Top 5 Practices of Every Great Teacher

No matter what kind of teacher you may be – a pastor-teacher, a parent-teacher, a Sunday school teacher, a vocational teacher, or any other kind of teacher – you have been called to touch lives and to change them forever! After several years of advancing my own education, teaching in classrooms of every age and stage, conducting teaching seminars, and observing teachers, I’ve noticed that all the best teachers maintain these 5 key practices in their teaching.

1. A great teacher should develop a biblical philosophy of teaching that can be executed in the classroom.

Proverbs 22:20-21 – Have not I written to thee excellent things in counsels and knowledge, That I might make thee know the certainty of the words of truth; that thou mightest answer the words of truth to them that send unto thee?

Our philosophy must be based upon the conviction that knowledge of the Bible and the Lord Jesus Christ is essential to the development and growth of any individual. Furthermore, a great teacher will understand and follow the practice of the Master Teacher, the Lord Jesus Christ. His great objective was to nurture His disciples in their knowledge and trust of God and to help them to grow spiritually and show maturity as they strengthened their relationship with Himself. He used a variety of methods, selecting each one based upon the needs of his audience at the time. Likewise, the focuses of our educational ministry are to nurture faith and maturity by equipping ourselves with the proper biblical principles, procedures, tactics, and techniques in order to serve and to teach our learners.

The teacher’s idea of what learning means colors how the teacher teaches.  The teacher must determine his definition of teaching. Ask yourself, “What is teaching?” I have answered that question by concluding that to teach means to “cause to learn or to know” (Proverbs 22:21). Then, you must ask yourself, “What is learning?” We learn about Jesus so we can be more like Jesus (I John 2:6). Learning is change…changing to become like Jesus. Therefore, the goal of teaching is life change. When teaching for life change, the teacher must guide the student to be more like Christ, that is, to grow into a state of being which is Christ-like. How does a teacher cause application to take place? The teacher must aim for three critical targets: the head, the heart, and the hands. The head (cognitive domain) is targeted with the content of the lesson. Content must be strongly guided on the basis of the student’s needs. The heart (affective domain) is targeted by appealing to a student’s values and attitudes. A teacher should not just provide content, but inspire the student’s ambitions to live for Christ. The hands (behavioral domain) are targeted by providing relevant application. Simply put, the teacher must make truth usable outside of the classroom or the church. Changing into the image of Christ requires action on the part of the student outside of the classroom, not just within it.

If change is going to take place, then various methods will be employed. Methods are not an end in and of themselves; they are the means to the end. The end goal is change into a state of Christ-like living. Methods are simply learning activities that make truth usable within each aim.

Wise teachers will move beyond telling to guiding and supporting desired results.  The listed methods are based on Christ’s methods used to engage the student in the discovery of truth.

  1. Head (Cognitive): songs, puzzles, simple games, acrostics,; brainstorming, small group discussion, case study analysis, debates, question and answer, provocative questions, open-ended stories, skits, role plays, and lecture.
  2. Heart (Affective): storytelling, modeling, case studies, stories, dramas, skits, testimonies, mission trips, work days, trips to nursing homes and prisons, creative writing, debates, and discussions
  3. Hands (Behavioral): Examples, workshops, experiments, rewards, apprenticeships, accountability, role-plays, star charts, public recognition, practice sessions, and support groups

God uses teachers to aid transformation, not just provide information. To cause learning on significant levels the Bible teacher must focus on the meaning of the Bible truth taught, involve students in active search for meaning, and stimulate and guide students in this discovery process.

2. A great teacher should know the personality, personal circumstances, and personal history of every learner in their class.

Mark 6:34 – And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things.

Regardless of the forum, teachers will have students who experience a wide range of influences on their lives and on their faith. These influences will affect the way they think, the way they perceive the world around them, and what they do in response to those perceptions. In essence, the influences on a person’s life will impact the way they respond to your teaching. For teachers to have the most effective teaching ministry possible, they must dedicate themselves to investigating and exploring the major influences of a person’s life. The three major influences are a student’s personality, current circumstances, and personal history. Responsible educators try to understand the whole person, not being limited to their knowledge of a student in a particular context (e.g. the classroom, church, or activity). Because faith involves the whole person, it must be understood in the total context of personal development. Teachers must be willing to investigate their students and adjust their teachings as necessary. If you desire to teach students to “live by faith” then you will need to understand the influences on their lives.

 3. A great teacher should know the developmental characteristics of their students, including those characteristics that precede and follow the age group of the class.

Luke 2:52 – And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.

Great teachers don’t teach lessons, they teach students. Regardless of what age group you teach, it is important to know the development of your learners both before they arrived in your class and where they should end up when they leave your class. How many of us have mastered an understanding of the developmental characteristics of students in the age group we most often teach?   Categories of characteristic development include the physical, cognitive, emotional/social, and spiritual/moral realms. Each of these areas develops differently during each stage of life: pre-school, elementary, adolescence, and adulthood. As a teacher, you should ask yourself how developmental characteristics will influence your students’ development. For example, what is the vocabulary of your kindergartener? What is the reading ability of a 3rd grader? What social behaviors of 5th graders can help you connect with them the most? What are the greatest areas of spiritual struggle of teenagers? What cognitive characteristics of adults will most greatly impact your teaching style?

The teacher of the class has the task of leading the learner to the brink of decisions that will change their life, not just fill their heads with lesson content. How can teachers do this if we do not know how our students develop? As Christian teachers, we must be sensitive to the stages of development so that we can perceive maturity as well as strength. Being attentive to developmental stages will help teachers recognize the marks of growth within their students. As the students grow, the teacher can make the necessary adjustments to content, methods, and goals to take strength and maturity even further in the lives of their students. Gaining and maintaining an understanding of developmental characteristics will equip the teacher with practical ways to educate and evaluate their learners.

4. A great teacher should know how to properly structure a lesson that is designed for student mastery as a means to strengthen and mature the knowledge, skills, and faith of their students.

Ezra 7:10 – For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the law of the LORD, and to do it, and to teach in Israel statutes and judgments. 

The teacher that is prepared is the teacher that is productive.  As teachers who desire to see change take place in their learners, the lessons must be designed to actively involve the student in autonomous thinking and active participation in the subject matter. The greater the structure of the lesson, the higher the achievement will be for the student.  This is not to say that the more “detailed” lesson will be most effective, but the more each aspect of the lesson fits together to support the other aspects of the lesson will yield the greatest results.

The best model of structured lessons comes from Lawrence O. Richards in his book Creative Bible Teaching:

  • Hook: reveals and builds the need
  • Book: presents the biblical message
  • Look: connects the principle to the student’s life
  • Took: reinforces the principle outside of the classroom

The best part of this structure is that it is simple, clear, and it works in a way that affects life change in students. As the test of your teaching, you should be able to answer these two questions at the end of your lessons:

  1. Did the student learn what you wanted him to learn?
  2. Can you show that the student learned what you wanted him to learn?

Do you want your students to be different as a result of your lesson? If so, then you must build your lessons in order to ensure that life change takes place. How much time and effort are you willing to put in to the lesson to help the student reach mastery of the subject or skill you are teaching? The greater structure you build into your lessons then the greater achievements you’ll see in your students.

5. A great teacher should have a teachable spirit and actively engage in the improvement of their teaching skills and knowledge.

Proverbs 4:7 – Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.

The best teachers are the best learners. We need to well learn from the minds, motives, and methods of others proven teachers in order to improve ourselves as teachers. If the teacher is not growing then they cannot expect their students to grow either. At best, the teacher can only educate them to the extent to which they have been educated. At worst, the poor example of diminished personal zeal for improvement will deteriorate the motivation of a student to advance their growth. John Wooden, member of the Basketball Hall of Fame as both a player and a coach, once said, “Five years from now, you’re the same person except for the people you’ve met and the books you’ve read.” If you want to nurture your gift of teaching, you must determine to learn from others through personal interaction and professional reading. By doing so, you will learn the wisdom of the greatest minds that have ever lived. You will avail yourself of life lessons through the experiences of others. You can apply their wisdom and avoid their mistakes. You will see new options and make new opportunities. Aside from wisdom, reading and receiving counsel will help educators to have the right teaching skills and help them to be the right kind of teacher.

Every teacher wants to know that their labor has not been in vain. Deep down each one wants to reach the ones who enter our churches and our classrooms to learn more about Jesus. We have been given a sacred trust from the Lord – the calling to communicate His truth to His people – and we have been afforded the opportunity to do so with each person that places themselves under our teaching. We all sense a need to be competent at what we do with our lives, and by instituting these practices in our teaching in the power of the Holy Spirit we can be GREAT teachers for the glory of God and for the good of His people!

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