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I recently met two KidMin leaders from the same church who were telling me about their struggles with finding quality volunteer teachers. In way of illustration, they told me about one teacher in particular—the one who had caused them the most hair loss. "He's a little bit awkward," the one leader told me. She talked about his struggle to stay on topic, his quirky mannerisms, and his perpetual unpreparedness. "It's kind of painful to watch," she concluded. All the while, her coworker nodded in agreement before chiming in, "It's so true." The coworker paused, then added, "But you know what? The kids really love him and they actually learn a lot from him." Score one for awkward teachers everywhere! It's these kinds of stories that make my head spin, that mess with my preconceived ideas of what makes a teacher "good." To me, good teachers are prepared. They know how to use the pace, pitch, and volume of their voice to command attention. They gesture and move in a way that makes the message come alive. They speak in a language that resonates with kids. In short, they've mastered the art of communication.
It turns out, though, there's one very important thing missing from my list: relationship. In a New York Times article titled "Students Learn From People They Love," David Brooks argues that there is a connection between emotional relationships and learning. He cites breakthrough work by cognitive scientists who show us that "emotion is not the opposite of reason; its' essential to reason."
Brooks says, "[This breakthrough work] reminded us that what teachers really teach is themselves—their contagious passion for their subjects and students. It reminded us that children learn from people they love, and that love in this context means willing the good of another, and offering active care for the whole person." Let me say that again for the purpose of emphasis, "Children learn from people they love." Brooks goes on to cite a recent study. "Patricia Kuhl of the University of Washington has shown that the social brain pervades every learning process. She gave infants Chinese lessons. Some infants took face-to-face lessons with a tutor. Their social brain was activated through direct eye contact and such, and they learned Chinese sounds at an amazing clip. Others watched the same lessons through a video screen. They paid rapt attention, but learned nothing." When we're faced with a lack of "quality" KidMin teachers, it's tempting to turn to a video. A well-done video or video-driven curriculum gives you high-quality communicators that keep kids engaged at the push of a button. But Kuhl's study raises this question: Although kids might pay rapt attention to a video, what are they learning? I think it's a little too much to say that kids learn nothing from a video, but the research is very clear on this: relationship propels learning. And you can't have a relationship with a video. A mediocre communicator who has a contagious passion for God and a love for kids beats a video every time. So does this mean we should settle for mediocre communicators?
Nope! Although a bad teacher is better than a great video, a great teacher is better than a bad teacher. We should always be looking for people who have a gift for communicating with kids. And when we find them, we should help them get better through quality training. If you're looking for a training resource, you can download my "Two-Minute Trainer: Large Group Leader Edition" eBook for FREE. It has 20 short training topics you can use to invest in your KidMin communicators.
This topic is too big and too important to cover in one article, so in the coming weeks, I'll share some more thoughts on how to foster relationships that support the learning and life-change you want to see in your KidMin. If you don't already get my emails, subscribe to my blog so you can get it straight to your inbox.
In the meantime, know this: God has already equipped you with the most important tool for teaching the kids in your ministry—it's your contagious passion for Him and your love for His children. YOU, my friend, are better than a video!