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Trent Toone
Mark E. Beecher, an assistant area director in seminaries and institutes, gives a presentation highlighting principles and skills of the "Come, Follow Me" curriculum at BYU Education Week in August 2016.

PROVO — There is an ongoing movement in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to help members improve as gospel teachers.

Sunday classes should see fewer lecture-style lessons and more engaging, interactive discussions, following the principles of the "Come, Follow Me" and Teaching in the Savior's Way curriculum, according to several presenters at Brigham Young University Education Week — including Mark E. Beecher, an assistant area director in Seminaries and Institutes of Religion.

"Let’s figure how to get teachers and students as equal learners and participants, to teach and learn together in such a way that we can make something that is bigger and better than before," Beecher told a class of more than 50 people Tuesday.

"In your role as an instructor, teacher and guide, you can be a sage on the stage or a guide on the side. Sometimes we feel pressure to be a fount of knowledge, but you are simply there to say, 'Here are some principles of the gospel that I have studied, learned and felt, and I would like for you to have a similar experience. I will try to guide you.'"

Over the course of BYU Education Week, Beecher taught a series of classes implementing principles and skills of the "Come, Follow Me" curriculum to become a better gospel teacher using the 10 points set forth in Teaching the Savior's Way:

  • He loved them.
  • He knew who they were and who they would become.
  • He prepared himself.
  • He used the scriptures.
  • He shared simples stories, parables and real-life examples.
  • He asked questions.
  • He invited them to testify.
  • He trusted them and he charged them to serve.
  • He invited them to act in faith and live the truths.
  • He was their example and mentor.
In Tuesday's class, Beecher primarily focused on creating the ideal teaching environment. He started by asking those in the class (mostly members with callings that involved teaching in their LDS wards) to describe their challenges in the classroom.

Many related to students being distracted by phones or devices, inappropriate behavior, or disinterest. Citing the counsel of various LDS Church leaders, Beecher suggested they make their class "SOAR," an acronym meaning "Structure, Order and Routines."

"What's normal in your class? What things can you put in place?" Beecher said. "Organize your class so when the students come in they know what is normal. Most people are creatures of habit and they appreciate it. If you have to err, do it on the side of routine."

Once you define the expectations and the students understand why each is in place, model each activity and how you will react if there is a violation. Then give feedback with compliments or correction, Beecher said.

"You model it, practice it and provide feedback because you want to see them be able to change," Beecher said. "You want to establish this kind of simple environment where they are going to say, 'I will do those things.'"

If behavior needs to be corrected, make it a teaching moment, but communicate with love so the teacher-student bond is strengthened, Beecher said.

Beecher also shared another acronym — "TRAP" — "Talk before and after class, Remember the little things, Attend (their) event(s), and Pray for greater love," he said.

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Beecher showed a photo of his son at age 2 and contrasted it with a recent photo of his son, now a 22-year-old returned missionary and engaged to be married. When his son received his patriarchal blessing, the patriarch took his son's face in his hands and said, "You have no idea who you are yet," which taught Beecher something about each teacher's responsibility to love and shepherd his or her students.

"Keep that in mind, whether they are 2 or 72, they are children of Heavenly Father," Beecher said. "You and I are representatives of the Savior in his holy classroom. That's our job, to see what we can do help them feel the truth and importance of the gospel in such a way that it will change their lives forever."

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