The article below is by Mark Olander, the academic dean of Moffat College of Bible, an ACTEA-accredited school in Kijabe, Kenya. He and his family have served in Kenya for seventeen years.

This article was first published in the April 2004 issue of the Evangelical Missions Quarterly and is reproduced here with their kind permission. website: e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

"How to Be a Motivating Teacher"

By Mark A. Olander

As a missionary teacher in a Bible college in Kenya, one of my greatest concerns is "How can God use me to make a lasting difference in my students¹ lives?" We all recognize that a teacher has the potential to greatly influence the lives of his or her students. As the saying goes, "To teach is to touch a life forever."

For many years I have been fascinated with the topic of student motivation. I have come to realize how important this is in the educational arena. Without sufficient motivation, a student is likely to do poorly in his or her studies regardless of academic ability. However, with good motivation, the same student can amaze both himself and his teacher with outstanding work.

Propelled by my interest in student motivation and the role that the teacher plays, I did some research. I conducted personal interviews with a representative sample of students and teachers in two Bible colleges in Kenya. (1) I wanted to learn the major factors in student motivation and what part, if any, the teacher plays in the process. The results of the research were revealing and have definitely affected my teaching. I believe the implications are important for all of us Christian educators to consider.

I have divided these guidelines for teachers into three categories: how we design our courses, how we teach, and how we relate to students. Following these guidelines can help us become motivating teachers in our classrooms.

How We Design Our Courses

  1. Create course requirements that are achievable and fair. If a teacher requires students to do things which are unrealistic and unattainable, the students will likely give up without trying. They will be unmotivated to do the assignments if they perceive them to be unfair. We need to design requirements which will challenge and stretch our students but will also be feasible and realistic.
  2. Ensure that the assignments we give are appropriate and beneficial. If course assignments are simply "busy work" and students do not perceive them as genuine learning experiences, their motivation decreases. We must think through our assignments and make sure that they benefit our students and facilitate their learning.
  3. Incorporate small group work in our courses. College students often find small group projects both beneficial and stimulating. Learning to work together with colleagues is a valuable lesson to learn in college. For example, sometimes it can be helpful to have students do group research and presentations in class rather than assigning individual term papers.
  4. Seek appropriate and effective ways of getting feedback from students. One of the best ways to improve our teaching is to take seriously our students¹ course evaluations. These evaluations can either be written or oral, depending upon the culture. In some settings an oral evaluation can benefit the instructor. For example, Howard Hendricks at Dallas Theological Seminary often gathers a small group of students at the end of a course and asks them to respond honestly to questions such as: "What needs to be changed in this course? What did you like? What didn't you like? What didn't make sense? Don't tell me what I want to hear; tell me what I need to hear² (1987, 114).

    In my Kenyan context I've found that oral evaluations are not as helpful as written ones. When using written course evaluations, make sure they are anonymous so that students need not fear that their comments might negatively affect their course grade.
  5. Be well-prepared for class each day. Students appreciate academic competency, but they are even more concerned about whether or not teachers come to class ready to teach that day. If students perceive that a teacher is unprepared, their motivation to learn negatively affected. Many of us teachers shoulder numerous other administrative responsibilities, so being well-prepared each day is a real challenge. But it is extremely important for our students to see that we are ready to teach when we enter the classroom.

How We Teach

  1. Help students see how a course can benefit their future. In my research with Kenyan Bible college students, the number one factor affecting students¹ motivation to study is how they perceive their ability to use the course material in the future. Therefore we need to help our students realize that whatever they are learning will be helpful to their future work as missionaries, teachers, pastors, Christian education workers, etc.
  2. Be sensitive to students' understanding of class material. We cannot assume that they are always following the lesson. We can show sensitivity to our students by periodically asking questions such as: "Does this make sense to you?" or "Is there anything so far this morning that you'd like me to explain more clearly?"
  3. Involve students as active learners, not simply observers or passive recipients of information. Student motivation is highly enhanced when the student has the opportunity to participate in the learning process. Ways to actively involve our students include: student class presentations, group discussions, debates, role plays, drama, small group discussions and field trips.
  4. Make a conscious effort to use a variety of teaching methods. Many of us college teachers tend to rely almost exclusively upon the lectures. Nothing is inherently wrong with lecturing, but if we rely entirely upon it we will most likely hinder our students' motivation. We need to be willing to experiment with different teaching methods and add variety in the classroom.

    Jesus used several teaching methods in his ministry, including lecture, group discussion, demonstration, question and answer, and story-telling. The method which he chose in a given situation depended upon the setting, the nature of the lesson, and the emotional and physical condition of his students.
  5. When lecturing, allow for student involvement through questions and interaction. Giving our students the opportunity to ask questions and respond to the lecture material helps keep them interested. I was surprised to discover in my research that the teaching method which most Bible college students in Kenya preferred is "lecture and discussion." They disliked pure lecture, but neither did they prefer pure discussion. It appears that college professors need to seek an appropriate blend of the two methods.
  6. Look for ways to use visuals in teaching. Students appreciate and need some type of visual input during class. They appreciate it when teachers take the time to write outlines, key words, names, illustrations and paradigms on the white board, chalk board or overhead transparencies. If technical support is available, things like power point presentations are very helpful.

How We Relate to Students

  1. Encourage students through either oral statements or written comments on their papers. I can still clearly remember how a college professor influenced me thirty years ago when he wrote in the margin of my term paper. His brief, but helpful comment was a major turning point for me as a college student who was struggling with self-doubt. We should never underestimate the power of an encouraging word to a student on the way to class or a written comment on a student's paper.
  2. Vary leadership style according to the needs of students. We can be students of our students and discern what kind of leadership they need. At times we can exhort them to work harder and do better. Other times we can be more affirming and supportive when we sense they have tried but done poorly.
  3. Practice servant leadership in the classroom. As teachers we need to see ourselves as guides and facilitators in the educational process. We are not simply "answer machines" or "walking encyclopedias." Christ exhorted his disciples to "wash one another's feet" and be servant leaders (John 13). Serving as facilitators for our students is one way to wash their feet. Our goal should be to help our students succeed and to reach their full potential in Christ.
  4. Exemplify what we are endeavoring to teach. If our lives outside the classroom are consistent with our teaching inside the classroom, then our students are more likely to be motivated. Are we teaching by example? Paul told Timothy to make sure to set the believers an example in speech, life, love, faith and purity (1Tim. 4:12).

    In his book, Multiplying Disciples: the New Testament Pattern for Church Growth, Waylon Moore cites this challenging poem for teachers:

    "I'd rather see a sermon [lesson] than hear one any day. I'd rather one would walk with me than merely show the way. The eye's a better pupil and much more willing than the ear. Fine counsel is confusing, but examples always clear. The best of all the teachers are those who live their creeds. For to see the good put into action is what everybody needs. I'll soon learn how to do it if you'll let me see it done. I can watch your hand in action, but your tongue too fast may run. And the lectures you deliver may be very wise and true, But I'd rather get my lesson by observing what you do. For I may misunderstand you in the high advice you give, But there's no misunderstanding how you act and how you live" (1981, 97-98).

  5. Proactively develop healthy relationships with students. The majority of the students I interviewed indicated that the most important characteristic of an effective Bible college teacher is a love for students. I think it is significant that Jesus was compassionate toward those he taught. The gospel writer Mark gives the following description: "When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things² (Mark 6:34). The text suggests that Jesus' primary motivation for teaching was his love and compassion for his students.

    How do we teachers show love for our students? One significant way is to spend time with them outside the classroom. Sharing a cup of coffee in the student center, participating in sports activities, joining in ministry opportunities together, and visiting informally with students on campus can help build healthy relationships.

    There is no doubt that we teachers can influence our students' lives. If we apply these principles to how we design courses, teach in classrooms and interact with students, we can significantly improve our ability to motivate students. With God's enabling, we can be teachers who will make an eternal difference in our students.


(1) Mark A. Olander, A Study of the Relationship between Teacher Leadership and Student Motivation in Bible Colleges in Kenya. Ph.D. Dissertation, Trinity International University, 1992.


Hendricks, Howard G. 1987. Teaching to Change Lives. Portland, Oregon: Multnomah Press.

Moore, Waylon B. 1981. Multiplying Disciples: The New Testament Pattern for Church Growth. Colorado Springs, Colo.: Navpress.