This fall, the Corban Education Department hosted over 200 Christian school educators on campus for its first ever Corban Christian School Educator’s Conference. The conference was created in response to an expressed need from local Christian school leadership for professional development opportunities which have been limited in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. “There is such a strong collection of Christian schools within the Willamette Valley, and we wanted to do something that had a more local feel where people could connect with people who are doing Christian education within the same context and region,” said Dr. Aaron Imig, Dean of the School of Education at Corban University.
The conference was completely free for all attendees, with the University providing breakfast, and the Oregon Christian Education Coalition providing lunch. “All they had to do was get here,” said Imig. “As educators, the fact that they could just show up, not having had to prepare anything, and just be ministered to was part of the reason for their excitement to be here.”
For the Corban Education Department, the driving ethos behind the first iteration of this conference was to strike an uncommon balance between content and connection, with a pace that facilitated space and conversation. “We wanted space for people to connect, to learn something about the craft of teaching that they could take back and try on Monday, and to get to know others who are doing their same job,” Imig said.
For a majority of the attendees, this intentionality was immediately felt. “This one-day session, more than anything else, reminded me that I am not alone,” said Faith Gerber, Principal of nearby Riviera Christian School. “It’s easy to get so busy focusing on our own classes or our own schools that we forget that there are many others walking alongside us just out of our daily view—other educators who share the same burdens, grapple with the same challenges, and serve the same God.”
The majority of the conference focused on breakout sessions where educators were placed into smaller groups based on grade-level, content area, and position to facilitate close conversation and idea sharing. Guest speakers, comprised primarily of Corban professors and leadership, led special sessions ranging from generative AI, presented by Dr. Sam Baker, to a leadership session for principals presented by Corban University President, Dr. John Mark Yeats.
Corban education faculty shared expertise throughout the day, with Dr. Jen Kleiber leading a session for early elementary teachers, and professor Angela Sotelo presented on effective literacy strategies. The event even included dedicated space for first and second-year teachers, led by professor Rebecca Alburn. “This was super helpful for me to get some good insight on how to deal with some of the challenges that I was facing with teaching,” said first-year teacher, Mariah Duval. “This conference gave me some key tips and skills that I felt like I could put into practice on Monday.”
Included in the day of activities were a keynote address from Dr. Yeats and a time of corporate worship led by Corban students, drawing attendees together, not as competitors in the education landscape, but as equal partners in a Kingdom vision for Christian education. “I was encouraged by the number of schools that chose to participate,” said Christina Greene, Director of Student Success at Salem Academy Christian School. “This sent a strong message that Christian professional development is valuable and necessary as we grow as educators. And I appreciated the collective worship time. This was a beautiful reminder that we are all members of the body of Christ.”
For Imig and Corban’s education faculty, the importance of this event is clear. “Too often we reduce being a Christian teacher to just how we treat people,” he said. “We need to figure out how we can approach the content that we are teaching through the lens of Biblical truth. It’s something we talk about at Corban all the time, but we need to have conferences like this to help our teachers innovate, create, and brainstorm new ideas of how to teach content from a Christian perspective, and that’s beyond just adding a devotional, or chapel, or tacking on a Bible verse to the end of a lesson.”
As educators gathered, shared stories, swapped techniques, and brainstormed new ideas, the collaboration and commitment to a shared cause left a lasting impression. “This type of collaborative event, where like-minded Christian educators and administrators can come together for spiritual and professional development, is essential to the healthy growth of Christian education,” said Gerber. “Without these opportunities, Christian schools are at great risk of becoming self-centered, isolated, and, ultimately, ineffective.”
The Corban Education Department already has a date for next year’s conference on the calendar—October 11, 2024—with the hope of even more schools in attendance. “I would love to look back someday and see this as the 15th annual Corban Christian Educators Conference,” said Imig. “Corban can be a leader in Christian education here in the Willamette Valley. If we can take a day and help our Christian school partners grow, we need to take advantage of that.”