Letting God Plan the Lesson

3 ways to leave room for the Holy Spirit to work

By Rachel Gleeson Padilla

I am a planner by nature. Many teachers, I think, are. However, this skill can be transformed into being controlling if we do not allow some inconveniences to upset our perfectly laid-out plans.

I recently got married and the day was far from perfect. Many little things went wrong, including my flower girl spilling marshmallow cereal down the front of her white dress. However, the day was beautiful and grace-filled. That is what happens when you allow God to change your plans.

I have also experienced this in the classroom. Some of the most heartfelt and memorable conversations I had as a teacher come from times I went off-script, when I took a step away from that day’s crafted and exact lesson and allowed the Holy Spirit a moment of my time.

I remember many conversations I had with students which began with an off-topic comment or question. One day, as a theology teacher, I allowed a whole class period be devoted to off-topic questions related to Catholicism. This led to a few deep conversations about why God allows evil to occur and how to reconcile seeming discrepancies in the Bible. Another time, I was speaking with a student about grades and the conversation developed into her home life and the struggles she faced there. Suddenly, her attitude towards school made a lot more sense. Looking back, I can see many moments when God acted in my classroom.

These conversations can arise organically but they also need to be cultivated. Below are a few ways to leave room for God to work in your planning.

Allow yourself to be interrupted

Your lesson is important. However, it is not more important than that question your student has finally worked up the courage to ask. It is not more important than counseling a student who is dealing with bullies, or having difficulty with a concept, or who is just looking for a kind word and a smile from an adult. We may feel compelled to get through lessons and meet objectives, but some things are more important. Allow yourself to be interrupted.

Being interrupted can be annoying but that does not mean all interruptions should be ignored. Sometimes, they are opportunities to get to know our students better or to provide them with guidance both regarding content and outside of the curriculum.

Pray before you plan

As you sit down to craft a lesson or outline a unit, invite God into that work. Pray and ask for his guidance as you plan and his peace as you teach. God will not force Himself in, we need to invite Him. Asking Him to be present from the first moment of planning, involves Him in every aspect of our teaching.

We need God’s help if we hope to be open to his grace. We need Him to help us see what to do in the moment and how to respond to students. We need to ask for his help if we hope to be channels of his love for our students.

Be present and open 

In order to have the off-topic conversations that strengthen your relationship with students you need to be open to the possibility of such conversations. Students pick up on little things. It does not take much for them to know whether you care. In the same way, it does not take much for them to realize whether you would listen to them talk about bullies or their grandfather who passed away.

Being available to your kids means being present. Focus on the current moment, not the grading you need to do after school or the copies you need to make during your prep time. Be open to your students’ questions, thoughts, and contributions. You may be surprised by what they have to say.

These conversations may take time away from content but they are one way we can allow God to have a say in what happens in our classroom. The way these conversations strengthen classroom community and enrich the lives of students makes them worth it. Our students need us to be more than a conveyor of information. God calls us to be more.

Rachel Gleeson Padilla is a campus minister in Colorado.

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