What is Effective Teaching?

Think for a moment about your favorite teacher. Picture the teacher’s appearance. Recall the classroom setting. Make a mental list of what made that teacher so special that years after leaving his or her classroom you can still remember the teacher’s name. How many effective teacher characteristics can you identify in your memory of your favorite teacher?

What makes an effective Sabbath School facilitator? We are inherently drawn to those who are effective for us. Each of us cherish portraits of that something, those qualities of a special facilitator that still resonates with us even after many years. Are such qualities characteristic of what many of us would define as an effective facilitator?

Effective teaching is the result of a combination of many factors, including aspects of the person’s interaction with others, their background, as well as specific practices and strategies. To discover what makes an effective facilitator, I believe there are four overarching statements that are common to all effective facilitators:

1. They recognize the uniqueness of each student.
Effective facilitators recognize each student as a unique individual who brings his or her own set of experiences and perspectives to the class. They recognize the class is a dynamic and multifaceted entity made up of many personalities. Various authorities help us to understand the uniqueness of each individual:

  • The Bible states that God knows us by name (Isa. 43:1) and that God has a specific plan for our lives (Jer. 29:13). So He views each person as a unique creation.
  • Ellen White relates that “the teacher should carefully study the disposition and character of his pupils, that he may adapt his teaching to their particular needs” (Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students, p. 231).
  • C. S. Lewis reminds us “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal” (The Weight of Glory, p. 46).

Effective, caring teachers know their students both formally and informally. They take opportunity beyond the Sabbath School environment to keep the lines of communication open. Interactions with class members at church social events and Sabbath School class outings (such as nature walks, picnics, ball games, etc.) not only contribute to a focused and learning Sabbath School class but increase students’ self-esteem by fostering feelings of belonging.

Understanding each student’s learning style and needs, their personality, likes and dislikes, and those personal situations that may affect behavior and participation in the class enhances the learning process. These teachers/facilitators respect each class member by caring for them first as a person, and second as a student.

2. They understand and successfully navigate complexity.
Handling complexity in teaching is a skill that doesn’t happen overnight. Imagine getting into the driver’s seat of a 5-speed, stick-shift automobile. You manage to put the car in gear but cut the engine off at every stop sign and intersection. The effective driver, like the effective teacher/facilitator, can carefully and simultaneously handle multiple tasks and multiple meanings without losing sight of the goal of moving toward a specific destination.

Teachers facilitators must have sufficient knowledge of the content, of pedagogy, of his/her students to appreciate the intricacies that are woven into the teaching-and-learning process. Knowing that there is a variety of learning styles that are represented in every classroom environment will help the effective teacher/facilitator understand and navigate complexity in a meaningful and purposeful manner.

“Every teacher should see to it that his work tends to definite results. Before attempting to teach a subject, he should have a distinct plan in mind, and should know just what he desires to accomplish” ( Education, pp. 233, 234).

3. They communicate clearly.
Why is it two people can be saying the same thing but have totally different reception? Why does one person connect more with your understanding while the other does not have quite the same effect? A key to success in any profession or ministry that requires interaction among people and within an organization is good communication. The communication of the content of a Sabbath School lesson or theme is far more than just talking about the objectives and presenting the integral points found in the teachers’ quarterly.

The facilitator’s effective characteristics are often a primary focus for class members and can influence continuing attendance and participation of class members.

These include:

  • Constantly communicating a climate of support and encouragement helps students to receive, respond, adapt, and use lesson information successfully. Encouraging comments that let individuals know that their comments or concerns are valued builds a positive learning climate.
  • Believing in students: Ellen White relates that “the good that a teacher will do his students will be proportionate to his belief in them” (Counsels to Parents, Teachers, and Students, p. 267).
  • Communicating expectations for the class gives a sense of purpose and direction. Allowing members to give input to help determine what are reasonable expectations for the class as it covers the lesson content can also bring clarity and purpose.
  • Being a good listener. Practicing focused and sympathetic listening to show each member that the teacher cares not only about what happens in the classroom, but also about members’ lives in general.

4. Serves conscientiously.
The effective Sabbath School teacher-facilitator has a willingness to dedicate time and energy to his/her ministry. Working hard is important, but even better is working hard and smart. To conscientiously review and reflect on what went well during the Sabbath School lesson and then identify what areas could be improved are aspects of teaching-facilitating that cannot be overemphasized. What follows are some key questions the teacher-facilitator should ask after each lesson:

  • Was there equal and active participation?
  • Were the expectations for the class reasonable and challenging enough?
  • Was the lesson structured, yet flexible and spontaneous?
  • Was a positive learning climate maintained?
  • Was the teacher responsive to student needs and concerns?
  • Was every class member addressed by name?
  • How were difficult situations handled? (if any)
  • Was there a variety of learning opportunities provided? (small group, large group discussion of a concept)
  • Which strategies/approaches worked well with this group? Which strategies/approaches did not work as well?
  • How do I know if the class learned what they were supposed to learn?

Effective Sabbath School teachers are not afraid of feedback. In the interest of improving their ability to have a positive impact on student learning, these teachers readily accept constructive criticism and take time to reflect on it. Further, keeping a journal or portfolio of what has worked well or a list of “best practices” can further enhance the future success of the class.

While there is no single formula for Sabbath School teaching success, these four overarching statements provide a framework for a teacher to develop their own unique and personal approach. Simply put, teacher success equals student success.

Robert D. Crux
© 2014 General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists