: As long as we’ve known each other, she always gives me great feedback and insight. She’s a great proofreader. I have always loved the intellectual discussions we have together, and so this hasn’t felt like, you know, a real burden in our lives; it’s part of what we do together. So it’s been a nice thing for us. I think the value of these kinds of efforts in this particular certification hasn’t just affected the classroom. It’s affected our family, meaning that over the years and in the last year we have been more sensitive to teaching our children doctrine and helping them discover it. It’s affected my calling in the Church, where I’m a little more sensitive to and focused upon that, and in life in general.

Susan Rau: And I think I also tried to implement it into my life and in my callings and when I teach.

Kim Peterson: A lot of areas, especially this year in inservice training, that maybe were blind spots for me—so inservice training helped me discover things that I didn’t even know I wanted to improve. And then, lo and behold, here are these great opportunities. For example, this year, just the idea of helping students feel doctrine—I don’t think I had ever thought of that before. And currently, that’s what I’m working on.

Bruce Crankshaw: Brother Rau has done a very good job in collaborating with us and developing a way to approach our priesthood leaders to help them really understand the “why” around institute. And so, as we’ve gone in there and, you know, as he’s come into our stake and really tried to help people get a feeling in their hearts about the power of institute—it’s not talked about class schedules; it’s not talked about how wonderful the teachers are; it’s not talked about how, you know, we start classes early in the morning and end late at night and we can accommodate work. What we’ve talked about is why this system is so critical to their hearts. And so the teaching has all been around how the gospel affects lives and how it affects lives of YSAs. And that resonates with priesthood leaders because they know that they will do anything to protect their YSAs from temptation and sin, and the only way they can do that is if they can help strengthen their YSAs. And so they’ve started to really feel the power of the assistance that an institute class can provide in saving young people from some of the horrendous things that they’re trying to avoid in this world.

We are pleased already with the great number of projects completed or underway—literally hundreds of them. And we are also happy that the process to propose, approve, and complete projects is getting easier and more helpful. If you have not started on something yet, for whatever reason, will you please take part in this wonderful professional development opportunity? And in the spirit of what was shared earlier from Elder Holland, will you devote the needed effort for improvement, if only for your students! They deserve your very best. And your best today can be even better tomorrow. Remember, too, that there are seminary and institute leaders appointed to help you with your efforts, particularly as they relate to your teaching assignments. They love you and, like you, want what is best for your students. Trust them, and seek their help.

For those of you who are leaders in seminaries and institutes, the supervision and development of others is an important part of your work. Remember, those you lead want the best for their students and trust you for the help they need to provide it.

One day last October, I had an inspiring conversation with Brother Raymond Egbo, our area director in West Africa. We were talking about our responsibilities as leaders for guiding performance and for talent improvement. We discussed how some colleagues sometimes feel it is a nuisance to have these duties and processes. Brother Egbo then said something to me that I will never forget. He taught a principle that helped me to see our practices from a doctrinal foundation. He said, in essence, that the work of inspiring and helping others to develop and progress is what our Heavenly Father is always doing. Perhaps, then, the duty of guiding performance in S&I should be understood as a preparation for what is to come to us in the next life, if we are faithful. I believe that is true. Managing performance and supervision in S&I changed for me that day. It became something divine.

In conclusion, I would like to tell you one more story. A couple of weeks ago, my wife, Natalie, and I returned to our home after being away for several hours. She noticed the telephone light was flashing, and she picked it up to retrieve a few voice messages. I was intrigued when she began speaking into the telephone, and I assumed she had called one of the people back who had left a message. When she hung up, she began to giggle and confessed to me that she had actually forgotten she was listening to voice messages and that she had begun to engage in a conversation. We both laughed together. (I need to mention that it was really late, and we were both very tired.) She then confessed that she was even beginning to become a little frustrated because the person on the other end kept interrupting her and wouldn’t answer her questions. Then we really laughed.

I know that today it may be hard for you to listen to this message without being able to ask questions or engage in conversation. This setting does not allow the type of interaction that this topic deserves. I would direct you to the S&I website and to your coordinator or supervisor for specific help with personal and professional improvement.

One of those helps found on our website is an important message from our administrator, Brother Chad Webb. In it he introduces our S&I certifications and explains how this new strategy for certifying and compensating employees grew out of our objective and the value we place on continually seeking to improve our performance, knowledge, attitude, and character. What he said has become, for me, a personal invitation, and I want it to be a quest for all of us.

He said: “Ten years from now we will teach better than we teach right now. We are going to train called teachers better in the future than we ever have. We are going to write better curriculum than we ever have. We are going to be better administrators and leaders than we ever have been. We are going to be more effective in the future in our classrooms, of teaching by the Holy Ghost in a way that protects and edifies and helps young people to come to the Savior of the World.”8

I leave with you my testimony that Heavenly Father’s plan is intended for our growth and happiness. I believe Jesus Christ is central to this plan and that through His Atonement we can change and progress and become as He is. In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

© 2013 by Intellectual Reserve, Inc. All rights reserved. English approval: 1/13.

Show References



    1. Henry B. Eyring, “We Must Raise Our Sights“ (Church Educational System conference on the Book of Mormon, Aug. 14, 2001), 2, si.lds.org.


    2. Henry B. Eyring, “We Must Raise Our Sights,” 1, si.lds.org.


    3. Paul V. Johnson, “Preparing the Rising Generation” (an evening with a General Authority, Jan.28, 2011),2, si.lds.org.


    4. Gospel Teaching and Learning: A Handbook for Teachers and Leaders in Seminaries and Institutes of Religion (2012), x.


    5. JeffreyR. Holland, “Students Need Teachers to Guide Them” (Church Educational System satellite broadcast, June20, 1992),1, si.lds.org.


    6. Gospel Teaching and Learning,  3.


    7. Boyd K. Packer, “Little Children,” Ensign, Nov. 1986, 17.


    8. Chad H. Webb (Seminaries and Institutes of Religion training broadcast, Jan. 2012), si.lds.org/help/certifications/learn-more/learn-more.