Teaching That Motivates

Successful teaching not only opens the mind but also stirs the emotions, fires the imagination, galvanizes the will.
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Establishing rapport isn't difficult or mysterious; it's a matter of getting to know students and letting them know me. Even if the teacher is vastly different in personality and interests, listeners will identify with the teacher if he or she acts like a friend.

Use humor. One time a bell interrupted a choice discussion in class. I looked at the clock and grimaced, "Sometimes I wish I could shoot that thing off the wall!" About a week later at the end of another class session I warned, "We're going to get caught by that clock again!" A student stood up and fired a rubber arrow at the face of the clock while the class roared in laughter. I played it to the hilt.

Humor helps people identify with a teacher for many reasons. People bond when they agree about what's funny. Humor also gently and indirectly shows people's foibles. And humor puts everyone on common ground.

Since daily life is filled with humorous circumstances, people have trouble identifying with someone who is unfailingly serious. Humor shows that you're real.

Express Confidence in Learners

Affirmation has a tremendous power to motivate people to learn and achieve great things. And I've found when I follow seven guidelines, my affirmation has its greatest impact.

1. Base it on fact. When affirming learners, we can't blow smoke. That backfires every time. If we toss out kudos indiscriminately, eventually we lose credibility. Furthermore, mention specific things that indicate progress or potential: not "I like your work" but "Your writing is punchy and clear."

2. Begin with the positives. Teachers and preachers often get in a critiquing rut; we're often bothered by the negatives and unimpressed with the positives. Negatives need to be mentioned, of course, but in due time. For example, more than the 27 things wrong with his sermon, a learning preacher first needs to know the two things he did right. He's got to start somewhere.

3. Repeat the affirmation. I met Tom Landry when he was coach of the Dallas Cowboys. Having observed that he had more walk-ons who became all-pros than any other coach, I asked how he did it.

"First, you've got to see potential," he said. "But I don't stop there; I start there. Then I keep telling them that they're going to have to bust their tail to get that potential into action."

I've never forgotten what he said next: "I discovered that I've got to repeat to a player over and over again what his strength is. He may hear me but not to the extent that he needs to hear me. I keep telling him, 'You can, you can, you can.' "

You can't break a student's habit of negative thinking overnight or with one compliment. For years they have been thinking hundreds and thousands of negative thoughts. They are deeply ingrained—and reinforced by their failures, which will happen to anyone. In addition, even as we affirm learners, new failures keep on coming and weaknesses will endure. Only ongoing, repeated affirmation can counteract that.

4. Encourage learners to set their own goals. Once students have their momentum going, I try to motivate them to outdo me. I can't do everything well, but I can motivate others to realize their gifts and potential in Christ, kicking them out of the nest and urging them not only to fly, but to soar.

5. Affirm publicly. I attended First Baptist in Dallas one day when Pastor Criswell called a woman from the congregation to the pulpit. "I'd like you people to know," he said, "that Mary has been teaching in our junior department for seven years. And I just got a report that in the last month three girls have come to know Jesus Christ in her class." The whole congregation broke into applause.

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