Mindset, Model, and Maxims
The first time I heard him teach, I said to myself, I want to study under
that man! His name was Howard G. Hendricks, and I entered seminary
to learn everything I could from this master teacher. I wanted to
learn not only what he taught but also how he taught.
During my four years of graduate study, I listened to Dr. Hendricks
for more than 350 hours and always left his class instructed, challenged,
and a step closer to God. By the time I was a senior, I began to wonder
if "Prof" even understood the word boring.
After studying how he taught for four years, I discovered he followed
a basic style. About three minutes before class began, his right
foot began to bounce underneath the old oak desk. At the precise
moment the second hand swept past twelve he raised his right forefinger
into the air, announced "Ladies and gentlemen ." and delivered
an opening one-liner that was so stimulating all of us couldn't help but
copy it down. After three to four minutes he told his first joke. Eight to
ten minutes into the class he would inevitably rise from his desk and
draw a graph or chart on the whiteboard. Always the blue pen first. Then
the purple. And always with that unique squiggly underline for emphasis.
His rhythm was unmistakable. And it worked-just ask any of the
thousands who have studied under him.
During my last year of seminary I decided to give Dr. Hendricks
a test. I wanted to see what this master teacher would do if one of his
students would not-no matter what-pay attention in his class. I sat
in the back right-hand corner of the room, next to the only window,
and decided to gaze out that window the entire class session. Since
there were only thirty students in the class, he was sure to notice. I
took off my watch and started timing. What would he do if he couldn't
get my attention?
As expected, he started off with a bang and delivered his usual one-liner.
Although my hand began to tremble, I forced myself not to record
the line. From the corner of my eye I could see that he noticed immediately
I wasn't paying attention. He broke tradition and in the first
minute told a joke-totally out of context. If I laughed he would immediately
know I was listening, so I discreetly put my hand over my mouth
and continued staring out that window.
As the two-minute mark passed, he got up from his chair and started
drawing on the board-much too early. He again noticed that I wasn't
taking notes, and he stopped right in the middle of his chart and didn't
even finish it.
He put the pen down and walked to the corner of the room in
order to look down the aisle at me, trying to make eye contact. Sweat
beaded on my brow, but the seconds continued ticking by. I wasn't going
to pay attention.
Finally, he broke. The master teacher almost leaped down the aisle
and yelled, "Wilkinson, what on earth are you looking at outside that
With a sheepish glance, I turned around and said, "Nothing, Prof.
Sorry." I looked down at my watch to determine his grade. Only three
minutes and thirty-seven seconds had passed! Incredible. His tolerance
for one student not paying attention was limited to 217 seconds.
With that remarkable experience freshly imprinted on my mind, I
walked down the hall into the next class with a different professor. Talk
about a contrast. One side of the room was filled by students who never
paid attention but did their homework for another class. This teacher,
however, didn't seem bothered; he just turned and lectured to the students
sitting on the other side. His mindset was, It's not my problem if you
don't want to learn.
What a difference. One teacher could tolerate for only a few seconds
one student not learning what he was teaching, and the other
didn't seem to care for the whole semester!
How would you have fared on that quiz with one of your students
looking out the window? Would you have cared? Would the clock still
Dr. Hendricks believed that, as the teacher, he was the one responsible
for my learning. By contrast, the second teacher thought he was
responsible only to cover the material, regardless of whether anyone
What an extraordinary example of the heart of the Law of the Learner.
Dr. Hendricks believed that, as my teacher, he was the one responsible
for my learning. He felt responsible, and if I wasn't learning he did whatever
it took-changed his lesson plan, his style, told an irrelevant joke,
even ran down the aisle and confronted me-to get my attention.
This foundational attitude lies at the very heart of The 7 Laws of the
Learner. In a sense, all of the laws are like a row of dominoes-this first
one ultimately controls all the dominoes that follow.
Every master teacher I know shares the mindset that it is his or her
responsibility to cause the student to learn. But do you know what the
prevailing mindset is in the preaching and teaching community today?
A tragic divorce has occurred: Teachers have separated themselves from
their students and redefined teaching as what the teacher says rather thanwhat the student learns.
Teachers have redefined teaching as "the coherent speaking of an
adult located at the head of the class to a passive gathering of students."
They believe their primary responsibility is to cover the material in an
They think about teaching as what they do-their focus is upon
themselves. Many teachers cover their material and leave the room
thinking they have taught. But if you gave their students a pop quiz,
you would find out they hardly learned a thing. The divorce between
teaching and learning is tragic and is at the root of many of our educational
Dr. Hendricks modeled a revolutionary mindset. He saw teaching as
not what he did but what his students did. His focus was not upon himself
but was upon his students. Since that student looking out the
window was not learning, Dr. Hendricks realized he was therefore
unable to teach. That's why he stopped delivering his content and ran
down the aisle!
Can you sense what difference it would make in your life and the
lives of your students if you joined the ranks of Dr. Hendricks?
We've been asking people wherever we travel how they would
define the responsibilities of a teacher. Over and over again they say, "To
teach the facts," or "To cover the material," or "To complete the lesson
plan." The focus of all these definitions is upon anything but the student's
Somehow we think teaching is talking. If I come to the class and
go through my notes and get you to laugh a couple of times, and you
copy down my notes and maybe ask one or two questions, then I have
No, that's not teaching. True biblical teaching doesn't take place
unless the students have learned. If they haven't learned, I haven't taught.
What does the Bible mean by "teach" and what does it mean by
"learn"? Does God divorce teaching from learning? Let's look at a couple
of verses out of Deuteronomy that are very similar but have a different
focus. One focuses on teaching, the other on learning.
And Moses called all Israel, and said to them: "Hear, O Israel,
the statutes and judgments which I speak in your hearing
today, that you may learn them and be careful to observe
them." (Deuteronomy 5:1)
What does it mean to learn?
"Now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the judgments which
I teach you to observe, that you may live, and go in and possess
the land which the Lord God of your fathers is giving you."
What does it mean to teach? How are these two concepts-learning
and teaching-related? Are they as divorced from each other as we have
come to believe?
In order to grasp the full meaning of these words, let's investigate the
terms in the original Hebrew. The word learn in 5:1 is [MATHEMATICAL EXPRESSION NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], and teach in 4:1 is [MATHEMATICAL EXPRESSION NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. When the prefix and the suffix are taken
off of learn, all that remains is the root Hebrew word [MATHEMATICAL EXPRESSION NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII].
When the prefix and the suffix are taken off of teach, all that remains is the Hebrew root [MATHEMATICAL
EXPRESSION NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII].
It's the same word! That's right, the same Hebrew word means to
learn and to teach. Do you realize the significance of that? We can't
separate teaching from learning. They are married; they are one.
Somehow and in some way, what the teacher does and what the student
does must be inextricably related.
There is further insight into this Hebrew word for teach and learn.
The root means "learn," but when you alter it and put it into another
stem called the Piel, it changes the meaning to "teach."
According to Hebrew grammar, the fundamental idea of the Piel is
to "busy oneself eagerly with the action indicated by the stem." What's
the stem? "To learn." To teach, therefore, means to busy oneself eagerly
with the student's learning. It also means "to urge," "to cause others to
do," and "an eager pursuit of an action."
Do you see how the Bible's mindset is the opposite of the common
mindset of today's teacher? The Bible says that teaching means "causing
learning." This is the heart of the Law of the Learner. No longer can you
or I consider teaching merely as something the teacher does in the front
of the class. Teaching is what the teacher does in the student. How do
you know if you are a great teacher? By what your students learn. That's
why Dr. Hendricks stopped what he was doing and ran down that aisle
to challenge me. He knew that because I wasn't learning, he wasn't
Can you imagine what would happen in classrooms across the
country if teachers returned to their rightful heritage? If they walked
down the aisles, not with their outlines and notes, but with their students?
If they vowed to be fully obedient to the biblical mandate ofcausing them to learn? It would start a revolution. Learning would once
again soar, discipline would return, and students would start to love
learning instead of hating school.
The Law of the Learner is illustrated by this diagram. The left box
represents the "speaker" or "communicator." The center box is the
"subject" or "content." And the right box represents the "student" or
The two small arrows in this model represent the actions of the
teacher or the student. Normally, the teacher focuses on the subject-"lectures"
and speaks the "words," whereas the student "listens" and
"writes" those words. Notice both of their points of attention: It's on
the process of covering the material. And what often occurs is a thorough
lack of learning. Students are free to move their minds into
neutral with only their pencils in gear and all too often slide into thepit of passivity.
The preferred mindset requires the teacher to refocus attention from
the subject to the student. This is represented by the lower arrow pointing
from the teacher to the student with the words "causes to learn."
One of the most striking quotes I have ever read was from a frustrated
inner-city father speaking of the school system's dramatic failure
to cause his daughter to learn:
You people operate a monopoly like the telephone company.
I got no choice where I send my child to school. I can only go
where it's free. And she's not learning.
That's your responsibility. It's the principal's responsibility.
It's the teacher's responsibility that she's not learning. And
when you fail, when everybody fails my child, what happens?
Nothing. Nobody gets fired. Nothing happens to nobody
except my child.
How tragic, but how true! The 7 Laws of the Learner is written to
enable you to turn this situation around-to teach so effectively that no
one would ever consider looking out that window.
This second section, introducing the maxims, continues to develop the
main concept introduced in the mindset and model. In order to clarify
and expand your understanding, the "big idea" under consideration is
investigated from a number of different angles and perspectives. A maxim
is a brief statement of a general principle or truth, and therefore each of
the maxims that follow reflects a different facet of "cause to learn." By
the end of this section, you should much more fully grasp the greater
meaning and significance of what it really means to "cause to learn." The
deeper and fuller your understanding, the easier it will be for you to use
this truth in your own teaching.
Maxim 1: Teachers are responsible for causing
students to learn.
It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to conduct an experiment. It
was my first class on my first day of my first year of teaching college. My
slate was clean and my reputation as yet unformed. My students had no
way to know what to expect.
Class started and I began teaching the way I had been taught by
most of my teachers. You know, the traditional outline with main points
and subpoints. The students dutifully took notes. After about twenty-five
minutes, I said to my trusting class, "Please put away your papers. It's
time for a test." You could almost hear their hearts stop in unison. They
were freshmen, and this was their first class. When I announced a test-on
the first day-their world almost came to an end.
Finally the deafening silence was broken by a courageous girl in the
back row: "But sir, we haven't even had a chance to study this yet."
"I know, but let's see how you do," I said.
I offered no explanation. (It would have ruined my experiment.)
There was a rattling of notebooks as they dug for paper. Then it got
real quiet. I asked a few questions from the twenty-five minutes of
"teaching" I had just completed.
All but a couple of students failed. Royally. Tension was heavy, and I
could read the glances that shot across the room: I'm transferring out of this
Then the girl in the back row raised her hand again. It was obvious
she was used to getting As. "You can't count that!" she protested.
"It's not fair. We didn't have a chance to learn it!"
"So how did you do on the test?"
She looked down and said, "Sixty percent."
"What am I?" I asked.
"And what's the teacher supposed to do? Teach the class, right?" I
paused and smiled. "If I'm the teacher and I'm the one who is supposed
to teach you the material, then how did I do so far? What grade would
you give me?"
Their faces said they were bursting to tell me.
"Young lady, if your test score revealed how effectively I taught you
today, what grade would you give me?"
By now, no one was breathing. Everything in this young lady wanted
to tell me, but she didn't know if she should. So I told her.
"Your grade is my grade," I said. "What you did or did not learn is
dependent upon how I did as your teacher. So your grade of 60 percent
designates me as a teacher who failed in his job. I failed to cause you to
learn. Give me an F!"
The class was stunned.
I took off my coat, loosened my tie, and continued. "Now, why are
you paying this college all this tuition and not expecting me to do my
job? How come I can teach for thirty minutes and have the whole class
not learn anything? I thought my job was to lead you to learn!"
They wanted to nod. Some wanted to cheer-this was starting to
make sense. "From now on, when you come to this class, I'll take the
responsibility for your learning. If you'll come with an open mind-and
an open heart-then I'll do my part as your teacher to fill it."
For the next twenty minutes I taught them. I taught them until they
knew the material. Then I tested them on the material and all but two
got As. With a twinkle in my eye I told them we couldn't count the first
test because I wouldn't want such incriminating evidence of my poor
teaching recorded. Ah, the joys of college teaching!