“‘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, is used to juggling administrative duties, teaching and learning, student schedules, parents, school community and family. But this past Monday, Feb. 15, 2021, was extra special as it was the start of the Association of Seventh-day Adventist School Administrators (ASDASA).
Long was one of the administrators 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 all prepared for everything — except what he confronted on a cold President’s Day 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, however, Long’s house did have power and Internet so he was able to host families to eat and get warm. He was also help his principal give what attendees described as an outstanding ASDASA presentation.
Additionally the school was able to serve as a warming station for the community. With back up from his tech colleagues Long figured out amid all this chaos that he could still be part of the ASDASA tech team.
Long is just one of our Adventist educators who are striving to provide “Something better.”
Something Better in our 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 our leaders have collaborated on timely issues facing our 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,” shared Arne Nielsen, North American Division (NAD) vice president for Education shared. 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 faith-based curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Rather than teaching to the letter of the textbook, now the textbook becomes just another resource to recreate what Ellen White describes as “awe and wonder in learning” (Fundamentals of Christian Education, p. 390).
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 the redemptive purpose of Adventist education, while highlighting a deeply held understanding of wholistic student learning goals.
Dennis Plubell, and Betty Bayer, cochairs of the J2E 2.0 taskforce, describe 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 describes the resources, shared: “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 channel, an online messaging and file sharing platform, for articles, tips and self-care ideas. The toolkit is designed to help assist schools to partner with the professional community to meet the needs of our students and staff on the front lines of the growing issue of mental health.
Something Better During COVID
Another important facet highlighted during the ASDASA is the commitment to adaptability during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of our 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. This summer, NAD Adventist educators spent hours creating safety shields, outdoor classrooms, creative classroom spaces, alternate scheduling, providing personal protective equipment, and, of course, creating technology back-ups for hybrid options for families and 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 important.
Please pray for our educational leadership as they support their schools and make huge strides in innovative practices and mission focused strategies. “Something Better” was the theme for this conference — and it captures both the history and the future of Adventist Education.
— Leisa Morton-Standish is the director of Elementary Education for the North American Division.