Teaching in the Savior’s Way

True Principles in Both Spiritual and Secular Learning

Damon L. Bahr

Damon L. Bahr, "Teaching in the Savior’s Way: True Principles in Both Spiritual and Secular Learning," Religious Educator 21, no. 1 (2020): 153-169.

Damon L. Bahr (damon_bahr@byu.edu) was an associate professor of mathematics education in the Department of Teacher Education and an adjunct Doctrine and Covenants instructor in the Department of Church History and Doctrine at BYU when this was published.

A man teaching in the classroomImplicit in Teaching in the Savior’s Way is the principle that the acts of teaching and learning are connected.

From an address at the Latter-day Saint Educators Society Conference on 6 July 2018.

While I was serving as a stake president in 2012, members of the coordinating council of which I was a member were assigned to teach the leadership of their respective stakes about the new Come, Follow Me youth curriculum,[1] the first explicit, curriculum-based embodiment of teaching in the Savior’s way. In my preparations for fulfilling this assignment, I observed that teaching in his way is not just a teaching “method,” but rather a perspective on teaching and learning. I also noticed there were a number of similarities between teaching in the Savior’s way and the pedagogy I had been espousing for nearly twenty years as a mathematics teacher educator. As a result, I have continued to examine those similarities as a means of personal spiritual development and professional improvement.

The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate that the Savior’s perfect example in teaching as outlined in the manual Teaching in the Savior’s Way[2] has applications in both secular and spiritual learning and teaching, and therefore provides attending spiritual power in both contexts. A historical foundation for teaching in the Savior’s way will first be presented and then followed by an explication of some of its foundational principles. Next, an application of those principles to a secular subject, in this case, the modern conceptions of the learning and teaching of mathematics, will be presented followed by an account of mathematics teachers exemplifying teaching in the Savior’s way and the resultant changes in the students they observed. As it is commonly used today, the phrase teaching in the Savior’s way has two separate but related meanings: an approach or perspective about the nature of teaching and the Church manual Teaching in the Savior’s Way, designed to help Church members adopt that perspective. The former meaning is the emphasis of this paper, but it is accompanied by some allusions to the latter.

Historical Roots

Teaching in the Savior’s Way is one of the latest in a lengthy string of divine revelations in this dispensation emphasizing quality teaching. In 1830, at the time of the Church’s organization, teaching was revealed as a part of the responsibilities of all the priesthood offices. This is described in Doctrine and Covenants section 20, which was first known as the Articles and Covenants (see heading). Suggestive of all priesthood offices, “an apostle is an elder, and it is his calling to baptize; . . . and to teach, expound, exhort, baptize, and watch over the church” (20:38, 42).

In the “law” revealed in February 1831 (Doctrine and Covenants 42), the Lord made such statements as these regarding teaching and learning that also included references to the Articles and Covenants: “And again, the elders, priests and teachers of this church shall teach the principles of my gospel, which are in the Bible and the Book of Mormon, in the which is the fulness of the gospel. And they shall observe the covenants and church articles to do them, and these shall be their teachings, as they shall be directed by the Spirit” (Doctrine and Covenants 42:12–13). Emma Smith was likewise divinely directed to teach in the Church: “And thou shalt be ordained under his [the Prophet’s] hand to expound scriptures, and to exhort the church, according as it shall be given thee by my Spirit” (Doctrine and Covenants 25:7).

In more recent times, the importance and nature of quality teaching in the Church has been declared in such statements as President Gordon B. Hinckley’s in 1969: “Effective teaching is the very essence of leadership in the Church.”[3] President M. Russell Ballard has written, “The central activity of leadership is teaching.”[4] In Handbook 2: Administering the Church, “Teaching the Gospel” is listed as one of five components of the “Work of Salvation” along with “Member Missionary Work,” “Convert Retention,” “Activation, and Temple and Family History.”[5] On 3 February 2006, Elder David A. Bednar discussed the relationship between teaching by the Spirit and learning by faith in an address to Church Educational System religious educators that has since become foundational to defining teaching in the Savior’s way.[6] Seven years later, the new youth curriculum, Come, Follow Me,[7] formally introduced the components of Teaching in the Savior’s Way. It was followed almost immediately by the direction from general Church leadership for ward Sunday School presidencies to conduct teacher council meetings during the three-hour block, using the manual Teaching in the Savior’s Way as a guide. Subsequently in October 2018 general conference, the new integrated teaching curriculum for the home and Church was announced, of which Teaching in the Savior’s Way is a significant part.

Basic Principles of Teaching in the Savior’s Way

Of all the principles that characterize Teaching in the Savior’s Way, six will be discussed in this paper:

  1. Teaching and learning are intricately related.
  2. The learner is responsible for her or his own learning.
  3. Teachers should ask questions that encourage pondering and reflection.
  4. All learners are invited to share and strengthen each other.
  5. Learning consists of finding one’s own answers.
  6. There are still occasions for lecture or direct instruction.

Because these principles are related, there will be some overlap as each is discussed. However, they are distinct enough to warrant individual attention.

1. Teaching and Learning Are Intricately Related

Implicit in Teaching in the Savior’s Way is the principle that the acts of teaching and learning are connected. For example, it suggests a change in the types of questions that ought to occupy a teacher’s mind while preparing to teach: “When you prepare to teach, instead of thinking, ‘What will I do to teach?’ ask yourself, ‘What will my class members do to learn?’”[8] Similarly, the Lord indicates that the acts of teaching and learning are connected when he compares the responsibilities of the teacher to those of his or her students: “Verily I say unto you, he that is ordained of me and sent forth to preach the word of truth by the Comforter, in the Spirit of truth, doth he preach [teach] it by the Spirit of truth or some other way? And if it be by some other way it is not of God” (Doctrine and Covenants 50:17–18). The Lord then uses practically the same language to describe the responsibility of the student: “And again, he that receiveth the word of truth, doth he receive it by the Spirit of truth or some other way? If it be some other way it is not of God” (verses 19–20).

If the Lord uses the same language to describe the responsibilities of teacher and student in a Spirit-empowered educational exchange, he must want us to view these roles as complementary and therefore, by implication, to connect the acts of teaching and learning themselves. Elder Bednar summarizes this learning-teaching connection: “Preaching [or teaching] by the Spirit and learning by faith are companion principles that we should strive to understand and apply concurrently and consistently.”[9]

2. The Learner Is Responsible for Her or His Own Learning

Elder Bednar explains:

Of God’s creations, there are things to act and things to be acted upon (see 2 Nephi 2:13–14). As sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father, we have been blessed with the gift of agency—the capacity and power of independent action. Endowed with agency, we are agents, and we primarily are to act and not only to be acted upon—especially as we seek to obtain and apply spiritual knowledge. . . .

As learners, you and I are to act and be doers of the word and not simply hearers who are only acted upon. Are you and I agents who act and seek learning by faith, or are we waiting to be taught and acted upon? . . . Learning the gospel is not meant to be a passive experience. It is an act of faith and diligent effort. Learning by faith requires spiritual, mental, and physical exertion and not just passive reception.[10]

Likewise, Teaching in the Savior’s Way makes a similar point:

While a teacher’s role is important, learners are ultimately responsible for their own learning. A true gospel teacher is not satisfied when learners simply listen to what he or she has to say. Learning the gospel is not meant to be a passive experience. [Elder Bednar] shared the familiar saying, “Giving a man a fish feeds him for one meal. Teaching a man to fish feeds him for a lifetime.” He then taught, “As parents and gospel instructors, you and I are not in the business of distributing fish; rather, our work is to help [those we teach] learn “to fish.”[11]

3. Teachers Should Ask Questions That Encourage Pondering and Reflection

Teaching in the Savior’s Way discusses the value of asking inspired questions that require more than low-level responses: “When you ask learners to search . . . for answers to gospel questions, you provide them with excellent learning opportunities. An inspired question is an invitation to learners to discover gospel truths on their own and to evaluate their understanding of and commitment to those truths. Inspired questions can make learning the gospel a more engaging and personally meaningful experience.”[12]

Elder Bednar describes a scriptural scenario in which agency in the learning process was fostered through the wise use of questioning: “Consider the question posed by Heavenly Father to Adam in the Garden of Eden, ‘Where art thou?’ (Genesis 3:9). Obviously the Father knew where Adam was hiding, but He, nonetheless, asked the question. Why? A wise and loving Father enabled His child to act in the learning process and not merely be acted upon. There was no one-way lecture to a disobedient child, as perhaps many of us might be inclined to deliver. Rather, the Father helped Adam as a learner to act as an agent and appropriately exercise his agency.”

There are numerous occasions when a sharing student can be kindly pressed to think more deeply, particularly if the established classroom environment is safe and welcoming: “When someone shares a doctrinal insight or spiritual experience, you might sense that he or she—or someone else in the class—has more to share. Follow-up questions can prompt additional comments and lead to deeper insights.”[13]

4. Learners Share and Strengthen Each Other

In late December 1832 or early January 1833, the Lord gave directions regarding a more involved social interaction pattern among teachers and students than the typical one-way dispensing of information: “And as all have not faith, seek ye diligently and teach one another. . . . Appoint among yourselves a teacher, and let not all be spokesmen at once; but let one speak at a time and let all listen unto his sayings, that when all have spoken that all may be edified of all, and that every man may have an equal privilege” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:118, 122).

Teaching in the Savior’s Way quotes some of this revelation when encouraging greater student participation in a lesson: “When the Savior taught, he did more than just share information. He gave his disciples opportunities to ask questions and share their testimonies. His pattern for teaching and learning invites us to “teach one another the doctrine of the kingdom” so that “all may be edified of all, and that every man may have an equal privilege” (Doctrine and Covenants 88:77, 122). As a teacher, you can encourage uplifting discussions enriched by learners’ experiences and testimonies. Even small children often have much to contribute.”[14]

The manual continues to emphasize this point: “As often as possible, invite learners to share their own stories and experiences. . . . In many cases, it may be appropriate to invite learners to help each other find answers to their questions. When prompted by the Spirit, you may decide to do this even if you feel that you know the answer. . . .You may find that the questions and insights that invite the Spirit come just as often from a diligent learner as from the teacher.”[15] In other words, as Elder Bednar states: “As all speak and as all listen in a dignified and orderly way, all are edified. The individual and collective exercise of faith in the Savior invites instruction and strength from the Spirit of the Lord.”[16]

If teaching includes creating and allowing for a more interactive social interaction pattern, it follows that Teaching in the Savior’s Way would include inviting consistent widespread participation by all: “Everyone has something to contribute, but sometimes not everyone gets a chance. Christlike teachers are interested in the learning of each person, not just the outspoken ones. Look for ways to increase the number of class members who can share their testimonies.”[17]

5. Learning Consists of Finding One’s Own Answers

Building on the role of questioning described earlier, Teaching in the Savior’s Way suggests that a teacher’s questions can lead students to discover truths for themselves, another departure from traditional modes of teaching that can wield great power to affect student’s lives: “An inspired question is an invitation to learners to discover gospel truths on their own and to evaluate their understanding of and commitment to those truths. . . . Questions often have specific answers, but it is usually best to let the learners discover the answers for themselves.”[18] Therefore, teachers who teach in Teaching in the Savior’s Way ask such questions as these as they prepare to help their students learn: “How will I help them discover the gospel for themselves? How will I inspire them to act?”[19] Elder Bednar states the teachers who utilized this principle have been most impactful:

I have observed a common characteristic among the instructors who have had the greatest influence in my life. They have helped me to seek learning by faith. They refused to give me easy answers to hard questions. In fact, they did not give me any answers at all. Rather, they pointed the way and helped me take the steps to find my own answers. I certainly did not always appreciate this approach, but experience has enabled me to understand that an answer given by another person usually is not remembered for very long, if remembered at all. But an answer we discover or obtain through the exercise of faith, typically, is retained for a lifetime.[20]

The brother of Jared learned the Lord doesn’t always provide easy answers to hard questions when it came to providing light within the ships he was building. “Behold, O Lord, wilt thou suffer that we shall cross this great water in darkness? And the Lord said unto the brother of Jared: What will ye that I should do that ye may have light in your vessels?” (Ether 2:22–23).

6. There Are Still Occasions for Lecture or Direct Instruction

Lest these principles create the potential for overinterpretation, it should be emphasized here that there is still room for the dispensing of information, or what is often termed in education circles as lecturing or “direct instruction.”[21] The Master took occasion to directly instruct those who listened him. For example, the entire first chapter of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5) does not include one explicit question or direction to discover. In fact, his first question in this sermon isn’t uttered until the 27th verse of the following chapter. That is not to say that his teaching did not include implicit invitations to discover truths, think metaphorically, or otherwise fully engage in his teaching, but this is one case, among several, where he spoke and his students listened. In fact, he used rather direct instruction even if his message contained information his listeners didn’t want to hear. Note this passage includes only one question, and it was designed more to promote reflection than an interactive discussion:

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.

Woe unto you, ye blind guides, which say, Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing; but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor!

Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifieth the gold? (Matthew 23:14–17).

Relating Teaching in the Savior’s Way to Mathematics Teaching and Learning

As noted, when I was first introduced to Teaching in the Savior’s Way, it was plain to me that many of its principles were also foundational principles that characterized my teaching as a mathematics teacher educator. All six principles discussed previously will now be used to present some of the relationships between Teaching in the Savior’s Way and research-based conceptions of mathematics teaching. Because these conceptions represent a radical departure from the norm, it is quite common to refer to the efforts of mathematics educators such as myself as “reform.” However, note that the purpose of this discussion is to highlight such relationships without turning this part of the paper into a comprehensive treatise on the learning and teaching of mathematics. It should also be emphasized that this presentation is about the application of Teaching in the Savior’s Way to secular learning in general, with mathematics education serving only as a context for the relating of spiritual and secular means of learning and teaching.

1. Teaching and Learning Are Intricately Related

A mathematics education perspective regarding the connection between learning and teaching is portrayed by Fosnot and Dolk, two leading mathematics educators who cite linguistic sources in stating that in some languages “learning and teaching are actually the same word.” They then make the bold conjecture: “If learning doesn’t happen, there has been no teaching. The actions of learning and teaching are inseparable.”[22] Indeed, the word educating can be taken as a word meaning both teaching and learning because education itself is a word implying the sharing and receiving of knowledge.

The connection between learning and teaching plays out in the orchestration of mathematical discussions when students and teachers exchange roles. The classroom community is made up of three roles—the student sharing her or his thinking, the students listening, and the teacher. When a student shares, she or he temporarily adopts a teaching role, while his or her fellow students maintain a student role. When the listeners contribute to the discussion as they share their views about the mathematical thinking expressed by the sharing student, they share the teaching role. In addition to orchestrating the discussion—deciding who says what, when—the teacher may also temporarily adopt a student role and participate as any other student.[23]

2. The Learner Is Responsible for Her or His Own Learning

Teachers that require and reward an active student role communicate that mathematical learning is a process of “active construction, not merely passive absorption.”[24] The “journey” of acquiring mathematical understanding begins with an invitation from the teacher for the student to “take a few steps into the darkness”[25] through the presentation of a problem to solve, a question where the answer is not known beforehand: “Solving problems is not only a goal of learning mathematics but also a major means of doing so. . . . Students should have frequent opportunities to formulate, grapple with, and solve complex problems that involve a significant amount of effort. . . . By learning problem solving in mathematics, students should acquire ways of thinking, habits of persistence and curiosity, and confidence in unfamiliar situations that serve them well outside the mathematics classroom.”[26] Fosnot and Schifter add, “By encouraging students to monitor their own learning, teachers can help them achieve greater control over that process.”[27]

3. Teachers Ask Questions That Encourage Pondering and Reflection

The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics’ (NCTM) Principles to Actions devotes an entire section to “Pos[ing] Purposeful Questions” and calls for “questions that encourage students to explain and reflect on their thinking. Such teaching involves asking questions “that build on, but do not take over or funnel student thinking, . . . that go beyond gathering information to probing thinking and requiring . . . justification, and . . . that make the mathematics more visible and accessible for student examination.”[28] Way suggests, “Good questioning techniques have long being regarded as a fundamental tool of effective teachers. Unfortunately, research shows that 93% of teacher questions are ‘lower order’ knowledge-based questions focusing on recall of facts (Daines, 1986). Clearly this is not the right type of questioning to stimulate the mathematical thinking that can arise from engagement in open problems and investigations.”[29]

Referring to Badham (1994), Way[30] goes on to describe four categories of questions designed to promote deep student thinking and reflection:

  1. open-ended questions which focus students’ thinking in a general direction and provide support for initial inquiry,
  2. questions to stimulate ongoing thinking by encouraging students to focus on particular mathematical ideas, strategies, or representations and to see patterns and relationships,
  3. assessment questions that invite students to explain what they are doing or how they arrived at a solution, which allows the teacher to assess how their students are thinking and at what level they are operating, and
  4. discussion orchestration questions that synthesize the efforts of the class and prompt sharing and comparison of student thinking.

4. All Learners Are Invited to Share and Strengthen Each Other

A key component of the mathematics reform movement is the replacement of the typical one-way communication pattern that is the traditional norm for mathematics instruction with a teacher’s establishment of “socio-mathematical norms,”[31] “[which] make possible all students’ active participation in . . . [the] discourse.”[32] This “new normal” is based on the notion that “thinking with others promotes children’ s cognitive progress because it encourages . . . individuals to bypass their own cognitive limitations” and enables children to develop “virtual dialogue,”[33] the capacity to think alone. Therefore, the latest NCTM publication specifying highly impactful teacher actions further emphasizes the role of student communication: “Effective mathematics teaching engages students in discourse to advance mathematical learning . . . [which includes] the purposeful exchange of ideas through classroom discussion . . . [and] gives students opportunities to share ideas and clarify understandings, construct convincing arguments regarding why and how things work, . . . and learn to see things from other perspectives. . . . Students must have opportunities to talk with, respond to, and question one another.”[34]

5. Learning Consists of Finding One’s Own Answers

Not only does the mathematics reform movement include a rethinking of social interaction patterns in the classroom but it also favors student inquiry over the transmission of knowledge by the teacher. That is, reform-based perspectives of mathematics instruction include the presentation of meaningful problems to students without telling the students how to solve them. Because students construct informal mathematical knowledge by interacting with their environment, they “can solve problems in novel ways before being taught how to solve such problems” and teachers should, therefore, allow their “students to do as much of thinking as possible.”[35] Giving answers consistently robs students of the joy of discovery; therefore, “each time one prematurely teaches a child something he could have discovered himself, that child is kept from inventing it and consequently from understanding it completely.”[36]

Philipp and others quote a fifth-grade child who describes the benefits of being allowed to solve problems in her own way. Her teacher normally engaged students in inquiry but had been asked to temporarily forgo inquiry and simply transmit the steps that characterized a common means of solving a mathematics problem. Shortly thereafter, the child was asked to duplicate those steps, and she indicated that this departure from the normal mode of learning was difficult: “We did this before but I don’t exactly remember if for myself. Well, when she tells us the answer to something, I try to find out how she got it. Whenever I figure that out it is easier, and when I figure it out it stays there because I was the one who brought it there.”[37]

6. There Are Still Occasions for Lecture or Direct Instruction

Although commonly thought of as being diametrically opposed to each other, lecturing or direct instruction and guided inquiry can be thought of as two sides of the same coin for several reasons. First, there are some elements of mathematics students cannot usually discover for themselves. For example, many mathematical terms such as diameter, circumference, and denominator are not part of everyday speech and therefore can’t be part of the informal mathematical experiences students have that lay the foundation for discovery. Second, there are other mathematical notions such as the order of operations or “times as many” that can’t be discovered because they represent an agreed-on premise that have no other rationale for acceptance by the mathematical community other than consensus. Third, there are elements of inquiry-based instruction that look a great deal like direct instruction. That is, the teacher may explicitly tell students certain ways to problem solve and invite them to engage in traditional modes of practice. However, in many of these instances the problem-solving strategies directly taught by the teacher were first discovered by and discussed among students, then emphasized by the teacher through explanation and modeling. Citing Rouche, Kreith labels the initial phases of discovery-based activity as bringing students to the “epistemological threshold.” He then suggests: “The subsequent steps, those of negotiating children over this threshold and assuring that mathematical concepts are in fact synthesized and organized, may well involve something akin to ‘lecturing.’ For many teachers these steps involve interactive discussions with students as well as pure lectures. But whatever one calls it, the teacher’s ability to verbalize mathematical ideas in a clear and coherent way remains crucial to the teaching process.”[38]

Applying Teaching the Savior’s Way in a Special Education Mathematics Classroom

An expanded conception of teaching and learning is provided by President David O. McKay, who suggested there was a higher purpose for “true education,” than simply the acquisition of information:

True education does not consist merely in the acquiring of a few facts of science, history, literature or art, but in the development of character. True education trains in self-denial and self-mastery. True education regulates the temper, subdues passion and makes obedience to social laws and moral order a guiding principle of life. It develops reason and inculcates faith in the living God as the eternal loving Father of all. . . . Character is the aim of true education, and science, history, and literature are but means used to accomplish this desired end. Character is not the result of chance, but of continuous right thinking and right acting.[39]

This inspired statement of President McKay suggests that the aim of teaching in the Savior’s way in spiritual or secular contexts is the development of character, and by implication, that his spirit will empower the teaching and learning in both contexts to facilitate this change. I now share an account related by Cindy (pseudonym), an educator who exemplifies the type of character change President McKay refers to while also simultaneously illustrating teaching in the Savior’s way and modern, reform-based approaches to teaching mathematics. She references the Comprehensive Mathematics Instruction (CMI) Framework, a means of implementing approaches developed by the Brigham Young University–Public School Partnership,[40] about which she and her colleagues spent two years studying in a professional development program.

Cindy’s story starts with Bob (pseudonym), a fourth-grade child whose movements were severely restricted by cerebral palsy and who had struggled with simple mathematical work despite the fact that he had received extra one-on-one and small group instruction in the special education resource room at their school: “Bob has cerebral palsy with limited motor control, but great listening comprehension skills. He has struggled with math skills in the past and cannot write numbers, writing our numbers and solving math problems is a real challenge for him. We have worked for two years on addition, but he still struggled with regrouping. Subtraction just seemed to blow a fuse and he could not count backwards [second grade mathematical work].”

Part of the professional development program involves learning to orchestrate highly engaging discussions during which students learn from each other. The team of general and special education teachers of which Cindy is a part decided to support Bob by utilizing a “push-in” model that called for him to receive his primary mathematics instruction in the general education classroom so that he could benefit from listening to and participating in these discussions.

Our team decided . . . Bob would greatly benefit from the math discussions in his general education class. With the help of his 504 aide, he participated in math discussions in his general education class this past year. . . . He made great connections and often raised his hand to offer his thoughts, even if he was incorrect. Our mind set shifted from focusing on what he can’t do, to what skills he has. [Previously] he really struggled with multi-step problems and depended upon his aide for direction. However, he learned from his peers how to solve many math problems with perseverance. He was always willing to try, even if he was wrong. He would work with peers at his table and came up with some pretty profound thoughts.

The discussions in which Bob participated provided him an opportunity to assume responsibility for his own learning and to assume both a teaching and a learning role. Cindy then discusses a “fourth grade resource student” who was capable of challenging mathematical work but was referred to special education services because of his inability to participate in large-class mathematics instruction. Cindy stated that the student was “quite bright but would not do his work and [would] misbehave to distract others from working.” Despite the individual attention he received, he “was a behavior problem last year during his pull-out [special education] math time.” They attributed some of his difficulties to the instructional approach used in the special ed resource room and decided he would benefit from CMI-based instruction in his general education classroom in which he would be given consistent opportunities to create his own answers to mathematical problems and questions. This fourth-grade student exhibited marked enthusiasm in his responses to higher level questioning

He was bored last year with the drill and practice approach for resource math so he misbehaved to avoid a task he knew he could do. . . . Keeping him in his general education class this year for CMI based instruction, I observed a different child. He was not off-task or distracting others. He was often the first one finished and enthusiastic to share his work with his peers, which was correct! After three chapter test scores of 100, 100, and 98, we signed him out of resource math services since he met his goals. He maintained these skills, finishing the year with a long-term substitute teacher in his general education class who reported no significant behavior problems during the last six weeks of school.

The third child Cindy describes also struggled in learning mathematics for similar reasons but later grew mathematically because he was privileged to share his thinking with others: “The last student I would like to highlight is also a fourth-grader who was often distracted during math class. . . . Early on during the year, his teacher selected him to share how he solved a math problem. He was delighted to shine in front of his peers, however he had made a mistake in his problem solving. Without assistance from teacher or peers, he realized his mistake in front of the class and explained his thinking. It was a wonderful moment to see him learn right before our eyes!”

Cindy summarizes how using this CMI approach in a general education classroom is more effective than the use of a more traditional approach for teaching mathematics despite the latter occurring in the resource room where students receive a much larger degree of individual attention from the teacher. This effect extends beyond enhanced mathematical achievement to noticeable changes in students’ character: “There are many more examples I could describe of our resource students succeeding in math because of CMI in the general education class. We now plan to closely examine each resource math student, too, for their benefit of CMI in the general education class for math. By pulling them out to work on isolated skills, they will keep getting farther and farther behind. Pushing-in to the general education class and providing the support they need, they can be successful amid their peers during critical math discussions.”


Teaching in the Savior’s way invites divine power into the classroom where doctrine is taught that enables the character changes President McKay described—the ultimate purpose of education. However, because he stated that such changes should occur in the teaching and learning of secular subjects as well, it is no stretch to suggest that teaching secular subjects in the Savior’s way also invites divine power to enable changes in student character. That is not to say that teaching secular knowledge is as powerful as teaching spiritual knowledge, especially in light of the greater importance an eternal perspective attaches to the latter, but power can be present in secular teaching and learning nonetheless.

In 1962, the United States Supreme Court made explicit that teaching about the Savior in public schools is illegal, but it can’t keep teachers from teaching in his way. As shown, teaching in his way is in reality encouraged by modern conceptions of mathematics teaching because it facilitates substantive, authentic learning—learning that is in empowered by God.

Regardless of the subject matter, teaching in the Savior’s way is ultimately a matter of discipleship to those who worship the Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, the “power to truly teach in His way will come as you learn of Him and follow Him. The invitation to teach in the Savior’s way truly is a key part of His invitation to ‘come, follow me.’”[41]


[1] Come, Follow Me—Aaronic Priesthood (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2012), https://www.lds.org/manual/come-follow-me/aaronic-priesthood?lang=eng.

[2] Teaching in the Savior’s Way (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2016).

[3] Gordon B. Hinckley, “How to Be a Teacher When Your Role Requires You to Teach,” General Authority Priesthood Board Meeting, 5 February 1969, quoted by Jeffrey R. Holland in “A Teacher Come from God,” Ensign, May 1998, 26.

[4] M. Russell Ballard, Counseling with Our Councils: Learning to Minister Together in the Church and in the Family, 2nd ed. (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2012), 100.

[5] Handbook 2: Administering the Church, (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2019).

[6] David A. Bednar, “Seek Learning by Faith,” Ensign, September 2007, 60–68.

[7] Heather Whittle Wrigley, “Church Announces New Youth Curriculum for 2013,” Church News, https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/church/news/church-announces-new-youth-curriculum-for-2013.

[8] Teaching in the Savior’s Way, 29.

[9] Bednar, “Seek Learning by Faith,” 61.

[10] Bednar, “Seek Learning by Faith,” 63–64.

[11] Teaching in the Savior’s Way, 29

[12] Teaching in the Savior’s Way, 31.

[13] Teaching in the Savior’s Way, 34.

[14] Teaching in the Savior’s Way, 33.

[15] Teaching in the Savior’s Way, 22, 24, 29, 35.

[16] Bednar, “Seek Learning by Faith,” 68.

[17] Teaching in the Savior’s Way, 33.

[18] Teaching in the Savior’s Way, 31.

[19] Teaching in the Savior’s Way, 29.

[20] Bednar, “Seek Learning by Faith,” 67.

[21] Maria Howard, “Direct Instruction Teaching Method: Definition, Examples & Strategies,” Study.com, https://study.com/academy/lesson/direct-instruction-teaching-method-definition-examples-strategies.html.

[22] Catherine Twomey and Marteen Dolk, Young Mathematicians at Work: Constructing Number Sense, Addition, and Subtraction (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 2001), 1.

[23] Damon L. Bahr and Kim Bahr, “Engaging all Students in Mathematical Discussions,” Teaching Children Mathematics 23, no. 6 (March 2017): 351–59.

[24] Erma Yackel and Paul Cobb, “Socio-mathematical Norms, Argumentation, and Autonomy in Mathematics,” Journal for Research in Mathematics Education 27, no. 4 (1996): 458–77.

[25] Boyd K. Packer, “The Edge of the Light,” BYU Magazine, March 1991, 22.

[26] National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Principles and Standards for School Mathematics (Reston, VA: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 2000), 52.

[27] Debra Schifter and Catherine Twomey Fosnot, Reconstructing Mathematics Education: Stories of Teachers Meeting the Challenge of Reform (New York: Teachers College Press, 1993), 52.

[28] National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Principles to Actions: Ensuring Mathematical Success for All (Reston, VA: Author, 2014), 37.

[29] Jenny Way, “Using Questioning to Stimulate Mathematical Thinking,” NRICH, https://nrich.maths.org/2473.

[30] Jenny Way, “Using Questioning.”

[31] Erna Yackel and Paul Cobb, “Sociomathematical Norms.”

[32] Terry Wood and Tammy Turner-Vorbeck, “Extending the Conception of Mathematics Teaching,” in Beyond Classical Pedagogy: Teaching Elementary School Mathematics, ed. Terry Wood, Barbara Scott Nelson, and Janet Warfield (Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum, 2001), 192.

[33] Philippe Rochat, “The Dialogical Nature of Cognition,” Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development 66, no. 2 (2001): 140.

[34] National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Principles to Actions, 39–40.

[35] Randolph A. Philipp and others, “Effects of Early Field Experiences on the Mathematical Content Knowledge and Beliefs of Prospective Elementary School Teachers: An Experimental Study,” Journal for Research in Mathematics Education 38, no. 5 (2007): 457.

[36] Jean Piaget, “Piaget’s Theory,” Carmichael’s Manual of Child Psychology, ed. Paul H. Mussen, 3rd ed. (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1970), 1:703–32.

[37] Randolph A. Philipp and others, “Integrating Mathematics and Pedagogy,” IMAP, http://www.sci.sdsu.edu/CRMSE/IMAP/main.html.

[38] Kurt Kreith, “When, If Ever, Should Mathematics Teachers Lecture?,” https://www.math.ucdavis.edu/~kkreith/Lecture.html.

[39] David O. McKay, “Why Education,” Improvement Era, September 1967, 3.

[40] Scott Hendrickson, Sterling C. Hilton, and Damon L. Bahr, “The Comprehensive Mathematics Instruction (CMI) Framework: A New Lens for Examining Teaching and Learning in the Mathematics Classroom,” Utah Mathematics Teacher 1, no. 1 (2009): 44–52.

[41] Teaching in the Savior’s Way, 4.