The Southern Union Conference Office of Education (SUCOE) is filled with gratitude and excitement at this new year, 2023. Surely, we can testify that God has been with us! Emmanuel has been our constant and faithful companion, and has ushered us through the 2020 worldwide pandemic, and has graced us even now with life to serve and love to worship in His vineyard.
Reflecting over the past year, we are amazed at what the Lord has accomplished through us in the Southern Union Office of Education. We have participated or led in countless training presentations, constituencies, special events, boards and councils, and writing and reviewing of policies. One event stands out above all because of its focus on a special group — our newest teachers across the Southern Union territory.
The field of education is currently experiencing a teacher shortage in both the public and private sectors. In Adventist schools, the shortage is more acute because of our commitment to employ ministers of education who are filled with the Spirit of Christ and equipped to lead our students, not only to become great thinkers and doers in the service of others, but to develop a personal and life-changing relationship with the Savior of the world. Our Adventist teachers are exceptional evangelists, for they minister and model Christ to congregations of students, from early childhood education to the doctoral degree, daily.
During 2022, the SUCOE team planned and invited new teachers from across the Union who have been teaching for one to three years in grades pre-K to high school, to attend an especially designed event — aptly named “Honoring Our Teachers” (HOT). This occasion was one of the initiatives that our former director and visionary, Keith Hallam, dreamed of and prepared with us before he responded to a call to serve with the North Pacific Union in September of 2022.
The purpose of HOT was to celebrate and induct our new teachers into the Southern Union family, to show our care, and to share our love of learning with them. At the Union level, we seek to support our conferences in their valiant effort of retaining teachers through various means, including relationship development and professional and moral support. In a very small way, we wanted to reach and touch the teachers to thank them for their sacrificial service on behalf of our students.
The HOT program welcomed its first group of about 30 educators on Thursday, September 22, 2022. From noon that day, to the end on Friday afternoon, many departments united with the Office of Education to envelope our most valuable guests into warm worship, friendly fellowship, and strategic scholarship.
Richie Halversen, pastor and Southern Union director for church growth, evangelism, and training, was in place to receive our teachers with the love of Jesus. With his great passion for evangelism, he lifted his voice of power and hope to remind the teachers of the noble role that they occupy as educators, and of the great commission to raise up children for God’s Kingdom as they fix their eyes on the Master Teacher. The educators shared their appreciation for the wise words and care from Halversen. For two days, God was elevated, and our teachers were gratified to see Jesus anew and to glimpse His purpose for their lives as they lead students to better learning and a greater encounter with Christ.
The HOT event gave the teachers the opportunity to learn more about the organization of the Adventist Church — from the General Conference to the North American Division, to the unions, conferences, and on to the individual schools. The teachers appreciated that while their respective conferences are a part of the Southern Union, we are thumbprints of a bigger picture. We are a family.
This was clear as other ministries joined the Office of Education to deliver a great program for our new teachers. Nearly every office at the Union participated in the success of the program. Additionally, Hilma Griffin-Watson, Ed.D., from Oakwood Adventist University, and Krystal Bishop, Ed.D., from Southern Adventist University, were present to greet and encourage our teachers.
Most powerful was the opportunity for educators from different schools and various conferences to meet and mingle with each other. They rejoiced in learning about each other, sharing struggles and successes, and establishing friendships that may continue beyond this initial meeting. Some expressed gratitude for the fellowship, food, and friends that reminded them that they are not alone in this great work of educating students for Christ.
The Southern Union Office of Education is on a journey toward continuous improvement of learning for teachers and students alike. To that end, the teacher-scholars participated in learning that reflected our commitment to providing GREAT education to all students. GREAT is the acronym for God-centered, Result-oriented, Environment that nurtures, Aligned with standards, with Team effort.
Through professional development presentations, the teachers gained more insight and understanding about the best ways to create cultures that are safe, supportive, collaborative, and equitable for all students. They discussed best teaching practices and effective instructional delivery and strategies that will impact learning and reach diverse students. They learned more about the library program, and how to connect students to technological resources. They also spent time with our registrar to become better acquainted with the process of certification, and the requirements to keep current their teaching credentials.
Participants wish special thanks to the SUCOE directors for their presentations and the administrative team for working tirelessly to make HOT a success. SUCOE is grateful for our guest presenter, Ebony Holland, a superstar teacher, and a member of the gospel recording group, Virtue, for unleashing her passion for education and modeling the best ways for teachers to engage with students and to enrich their lives.
The Adventist school system is vast in breadth and depth. We are thankful that HOT closed the distance between us and allowed a small sample of scholars to worship, fellowship, and learn together — if only for a moment.
Southern Union | January 2023