Tip 2: pause to think about what they said. Perhaps more important outside of church.
After someone says something, pause to think about what they said. Both the pausing and the thinking are important parts of this tip. By pausing, you express to the group that this comment is worth thinking about. By thinking, you are better able to use the comment to help build the conversation.
This tip is not as easy to put into practice as yesterday’s tip. It takes confidence to let go of the planned lesson thread in your head and engage you mind instead on the comment or question. It takes practice Yes, practice. Learn to love your mirror. to get your face (and body) to communicate to the whole class “I am thinking about that comment in a positive way” rather than “how am I supposed to handle that?” or “wait, what just happened? Am I supposed to be talking now?” There is an art to knowing how to pick out of a comment the part that is worth emphasizing, or out of a question the part that is the core concern, or the like. There can be a huge pressure when you realize that every single student in the classroom is waiting for you to do something. Pausing to think about a comment or question is not a simple skill.
Once you’ve learned to wait longer, though, it gets easier to pause and think about comments. The class learns to accept a bit of silence now and again. You also get more comfortable not talking. The pausing part gets easier, and in the pause thinking can be entertained more easily. I’d advise against pausing without thinking about the comment, though, because nothing kills the spirit like phony behavior.
Once you get in the habit of pausing to think, several other useful practices become more-or-less natural. You’ll find yourself asking clarifying questions more often, you’ll find it easier to integrate the comment into the conversation, and so forth.
Pausing to think about comments might offer a partial answer to the question I posed two posts ago: why do some conversations go astray and others are “the best lesson ever”. If there is one tip I can give that will help to reign in unruly conversations, it is this one. But when a class wants to go astray they are often willing to bypass the instructor and simply respond to one another directly. Pausing in that environment can result in losing what little control you have.
Pausing to think about questions is perhaps even more important in lectures and other non-church teaching than it is in church. I am continually surprised by how hard it is to know what a student is asking. In many instances they are asking a question because they have failed to build the same mental model you thought they would and thus the mental context of their question is often not one you are expecting or have even ever considered before. Pause. Think. Do you know what they mean? You probably know the answer, but do you know how to answer so that the underlying misunderstanding actually gets resolved?
On the negative side, this tip is not itself sufficient. What you do with the thinking time is very important, and I do not yet have a good set of tips for that important detail.
Conclusion: a good tip for every teacher, church and non-church, but not necessarily an easy tip to master. Might be a partial technique for separating enlightening from dissenting conversations.