It is the question that students, parents and others ask us so very often. We study, plan and prepare getting ready for that moment when we stand up in front of our students and begin to speak. We are paid to communicate the greatest truths imaginable. We have the privilege as well as the responsibility to teach students, but what are we REALLY teaching our students? Very little of our teaching and communication is actually what comes out of our mouth. What we are really teaching is taught more in through our body, tone, and what we do not say then through our actual words.
We live in an increasingly non-verbal world, where the medium is the message. More and more of personal and interpersonal communications are actually spoken, while the church continues to hold for the most part to a spoken, lecture model of communicating. However this is not to say that we should give up on this week’s youth group lesson, instead texting out our notes and Instagram our slides. We just need to more than ever be aware that 55% of what is being taught is through our body, 38% of what we are communicating is through the tone of voice, while the remain 7% is through actual spoken word.
In addition to the usual traditional ideas about gestures and posture there are two more things related to our body to remember that will communicate before and throughout what we are teaching.
o Dress-for the crowd you are speaking to. Be aware of the demographic, culture and setting. Dress in ways that will connect and not distract from what you are trying to teach.
o Distance-from your listeners will determine whether you are heard. It is not about sound, it is about being with and talking to students. An old teacher of mine told me 2 things that have stuck with me over the year: 1. “Be a guide on the side and not a sage on the stage.” 2. “Get off your seat and stay on your feet.” If you are seeking to teach not just speak, you must be willing to move to your students. Be more than a “talking head” upfront, but a “walking friend” along side throughout a lesson.
It is not a personality thing or style issue it is awareness. Think about speaking TO students, not speaking AT them. While you may be passionate and excited, both are great things, make sure you are not coming off angry or upset. Both will turn off a listener and stop your message before it hits a student’s ear.
Secondly be aware of your humor and what things you make light of. Often when we are talking about uncomfortable topics, the default setting is to try to remove the tension by joking. These topics often are the ones that are the most difficult to speak on in your groups but are the ones that we need to speak most honestly about. Making these topics cute or funny communicates that these topics are not to be taken as serious, which become a lesson all its own.
• Actual Words
It is not what you say, as much as what you don’t say that will become a second lesson. In academic teaching terms it is called the “null curriculum”. It is the idea that the things we don’t or won’t teach on still communicate about that topic. Similar to the above idea of lighten up a setting on a tough topic, often we completely avoid speaking all on a topic. Whether it is because of our personal reasons or an organizational philosophy, not saying anything often speaks louder than what we are saying. It best to actually speak on and to a topic directly than to not say anything at all.
Another term used in academic teaching settings is the “implicit curriculum”. The term refers to the implied expectations and values of a setting, speaker or church. Once again the unspoken words often communicate louder than actual words. Especially in youth ministry settings with new students coming to our ministry or even students who have been around a while getting comfortable with our group and us. It okay to articulate expectations and even core values, making everyone aware of what is expected and what is important.
Think back at the things you have learned and how you have learned them. Remember those people who taught you the most and changed your life. While we can all think back about a few great lesson or sermons, the things we learn and shaped us more often caught than taught. So as you prepare this week to teach and speak, as yourself the question that everyone else asks you, what ARE you teaching this week? It may be much more than you thought?