If you are a leader in the Church, one of your most important responsibilities is to instruct the teachers in your organization in their duties and guide their efforts to improve. Sometimes you do this in leadership meetings (see page 152) and teacher improvement meetings, and sometimes it requires one-on-one teaching. Your efforts to fulfill this responsibility can make a significant contribution to the quality of teaching in the Church.
For instructions on what you should do to guide individual teachers, see the “Gospel Teaching and Leadership” section of the Church Handbook of Instructions, pages 305–6, and Improving Gospel Teaching: A Leader’s Guide, pages 4–6. Following are five suggestions on how to provide the guidance described in these handbooks.
Sometimes we are inclined to criticize, thinking that if we point out others’ shortcomings to them, they will want to change. This is seldom true. Criticism usually leads to defensiveness and discouragement. Teachers will be more receptive to your counsel when they feel your Christlike love for them and know that you truly want to help them. A sister who eventually became an effective leader of teachers had an experience early in her Church service that taught her this principle. This experience forever changed the way she thought about teaching:
“I was newly married and had an assignment in Relief Society to help improve teaching. I did not recognize it at the time, but I cared too much for the task and not enough about the teacher whose class I observed. I told her, in so many words, ‘You should have done it this way.’ The response I received wasn’t expressed in quite this way, but it came through unmistakably: ‘Then you do it. If I’m not doing what you think should be done, then you take the class.’ I learned right then that what I was missing was love. I didn’t love her enough. I didn’t respect her enough.”
People tend to love doing things that they feel they do well. Your sincere compliments do what criticism cannot do to encourage teachers and help them continue to improve.
When you love the teachers with whom you serve, your compliments will be sincere. And you will find much to compliment, because every teacher has qualities that are worth noticing. A teacher may have a good speaking voice, a talent for directing discussions, or a good grasp of the scriptures or Church history. Another teacher may be organized, and another may have a humble, strong testimony.
Compliments should be specific. For example, you might say to a teacher, “I thought the picture you showed of the Savior reinforced your message very well” or “Your testimony at the end of the lesson helped me feel the Spirit” or “I like the way you handled that difficult question.” Specific comments are usually more encouraging than general comments because they show that you care enough to observe attentively.
You will have many opportunities to point out the good things teachers do. You can do so in teacher improvement meetings and when you meet to counsel individually with teachers (see “Obtaining Support from Your Leaders,” page 28). But you do not need to wait for such occasions. You can express compliments after a class, in the hallway, in a note, or in a telephone call. You may even express a compliment in front of the class if it will not embarrass the teacher.
In addition to recognizing the present abilities of individual teachers, you should recognize teachers’ divine potential. They are spirit children of Heavenly Father, and they have infinite capacity. With proper nurturing and their own humble dedication, they can improve and develop their talents and abilities.
When teachers know that you love them and appreciate their efforts, they will feel more comfortable asking for help. When they counsel with you, help them make their own plans to improve. This approach honors the principle that teachers (and, in this case, leaders) should help others take responsibility for their own learning and growth (see “Helping Individuals Take Responsibility for Learning the Gospel,” pages 61–62). People always learn best and grow most when they take the initiative. Usually it is better for teachers to develop slowly on the basis of their own plans than for leaders to push them to develop more rapidly (see “Making a Plan to Improve Your Teaching,” pages 24–27).
Although it is generally best to allow teachers to make their own plans for improvement, you may sometimes need to give correction. When you do so, be gentle and meek. Remember that reproving should be done only “when moved upon by the Holy Ghost” and should be followed by an increase of love (D&C 121:43). The following story illustrates these important principles:
“Once as a bishopric member I had an assignment with one of the Aaronic Priesthood quorums. When I first went to quorum meeting I was greatly bothered. The adviser gave an excellent lesson and then at the end defeated all the good he had done by saying, ‘Well, this is what we are taught, but that’s not really the way it is.’ I was very troubled by this, and, without making any criticism of the adviser, I bore my testimony, making sure the young men had a correct understanding. A few weeks later he did the same thing again. This time, after a good lesson, he questioned the importance of strict obedience to the principle he had been teaching.
“I waited for a few days and asked if I could visit him. I fasted and prayed before I went. I felt a great deal of love for this man and made sure I had no unkind feelings toward him. After we talked about the young men in the quorum, I told him I was concerned about some of his thoughts that were not quite what the lesson manual had outlined for us to teach. I told him that the young men were at an idealistic age and needed to understand the ideal so they would be able to try to live up to it. Tears moistened his eyes, and he began to share some of the difficulties he had had in life that led him to say what he said. In that talk together, we became very close. It was not the next week but a few weeks later that he mentioned in class that the things he had said earlier were wrong, and he apologized. I feel that love and the Spirit of the Lord were responsible for his remarkable change of heart. Needless to say, he got better and better as a teacher.”