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General Sessions Uplift and Edify Teachers at North American Division Educators' Convention in Phoenix

NAD EDU convention 2023 Dr. Robyn R. Jackson, is passionate about building better educators. As the CEO of Mindsteps® Inc.

Dr. Robyn R. Jackson, CEO of Mindsteps® Inc., gives a keynote address at the North American Division "Something Better" Educators' Convention on Aug. 9, 2023. Photo by Glendon Hines

Within the three full days of North American Division Educators’ Convention, which ran from Aug. 7-10, 2023, in Phoenix, Arizona, were dozens of breakout sessions hosted by experts and educators, each with specific topics for dedicated teachers to enjoy.* The five general sessions, however, gathered all 6,000 attendees in one room to listen to dedicated speakers and to worship. Each session followed a similar structure, with the morning sessions beginning with music by the group Cyiza, devotional thought by Donnett Blake, and a short video from a series detailing the rich history of Adventist education and its development. 

The sessions would then invite representatives from all the visiting conferences, unions, and the division to call out the educators from their sectors. Energy was high from the start, with Canada bringing the roof down to support their conferences during the shout-outs on the first day.

Next up, a prayer would be given by an educator, such as Julie Kamieneski, the principal and teacher of Amesbury Elementary School in the Southern New England Conference who chose to pray in English and “the language of heaven” on the first day. Renowned singer/songwriter Laura Story, opened the first session with her song “Blessings,” bringing participants into a state of worship.

Phil Callaway, comedian and radio host addresses the educators' at the "Something Better" convention in Phoenix, Arizona.

Phil Callaway, comedian and radio host, addresses the educators' at the "Something Better" convention in Phoenix, Arizona. Photo by Glendon Hines

Educational Keynotes with Laughter and Love

Each session title opened with either “the how” or “the what,” supplying practical advice for those listening. First full day morning speaker Mario Acosta set the tone — and the standard — with a talk entitled “The How- Core Elements of Learning.” He opened his session by sharing the goals for the talk: 

  • Consider the model of education for our future;
  • Create the conditions for staff and student success; 
  • Create the conditions to ensure that every learner masters the critical content of the curriculum. 

From this model, Acosta drew from reliable data and appealed to many teachers’ frustration at their inability to keep up with standardization. His main focus, however, was to show a practical alternative, by following “the crab method,” and how to ensure core topics are taught without causing burnout. 

The next session began after lunch, with comedian Taylor Hughes providing deep insight through comedic relief, entertaining the audience before Tina H. Boogren gave her presentation on “The How- Capacity Building.” Boogren began her keynote address by defining what a framework is and how it can benefit teachers, continuing by acknowledging that learning how to discuss the role of a teacher and that utilizing the right frameworks that don’t jeopardize teachers can benefit their productivity and student achievement. “As we think about instruction, Boogren stated, “What I want to remind you of is that the magic isn't in the strategy, it’s in the person providing the strategy.”

That evening, Phil Callaway left participants in a state of laughter with his talk “Laugh Again: 5 Secrets to Success, Sanity, and Significance,” mixing humor and heart. His ability to keep the attendees in stitches was a clever means to show the vitality of laughter, reminding those present that finding the humor in situations allows us to appreciate the nuance of life and the importance of not settling for a dower existence. His five secrets drew on biblical truth. 

Kim Strobel, motivational speaker for educators, school leaders, and organizations, addresses the educators' at the "Something Better" convention in Phoenix, Arizona.

Kim Strobel, motivational speaker for educators, school leaders, and organizations, addresses the educators' at the "Something Better" convention in Phoenix, Arizona. Photo by Glendon Hines

Wednesday maintained the momentum of the event, following the same structure as the previous day, with a mental health segment imploring the importance of checking on yourself as an educator — and noticing signs in students so help can be extended. The segment provided a seamless transition for Kim Strobel’s talk “The How- Collaborative Culture.” As a happiness coach, Strobel dove head first into addressing the percentages of our lives that determine happiness, resulting in the reality that 90 percent of long-term happiness is based on how your brain processes the world. For teachers drowning under a constant threat of burnout, with more and more demands from the school, parents, students, and ourselves, Strobel provided practical strategies for well-being and happiness. 

Finally, Robyn Jackson closed the sessions with “The What- Commitment to Growth. Jackson speaks to the universal hope of every good teacher, which is to reach 100 percent in comprehension in grades, participation, and in success. Within her keynote address, she offered the possibility of 100 percent through methods and frameworks outside of standardization and free from immense pressure. In this way, teachers can give their best to their students, without chasing temporary goals or settling for incremental gains. 

Teacher Appreciation

Teachers don’t need empty platitudes, new standardized methods, or passive support, they deserve acknowledgment for their efforts and practical guides to help them utilize their skills for the benefit of their students without risking their mental wellbeing.

These sessions did more than introduce new ways to teach but recognized the struggles of educators, and provided step-by-step advice, which brings the educator and the student closer to the ultimate goal. Education is a major pillar in the Adventist faith, therefore, providing insight that will simplify and edify is a vital step in raising the next generation.

*The convention’s opening session on Monday night, Aug. 7, 2023, included the keynote address entitled “The Why- Clear Purpose,” by Carlton P. Byrd, president of the Southwest Region Conference.