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Taylor Halverson: Do we need a ‘Learning, No Greater Responsibility’?

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A woman stands at the front of a Sunday School class, teaching from the scriptures.

A woman stands at the front of a Sunday School class, teaching from the scriptures.

LDS Church

Editor's note: Lesson formats are changing in 2018 for Relief Society and priesthood quorums of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This is the first of three articles about teaching and learning perspectives.

One of the great church books on teaching is “Teaching, No Greater Call.”

With deference to the timeless truths and principles we can find in that book, I wonder if we need a second book titled "Learning, No Greater Responsibility."

Where there are no learners, teachers cannot exist. Yet learners can exist without teachers. All of us regularly learn without a teacher.

If learning carries so much responsibility, and if learners apparently can achieve so much without a teacher, then why have teachers?

A great teacher catalyzes learning.

In chemistry, a catalyst is anything that lowers activation energy for a reaction to happen. If learning is the “reaction” we want to happen, teaching is the catalyst that makes learning more likely. A great teacher can help learning happen more quickly, effectively and efficiently.

Here are four things teachers and leaders can do to help learners take more responsibility for their learning.

• First, model being a responsible learner. Show and tell other learners about our process for learning, the time we put into learning, the mindset we put ourselves in to be a learner, the enthusiasm we bring to learning and the joy we experience when learning.

• Second, expect learners to learn. Avoid answering questions when the learners can find their own answer. Be willing to have moments of silence as leaners think, ponder and formulate how they might respond to a question.

• Third, provide learning opportunities for the learner. If the teacher is doing all the talking, then not much learning is happening. This can be hard advice to follow. Nothing seems more dreaded than the silence of a classroom. Talking seems like the easiest way to demonstrate that a teacher is “teaching.” But learners must do something in order to learn. Involve learners in the learning process.

• Fourth, encourage learner reflection. Help the learner to recognize the joy of learning, identify the effort involved to achieve learning and see their skills as a learner thrive and grow.

As teachers help learners use their agency to take responsibility for their own learning, the role of a teacher and leader will be not only fulfilled but also fulfilling.

Note: Thank you to my BYU colleague, Richard Swan, who helped inspire some of the ideas found in this article.