Two Words That Open the Door to Unlimited Learning

Dream Big

Jeff Charbonneau was named 2013 National Teacher of the Year for a reason. The man gets involved. In his small school in Zillah, Washington, a community of only 3,000 people, Charbonneau wears many hats. He’s the high school chemistry teacher. He’s also the yearbook teacher and the assistant drama teacher. He used to be the assistant baseball coach. He even serves as an adjunct professor at three universities.

And those are just his job titles. When he’s not in the classroom, Charbonneau can be found taking students on two-week hiking trips through the Cascade Mountains, running robotics competitions on the weekends and leading student research teams to local ponds to gather data on frogs.

Despite the wide variety of Charbonneau’s many passion projects, they all began with the same question: “What if?”

The frog research project, Project Croak, was the answer to the questions: “What if we could teach differently and embrace curiosity in our students? What if we allowed them to dig in the mud more and get their fingernails dirty?”

The truly inspiring thing about Charbonneau is that he doesn’t stop at the question. He doesn’t get discouraged or give up even when the “what if?” seems impossible. He finds a way.


My Take On This:

Effective teaching requires innovative methods. Teachers must guard against the dangers of the rut. What worked a year ago may not work now. There are two simple ways to measure the effectiveness of instruction–engagement and evaluation. Are students engaged in learning activities and, based on summative assessments, are they grasping the lesson objectives? Asking the “What If” questions can lead to new ways to motivate and inspire students, and that opens the door to unlimited learning.

Apply This to the Church:

In a classroom setting, this is probably a little easier to measure than in a church setting simply because a classroom is a more controlled environment. In a church setting, measuring the effectiveness of learning can be a much more subjective endeavor. Still, this should not excuse those of us who teach in a church to stop searching for innovative methods to communicate the truths of God’s Word to a diverse audience in ways that inspire and motivate our congregation.

In my estimation, churches are much more prone to the danger of the rut than other learning organizations. In many circles, innovation can be perceived as a challenge to orthodoxy. Not only must pastors and teachers ask the “What If” questions when planning a teaching series, but they must also stay grounded in the foundational doctrines of historic Christianity.

Still, it is worth the effort. Discipleship is rooted in effective learning, and we will be better teachers if we seek innovative methods of teaching that stay true and consistent with sound doctrine. Asking the “What If” questions can open the door to new avenues of learning.

Here are some sample questions to get you started:

  • What if we could get families to develop a pattern of family devotions over the length of this teaching series?
  • What if we could get middle school and high school students involved in teaching younger elementary-age kids?
  • What if we could get 50 people in our church to memorize the book of Hebrews?
  • What if we could get the families in our church to commit to honoring the Sabbath one Sunday a month for an entire year and agree to not participate in non-church activities on Sundays?

As you can see, the “What If” statements are not necessarily pointing to teaching methods as much as they are pointing to bigger objectives, but the out-of-the-box objectives will require innovative teaching methods.

How do you stay out of the rut in your teaching/preaching preparation and deliver?


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