"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
November 27, 2014
Visiting Teaching Interviews
by Cyndie Swindlehurst


I am part of a new Relief Society presidency, and we need to revamp the visiting teaching routes in our ward.

I’ve heard of visiting teaching interviews, but we haven’t done them. How do you do them? In person? On the phone? What topics do you cover?

Any suggestions?


Visiting teaching is a fantastic and flexible program. But even if you approach it prayerfully (see Handbook 2, section 9.5.2), organizing the visiting teaching in a ward can feel more like a game of Whac-A-Mole than a spiritual experience. Just when you think you have everything set, all assignments made, you get new information (move ins, move outs, new jobs) that disrupts your carefully-made plan.

Therefore, the best approach, in my opinion, is to gather in advance, before you make any assignments, as much information as you can about the sisters’ needs, schedules, transportation and capabilities. This information will inform the inspiration you hope to have as you make assignments.

I like visiting teaching interviews as the way to gather that information, the way to find out what is and is not working with your current assignments.

Interviews can be on the phone or in person. You could also use email, messaging or text, but nuances are harder to identify and interpret in those formats.

So let’s imagine you are going to conduct an interview, either in person or on the phone. You’ll need a current visiting teaching report that tells you each sister’s assignment and her report for the last three months, a complete Relief Society roster, and a notebook and pen to take notes.

The interview starts when you greet the sister. You’ll call her by her first name or as Sister So-and-So, depending on your relationship with her. Remember that some people are more comfortable being called Sister So-and-So. If this person is your social friend, you might also say that you are on “official Relief Society business,” to distinguish this conversation from your usual conversations.

First, ask how she is. You are on a mission, but you cannot forgo the niceties of conversation; they show that you care about her. So if you know something that is happening in her life, ask about it. How is her hand healing? How is Junior’s new school working out? Congratulations on her new job. How is her missionary?

Second, ask if she has a few minutes to talk about visiting teaching. This introduces your topic, but also expresses respect for her time. If you are calling her, she may be on break at work or in line at Aldi, and need to talk later. Explain briefly that you are talking to all of the sisters in your ward about their visiting teaching routes. This lets her know that you are not singling her out.

Third, tell her what you have recorded as her route. “I see you and Tam Ma are companions, and that you visit Cecily Powers and Catherine Greatheart. Is that right?” You might be surprised to find that she believes she has an entirely different route.

If you discover that a fair number of your sisters do not know who they are assigned visit, you will know that you have either a record-keeping or a communication problem to solve.

Fourth, ask about her companion. Are they able to make appointments and go on visits together? Or has one sister been doing all the work? Or perhaps each goes alone to visit some of the sisters on their list.

This is not necessarily a problem — sisters are assigned to visit in companionships of two where possible. Section 9.5.2. But if they are not able to visit together, ask why.

Is it a scheduling problem? A transportation problem? A personal issue? Is it just faster and easier to split the route between them? If she does not have a companion, ask if that arrangement is intentional and if it works well.

As you talk with her, remember that your goal is (1) to build a relationship with this sister, (2) to express appreciation for what she has been able to accomplish, and (3) to gather information that will help you make future assignments. Remember that as she talks to you, this sister is trusting you with her concerns and perhaps with her weaknesses. Tread lightly.

Fifth, ask about the sisters she visits. Usually, “I see you visit Catherine,” is enough to start the conversation. “Are you able to visit Cecily?” is another easy opener.

Ask how long she has visited each sister. Sisters rely on trusted, long-term visiting teachers, and you disrupt those relationships at your peril. Maybe I’m being overly dramatic, but if you break up a route that has been working smoothly for five or fifteen or thirty-five years, you’re going to hear about it.

You may want to change the route, but you should first consider the effects of disrupting not only a schedule that works, but a support system. Sisters are much more likely to call a long-term visiting teacher than a brand new one when they are in need. And a long-term visiting teacher will see issues and needs that a newbie will not, and is more likely to know what to do (or not do) about them.

If the sister’s route is not working, find out why. There are realities of scheduling, distance, transportation, physical ability, mental ability, allergies and stamina that you cannot change. Further, a sister with a demanding calling, a busy job or heavy caretaking responsibilities may need a lighter visiting teaching assignment.

If the sister tells you she just can’t do her visiting teaching, ask what you can do to help her — even if you see no reason why she can’t make her visits. She will probably have a concrete suggestion, and you should listen to her. Even if you cannot do what she suggests, you may have an alternate idea.

Remember that you want her to feel successful in her visiting teaching; feeling successful will give her a personal boost, and perhaps (if they are lacking) the confidence or willingness to take on a larger assignment some day.

Sixth, ask questions. You need to know when this sister is available, how much driving she can do, whether she feels comfortable calling strangers or chasing down long-unknown names on the roster (some people really don’t mind doing this — you need to find those intrepid souls and use them), or whether she’s willing to visit seventeen people as long as there’s not much driving or drama involved.

I’m not saying you should only craft visiting teaching assignments to fit a sister’s strengths, but knowing a sister’s strengths is a good place to start.

Seventh, the Handbook directs that special attention be given to “sisters coming into Relief Society from Young Women, single sisters, new ward members, recent converts, newly married sisters, less-active members, and others with special needs.” Section 9.5.2. That sounds like half the ward, doesn’t it?

Visiting teaching interviews will give you insight about who would be a good visiting teacher to sisters who need special attention.

I also suggest that when you give someone a special assignment, such as being companions with a new member, you present it personally. Describe the special circumstances and any special instructions, express confidence in her abilities, and adjust her expectations as necessary.

Eighth, ask about her visiting teacher. Does she come? How long has she been assigned? Do their schedules work together? If she tells you that she loves her visiting teacher and can’t do without her, listen up. It is not your job to teach her to be flexible. Nor is it fair to take away an active sister’s faithful visiting teacher because someone else “needs a visit more than she does.”

Fully active sisters need visiting teachers, too, often as desperately as the sisters whose needs are most obvious. Remember that “In the quiet heart is hidden, sorrow that the eye can’t see.” Lord, I Would Follow Thee, Hymns, 220.

Finally, some of these interviews will last four minutes. Others will last twenty. They may be exhausting. But as you sit down with your presidency to make visiting teaching assignments, your notes of these conversations will help you make better assignments.

Because although you are the Relief Society presidency, the sisters in your Relief Society know a lot more about the sisters collectively than you and your presidency do alone.

Do you have a quandary, conundrum, or sticky situation in your life? Click this button to drop Cyndie a line, and she’ll be happy to answer your question in a future column. Any topic is welcome!

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About Cyndie Swindlehurst

Cynthia Munk Swindlehurst spent her childhood in New Hampshire and her adolescence in San Diego. She served a mission in Manaus Brazil. She graduated from Brigham Young University with a degree in English and from Duke University with a law degree.

She practiced law until her first child was born. She enjoys reading, tap dancing, and discussing current events. She and her husband live in Greensboro, North Carolina with their two sons.

Cyndie serves as the Sunbeams teacher in her ward.

Visit Cyndie at Dear Cyndie
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