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LDS educators association launched at Provo conference

PROVO — LDS educators finally have a place of their own.

For decades, Mormon professionals have been able to join dozens of associations, physicians and dentists, historians and archaeologists, publishers and mental health providers. There's a National LDS Homeschool Association.

This weekend, a band of professors, teachers, administrators, students and others launched the LDS Educators Association and held their first conference at BYU, with keynote speeches by BYU-Hawaii President John S. Tanner and Brother Tad R. Callister, general Sunday School president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

There's certainly plenty of potential members and interest. The LDS Church Educational System currently has a record 1.2 million students around the world, with tens of thousands of teachers, said Mark Woodruff, assistant to the commissioner of church education.

With little and late notice, more than 150 people attended Saturday's sessions at the Maeser Building on the campus of Brigham Young University.

"This was inspired, and I'm so glad I came even though it was an expensive, last-minute trip for me," said Rhea Overson, a kindergarten teacher's assistant from Charlotte, North Carolina.

For Pleasant Grove's Melinda McDanel, a sixth-grade teacher who just completed a master's degree in educational leadership at BYU, the association is a chance to replace her support group of fellow graduate students with a national organization.

"Education is such a hot topic these days, you want support from people who share your beliefs," McDanel said. "The day was fabulous. It was very worthwhile. Everything had a purpose, and I learned a lot.

"I hope it's a living, breathing, working association, not a once-a-year conference, but a group that provides support throughout the year. I think once people learn what it is, it will grow quickly."

Founding association president LeGrand "Buddy" Richards, a BYU professor of educational leadership and foundations, said the idea for an educators association had percolated for years. Once he and other faculty and staff from BYU's McKay School of Education decided to start, they moved quickly.

"We've got some really remarkable people out there, but sometimes they need to come together and get some support and encouragement and have a place to talk about the challenges they face," Richards said.

Tanner opened the conference and said the purpose of education is to change lives.

"Education is less about transmitting information than it is about enabling transformation," he said, later adding, "To gain education is to become more like God."

He said that unlike other cultures or faiths, Mormons don't have a founding myth that discourages inquiry. "God wants us to become like Him. He wants us to learn what He knows. It’s good to be learned."

Tanner believed that LDS teachers can use the Spirit in their public classrooms.

"My non-LDS teachers growing up, there were a few of them where I felt a goodness and a love for me or for their subject that filled the classroom with a kind of spirit of Christ," he said. "I don’t know if they were believers, but that’s possible."

He shared a teaching model he developed. He showed a slide with a triangle. On the three corners he listed the Savior, the subject and the students. In the center of the triangle was the word love.

That model made an impression on Overson, the kindergarten teacher's assistant.

"If I can love them, I can make a difference," she said of her students. "It's always been in my heart to do that, but this gave me permission, helped me understand it differently."

Overson's friend, Marci Houseman, who was an elementary school teacher and principal in North Carolina before moving to Sandy, said another presenter, Mossi White, built on Tanner's talk.

"If we love what we do, and we love our children, we should tell our face," Houseman quoted White as saying, "because children will pick up on what we show them."

Richards, author of "Called to Teach: The Legacy of Karl G. Maeser," presented photos of Maeser's chalkboard to Tanner and Brother Callister, who are cousins.

To close the conference, Brother Callister encouraged teachers to help learners move beyond rules to learn principles, because they are powerful truths learners can live by and because they promote the greatest growth and agency.

"It’s not only important to teach principles, but it’s also important for the learner to discover principles," he said. "Discovering a principle is being able to consider a body of knowledge, capture the essence of what is being said, and then articulate it in a clear and concise manner."

He shared five reasons God wants educators to teach principles — they promote agency and growth, they are flexible and adaptable to a wide range of circumstances, they have the power to translate years of experience and vast quantities of knowledge into simple statements of truth, they can engender feelings of trust and they sometimes help people understand the why behind a commandment.

"One of the great skills of learning," he said, "is to be able to teach us that, to read the scriptures and then discover, extract and articulate the key principles from a parable, story, discourse or vast store of knowledge that will provide the governing standards by which we live."