One time, after I spoke to several hundred middle school students in a one-hour program, teachers asked how I was able to keep their students’ attention. They seemed stunned.
Through the years, I have met many teachers and parents concerned about children’s attention spans. What about you? Do you wish children listened better? Is competing with all that distracts them wearing you out?
I’ve learned a lot from Jesus, the Master Teacher. He kept people’s attention. He also captured peoples’ attention, but He knew that wasn’t enough. I believe it was much more important to Him to keep people’s attention. I see adults make this mistake – they think more about how to get children’s attention than how to keep it. Whether we need to talk with one child, a small group, or an entire class, we can learn much from studying Christ’s example. How did He keep people’s attention?
The methods Jesus used were a factor. He expertly used a variety of well-chosen teaching techniques. For example, He told relevant stories that always had a purpose, used concrete object lessons His students could relate to, taught with vivid language that encouraged people to visualize, involved His students by asking thought-provoking questions, and taught with authority. Jesus was other-centered. He also encouraged them to ask questions and use prior knowledge. He chose methods that were best for those who were listening. For example, although He had been a carpenter for years, he didn’t use analogies about two or three legged tables, chairs that wobble, or choosing the best wood for a project. That humbles me because I have a tendency to want to tell my stories whether others can relate to them or not. I need to communicate as Jesus did.
The content of Jesus’ lessons captured and kept peoples’ attention. What Jesus taught was relevant, personal, important, practical, and life changing truth. Lessons were directed to the heart and the head. If Jesus was the best story teller who ever lived, but the content of His stories wasn’t important or true, people would have eventually stopped listening and following. Content matters! Am I teaching life-changing, encouraging truth?
I believe people paid attention to Jesus, and still do, because of His character. There was no hypocrisy in Jesus Christ. His walk matched His talk. Some people followed Jesus to try to catch Him in a lie because they were sure He would be like all the others. Others paid attention because His stellar character was refreshing. I believe qualities such as His consistency, dependability, honesty, vulnerability, sincerity, integrity, and inner peace motivated the disciples to stay with Him over the long haul. Do I need a character check-up?
Jesus’ unconditional love and value for people encouraged them in the midst of difficult days. It motivated even individuals in crowds to listen and learn. I’ve seen the same thing happen when I consciously think about loving and valuing students, teachers, and parents I address. Some have told me they feel and even see the acceptance and love. It can make a difference. Do people I talk with and teach know they’re important to me?
Communicating one-on-one and teaching groups of children isn’t always easy. There are many children (and adults) who don’t easily pay attention for many valid reasons. I encourage you to persevere in the pursuit of Christlikeness and, when people are inattentive, ask yourself, “What would Jesus do?”