Will this be on the test?
Why do we have to learn this?
When am I ever going to use this?
Many assume questions like these come from kids who are lazy and want to do the least they can to get by. You wish your students would take a longer view and not just cram for what is right in front of them.
However, these days, tests not only open or close doors to future prospects, but sadly–tests also determine student’s perceived worth to themselves and others. This faulty system has developed at the same time that data has started coming at us 24/7. Our brains have to function as a triage nurse in an emergency room—focusing on the most immediate threat. If we don’t find a way to weed out what is less-important—we get overwhelmed.
An overwhelmed brain does not process well. Without a way to filter, panic sets in. When our body senses crisis, it diverts energy from our learning to crisis management. When students appear to mentally check out, they may be overwhelmed by information overload.
Our capacity to take in data at a given time is not a sign of intelligence as much as it an indicator if we feel safe, well-rested, hydrated, nourished, and—most importantly—connected to other people.
When we are not operating under those optimal conditions, we have limited energy to capture the flow of information. Continuing to poor data into an overwhelmed brain is like overfilling a cup with water.
If you feel you must continue to overfill a cup, you have a few options.
A) Pretend the cup has no limits and continue pouring more into an already over-full cup.
B) Get upset at the cup for having limited capacity.
C) Find a way to increase the capacity of the cup.
If you’re open to suggestions, I recommend option C.
Jesus had fantastic methods to help his listeners become more receptive to what he wanted to teach them. Chances are good you already have incorporated these to some degree, but it’s possible there is a margin for improvement.
1—Jesus Connected Relationally.
While anyone listening could learn from Jesus, those who he directly called or who’s homes he regularly visited were the ones Jesus had the deepest connection with. Because our brains are wired for (and by) human connection, we listen best to those we know care about us.
While you may not get to select your students, you can choose to connect with them. The best learning happens in loving relationships because that is where we feel safe.
Can you think of what else Jesus did when He was talking to people that helped them want to know what He would say next? Have you noticed what Jesus did instead of answering questions directly? What made his listeners curious? Do my three hints make it too obvious?
2—Jesus Asked Good Questions.
Study the questions Jesus asked His followers. Sometimes Jesus asked questions to find out what they knew (i.e.: Who do men say that I am?). But typically, he asked questions to reveal a person’s belief, actions, or worldview (i.e.: Who do YOU say that I am?).
The way we think about God, others, ourselves, and how life works are typically underlying assumptions. That means they are below even our conscious awareness until someone asks us in a way that brings those assumptions out into the open. Our worldview can’t change until we are aware of what it is we functionally believe.
Jesus’s questions got his listeners involved in the learning. Our brains connect with learning when we are problem-solving and those solutions are coming out of our own lips.
3—Jesus Told Stories.
Lost coins, lost sheep, lost sons—we ponder these and all the other parables of Jesus because stories get our attention, hold our attention, and help us understand and remember.
Donald Miller writes, “Story is the greatest weapon we have to combat noise because it organizes information in such a way that people are compelled to listen.”
When you talk, are others compelled to listen? How have stories helped you as a learner? How could stories organize the information you teach? What is the next step you could take to move towards becoming better at telling stories?
Jesus was masterful at connecting with others personally, asking thoughtful questions, and telling meaningful stories. What would it do for you and those you lead if you asked God to help you develop greater skill in one of these areas? Are you willing to ask now?