“ ‘Something better’ is the watchword of education, the law of all true living.… To honor Christ, to become like Him, to work for Him, is the life’s highest ambition and its greatest joy” (Ellen G. White, Education, p. 296).
It was predicted to be a busy day. Aaron Long, vice-principal at Burton Adventist Academy in Texas, United States, is used to juggling administrative duties, teaching and learning, student schedules, parents, school community, and family. But February 15, 2021, was extra special as it was the start of the Association of Seventh-day Adventist School Administrators (ASDASA) virtual conference.
Long was one of the administrators who registered to attend the first-ever ASDASA virtual conference. He was also integral to the project as part of the technical team to start the sessions and breakouts, as well as troubleshoot technical difficulties. He was prepared for everything — except what he confronted on a cold President’s Day in 2021.
He scrambled out of bed to find that with massive ice, snowstorms, and frigid temperatures, the power was out to more than 4.4 million homes and businesses in Texas. How was he going to provide technical support with no power or internet?
Further investigation showed no internet at the school, no power across their community, and no power for his principal, who was to present at the conference that day. Providentially, Long's house did have power and internet, so he was able to host families to eat and get warm. He was also helping his principal to give what attendees described as an outstanding ASDASA presentation.
Additionally, the Burton school was able to serve as a warming station for the community. With back-up from his tech colleagues, Long figured out that he could still be part of the ASDASA tech team amid all this chaos.
Long is just one of the Adventist educators who are striving to provide “something better.”
Something Better in a Virtual Conference
Every five years, ASDASA meets to help Adventist education leaders to stay on top of current research and trends to remain effective in their roles. ASDASA has been growing in popularity as leaders have collaborated on timely issues facing Adventist schools while growing professionally with presentations focused on innovation and excellence. Part of that innovation and excellence was transitioning to the 2021 online event. More than 55 speakers presented to more than 700 education professionals during the three-day event.
“We stepped forward in faith with our union directors to run our first-ever virtual conference,” Arne Nielsen, North American Division (NAD) vice president for education, said. “We didn't know what to expect — we are delighted to report our largest attendance in the history of the event, with 711 attendees from across the NAD.”
Something Better in the Classroom
Keynote speaker Phil Warrick from Marzano’s Research presented the big picture of the NAD-led initiative for standards-based learning. Chris Juhl, principal at Forest Lake Education Center, and Tammy Heflebower from Marzano’s Research also led attendees through the first steps in this important initiative to create Christ-based schools that promote student’s ownership of their learning as they master the essential standards at each grade level.
Within a collaborative and safe environment, students are supported with a faith-based curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Rather than teaching to the textbook’s letter, now the textbook becomes just another resource among the many available.
Something Better in Mission and Vision
ASDASA 2021 was also the perfect venue to unveil the new Journey to Excellence (J2E) framework. The J2E 2.0 framework is integral to Adventist education because it includes the “why,” “how,” and “what” of excellence in Adventist education. It outlines the shared understanding of Adventist education’s redemptive purpose while highlighting a deeply held understanding of wholistic student learning goals.
Dennis Plubell and Betty Bayer, cochairs of the J2E 2.0 taskforce, described the framework as “a guide for continuous improvement at all levels, a catalyst to equip and empower every Adventist educator to expand their thinking and improve their ministry.”
Something Better in Mental Health
The NAD Office of Education also rolled out an ambitious new mental health initiative during the conference. Evelyn Sullivan, NAD director for Early Childhood and REACH, described the resources: “In partnership with experts in the field of mental health and the Adventist Learning Community, we are developing a website and series of tools for teachers and students to combat the growing epidemic of mental health issues in our schools and community.”
Educators can join the NAD Mental Health Slack workspace, an online messaging and file-sharing platform, for articles, tips, and self-care ideas. The toolkit is designed to help schools partner with the professional community to meet the needs of students and staff on the front lines of the growing issue of mental health.
Something Better During COVID
Another facet highlighted during the ASDASA conference is the commitment to adaptability during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many Adventist schools all across the NAD have done something most schools across the country have not been able to do this year — meet face-to-face in classrooms with safety precautions in place.
In the summer of 2020, NAD Adventist educators spent hours creating safety shields, outdoor classrooms, creative classroom spaces, alternate scheduling, and providing personal protective equipment, along with, of course, creating technology back-ups for hybrid options for families and to prepare for unexpected closures. Students have had the opportunity to learn from their teachers in the classroom, maintain connections with their friends, participate in school activities, and be nurtured in a spiritual environment during a time when it has never been more critical.
“Please pray for our educational leadership as they support their schools and make huge strides in innovative practices and mission-focused strategies,” educational leaders said. “ ‘Something Better’ captures both the history and the future of Adventist education.”