In just a few days, church educational leaders in the North American Division (NAD) and a team of more than 125 staff and volunteers will greet 6,000 education professionals — from classroom teachers and principals to deans, marketing and development directors, administrators, and food service employees — as they converge on Chicago, Illinois, United States, for the 2018 teachers’ convention from August 6-9.
“A big reason we do this convention is to thank teachers for the hours and months that they spend, the dollars that they spend out of their own pockets, to be the hands and feet of Jesus and the voice of Jesus in the classroom every day,” said NAD vice-president for education Larry Blackmer about the convention, the largest Seventh-day Adventist professional development event. “These people ensure that students are number one — that they’re safe spiritually and academically and physically. It is our way of saying thanks.”
Professional and Spiritual Growth
But it isn’t just accolades that will be doled out at the convention, themed “Encounter Jesus, Experience Excellence.” Said Blackmer, “Teachers come to grow, learn, and share. This event is three days dedicated to spiritual and professional growth.”
Those registered will be able to choose from 420 presentations spread across six breakout sessions. Most of these are conducted by Adventist teachers. Most presenters throughout the convention are educators. “It’s important that our teachers share their expertise with each other,” Blackmer said. “There’s a certain amount of synergy that takes place when you have a group of professionals come together like this.”
Before the breakout sessions commence each morning, attendees will worship together with Sam Leonor, chaplain at La Sierra University in Riverside, California; singer Angela Bryant-Brown; violinist Jaime Jorge; and soloist Wintley Phipps.
The Aug. 6 evening kickoff program will feature keynote speaker Elizabeth Talbot, speaker/director of media ministry Jesus 101, and a concert by musician Steven Curtis Chapman. Each day will feature general sessions from speakers Eric Sheninger, senior fellow and thought leader with the International Center for Leadership in Education; Manny Scott, writer and founder of Ink International, Inc.; and Brad Geise, analyst and speaker from Education for the Future. They will discuss topics of technology, inspiration, and school vision and improvement. An early morning anointing service followed by a special commitment service on Aug. 9 by Daniel R. Jackson, president of the NAD, will conclude the convention.
Exhibitors and Gifts
In addition to the breakouts and general sessions, more than 200 exhibitors will have on display everything from classroom supplies, higher education information, curriculum and resource materials to furniture, professional development options, publishing materials, online educational resources, and more.
Educators who work in one-teacher schools will have an extra benefit. A “lamination party” will be held each day for 300 teachers to laminate resources—especially materials for the new Encounter Bible curriculum, which is now in its roll-out phase. Each teacher will receive a special bag for their materials and additional gifts.
A gift for all teachers is, of course, the synergy of the group, said Blackmer. “This is the one time when you can meet old friends and new colleagues — it's a little bit of heaven on earth when you get to see all these people that you are friends with,” he said. “Adventist education is like pastoring; you're constantly moving. Your roots go deep in terms of friendships.”
Part of a Supportive System
Blackmer added that the experience is good for new teachers too. “Imagine you’re the teacher who teaches in a one-teacher school in Montana. Or the one who graduated from college last year and you’re a first-year teacher. You walk into that auditorium with 6,000 other Adventist teachers and hear them sing ‘We Have This Hope’ — 6,000 teachers together, knowing that every single person in that room has the same convictions and desires for their students that you do — this is meaningful. I'm part of a system, and that system is supportive of me.”
This is the fourth NAD-wide convention for Adventist educators. The first convention was held in 2000 in Dallas, Texas, followed by events in Nashville, Tennessee, in 2006 and 2012.
The theme “Encounter Jesus, Experience Excellence,” according to the program booklet, is “also the core of what Adventist education is all about.” It adds, “Consider a learning environment where the Bible is the main textbook, curriculum ignites curiosity, engages students, and connects them meaningfully with the Father; a context that is creative and inspirational to both teachers and learners; a faith community where joy is integral.” And it concludes, “Adventist education draws the whole student on a journey to our Creator God and provides an environment to help build a lifelong relationship with Jesus Christ.”