Educational Theories,  Teaching & Learning

Introducing Servant Teaching

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Last year, we talked about Servant Teaching through a series of blogs posts, and we’re revisiting that concept today. For a bit of context: Servant Teaching’s more popular cousin Servant Leadership was first developed by Robert Greenleaf. In it, Greenleaf established ten characteristics of being a servant leader: 

  1. Listening 
  2. Empathy 
  3. Healing 
  4. Awareness 
  5. Persuasion 
  6. Conceptualization 
  7. Foresight 
  8. Stewardship 
  9. Commitment to the growth of followers 
  10. Building community 

Servant Leadership is a mainstay of most Christian organizations, including Cedarville University, as a way of modeling Philippians 2:3-8:  

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (ESV) 

CTL’s been focusing on Servant Teaching, especially across the last year and the pandemic. Let’s dive a little deeper into what Servant Teaching is.  

What is Servant Teaching? 

As you might suspect, Servant Teaching applies the characteristics of Servant Leadership to the classroom. Just sub out “leader” for “educator” and “followers” for “learners,” and voila! Servant Teaching. In the Servant Teaching environment, the educator serves learners by prioritizing their needs, building on their strengths, and removing barriers that obstruct their learning (Jennings and Stahl-Wert, 2003). Further, the educator motivates and empowers learners to perform at their highest levels (Sahawneh and Benuto, 2018; Noland and Richards, 2015). This motivation and empowerment lead to empathy, collaboration, and support among learners and the educator. To synthesize, Servant Teaching: 

  1. Is aware of learners’ needs and struggles. 
  2. Appreciates learners’ voices, perspectives, and goals. 
  3. Prioritizes student empowerment through effective communication and healthy support. 
  4. Establishes community through collaboration and contribution. 

Practically, what does this look like? 

Servant Teaching aligns well with a method of instruction called “inquiry-based.” “Inquiry-based” allows students to discover new information independently or collaboratively. The educator spends class time providing answers and guiding students in the direction the educator wants them to go.  

For example, let’s consider a session in which an educator is introducing a new unit to their learners. Using a Servant Teaching or “inquiry-based” approach, the educator puts learners in groups, hands out case studies or articles containing new information, and provides some guiding questions to get learners collaborating and discussing. The educator circulates around the groups, listening for “teachable moments” to clear up confusion or provide clarity. The session ends with a wrap up where the educator can ask groups to reflect on the new information and give some quick “takeaways.” Those “takeaways” are the main points of the presentation that would usually show themselves in a standard lecture-style course. The educator is getting the main points across, and the student experiences a time of reinforcement and affirmation of what they already discovered in their time of discussion and discovery with others. 

Next steps

If you’re curious about how you can use Servant Teaching in your course, contact CTL and help us explore how Servant Teaching can make a positive impact on Cedarville’s learners. 


Jennings, K., and Stahl-Wert, J. (2003). The serving leader. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler. 

Noland, A., and Richards, K. (2015). Servant teaching: an exploration of teacher servant leadership on student outcomes. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, Vol. 15, No. 6, December 2015, pp. 16-38. doi: 10.14434 

Sahawneh, F.G. and Benuto, L.T. (2018). The relationship between instructor servant leadership behaviors and satisfaction with instructors in an online setting. Online Learning, 22(1), 107-129. doi:10.24059 

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