BYU faculty member Eva Witesman shared the following experience, which resulted from her attempt to connect the secular content of her class with spiritual things. We very much appreciate her contribution and invite all of you to consider trying something that feels appropriate and sincere, given your personality and the type of courses you teach. If possible, we also invite you to share your experience with others, including allowing us to post your thoughts. Thanks!
From Eva Witesman (Public Management)
I just had an amazing experience with my public program evaluation course. We were working on logic models (the idea is that you have to understand the theory of how a program is supposed to work, and then you critique the theory to see if you can find any bugs in the theory and/or execution of the program). Usually I do a sample logic model in class and select a public program in the public welfare system (public health insurance for children, for example). I wanted to pick something more universal, though, so I started pondering alternatives. I decided to try modeling the Law of Consecration. I started the class by explaining that I was trying something new and was excited about it, but that I didn’t want to take it lightly because it was a sacred topic. I provided scriptures for the students to read and had them glean the essential components of a logic model from those scriptures (inputs, activities, outputs, short term outcomes, long term outcomes, etc.). Once we had the list, we created a logic model of the program. Once we’d done that, we assessed the program theory–and found the assumptions that appeared faulty (i.e. the faith of the saints and their willingness to part with all of their possessions and/or all of their excess) and discovered how the program could be altered to accommodate the quantity issue (i.e. have saints give ten percent of interest rather than all excess).
Students were very actively engaged in the discussion and participated heavily in the activity. At the end, a couple of them took pictures of the model we had drawn on the board. Several students commented that they had covered logic modeling but never understood it before this lecture. Another student e-mailed me thanking me for incorporating faith in the classroom, telling me that it increased his confidence in the materials I covered in the course. And one student, immediately after class, stood staring at the board, clearly lost in thought. I was nearby at the podium, cleaning up my papers and preparing to leave, and he said aloud (though half to himself), “I wonder how I can use this to help my ward improve our home teaching.”
I was so grateful for the opportunity to use faith and the Spirit to teach a principle of best practice in my field. I was particularly grateful for the guidance of the Spirit in selecting an interesting, engaging, and appropriate program to demonstrate the principle in my course. There were elements of the program that beautifully illustrated nuances of the logic modeling process that I have had a hard time capturing the other times I taught. And the Spirit also gave both guidance and warnings about how to approach the subject with the class, clearly instructing me that sacred things were to be treated as sacred, and not merely as secular playthings.
The experience was, for me, both spiritually inspiring and testimony strengthening. I hope it was the same for the students. I have been thrilled that each time I have approached my Father in Heaven with the desire to incorporate true gospel principles in my teaching, He has helped me to do so. Last year when I taught statistics, I was surprised at how the flow of the topics in the course allowed me to bear testimony of the entire plan of salvation, topic by topic, in class using statistical principles. Honestly, I gained a new testimony of some of those principles (the fall in particular) through teaching statistics at BYU.
I challenge anyone who hasn’t yet found ways to incorporate spirituality and gospel principles in their teaching–particularly in topics where they don’t think it applies–to search deeper for the connections, and to pray until they find them. It is a deeply rewarding and strengthening experience.