Dr. Hank Smith has taught seminary, institute, and now teaches at Brigham Young University. He is a regular speaker at religious programs, corporate training events, school assemblies, and educational conferences. He is a master teacher and in this episode, he shares with us some of his secrets and tactics that we can all apply to improve our teaching. This interview was originally part of the Leading Saints Teaching Saints Virtual Summit.
Transcription Available Below
4:45 Start with remembering why you are teaching: Genesis 44:34 How can we go back to Heavenly Father without these students?
7:00 Teaching is like art: There are fundamentals but otherwise everyone’s art is different. Get the fundamentals and then play to your strengths.
10:45 What to do when a discussion is not happening
- Write out your questions beforehand
- Add “Why do you think…?” when asking a question
- Build-in the silence so it isn’t awkward
- Let people know you’re going to ask them
- Avoid the easy questions
- Be authentic about wanting a discussion
18:30 Look at examples of the Savior teaching: John 4
- Set them up to get their attention
- Know your students and make it relevant to them
- Bring up testimony at the right moment
25:30 More effective when teaching by a one-by-one ministry
29:20 Watch for moments to get to, rather than getting through material
30:30 Using gratitude and praise
33:45 Collect and use stories
38:25 Prepare until you’re excited
39:50 Mark 2: four people working together to carry a man to Jesus
42:45 How to share scriptures
- Power in translating it into modern language, in word-for-word reading, and in summarizing
- Ask: did you understand?
- Read with enthusiasm and personality
47:45 There’s an ideal, but be okay with the real
Leading Saints (LS): Welcome back to another session of the Teaching Saints Virtual Summit. This is one of the later recordings that we’re doing, and it’s been fun to see everything unfold, and people from around the world, thousands of individuals tuning in and hopefully gaining some insight on how to be better teachers in the church. Today I’m back on the campus of BYU, talking with Dr. Hank Smith. How are you?
Hank Smith: Hello. Good to be with you, Kurt.
LS: Now, tell the 10 people out there listening that have never heard of you, give them some background.
Hank: Yes, the 10 out of the 11 who are listening. I’ve taught in [seminaries institutes? 00:00:52] for…it’s been since 2000, so 18 years. I moved over to BYU in 2010, and I’ve taught here since then. [00:01:03] I work for Deseret Book a little bit, BYU Education Week, EFY, try to spread some goodness.
LS: Nice, awesome. As I usually start out with, I want to imagine that we’re in front of a room full of new gospel doctrine teachers, maybe seminary teachers, youth teachers, let’s go through some points on improving teaching. But where do we start? What’s a good jumping off point?
Hank: I think for me, personally, I have to remember why we do what we do because it can get tiresome. And sometimes things don’t go as well as planned, and you think, “Why do I even try,” because it’s not working. So you have to remember why. You come back to why.
I have to go through my reasons why I do what I do, and in Genesis 44, Joseph is testing his brothers to see if they’ve changed. This is when he’s in Egypt and they’ve come to Egypt for food, and he wants to see if they’ve changed, [00:02:03] and so he frames Benjamin. Most people have seen the play, haven’t read the book, but most people know the play.
LS: Which is a historically [acting].
Hank: Right, right. Yeah, totally. They sing the songs right here in the chapters. But in Genesis 44, he said he’s going to take Benjamin and put him in prison, and he’s going to let the brothers go. And he says, “You can go.” He wants to see; will they leave their little brother behind? If they do, then they haven’t changed and there’s no reason to help them. But if they don’t, maybe they’ve changed.
And it’s Judah who says he can’t go back without this boy, without Benjamin. He says that his father loves this boy. He says in verse 30 – This is Genesis 44:30 that the father’s life, Jacob’s life is bound up in this lad’s life. He loves him so much and he says, “I can’t.” [00:03:00] We’ve already hurt him once, we can’t hurt him again. “
So he offers himself in Benjamin’s place, which by the way, is kind of a foreshadowing of Christ because Christ is Judah’s descendants. Great great great great great-grandson is Jesus. He offers himself in our place. But this phrase of Genesis 44:34, “How can I go up to the Father and the lad not be with me,” I try to remember that as a teacher. That I’m trying to help people get back to our Heavenly Father, and how could I go back there, and the students of mine not be with me. I can’t. I can’t go back without them.
So as hard as it is sometimes, you’re just, “Okay.” And then you pick yourself back up and you try again. How can I go back to the Father and the lad not be with me? So for me, there’s my motivation. I’m going to try to be like the Savior and help people get back to our Heavenly Father.
Once you’re motivated, motivation just can’t be everything [00:04:01] because you need some practical tips and tricks, little things that will help you just be more effective. And there’s a lot of little things that people can do. One thing I would say that’s helped me and helped some of the people I’ve helped in teaching is to do two things. Try to remember two things.
One, teaching is like art. There are some fundamentals that everybody has to have, but for the most part, everybody’s different. What would you say great art is? Is it Picasso, or Michelangelo, or someone in the church like Walter Rane? What’s great art? Well, they’re all great art, but they’re all different. So great teaching is like great art.
There are some fundamentals that each of those artists have, but they’re totally different. So don’t try to be someone else. Be who you are. Play to your strengths. John, by the way, he’s a good friend of mine, he says, “Dance with who brung ya.” [00:05:02]
The idea is, just stay with what you know, what you do well. So if you’re a great storyteller, you stories. If you’re known for your gospel connections, if that’s your thing, then play to your strength. Do what you do best. Don’t try to be somebody else. Don’t watch another teacher and say, “That’s what I have to be.” Watch for fundamentals. When I watch teachers teach, I look for those fundamentals that they have, and trying to strengthen those. But for the most part, I’m going to use me.
For me, my little flavor, my little twist is using humor. I use a lot of humor in my classroom. My students love it. But I wouldn’t ever say to someone, “That’s what you have to do. You have to be funny,” because that might not be your strength, right? You wouldn’t tell Picasso, “I don’t know what that is, you’re going to have to paint more realism.” That’s not his strength. His strength would be something else.
So I think it’s good for a teacher to remember, don’t try to be other people and play to your strengths. [00:06:05] If you a brilliant business mind, use that in your gospel doctrine classroom, use that in your youth class. Tell them the stories of what it’s like to be in your fields, because you’re the expert there. So there’s nothing wrong with that.
If you’re a fantastic parent, if you just have the gifts of being a great parent, use those skills that you have and don’t try to be something you’re not. Just be yourself.
LS: What would you say to someone…I’m sure there’s some that are listening to this thinking, “Well, I just don’t know what I’m good at. I’m like the last person that should have been called as the gospel target teacher.” Is there a way they can discover that so that they have a place to start?
Hank: Yeah, I think so. I think you kind of go where you naturally go. What do you think about when there’s nothing else to think about? That probably tells you who you are, and what you love. What do you read about? I love history, [00:07:00] and so I read a lot of history books, because I really enjoy it. Well, I’m going to use those lessons that I learned in the classroom where someone else might say, “No, I don’t like history. I like technology.” Well, if that’s your thing, then use that in the classroom.
So go kind of where you naturally go to, your natural loves, and I think you’ll find things are a lot easier there. It won’t feel like you’re swimming upstream. You’ll feel like you’re kind of getting into a groove using your strengths. And people will criticize you when you use your strengths because a lot of people will say, “Well, that’s not great art. Great art is how I do it.” And it’s okay to remind them that there’s more than one way to make art.
There are all sorts of great artists that are not at all alike. That’s okay in the church as well, I think. Great teachers who aren’t at all alike. So play to your strengths and kind of go where you naturally enjoy yourself. [00:08:00] Because your students can tell if you’re enjoying yourself if you like what you’re doing. So use what you love. Use what you love.
LS: Perfect, great.
Hank: Probably the biggest problem I see people run into is when they want to have a discussion in the classroom, but it’s just not happening. You can tell they’re up there just kind of begging people to help them out. And people really want to help out but the teachers not giving them really a good opportunity.
I can’t tell you how many Melchizedek Priesthood Lessons I’ve sat in and you can tell that the teacher really wants feedback from the class, but he’s not offering a real great opportunity for people to jump in. Sometimes I can tell and so I’ll just raise my hand and start talking and they look at you like, “Oh, thank you. You just gave me a big drink of water. Thank you.” [00:09:00]
We can make it so our students are more likely to help us out, to have a discussion by doing a couple of things. One, I would write out my questions beforehand. A lot of people don’t write out their entire lesson, which is totally fine. But I would think of some good questions beforehand.
A good question is not too easy and not too hard. So too easy would be, are the commandments important? No one’s going to answer that question because everybody knows the answer is yes and what else are we going to say?
LS: They all just sort of nod their head.
Hank: Yeah, they’re all just going to nod, yeah, the commandments are important. Is the gospel important? Yes, the gospels important. But you also don’t want it to be too hard, right? You want to make it easy for people to answer. So I do a couple of things.
One, I write my questions beforehand. Two, I always add, “why do you think” because you can’t get that answer wrong. So if I were to ask, what did Jesus mean when he said, fill in the blank? That’s a hard question to answer because you’re asking me to put myself in Jesus’s head here and I don’t know what he thought. [00:10:02] I don’t know what he was thinking. But if all I add is, “why do you think Jesus said this?” then I can’t get that wrong, because it’s what I think.
So make it so people can’t get the answer wrong because people don’t want to feel too vulnerable in class, get the answer wrong. So I would be careful that just make it more of “Hey, I’m making it safe for you to answer this question.”
Two, I would build in the silence so it’s not awkward. I have teachers do this all the time and they say it really helps, is I’ll say something, they’ll say, “Brother Smith, I just can’t get them to talk to me. I’m working with youth, and I just can’t get them. They just sit there and stare at me.” Oftentimes, they’ll ask a question, no one answers, then there’s one student who finally feels so bad for the teacher, they answer and you’re kind of “Please, please, more, more.”
So here’s what I would do. And I’ve given this counsel to a lot of people and it seems to work. [00:11:01] I would write up my question, so I’d say, “I’m going to ask you a question and then I’m going to give you 90 seconds for everyone to come up with a good answer. We’re not going to take an answer for 90 seconds.” See, I’ve built in the silence. It’s no longer awkward. It’s already built in. I’m planning on it.
LS: Oh, that’s great.
Hank: So I would say, “Why do you think Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan?” After we’ve read it, we’ve gone through it, “What was he really trying to teach us? Okay. I’m going to let you guys think for 90 seconds and then Kurt is going to start for us, and then Kurt can call on anybody he wants to give us their answer after he’s done. All right.”
So then I asked my question, “Why do you think that…?” Now everybody knows they might get called on. Kurt, absolutely knows he’s going to get called on because he’s already been called on. I give him 90 seconds to think through it so he’s not shocked that he’s called on right at the spur of the moment. Then he gives an answer. And what’s great is he’ll call on someone, [00:12:00] and that next person, especially if its youth, that next person will always say, “I knew you were going to call on me.”
And I’m not in trouble because I did call on them, their friend did. And for some reason, if their friend calls on them, it’s not as frustrating for them. It’s not a problem for them. Usually what happens is then Kurt calls on Mike and Mike calls on Jessica, and pretty soon they are warmed up enough that everybody starts helping.
And I can do that as long as I want. I mean, if I have a class of eight or nine people, I can keep that going till everybody answers if I want to or I can just wait to see who actually wants to share after a couple because usually they’re warmed up enough and everybody feels like “Okay, we’re all sharing. It’s pretty safe.”
LS: I like that you mentioned that they’re all warmed up because there’s something about just talking for the first time in the classroom, and the next time is a little bit easier.
LS: So if you can keep them talking, it’ll be easier to learn.
Hank: It creates some energy. Oftentimes, we do not wait long enough. If we’re going to ask someone [00:13:00] a question…I love questions that make me search my memory. So if someone were to ask, “When have you felt the presence of the Holy Ghost in a way you knew is indescribable, in a way that was just going to impact you for the rest of your life?” You’re going to have to give me a while to think about that because I’m going to search my memory.
Oftentimes, teachers are so uncomfortable with the silence so they’ll say, “When have you felt the Holy Ghost,” and they’ll wait about four or five seconds, and it’s silent and everybody’s thinking, and they say, “Well, okay,” and they move on. Well, a lot of people will answer that question, but you’ve got to give them time. That’s a great question but give people time to think about it.
So I like to build in silence. It’s so much easier than being scared. Just build it in. Just say, “I don’t want anyone to answer for 30 seconds.” So I give everybody time to think. And if you really don’t think they’re going to answer, then Collins, tell somebody, Kurt or whoever, [00:14:00] “You’re going to answer first, and then we’re going to see what happens after that.” But give people time to think. If you’ve asked them a really great question.
I would avoid the easy questions, yes and no. Are the commandments good? Are the Scriptures good? And you wonder, “Why aren’t people answering?” Well, it’s just too easy. It seems like, “Well, yeah, of course, it is.” That’s why I would write out my questions beforehand, and then I would maybe bounce them off a couple of people and say, “Is this too easy? Is this too hard?” Make it safe to answer.
I feel like the after that you’re going to get a good discussion going. And if they’re not helping you, be authentic. Especially with adults, you can be authentic and say, “I’m really hoping for a good discussion.” There’s nothing wrong with that. Just announcing what your intentions are.
You don’t want to be subtle, or try to come up with the discussion without telling them. Just flat out tell them “I’m hoping for a good discussion about this particular question, so I’m going to wait for you to give me a couple of answers. [00:15:01] And it’s okay for a little quiet here for a second.
LS: And it sounds like a lot of these suggestions are very applicable to the First-Sunday Council Meetings, right?
LS: I think a lot of people are stressing, they’ve tried it, maybe it’s going well, but now people are sort of reverting back to their old habits sort of expecting a lesson. But giving them time to process what you’re talking about some of these questions and preparing good questions…
Hank: Prepare a good question built in the silence and I think you’ll have a good recipe for good things to happen. Then you might call on those who don’t usually give an opportunity to share. I mean, even beforehand, even before church, somehow, shoot someone a text or an email and let them know, “Hey, I’m going to ask this question today and I’m going to ask you to answer.” Even give them an hour to prepare. That’s a nice thing to do and people will really think about it and give you some wonderful answers. [00:16:00]
Problem is when we’re so fast on our questions, and then we don’t give them time to think and we wonder why they’re not helping us when we really didn’t give an opportunity to help us. We asked kind of a question that’s little…not insulting to my intelligence, but it’s hard for me to jump in on, “Are the commandments good?” Besides, yes, I don’t know. At least add why to that question. Are the commandments good? And why do you think they’re good? Well, then that gives me an opportunity to help the teacher out.
Let’s see. I brought a couple of notes here with me. When we talk about teaching the way the Savior taught, I love to actually go look at examples of how he taught and just watch him teach. My favorite example of the Savior teaching is in John Chapter 4: The woman at the well.
This is a Gentile woman, she’s a Samaritan and the Jews and the Samaritans aren’t supposed to be talking to one another. So there’s a little bit of animosity between Jews and Samaritans. [00:17:01] Jesus, he totally sets her up, and it is fantastic. And you can do this in the classroom.
They’re sitting there together at the well, and he says, “Give me to drink.” You can do this with any student. Like, “Do you have some gum. What do you have? What do you have? I want some.” She says, “Why are you talking to me? We shouldn’t be talking. You’re a Jew, I’m a Samaritan.” And he totally set her up. He said, “If you knew who was asking you for water, you’d have asked him for water.”
Isn’t that just a crazy thing to do to someone? You just walk up to them, “do you have gum?” “We shouldn’t be talking to each other.” “Well, if you knew who was talking to you, you would have asked me for gum.” He caught her attention.
We can do that in the classroom as well. We can bring something if we keep our eyes open all week, we’ll find something to use that will catch people’s attention. Make them go, “Wait, What? What just happened there?” Whether it be an object lesson, or a good story, or something, maybe a novel optical illusion that I put up in the class. [00:18:01] Something to get their attention. I can use that in the very beginning of my lesson. Something funny, something, you know, whatever.
Everybody has parts of their life that other people don’t know about. And I can bring something from my job or my career and show them. I remember one guy in my ward works with lasers and diamonds and things. And so he brought one to class and it got our attention. He said, “Take a look at this.” It is like a crystal for his laser cutting that he does in his career. It was really cool to see. It caught my attention.
After that, he allows her to kind of talk for a minute. She says, “What do you mean? You don’t have any water. You don’t have anything to draw with.” And then she asked a question, “Are you greater than our father Jacob, Israel?” The answer is yes, but he doesn’t answer the question. I love that he doesn’t answer the questions because she’s not prepared for the answer.
He could say, “Yeah, I am actually greater than Jacob.” [00:19:01] But she’s not prepared to hear that. And so he doesn’t answer. I think that’s such a great teaching technique is I’m not going to talk about things before you’re ready to talk about them. Because it wouldn’t happen. If I were to bring up the idea of the Messiah right now, it wouldn’t work.
So he holds back. He has something he could share, but he doesn’t share. He shares it later when she brings it up. Which is I think, a great teaching technique. It’s hard to hold back, but you know, it’s just not the right moment to talk about the…You’re kind of holding on to this piece of information that you have or this one poor part of your lesson, hang on to that until it’s the right moment.
So he continues to ask her questions, and he knows about her. He’s able to get her attention because he knows about her. He says, “Go and get your husband.” And she says, “I have no husband.” He says, “You’re right. You don’t have a husband. You’ve had five husbands and the guy you’re living with now is not your husband.” [00:20:01]
Now, we might not know our students that well to name their sins right in front of them, but we can know about them. Our students will find our lessons, adults, and teenagers, more interesting if they’re relevant. Relevant meaning what they have to do with me.
The other day, I went to a great meeting on retirement and I was so bored. And it was a great meeting. Well, why? Because it’s not relevant right now. It’s something so far in the future, that it’s hard for me to say, “Okay, I’m really going to need this.” So when you’re bringing up ideas, when you’re bringing up topics, make sure those topics are relevant to your students lives right now.
When you talk to youth, when you talk to 12-year-olds, about their mission, a mission to a 12-year-old seems a long ways away. Even a mission to an 18-year-old probably seems a long ways away. So it’s hard to stay interested when you’re telling me about got something that’s so far ahead of me. [00:21:02]
When I talk about marriage with people who aren’t married, it’s hard for that to be relevant to them. It might be relevant to me because I’m married, and I might just have gotten home off a mission, so I think both of those topics are super relevant, but they’re not to some people. So make sure that you’re talking about their life. And to do that, you’re not Jesus, so you can’t just know about everyone. So you’re going to have to really listen.
If you pay attention, if you’re an Elders Quorum teacher, you pay attention to the discussions that are going on just in the ward about what people are dealing with in your classroom. If you’re a Teaching Release Society, be aware of what’s a common problem, or what are the common problems that the people in your ward are having to deal with. That’s relevant to them.
With the youth, you might have to talk about things that are relevant with them that aren’t relevant to you. [00:22:00] Friends, dances, phones, those things might not matter to you, but they matter to them. So you want to bring up those topics that are very, very relevant.
And that’s what he does here. He makes the lesson very relevant to her and her situation. And she starts to say, “Okay, well.” Because it’s so relevant, it hits so close to home, she’s like, “I perceive that thou art a prophet,” and she changes the subject. She’s like, “Let’s talk about the differences between Jews and Samaritans because they both think that they’re to worship in separate places.” And he says, “Listen, that’s not the most important thing. What’s the most important thing is what’s about to happen here in Jerusalem.”
Then she brings up the idea of the Messiah, verse 25. This is John 4:25. “I know that there is a Messiah coming, which is called Christ: when he is come, he will tell us all things.” Then he brings out his big moment. “I that speak unto thee am he.” Now, he could have said that way back. Are thou greater than our fathers, Jacob?” [00:23:01] He could have told her that, but that wasn’t the right moment. But this was the right moment to bring up this big testimony.
Because you can just feel it. There’s a time where bearing your testimony is going to work, and the students are going to be paying close attention. There’s time when they’re just not quite prepared to hear that and it’s going to be an awkward moment. So when she is ready, she brings it up that she has a need, that there’s a need for this Messiah, and he says, “Yeah, that is me,” and she is ready to go tell everyone about it.
So those are fun ways to watch him teach. If you go back one chapter, and I would encourage the people listening to do this, go back to John 3 and watch how he teaches Nicodemus because it’s completely different than how he teaches this woman. It reminds me of Alma with his three sons and Alma 36 and 37 with Helaman, Alma 38 with Shiblon, and Alma 39, through 42 with Corianton. He has three different students there, all his sons, and he treats them completely differently. [00:24:02] He doesn’t try to do a cut and dry lesson for each one.
That brings up an interesting point, Kurt that I forgot about this, but I want to point it out. I think you’re more effective as a teacher in this church when you’re trying to do a one by one ministry. When it seems like I want to teach a lesson, and I’m going to make it for every student in this class, it seems to not hit as close to home as if you’ve got one person in mind that you really want to help and everyone else is kind of present for that. And the Holy Ghost can help adjust what’s happening to hit them personally.
But if you’ll try as a teacher to really think about your students as individuals, not just the Deacons Quorum, but Brian and Jacob, and see them as individuals, and teach to them as individuals, I think you’ll be more effective. It seems like everything the Savior does in this church is one by one. [00:24:59]
If you look the sacrament right, why can’t we just do this as a group and just say, everybody who wants to renew their covenants please show by the raise of your hand.” But the Savior’s like, “No, I want each individual person to have their opportunity to touch the flesh. Just like 35:11, they all came up one by one, each child came up one by one.
Look at the temple. Everything in the temple is one by one. Why can’t I just take you to the temple and baptize you for every man who’s ever died? We could be done that fast, but Jesus wants this done one by one. It seems to me, if the Savior were to come to the church, he would talk to us all for about five minutes, and then he’d say, “I want to meet with you individually, one at a time.”
So the more one by one that you can become in your classroom, I think the better off you’re going to be. I think we get into trouble when we try to mass teach. I’m just going to teach a lesson for everybody. So maybe have a student in mind as you’re preparing a lesson. A student who you know, is perhaps struggling or something. Other people are obviously going to be there but have that student in mind. [00:26:02]
I think you’ll be more effective when you’re thinking of a person that you really want to help. That seems to me to work. Because in all these cases, John 3, he’s teaching Nicodemus, John 4, he’s teaching the woman at the well, he seems to have individuals in mind as he is teaching.
Don’t fear, by the way. As you watch the Savior teach, especially in the book of John, don’t fear making things a little bit hard. In John 6 he gives the bread of life sermon, and it’s hard to understand. The apostles are like, “What are you doing? Don’t you want this to be easier or don’t you want more followers?” And he said, “You know…”
He does it in Matthew 13 as well with the parables. They’re saying, “Why are you making this so difficult to understand?” And he says, “Well, these people want to work for it, they’ll get it.” So I think there’s a lesson there.
LS: I love this concept of really seeing the model that the Savior uses with the woman at the well. [00:27:02] There’s this…I don’t know if build up is the right way but this…
Hank: It’s a crescendo.
LS: Yeah. But this moment where he is trying to really impact the individual, he could have sat down in the well and said, “I’m the Messiah. Give some water and I’ll give you some water of life.” But that she was just thought, “Okay, this is a crazy person.” But the fact that he took the time to let her know that he truly knew her and very intimately, then the doors open of her heart…
Hank: Because she is now asking, “How do you know this? What do you know?” I love John 4 for that reason. Go read it again, all of you who are listening, go read it again and just don’t read for the message this time. Just watch his technique because so many times he builds, he builds until his great moment.
Our [unintelligible 00:27:52] can do the same thing. We can start with kind of a “Hey, here’s an attention grabber where people are like, “Wait, what did you just say? or What did you just do?” And then we build and build and build until this moment of “Here’s my great point. [00:28:05] Here’s my testimony or here’s a great scripture, my great final point that I wanted to make,” and let things end right there.
It’s okay to end the lesson at this nice high moment, right. Even if you’re two or three minutes before things are supposed to be over, it’s okay. You don’t have to say anymore. You notice, he doesn’t have anything he wants to get through. Sometimes in our teaching, we want to get through our lesson, right? He has a moment he’s after, not a material.
So watch for those moments as you build. It’s kind of like putting a necklace together. A good lesson is like putting a necklace together. You have different pieces and you don’t just throw them all on there and try to get through them all. There’s a design to it, a start, and an ending and a middle part that creates a beauty to it. So it’s again, it’s like art. It’s something you want to do tenderly, and just be careful as you as you put things together. [00:29:00]
I’ve always said a good lesson as a good beginning and a good ending. I think that’s what we’re talking about here. A good beginning is an attention grabber, and a good ending is your big moment where you have something. And it’s not always going to work. The ideal is it’s going to work, but the real is it might work. And that’s okay.
LS: I love that.
Hank: A couple other points that I would say. One, if I was teaching youth, I would use a lot of praise and gratitude. Youth seem to thrive off of praise. It’s okay. The Scriptures say to clothe people in the garment of praise. So if a student really helps you, if a student really does a great job, let them know how great they did.
It’s like printing your own money. I’m telling you. If Jessica did really great in class, gave you a great answer, then write Jessica a little note, drop it off at her house with some cookies or write an email to her parents that says, “Jessica is amazing in our class. Thank you so much.” [00:30:00] And when her parents say, “Jessica, we just got an email from your Sunday school teacher” and she’s like, “Oh, no, what did I do?” “They said that you’re the greatest thing that ever walked the planet.” That to her, you just built a rapport with her. And when she comes in the next time, she’s going to be, again, willing to help you because you notice.
So be specific in your praise about not just thanks for being a great student, but “Hey, that comment today about how you, that was awesome. Like that really changed our lesson.” Adults love praise as well. Sometimes we think “Oh, they’re adults, they’re fine.” No, adults love to be praised. There’s nothing wrong with finding someone after a lesson and saying, “That really helped me. That insight you offered, just thank you so much because I thought that that really added to our lesson.”
LS: And it’s one thing to praise in the class like, “Hey, what a great comment. Thank you, brother John, for giving that.” But I think it’s more poignant when you take time after the class where people feel like you’ve clocked out as the teacher, and you’re no longer…
Hank: Like, “I’m done. I got through it.”
LS: …but to really take that extra step. And that’s going to re-engage them next time thinking, “This person really cares for me.” It’s another step that Savior that took to really know his students.
Hank: Yeah. Especially youth. Youth, there’s a time in their life where they like to pretend they feel great about themselves.
LS: Or that they don’t care.
Hank: Yeah, but they’re super insecure. A little bit of praise goes a long way. I bet anyone listening to our broadcast here can remember specific people who praised them. Way back in the 1900s, I can remember people who praised me. Teachers who pulled me aside and said, “You are awesome. You’re just amazing. Thank you so much for being you.”
Those moments have real impact. So don’t underestimate what you can do outside of the classroom that will really impact what happens inside the classroom. [00:31:59]
My wife’s as Young Women’s leader, she would often show up at basketball games, and she would show up at their events. Someone’s in maybe a beauty pageant or someone’s in some sort of dance competition or whatever it is, she would often show up at that and then just walk up to them and say, “Hey, that was awesome.” And they’d say, “You came, Oh, my goodness.” That just goes a really long way because you didn’t just say you cared, you show that you cared.
And with our new emphasis on ministry from General Conference, this is the perfect opportunity to be a minister, a one by one minister to the students in your classroom, and not just kind of a teacher for the masses.
LS: I love that.
Hank: Couple of other things that have helped me. One, I, in general – and again, this might not work if it’s not your strength. But in general, I would say, especially with youth, but even with adults is use stories. [00:33:01] Keep a database of stories because oftentimes you’re teaching a lesson and you want a great story, but you can’t find one. You’re searching lds.org you’re googling and you’re struggling for a great story and can’t find one. So you need to keep a database. When you find a great story, put it in your database. Even if it’s a Microsoft Word document on your computer that just called stories, and you put it in there.
The other day, I read a story about a guy who was so drunk, the police found him and he was given mouth to mouth to roadkill who he really thought was his friend. And I thought, “That is such a strange attention-getting story. I’m going to use that someday.”
Now, I’m not teaching a lesson on the word of wisdom anytime soon, but I might be. So I put it in my database of stories because I know two years from now, I’m going to have a lesson on the word of wisdom and I’m not going to have a good story for it. Just an attention-getting story. So if you hear a good story, write it down and put it in your database.
I think in my personal little database that I have, I’m up to like 1,300 different stories. [00:34:05] If someone says, “Hey, brother Smith, can you give a fireside on this?” it’s easy because I’ve got a collection of stories that I have. If you hear a great story in General Conference, write that one down.
I think the church even provides stories from General Conference on the Mormon Channel. So you could go and listen to those stories about different topics. Because it seems to me, if I have a chance to preach or tell a story, I’m going to tell a story. Just because it’s more memorable, people don’t feel preached to, they feel like they can get the lesson for themselves.
I mean, the Savior did this. He talked about 50 some odd parables in the New Testament. And he could have just said, “Be a good person, be a good neighbor,” but instead, he told the parable of the Good Samaritan. He could have just said, “Sometimes you have to wait for the rebellious to return,” but instead he told us the parable of the prodigal son. These are memorable stories. He could say, “Don’t be jealous. [00:35:00] Don’t be jealous when God gives blessings to other people,” but instead, he told us the parable of the 11th-hour workers.
So I think stories are great. President Monson was someone who’s like, “I’m going to tell a story and we all remember it.” Even my children remember don’t play with matches, or else you’re going to burn down Provo Canyon, because of what President Monson said.
So when you can use stories, and I know the most frustrating thing is I want to use stories, but I just can’t find any. That’s where your database will come in. So I would sit down right now after listening to this, I would sit down right now and I’d just brainstorm every good story that I know from my own life, because personal stories are really fun, from my own life, or from great stories that I’ve heard. And I would maybe attach to that a note on what type of lesson that might work with. “One day, I’m going to teach on the temple, so here’s my favorite experience with the temple.” And then every time you have a lesson, you go back to your database, and you’ve got some great stories to tell.
It seems to me that if you can tell a story, your lesson’s going to be memorable. [00:36:00] People are going to say, “Wow, that really had impact.” Because there’s something about using our mind to visualize what’s happening in a story, we can see the parables as they happen, and I think we’re tapping into something that will really have impact on our students as they walk out going, “Wow, that story really meant a lot to me.”
LS: I think that’s a great tip. There’s something I’ve applied in my life of having a database. I use a tool called Evernote that many people are familiar with. You can tag in things. If I find a great story and there’s maybe four different type of gospel principles like eternal families, marriage and something else, and so I tag it with those. And man, it saved me. When I serve as Bishop and I suddenly realized, I think the speakers ending 15 minutes early, what are we going to do?
Hank: This is my chance to give a great message.
LS: Go to my database and find that story. Another thing about stories is, it fills a lot of time when you need to fill time, but it’s still engaging and still has a crescendo.
Hank: I tell stories, especially teenagers, [00:37:01] teenagers, you’ll just watch them, they’ll lean forward and their eyes will be on you, and they’re just “Wow, I want to know about this story. I want to know how this ends.” So you can use that.
I’ve often told the beginning of a story at the first part of my lesson, got to the moment where they really want to know what happens, and I’ll say, “Okay, I’m going to tell you towards the end of the lesson.” They’ll say, “Oh, come on, tell us now.” And I’ll say, “No, let’s get into the lesson and then I’ll tell you at the end.”
LS: And that’s essentially what Christ did. At the end of his story, he was, “I’m the Messiah.”
Hank: Right. I got your little attention and then I’m going to teach you a little bit and then I’m going to give you the end at my moment. My big moment I want to give in the end. In fact, as I was preparing for our interview today, I went to my little personal database of stories, and I typed in teaching, and then all these things came up that I wanted to share.
I remember once I received a great little tip that I’ve always remembered, those little things that stay with you. A teacher said to me, “Prepare until you’re excited.” [00:38:00] I really liked that. If you’re not excited about your material, I don’t think you’re prepared. So whatever lesson you have, prepare until you’re so excited. And being excited means, I know that this stuff is going to change a life. That these students are going to feel this.
If I’m not excited about what I’m about to teach, I try to prepare more and just read about it more. And all of a sudden, you go, “This is important, this does matter, this can have impact.” And your excitement will bleed off into…it’ll be contagious. Your excitement for something. Oftentimes, my students will say, “I like your class because I can tell you love the gospel. You’re excited about Scripture.” right.
I think I heard Elder Maxwell say once, “What’s just missing from a good gospel teacher is just a little enthusiasm.” Just have some enthusiasm for what they’re teaching, [00:39:02] some excitement about what they’re about to share with you.
That might not be you, being enthusiastic and crazy about it, but energy. I think that no matter what artists we are in teaching, energy is got to be included. It’s a fundamental that people want to see a teacher with energy and excitement for what they’re about to teach. So prepare until you’re excited.
Then lastly, I wanted to share one last thing, and then we’ll wrap this up. In Mark Chapter 2, and this is, especially with youth, in Mark Chapter 2, we have the story of four people bringing a man to the Savior. He’s sick with the palsy. It says in Mark 2:3, “And he was born or carried by four different people. I really like this idea because these four people get this man Jesus. [00:40:01]
It says in Verse 5, “When Jesus saw their faith, not the man’s faith, but their faith, he said to the sick of the palsy, thy sins be forgiven thee and then he heals him.” And it seems to me that if you have four people working together, you can get someone to Jesus. But you can imagine carrying that man, the four of them carrying that man together.
They had to work together, they had to work together, they had to talk to each other, they had to figure out, “Okay, this is what I’m going to do. Sometimes you’re going to have to carry the weight, sometimes I’m going to have to carry the weight, sometimes you’re going to have to go high, and I’m going to have to go low, because it’s up and down terrain and I might slip, so you’ve got to be able to pick it up. And we can’t go different directions because we’ve got one person here. If we want to go this way and I want to go this way, we’re going to have to come to a decision.”
I like this because I think it helps when we think about in church, especially in teaching youth. I’ve got a bunch of different teachers there. I’ve got obviously a parent, [00:40:59] I’ve got a Young Woman’s leader, two or three of them, I’ve got the Sunday school teachers, and I’ve got maybe the bishop. And all of us are working together to get this girl, or this young woman, or young man to Jesus.
We’ve got to talk to each other. We’ve got to be willing to sacrifice for each other. We’ve got to be willing to say, “Okay, what are you going to do? What am I going to do?” Too often we’re all on our own. I’m going to help her this way, I’m going to help her this way, and I’m going to help her this way, and nobody’s talking to each other.
Now, it doesn’t mean we have to gossip about her. But it just means, “Okay, what direction are you taking? I like that idea. What if I were to supplement it with this?” That’s going to be more effective than working in isolation. So picture yourselves as kind of a team that’s taking this person to the Savior.
Obviously the parent, I would imagine someone in this guy’s families is helping carry, they might, they might have more insight than anybody else on what this person needs. So I might follow what they’re going to do. As their teacher, I might say, “Well, they’re the parents, [00:42:00] I’m going to listen to them and try to follow what they would have me do.”
There’s nothing quite as wonderful as when a parent comes up to you, and, wraps you up and says, “You helped us so much. You just saved us.” I’ve seen that in church and in seminary and even here at BYU, I’ve had parents. There’s nothing like that gratitude that comes from a parent that says, “We were trying so hard, and you picked up an end of the bed and helped us carry.”
LS: That’s awesome.
Hank: It’s a beautiful moment. I think the Savior obviously would be grateful as well.
LS: I’m curious about how you share Scriptures. Obviously, we’re not in a formal classroom with lots of students. It’s one to one interview type thing. But as you share those Scriptures, you’re building context, mainly. So you’re, you’re summarizing, paraphrasing, getting through this is what Jesus, in essence, is saying, and this is what happened, but it draws me in because it’s not, [00:43:01] “Okay, I’m listening to the Scripture trying to follow.” “Okay, I think I got it. I think I didn’t” What advice would you give on sharing a Scripture in a classroom setting? How do you usually do it?
Hank: I think that there’s power in doing two different things. One, I think there’s power in translating it into modern day language that an adult or youth can understand. So oftentimes, if I’m teaching youth, I will retranslate the scripture into their type of story. I know some people don’t like that, but that’s kind of my art, right will be like, “And Jesus said, well, watch out you guys.” Just give it to them in their language.
I think there’s also power in reading a scripture word for word, the way it’s written. When Jesus says to the woman at the well, “I that speaking to thee I’m he.” There’s power in word for word, reading it that way. So you’re just going to have to kind of use your flavor on how you like to do that.
I don’t know if it’s very effective, just to assume everybody gets it. As you’re reading scripture, you might be really good at understanding scripture, but some people hear that and they might as well hear a different language because they did not catch what was just said. [00:44:05] So it’s good to just revisit them.
Maybe if you’re going to have your students read a verse, then say, “Did everybody catch that? He’s basically saying this.” Especially if you’re reading something difficult like Isaiah, someone will read a couple verses of Isaiah, and they’ll go, “I have no idea what he said.” And so it’s good to kind of say, “In my words, here is what he’s talking about. Here is what he’s saying.” And they go, “Oh.” You’ll see them nod and go, “Oh.”
So I wouldn’t fear summarizing and putting it into more present-day language. But I also don’t fear just reading it word for word, especially those ones where you just feel the power of the words themselves the way they need to be read that way.
LS: You seem very intentional with sometimes you’re just building context and getting the story out there and then you read the Scripture that hits the hearts.
Hank: The one where the students are going to go, “Wow, I like that, I’m going to highlight that. [00:45:04]
LS: Typically, I think a lot of teachers think, “Okay, I want to have classroom participation so I’m going to call on people to read the scriptures.” Every time there’s a scripture, “Brothers, sister Johnson, will you read that?” I’m getting it. Do you always have the student read this scripture or does it just depends?
Hank: I think it depends. But me personally, I don’t do that. Me personally, I do a lot of summarizing. “Let’s get to the meaty part of this.” And it depends on who I’m teaching. If they understand what’s going on, I’ll just flat out ask, “Does everybody understand what just happened, what the story is? And I’ll watch for faces like, “Ahh.” or “Yeah.” And I’ll watch them and say, “Tell me, do you get what’s going on?”
Again, I’m the type that’s going to find humor in the scriptures and so that usually helps people stay engaged, as well as when I’ll say, “Nicodemus, he’s just not getting this. Watch him as he doesn’t get this.” Something else I do, especially with the younger students, I do this with everyone is I read the scriptures with a little enthusiasm.
These people didn’t actually talk like, monotone, what is easier to say, for the sake of the policy, thy sins be forgiven. The savior had a personality. So it’s okay to put a little, I don’t know, a little narration. As you go, I give a bit of a raspy voice and I’ll give a [inaudible 00:46:30] a bit of a strong “I’m amazing” voice. And so it’s okay to…
LS: …to work in some of your humor.
Hank: Right, right. And people have said, “Why don’t you read the Scriptures for our kids? You do have just versus where you read Scriptures for kids.” I think it goes a long way when you’re hearing something. It’s like listening to a good audiobook. The narrator will you help you understand people’s personalities by changing up their voices a little bit.
Especially with my own children, my young, young children, I’m always giving new voices to the scripture because I want them to be fun and interesting. I want my kids to look back and go, “I like scriptures. They’re fun. Dad made that cool.” Rather than you have to have this one week, sometimes have our one scripture reading voice where it’s kind of just monotone and paste out the exact same. I just don’t feel personally that they were meant to be read with such a boring…I don’t think sacred means being…I don’t know what.
Hank: Dull. That’s a good word. Sacred doesn’t mean dull.
LS: Cool. Well, this has been fantastic. I appreciate you taking the time to do this.
Hank: Absolutely. Happy to help.
LS: I think people listening are encouraged. They’ve probably taken several notes like I have. What final message of encouragement do you have? Again, if you’re standing in front of that room full of new gospel doctrine teachers, seminary teachers, what encouraging words would you leave with them? [00:48:03]
Hank: I’m a pretty authentic guy and so I like to be real. I often tell people, and I think this is good in any area of life, that we have the ideal and the church is going to push us towards the ideal. The videos that they make of how a classroom should look, sometimes teachers will look at that go, “My classroom does not look like that.” And I’ll say, “Well, neither does theirs really because there are certain kids, they didn’t invite to the filming.”
Your kids would act like that, too. If they had to come to church on a Saturday and their video cameras there and their parents and said, “Don’t mess up the churches video. So just know that there’s an ideal. Just like anything, in marriage, in family, in teaching, there’s an ideal and we want the ideal. We’re pursuing the ideal. But mostly, we’re going to deal with the real. And that’s okay, too. Because you have great ideal moments and then most of the time you’re dealing with the real.
Be okay with the real, don’t be too frustrated when your teenagers are real. [00:49:02] Sometimes teenagers talk over you. That’s what they do. It’s like asking a puppy not to bark. I mean, that’s just what they do. And they’re learning, so be okay when your teenagers are real teenagers. And be okay when your adults sleep or on their phone or something because that’s kind of real. That’s what people do.
But we’re going to push for those moments that are ideal. When you have those moments, relish in them, enjoy those moments. Then don’t get too frustrated when things don’t go the way you thought they would. Our expectation is “I’m going to have a perfect lesson and then we’re going to have a musical montage and everyone’s going to go on missions together and write a…”
That’s just I think even in the Savior as he’s setting up his last supper, His apostles are arguing over who gets to sit where and he’s got to be thinking, “I had an expectation for how this night would go and you guys are ruining it.” [00:50:00] So even the Savior himself had to deal with the reality of human beings. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. I think it’s actually quite refreshing.