Nurturing a Teachable Spirit

I have seen teachers and parents who just instinctively know how to encourage this... and I’ve seen children who are born with it... I was not. 

From the moment I could push my mother’s hand away I was warning her that I could do things on my own... even the first day of Kindergarten. 

All photos courtesy of the talented photographers at unsplash.com

All photos courtesy of the talented photographers at unsplash.com

She tells the story of already being nervous as she took me into the school building. There was a terrible lump in her throat. I suddenly made the decision that this was ridiculous. As we walked toward the door, I pulled my hand away and announced, “I’m too big to hold your hand now, Mommy.”

Five years old and already convinced I was a wise woman of the world. I am so thankful Jesus had my mom and he wasn’t finished with me yet!

Fast forward to my own classroom. I was fresh out of graduate school and there was nothing left for me to learn. I knew everything about communication.... So, the local community college assigned me to a Business English class... Um...

In a business setting, people often work in groups, so one week, I had students work on a group project while I was there to talk through it with them. It was not work to take home. They were to come in prepared to work in their group. Finally, a group of older students cornered me and informed me that I was being too hard on them... I was asking them to do a group project within a time pressure and that didn’t seem fair. 

The key here is that both sides were wrong. They were wrong to approach their instructor in a  confrontational way, but I was wrong in the way I had poorly prepared them for a group project. If I had let them know it was coming and spent more time explaining my goal, the confrontation might never have happened. If I had laid the groundwork, they would have been more receptive to the assignment and we would have all been working toward a common goal. 

I was so busy trying to prove I knew all this “stuff” that I didn’t take the time to really experience the work with the students. That was a tough lesson to learn.

By the time I started working with students of all ages at Artios, I knew to give my classes a better sense of where we would be going throughout the year and what our purpose was. I had made a conscious decision to treat my classes equally... I am not a fan of talking “down” to younger students. For me, this meant that while they needed assignments explained more clearly, they were still given plenty of time to join the discussion. 

When I had a classroom full of elementary students shouting, “Why do you hate us?” I thought it was best to take a few steps back so that they would actually listen to what I wanted to teach them. I think it was in this moment that I became aware of the term “Teachable Spirit.” 

II Timothy 3:16-17 is an integral part of the Artios philosophy for this very reason. In the NIV it says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

We spent some of our time looking at what Proverbs says about how we accept instruction. Maybe you know the verses better than I did at that point. My elementary class especially liked Proverbs 12:1: Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid. 

After we got beyond the fact that “stupid” is a word found in the Bible, we talked about discipline and how that is not always a punishment. Sometimes it is a correction — like my notes on a student’s paper. Discipline should make us better, not tear us down emotionally. (I actually got to use my Latin and explain the word Discipuli and show them how the person who accepts discipline is a “student.” I don’t think they were as excited about this connection as I had hoped, but the seed was planted.)

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Then we discussed the fact that discipline is not about tearing someone down. That’s when we looked at Ephesians 5:29 to see how we should talk to each other. “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”

Once we all fully understood what discipline was — and what it was designed to do — they began to see what my goal was. I want my students to write well because I want them to be able to communicate their ideas, to share stories that will draw people to seek the truth. 

From this point, there were no magical methods, no easily laid out steps. But my students understood my purpose. They understood my aim was to build them up. And once they understood that, they were more receptive. And their writing improved. 

I have to be honest, though. In order for me to bring them to a place where they were receptive, I had to be willing to take a step back and learn a few lessons myself. 

And isn’t that why we reach out to others? To grow? To become our better selves? To find grace? 

Jaci Whitfield