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October 31, 2013
The Real Issue
Is an Adviser a Young Women Leader?
by Cyndie Swindlehurst


I was just called as the Laurel Adviser in our ward. I don’t know the other leaders very well.

Young Women in Excellence is this week, and I asked the Young Women president if I should attend. I was expecting her to say, “Yes, that would be great,” but instead she said, “No, you don’t need to come — only leaders need to come to activities. Since you’re not a leader, you don’t need to come to Mutual. All you do is teach on Sunday.”

What? Only “leaders”? What am I? And what does she mean that “all” I do is teach on Sunday?

I’m kind of offended. Should I go anyway?


Perhaps the Young Women president was confusing “leader” with “presidency member.” Advisers are not presidency members, but they are absolutely part of the ward Young Women leadership. The Handbook explains their duties:

They help the Young Women presidency and class presidencies plan and carry out activities, including Mutual.

They may teach Sunday lessons. They also may help teach leadership skills to class presidencies.

They may help record the progress of individual young women in the Personal Progress program. They attend ward Young Women presidency meetings as invited. (Handbook 2, section 10.3.4.)

The Young Women president and her counselors also help the Young Women plan and carry out activities, and also teach “often” on Sunday. And it is their job to oversee and instruct the advisers. (Section 10.3.2.)

Instead of being offended, I recommend you sit down with the president to discuss your new calling. Tell her what you read in the Handbook about your duties and ask her how she would like you to carry them out.

If she doesn’t want your help with Mutual activities, that’s okay. Remember that she is doing her best, and that there is probably a reason behind the way she has set things up. So, support her in her calling and fulfill the duties she assigns you.

That said, I think that you should go to Young Women in Excellence. But not because you want to stick it to the Young Women president or show her how her organization should really work.

She probably thought you’d be pleased or relieved to not attend Young Women in Excellence. You should attend because you need to get to know the young women if you are going to be an effective teacher. And the only way to get to know them is to spend time with them. Young Women in Excellence is a major annual event, and is a good opportunity to do this.

One of the advantages to teaching Young Women, Young Men, Primary, youth Sunday School, or any other class with a relatively small and consistent roster is the opportunity to prepare your lessons with all of the individual class members in mind. You can know about their lives, personalities, families, interests, worries, strengths, weaknesses, fears, and hopes. All of this information helps you prepare lessons that are uplifting and useful to them.

That information alone is not enough for a successful class. You also need to develop a relationship with your students. They need to trust you and to know you like them. If they don’t trust you or know you like them, (1) they will not really listen to what you say, and (2) they will be less likely to participate in the lessons in a meaningful way.

Student participation can be tricky. A class where the teacher just lectures is boring. But participation for its own sake is not effective. Comments must be appropriate and meaningful. They must contribute to the atmosphere and purpose of the class. Therefore, a major part of preparing a lesson is deciding what questions to ask, phrasing them clearly, choosing passages to read aloud, and thinking about who you will ask to participate and how.

To do this, you need to know who in your class is too shy to share her ideas, but will gladly read aloud. Or who likes to comment, but stumbles over reading. You need to know which student needs you to show complete attention to her too-long comments, and which student is ready to learn how to limit her too-long comments.

You need to know who is very sensitive and who enjoys good-natured teasing. Who likes it when you warmly encourage her to participate, and who needs you to leave her alone when she says “no.”

Young Women in Excellence is an excellent place to start making these observations. You can also find other opportunities to get to know your class. Talk to them on Sunday instead of just chatting with other leaders. Offer to drive them home from church if they have to stay late. Volunteer to go on temple trips.

Help them with Personal Progress projects. Hire them to babysit your children or rake your yard. As you spend time with them, watch how they interact with each other. Observe who is friends with whom, and who does not appear to have many friends.

Is there a ringleader? Is there a mean girl? Is there a peacemaker? Is there someone who always seems uncomfortable? Is one girl noticeably different from the other girls? Does this seem to bother her? Listen to what they talk about. Ask them about themselves. What do they read, watch, buy, and do? What do they like? What do they think is lame? What is important to them? What do they think and feel about church, school, friends, and the world we live in?

However, it is very, very important that as you work, play, talk, and share with them, you always remember that you are the leader. Let the young women know that you think they are cool, but do not try to convince them that you are cool.

You are not cool. You are an adult. A role model. A teacher. Your students must be able to rely on you to always exercise self-control and good judgment. To be steady, faithful, generous, charitable, and kind — to show all the attributes a member of the Relief Society should exemplify.

As you spend time with them in formal and fun settings, always remember that you are showing them how a Latter-day Saint woman behaves.

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