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Home > Christian Bible Studies > Articles > Church & Home Leadership

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Teaching That Motivates
Successful teaching not only opens the mind but also stirs the emotions, fires the imagination, galvanizes the will.
by Howard Hendricks | posted 5/31/2006
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I'm not talking about an emotional strip tease, revealing things that are intimate, but teaching as if I don't have everything down pat. The approach is "Look, I don't have all of the answers about prayer, but I'm sure involved in the process. Let me share what God is teaching me about this."

Build rapport. The more I am involved with my students, the greater my long-term impact on them. Sure, there are a few initiators who simply take what I say and run with it. But most of my students need personal contact and rapport with the teacher.

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.' "

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