When COVID-19 shut down the world in 2020, Adventist educators had to pivot online overnight, many with little to no virtual teaching experience. But they persevered and, despite road bumps, continued providing a wholistic, Christ-centered education to students at all levels.
The North American Division (NAD) of the Seventh-day Adventist Church will hold its 2023 educators’ convention in Phoenix, Arizona, United States, from August 7 to 10. It will be the division’s opportunity to honor and empower these frontline workers. Roughly 6,000 educators and other ministry leaders from across the NAD will gather for a jam-packed four days of networking, learning, and spiritual rejuvenation.
“This marks the single largest professional development and spiritual growth opportunity for Adventist educators as they network, rekindle friendships, learn, collaborate, gain skills, and receive resources to help them become more effective educators on their journey to excellence,” Arne Nielsen, NAD vice president for education, said. “This [event] is our way to say thank you. Thank you ... for being the hands, feet, and voice of Jesus in classrooms, dorms, offices, work programs, and sports fields.”
Plenary and keynote speakers will address contemporary topics in education, as will 300 presentations divided across six breakout sessions. Presentations will be primarily conducted by Adventist education practitioners. A particular focus will be standards-based learning, an NAD Education initiative for the 2020-2025 quinquennium. Another will be a dedicated training track for early childhood education (ECE), reflecting the NAD’s efforts to fully integrate ECE, led by director Evelyn Sullivan, into its Adventist education portfolio.
Morning worship sessions, including devotionals by Donnett Blake, Northeastern Conference’s Women’s Ministries director, will kickstart each day. Attendees will also enjoy worship music from Cyiza Music Ministry, a concert by Micah Tyler, Christian comedy by Phil Callaway and Taylor Hughes, and musical performances by renowned artists Nicole C. Mullen and Laura Story.
The event will also include an exhibit hall. Nearly 150 exhibitors will display classroom supplies, curriculum and resource materials, higher education information, professional development resources, and more. It will also feature a photo booth and live podcasts, such as one by the Adventist Learning Community (ALC), where teachers can share their stories.
New to the Educators’ Convention
This year’s convention will incorporate several exciting new elements. One is EdTalks, a series of 18-minute TED Talk-style presentations on leadership and education. The series will begin with a keynote by Carlton Byrd, Southwest Region Conference president. Other notable presenters will include recording artists Nicole C. Mullen and Laura Story, Adventist leaders Meshach Soli and Adam Wamack, and educators Mario Acosta, Tina Boogren, and Doug Reeves. The convention will conclude with a commitment and anointing service featuring NAD president G. Alexander Bryant.
Sponsored by the Bainum Family Foundation, the Edtalks will cover core elements of learning, capacity building, collaborative culture, and commitment to growth. Moreover, a Bainum leadership lounge will offer executive coaching and networking opportunities.
Also new, schools will be encouraged to enter submissions for SPARK Tank, a Shark Tank-style event showcasing creative evangelism projects. While only eight finalists will live pitch their initiatives to judges for grant funding awards, all participants will receive a check. Furthermore, all ideas will be shared in the convention center.
Leisa Standish, NAD director of Elementary Education, explained that the name “SPARK” represents a spark of an idea. “Also, ... it only takes a spark to get a fire going, ... that spark to get people excited about Jesus,” she added. Thus, NAD Education, in collaboration with NAD Vice President for Regional Liaison/Evangelism Calvin Watkins, is seeking innovative, student-led community outreach initiatives. “We want to get kids excited about evangelism,” Standish said.
Finally, the convention will offer a comprehensive “STEM experience,” sponsored by Versacare, in the exhibit hall. Section one will offer information on STEM teacher education, such as Loma Linda’s EXSEED summer program, and promote STEM Tuesdays, ALC’s interactive STEM courses. In section two, the “Tinker Space,” elementary and middle school teachers will learn to use robots, engineering, and other STEM equipment. Section three, for high school teachers, will offer hands-on demonstrations and training in coding, robotics, and engineering. Visitors will also enter a draw for free STEM kits. The goal of this segment is to promote equity in STEM education, where women and minorities are underrepresented; introduce supplements to the Adventist Church’s by-design science series; and equip teachers with the necessary tools and knowledge to support students in pursuing STEM careers.
The NAD Education office said it is thankful to sponsors for making the STEM experience and other value-added elements possible. “Our goal is to bring joy, inspiration, and a spiritual emphasis to this convention to renew the spirits of our teachers. I’m excited we’re able to provide experiences we haven’t had before,” Standish said.
Nielsen concluded, “Two years ago, we were doubtful that we [would] have a convention. However, through God’s providence and leading, we recognized that this was something we could do. We’re thankful and grateful. It has truly taken a village to make this happen.”