Shortly before his release as general Sunday School president, Brother Russell Osguthorpe invited me and educator Brad Wilcox to join him in a Mormon Channel conversation about “Come, Follow Me.”
For those looking to revitalize or reintroduce themselves to the new curriculum for youth inaugurated last year, I encourage you to search through the 35-plus audio episodes of “Teaching, No Greater Call” (www.mormonchannel.org/teaching-no-greater-call) for inspiration and great training.
During the first episode of our unscripted conversation that aired for the first time recently, the three of us gravitated toward addressing a few misconceptions about the new teaching style and content.
Misconception No. 1: “I really like ‘Come, Follow Me’ because you don’t have to do anything anymore. You just turn the teaching over to the youth now.”
That was a response from a teacher to Brother Osguthorpe shortly after launching the new program. Brother Osguthorpe has advocated that teaching the Savior’s way or by the Spirit doesn’t mean “winging it and bearing testimony. Teaching by the Spirit means you still have to be prepared.” He also has repeatedly advised that a lesson shouldn’t be assigned to a single student to teach because that only re-establishes the model of Sunday School being a lecture rather than a conversation, which is not what “Come, Follow Me” intends.
Wilcox added: “(Teachers) still prepare, but they’re able to see needs as the needs surface. They redirect (the lesson) to meet the needs that you see. It doesn’t mean you show up at church and haven’t thought about a lesson.” At the other end of the spectrum, he encouraged teachers to not be so rigid, “As a younger person says something or makes a comment or asks questions, you should be willing to let the lesson go in that direction rather than saying, ‘Be quiet. I’ve got to get through this lesson.’ ”
As a teacher of “Come, Follow Me,” I’ve found the best tools I can utilize are trust and faith. They have quite a bit to share when given the opportunity. We also have to have faith enough to not control everything that happens during a 45-minute Sunday School class.
“It’s a matter of being prepared, but then being able to feel the promptings of the Spirit to: one, inform you what the needs of your students are; and two, help you guide the experiences of the classroom to be able to meet those needs."
Misconception No. 2 — A Sunday School student’s role is to listen and learn.
The three of us agreed the most important preparation a teacher can make is to plan what students can do to participate in class discussions. Appropriate questions for a teacher to consider are, “What am I going to have them do? What can they do right in class as well as during the week? How can I use class time to help the students be active and not just listening to me as the teacher?”
Brother Osguthorpe said: “Sunday School is no longer the old lecture mode of a teacher talking and the learners just listening. They’re getting tired and they’re getting bored and they need to be doing something.”
I spoke of my son who recently turned 12. He potentially has 300 Sunday School opportunities to practice teaching and testifying before serving a full-time mission, making him so much more prepared for a conversation with friends this week or for teaching investigators somewhere across the world in the future.
“Twelve-year-olds are amazing creatures,” Brother Osguthorpe said. “They can do so much more than we think.”
Misconception No. 3 — Because of the monthly themes, students are getting the same lesson in Sunday School as they are in Young Men or Young Women.
Wilcox said: “Sunday School is a co-educational experience with boys and girls together. They should have the chance to teach the doctrine that they just learned in Young Men and Young Women and seminary — Sunday School really needs to be an opportunity for them to do and to teach. That’s the difference.”
Brother Osguthorpe added that the themed lessons and activities for the Sunday School portion of “Come, Follow Me” are designed to help young people learn how to teach and learn how to testify. “Testifying is an essential part of teaching,” he said. “This is so central to what we’re hoping for.”
Misconception No. 4 — Round tables at church are only to be used for banquets and wedding receptions.
As Brother Osguthorpe and Wilcox have traveled across the United States and in several other countries to evaluate the implementation of “Come, Follow Me,” they said they were fascinated to find so many Sunday School teachers using round tables.
“There’s not one thing in the lesson outline that says to put a round table in the room,” Brother Osguthorpe said. “But naturally, they’re pulling out these round tables and giving kids a place to write, a place to prepare and plan and join the discussion.”
With or without a round table, by having the students’ chairs in a circle, the message is sent, “There’s room for you. Everyone should feel totally involved, included and not sitting on the sidelines.”
Misconception No. 5 — Evaluating a teacher is the best way to gauge the successful implementation of “Come, Follow Me.”
If a Sunday School presidency or other leaders in the ward, branch or stake want to know if a teacher is utilizing “Come, Follow Me” in the classroom, Brother Osguthorpe said, “If they want to know if the teacher ‘gets it,’ it wouldn’t have much to do with the teacher. I think I would have to look at the learners and see how engaged they are to know if the ‘Come, Follow Me’ approach is being used. Are the students talking, sharing or expressing themselves? Is the teacher asking questions that go beyond a yes and no or right and wrong answer? Sunday School is a place where nonmembers should feel comfortable coming and participating. Investigators or visitors are always welcome. Sunday School is a place for everybody.”
Misconception No. 6 — Gospel knowledge is the most important attribute for a Sunday School teacher.
As he shared powerful examples of classroom experiences, Brother Osguthorpe said that trust is one of the most important things to be established in a classroom. “Teachers must trust students that they have something worth sharing. Students have to trust the teacher that he or she will respond appropriately,” he said.
Wilcox said often benevolence is a key attribute for a teacher of youths. “Kindness, expressing love and acceptance are so important. Another facet is openness. You don’t want to just establish an environment where people feel you’re being kind and nice, but an environment where people can be open and that means sharing personal experiences. If all we’re learning is outside in — what did the general authorities say or what did the scriptures say or what did the lesson say — then it’s never coming from the inside out.”
Wilcox explained that when a teacher encourages students to use “I believe” statements, “then students have a chance to be open, have a chance to share their feelings, their testimonies and their personal experiences and that is doing a lot in creating this atmosphere of trust.”
Brother Osguthorpe added, “Being honest, open, being willing and eager to show approval and praise. This is so key to a great youth classroom.”
To hear more of the dialogue between Russell Osguthorpe, Brad Wilcox and Stacie Duce, tune in to the Mormon Channel on June 30 for a re-broadcast of episode one of their conversation for the audio series, “Teaching, No Greater Call.”