Preliminary Thoughts on a New Approach to Adult Education

Teacher

My church is experimenting with a new approach to adult education. As mentioned in the previous post, we have age group classes with rotating teachers. The difficulty we’ve faced has been maintaining consistently high quality.

This isn’t for lack of talent. We are blessed with an abundance of teaching talent, with many members having advanced Bible degrees or being former fulltime ministers. But these men are busy with family and work and are often reluctant to come up with a weekly lesson plan.

Also, we have a problem in that many of our “age group” classes have students who aren’t remotely a part of that age group. Members feel privileged to follow a favorite teacher, and while this is no great sin, it can interfere with the social dynamics of the class. There’s a real value in having continuity in a class, to build friendships and to help support the small group program.

As a result, this quarter we’ve asked all the teachers to teach the same material and to attend a class on Wednesday night to be taught by a “master teacher” who will prepare them for the following Sunday. The master teacher brings a lesson outline and the teachers all sit down and talk through it. Ideas are shared and critiqued. The master teacher often revises the outline based on the discussions and emails the improved outline to the teachers that night or the next day.

Meanwhile, the teachers are allowed to prepare their own lessons and aren’t required to strictly follow the master teacher’s outline. Teachers have to teach in the way they feel comfortable.

The master teacher spends Sundays visiting the classes to provide feedback to the newer teachers. He is also available to substitute—he’s already prepared and can fill in on very short notice.

We’re now nearly through the first quarter, and the department leader has recruited teachers for the next quarter. The early results are—

<!–[if !supportLists]–>·        <!–[endif]–>The department leader has been able to recruit two excellent faculties. Men seem very willing to teach when they are supported in this way.

<!–[if !supportLists]–>·        <!–[endif]–>The membership seems very pleased with the quality of the teaching. The average quality is reported to be up.

<!–[if !supportLists]–>·        <!–[endif]–>Attendance is higher—although not greatly.

<!–[if !supportLists]–>·        <!–[endif]–>The teachers seem to enjoy it. Some prefer to work entirely on their own, while others very strictly follow the outline, and others are somewhere in between—but all like having the help.

<!–[if !supportLists]–>·        <!–[endif]–>The department leader has to come up with only one topic for the quarter, rather than eight, and so has a little more time to work on the pastoral side of things.

<!–[if !supportLists]–>·        <!–[endif]–>Students appear to be more willing to stay in their natural classes, although we still have some students moving to follow a favored teacher.

On the other hand, we’ve already decided to go back to our old system for the summer. Some classes have special needs that can’t be met in this system—marriage enrichment, parenting, financial management, empty nest issues, and such can only be handled this way.

There are still a few unanswered questions, such as—

<!–[if !supportLists]–>·        <!–[endif]–>How will this work when we take on very difficult, very controversial topics? Can we find enough teachers who can handle the most challenging material?

<!–[if !supportLists]–>·        <!–[endif]–>How will the teachers respond over the long haul? This is very far removed from our traditions, and so early results might be misleading.

<!–[if !supportLists]–>·        <!–[endif]–>Can we manage the classes pastorally through this method? This has always been a struggle, due in part to the shifting attendance patterns.

We are not the first to try this, and some other congregations have done this for quite a while. I would be very interested in learning how they feel about their experiences.

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6 Responses

  1. Thank You

  2. “How will this work when we take on very difficult, very controversial topics? Can we find enough teachers who can handle the most challenging material?”

    This would seem to be a good place for the elders to step in and teach for a month of Sundays. They are the ones responsible for navigating the church through all waters, including the rapids! This would also give everyone else a natural break and gain some insight into and from their elders.

    Since this is an old post, has an answer naturally surfaced over time?

  3. Jay, Thanks for the post.

    Brad, Thanks for your comment to bring this post to my attention.

    I appreciate this post because I appreciate creativity when it comes to methods to help make our ‘church’ experience real and relative.

    As an educational director I setup quarterly adult classes and offered as many simultaneously as floor space allowed.

    People told me they wanted variety and choices. At our place, about 70% of the people chose the classroom, then the subject, then the teacher when selecting which class they attended for the quarter.

    In our case, our experiments with age-based classes were not as successful. Right or wrong, people felt like they were being limited in their choices when told to attend a class based on their age. As an alternative, we strove to offer a variety of topics each quarter that would appeal to the various age groups.

    There have been quarters when we chose to cover a single topic in all classes. I might try your ‘master teacher’ concept the next time.

    Thanks,
    Rich.

  4. Brad,

    This post is a couple of years old, and we’ve been using this approach for 3 out of 4 quarters ever since. It’s going well.

    * We take summers off to allow classes to cover material particular to their needs and to cover some material not suitable for the entire church.
    * We’ve had ample volunteers. My congregation is blessed with some very talented, very spiritual teachers.
    * The method has served well to help some novice teachers get started, typically team teaching. Because I’ve prepared the lesson and prepped the teachers, it’s much easier for a new teacher, even though the material can be very challenging.
    * We’ve covered the Amazing Grace material and Blue Parakeet material in all the adult classes — which are as controversial as it gets. It’s gone much better than I ever anticipated.
    * As you’ve seen, I also post the lesson notes on the blog. This gives the teachers the benefit of the comments from the readers, which are often very helpful.

    In short, it’s worked well. I don’t know how well it would translate to another congregation, but there are other churches that do the same thing and report good things as well. The key is having at least one “master teacher” who can prepare the lessons in time and prep the other teachers.

    I’ve tried not teaching on Sundays and visiting the classrooms to see how well the teachers are doing. I hated it. I hated not teaching and felt disconnected from the material as I didn’t get to teach it to a regular class. I find it much easier to do what I do if I also teach.

    The one key thing is to insist that the teachers be regular in attending the Wed night prep class. Most of our teachers could do well from just the blog posts, but I often rewrite the posts after the prep class, to take into account ideas that come from the time with the teachers, and I do my best thinking while teaching. There’s just something about being in dialogue with students that sharpens the lesson.

  5. First heard of Master Teacher in the 1970s from a minister in the Bahamas. They did it because they didn’t have many confident teachers. Also then they did it as a group of congregations, meeting at a central place. By the way they had several Master teachers, one for adult, another for high school, grammar, and juvennile.

  6. […] Preliminary Thoughts on a New Approach to Adult Education […]

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