". . .the word of God is not bound." II Tim. 2:9b

Monday, December 26, 2016

Write for Your Health

Last year when my students were studying The Odyssey, I sat down after school one day and wrote a flash fiction story inspired by some of Odysseus's adventures. I sent it in to a contest sponsored by the San Francisco Bay Area chapter of the American Christian Fiction Writers association. When I found out this fall that my story had come in second, I was delighted. The story, "Beeves on the Barbie," is now live on the organization's Website, so stop by for a few chuckles.

Illustrated Faith Praise Book
This fall and winter have been a productive time for my freelance writing life. God has richly blessed me in allowing me a few quiet moments here and there to write for my own pleasure and with the aim of publication. Just recently, one of my submissions was accepted by a writing blog, The Artist Unleashed. My guest blog post will appear there in early March.

Freelance writing isn't lucrative for most people, especially when writing can't be their day job. But the writing life brings many intangible rewards, catharsis being an important one. I urge you to write for your own health. Maybe that would be a good New Year's resolution. Start a prayer diary, begin your memoir, write a letter, collect your Facebook notes into something longer. Writing will soothe you, help you think through problems, and preserve your precious memories.

ESV Single Column Journaling Bible, Summer Garden
Some of the gifts I gave this year reflect my love of writing. For myself and my children, I bought a wide-margin Bible from Dayspring (affiliate link). Also from Dayspring, I gave my daughter a box full of Illustrated Faith goodies and a praise book to write in. I wasn't sure if she would like them at first, since spiritual tools aren't first on every child's wish list at Christmas, but she loves them. I hope and pray that the pens, stickers, markers, and other supplies will help her learn about God's rich blessings that are just for her.

Happy New Year, and happy writing in 2017! May you teach and live in the strength of Jesus Christ.

For further reading:
10 Ways to Be a Teacher-Leader
Learning Through Writing: Choose Your Own Adventure
A Paying Opportunity for Writing About Teaching (deadline Dec. 31, 2016)

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Darkness and Light are Alike to God, at Christmas Time and Always

nativity painting baby Jesus shepherds worship Christmas art
Giorgio Vasari
Christmas blessings from southern Idaho to all my fellow teachers and their families! I hope you have a little snow, or at least a poinsettia or some greenery to brighten up your home.

In my house, we don't a have a Christmas tree yet, but there's snow on the ground and it's ten below. We're cozy as can be with our wood fire and a few extra blankets. My daughter instigated cookie dough-making yesterday for baking and decorating today, and last night I sat down with the three kids to read some Christmas books. My five-year-old, being a bit bouncy, only sat still for A Charlie Brown Christmas, but my artist daughter enjoyed the second book, a telling of the Christmas story from the King James version of the Bible with illustrations from famous nativity paintings. Christianity Today offers a wonderful roundup of children's books to read aloud during the Christmas season.

I also showed the kids a couple of YouTube clips to teach them about the Mexican tradition of Las Posadas, a nativity celebration that commemorates Mary and Joseph's search for lodging in Bethlehem. Here's a great sing-along with the Posada song in Spanish and English. And the kids loved the "What's a PiƱata?" scene from Disney's The Three Caballeros, which tells the Posada story sensitively to a typically antic Donald Duck.

It takes a bit of effort to find ways to teach our children about the Christ of Christmas, when the commercial and anti-religion culture of our day has us so entangled. A little thing like nativity scene cookie cutters or sending an inspirational eCard might seem futile against the tide of the World's cultural norms. But God is so good at taking small things and making them into great things.

I don't know why we watch TV. Now more than ever, commercials and programming proclaim the death of Christian morals. I've quit watching network television myself, but I happened to catch some last night when my husband was watching football. I had to leave the room. I've seen enough commercials this fall pushing the liberal agenda to know that TV is not for me. I applaud the Christians who remain in the entertainment industries, writing scripts, directing, acting, casting, and doing so many other jobs that have an influence on our culture in subtle and spectacular ways. God still has the power to use you for good in a dark world. But last night, I went to my room and opened my Bible in search of comfort after what I had seen. God led me to Psalm 139:11-12:

"If I say, 'Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night,' even the darkness is not dark to Thee, and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to Thee." (NASB)

It would be so easy to become depressed over the state of the world and the seeming futility of our efforts to raise our children to love God over video games and despite the messages all around that sin is good and self is god. This world is dark. Overwhelmingly so. But the Psalm says, "even the darkness is not dark to Thee." It's the same world to God, dark or light. He is no more distant from the Christian who calls on Him. As Psalm 145:18 says, "The LORD is near to all who call upon Him, To all who call upon Him in truth."

Let's call on Him in truth this Christmas season, since He is so near.

How do you teach your children that Jesus is near to them at Christmas? What Christ-centered traditions do you keep? Please share with us by leaving a comment below.

Further reading:
Herod--Alive and Well
Christmas Lights in My Classroom

Christian Teacher, Public School does not ask for your donations, but please consider clicking these links and shopping at our affiliates, Dayspring.com and Dover Publishing. Thank you for your readership and prayers as we enter 2017. Teachers need encouragement to shine as lights in a dark world!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Keeping Christ at the Center of Christmas

I have to admit, I'm excited to spend time shopping for gifts this Christmas, even though the commercialism abounds in stores and online. This is the perfect time to show the world a contrast to self-centered impatience when we're standing in line, selecting gifts, and conversing with people around us. As I look for the perfect presents for my Secret Santa and for each family member, I am especially on the lookout for gifts that point to Jesus, the Savior which is Christ the Lord. I also make a point to thank vendors who offer nativity-themed gifts and decor, and in my classroom, I'm encouraging students to think of those less fortunate than themselves.

One of my favorite places to find Christ-centered gifts is Dayspring (affiliate link). I can spend hours in their eCard Studio, writing and sending cards that encourage others any season of the year. And right now, Dayspring is offering 30% off sitewide for their Black Friday Sale. Beat the mad shopping rush, find Christ-centered gifts and decor, and help Christian Teacher, Public School keep blogging.

Thank you so much for your encouragement and readership. Have a blessed Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 3, 2016

A Masterpiece of Ministry (I Got Accepted to Grad School!)

I am thanking the Lord today because I just found out I've been accepted to Northwest Nazarene University's graduate school. I'll be working on my M.Ed. in Curriculum, Instruction, and Innovation over the next year or two as I continue to teach, write, and be a wife and mother to my family. Thank you so much to those who have been praying for me! This is a tangible answer to prayer. God has been richly blessing my family above and beyond what I could wish for.

The journey of "What Do I Want to Be When I Grow Up?" seems endless for many people today. It hasn't been easy for me to get to the place where I now find myself, confident that God is creating a masterpiece of ministry in me. Getting a master's degree will, God willing, be part of the preparation for that ministry--and also part of that ministry. Slowly the pieces of the puzzle come together and I see that each is a beautiful part of the beautiful whole. I continue to wait for God's will, but I can rest in the knowledge that He is both powerful and good, and He will bring it to pass.

I would appreciate continued prayer for God to open the way for me to begin classes soon and to cover the tuition in His perfect way and time.

Thank you again for your partnership on this journey!

Learn more about my journey in "Teaching as Calling" and "Narratives of Grace."

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Decompartmentalization, an important struggle for the Christian teacher

One of the discussions we have in my session called Faith and the Public School Teacher centers around the idea of decompartmentalization. Okay, the dictionary says it's not a word, and it certainly is unwieldy, but it serves a purpose.

In my own words, decompartmentalization means something along the lines of "ceasing to place things in separate compartments," or "rethinking concepts that were formerly seen as separate so that they are seen as part of a unified whole."

Think of dresser drawers.

When I started out as a teacher in the public school system, I struggled to know whether my Christian faith should be kept separate from my professional life. If my life were a dresser, I'd be wondering whether my yoga pants belonged in the same drawer as my jeans. I wasn't sure if I should be telling students I would pray for them, inviting new staff members to my church, or reading a nativity picture book aloud in class.

Now that I have wrestled with the question of where my First Amendment rights begin and end, I feel more confident to decide questions like these. I see my life less and less like a dresser with many separate drawers and more and more like a wardrobe that contains all of my clothes, every item of which expresses my style. I am who I am. I am a Christian; I teach in a public school. To try to leave part of myself home in some compartment destroys my integrity, my wholeness.

There may be many times during a school week when a Christian teacher must essentially submit to her students and cherish their First Amendment rights over her own. But that doesn't mean she has to be someone she's not.

I hope teachers will think through the question of decompartmentalization for themselves. Certainly there are those who will see it another way. For me, I need to work toward having fewer compartments in my conception of my life, my self.

Matthew 5:37, Psalm 26:11, Titus 2:7-8, and Colossians 3:23-24 offer biblical perspectives on walking in integrity.

Know another Christian teacher in the public schools? Pass it on. You can also find me on Facebook.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Faith and the Public School Teacher at the Idaho Education Super Conference

"I thank my God always. . .that in everything you were enriched in Him, in all speech and all knowledge. . ." I Corinthians 1:4-5

Today at the Education Super Conference in Boise, I had the pleasure of enriching others and being enriched by them in my session, Faith and the Public School Teacher. There were about 25 attendees, and they eagerly shared their thoughts on what it means to be a teacher of faith working in the public school environment.

Some perspectives from our discussion:

  • One attendee said it was her faith that caused her to enter the teaching profession in the first place. So many of us feel a strong sense of calling to be where we are, doing what we do.
  • When questions of religion and faith come up in class, teachers must answer ethically and honestly. One attendee stated that when explaining viewpoints on the origins of life in his science class, he makes sure that students understand that the areas of controversy are small. On so many areas of science, consensus is easy.
  • A kindergarten teacher in today's session pointed out that the age of students matters when a teacher is determining whether to make her faith public. High school students may be able to understand that their teacher, while employed by a government entity, holds religious views not endorsed by the government. Kindergarten students, though, often can't make that kind of distinction.
  • One high school teacher suggested that teachers of faith "always offer students an out." Teachers cannot give the impression that a student's views are not valid or that the teacher's own religious views are right or more valid than other views.
  • It pays to be peaceable. One attendee told of a student who asked to be given an alternate assignment for religious reasons. The teacher handled the matter peaceably, satisfying the student's concerns rather than escalating them.
Some classroom-ready strategies we used:
  • Agreement statements
    • Teacher reads statements
    • Students move to one of three places in the room: agree, somewhat agree/somewhat disagree, or disagree
    • Teacher facilitates discussion throughout, noting especially when a few loners stand alone; why?
  • Close reading
    • All students receive a copy of the text
    • Teacher offers text-annotation strategies, such as writing a question mark beside text portions the student would like to know more about
    • Students silently read and annotate the text
    • Teacher facilitates discussion; often, text-based questions are used to keep the discussion focused on the words of the text throughout
  • Group and share
    • Students form groups of three to five
    • All students read the text
    • Groups discuss the text
    • A member of the group shares with the whole class
  • Student readers
    • When presenting a slideshow, the teacher invites students to read slides
    • This strategy reduces the monotony of having just one speaker, and it helps keep students engaged
Not only were this session and the conference as a whole a huge blessing to me, but on the drive home I had the chance to mull over some of the questions I still have about the enormous topic of Faith and the Public School Teacher. The Lord has opened the way for me to begin work on my master's degree. Will working on my degree help me answer some of my questions? I can't wait to find out how.

Would your school staff like to learn more about what it means to be a teacher of faith in the public school setting? I would love to present Faith and the Public School Teacher for professional development at your school. Contact Amy Ballard by email at amy@ amyballard .com (just remove the spaces). You can also connect with me on Facebook.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Learning Across All Dimensions--Meet With Christian Teacher, Public School's Amy Ballard at Idaho's Education Super Conference

Amy Ballard
It's almost conference time for Idaho teachers planning to attend the Education Super Conference in Boise Oct. 6 and 7. I'm thrilled to be presenting two sessions:

Writing and Publishing Narratives Using Digital Technology
Description:  In this session, teachers will learn to apply choose­-your-­own­-story structure to narrative fiction or nonfiction writing. Using Google Drive, teachers will learn to link story pages to form narratives with alternate endings.

Faith and the Public School Teacher
Description:  Can your faith coexist with your professional life? New legislation and news headlines may shake things up, but by identifying your stance on faith in the classroom, you will face the turbulence of our changing world with more confidence. In this session, teachers will learn what the law allows and expects of teachers who hold to a religious faith; take a look at teachers whose actions have come under scrutiny; and share appropriate ways to live out faith in the public school environment.

I'm eager to see how God will work, since conferences are always a time for reflection and change. Who will God bring across my path? Which sessions will bless me in unexpected ways? How can I be a blessing to some other attendee?

Okay, maybe for most people an education conference is just an education conference. But the way I see it, a Christian can and should view life through a spiritual lens. At a conference of any kind, you're outside your usual circle of acquaintances and responsibilities. Simply by making small talk with strangers between sessions or at lunch, you can let your light shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify God.

Hope to see you in Boise!

Learning Across All Dimensions Education Super Conference
6 Strategies For Avoiding Conference Fatigue
Choose Your Own Adventure and Narrative Writing
Resources for Christian Teachers in Public Schools

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Bring Your Bible To School Day 2016

If you have children of your own who attend public school, take a look at Focus on the Family's page on Bring Your Bible to School Day. This year's event falls on Thursday, October 6, which in Idaho is a teacher in-service day, meaning students aren't in school. Check your school calendar to find out if your child's school is in session, then see if the event is something you and your child want to participate in. So many teachers, parents and students are unaware that it's legal for kids to take a Bible to school. The Web site includes downloadable free speech tools to help raise awareness.

Monday, August 29, 2016

See you at the Idaho Super Conference: Learning Across All Dimensions

School is going full steam ahead, with new faces, new adventures, and new blessings at every turn. I'm so thankful to have an enthusiastic freshman class this year. It's also been a blessing to see my youngest child enter Kindergarten and make new friends. My high school field trip to see Shakespeare's First Folio has been approved, and my advanced literature students and I are loving reading Fahrenheit 451!

One more blessing to add to my overflowing cup this fall is finding out that my two session proposals for the Idaho Super Conference have been accepted. That means I'll have a roomy ninety-minute presentation on Faith and the Public School Teacher, and I'll be giving my Choose-Your-Own-Adventure-inspired narrative writing presentation to a wider audience.

Join some 1500 teachers at Timberline High School and White Pine Elementary in Boise on Oct. 6 and 7 (state teacher in-service days). Registration closes Sept. 14, so be sure to sign up now. Professional development credit is available from Boise State University.

Writing and Publishing Narratives Using Digital Technology
Description:  In this session, teachers will learn to apply choose­-your-­own­-story structure to narrative fiction or nonfiction writing. Using Google Drive, teachers will learn to link story pages to form narratives with alternate endings.

Faith and the Public School Teacher
Description:  Can your faith coexist with your professional life? New legislation and news headlines may shake things up, but by identifying your stance on faith in the classroom, you will face the turbulence of our changing world with more confidence. In this session, teachers will learn what the law allows and expects of teachers who hold to a religious faith; take a look at teachers whose actions have come under scrutiny; and share appropriate ways to live out faith in the public school environment.

Planning to attend? Let me know in the comments! And join me on Facebook to chat with me and other teachers who'll be there.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

A Student-Friendly Checklist for 9th and 10th Grade ELA Writing

It's challenging to find user-friendly checklists for the Common Core standards. This year I've been playing around with some formats to help my students keep track of how they're doing. Here's my new student-friendly checklist for 9th and 10th grade ELA writing standards as a Google doc. I plan to use the same format to create check lists for the other standard sets I teach.

Obviously, teaching something once is not enough to merit a check mark. How has the student demonstrated understanding of the concept? For a brush-up on assessing understanding, read Edutopia's excellent article, 'What Exactly Is "Understanding?" And How Do We Assess It?'

Have a great resource to help teachers and students track understanding? Please share!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Begin the New School Year With Boldness

". . .and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains; that in proclaiming it I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak." Ephesians 5:19-20 NASB

The theme of this blog is upholding Christian teachers in public schools, who in some way are like Paul in chains: ambassadors for Christ who live and serve under restrictions placed upon them by worldly authorities. In our workplaces, we seek to live out the servanthood and love of Jesus, even though we are forbidden from verbally testifying of His salvation to those around us.

In the passage above, Paul at least was able to speak, and speak boldly, as the Spirit gave him utterance. That was the request he wrote to the believers at Ephesus, to pray that he would "make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel."

Not "that I will be released from these chains." Why complain about the chains? It was for the Gospel's sake that he wore them. He knew God would work despite them.

At the beginning of this new school year, I pray that God will use all of us to accomplish His purpose. I pray for boldness, not to utter the mystery of the Gospel, but to live the good news in our daily lives in the classroom and the break room and the hallways of our schools.

May our faces reflect the joy of sinners who have been saved by grace. May our hands give freely because we have been given much. May our ears be quick to listen and our feet quick to serve. When we speak, may it be with confidence that we are fulfilling God's call upon our lives to teach.

It's so tempting, while we're at it, to pray for an easy year. "Lord, let us have smooth sailing." But I think it's our responses to the tough times that allow our lights to shine before the unsaved most clearly. If we have smooth sailing all year, how will they know what God can do in a life surrendered to Him?

So please, dear Lord, let us shine as lights for you in a darkening world, even if it means we face difficult days ahead. You promise to walk beside us and uphold us. We submit ourselves to your teaching, that others may see you in us.

Blessings on your new school year, my friend.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Shakespeare's First Folio Comes To Boise, Idaho

Learn about school trips
A rare First Folio is coming to Boise! Visit the First Folio Web site to plan a class trip or other visit. There are lots of fun activities for kids and adults, as well as PD opportunities for teachers.

From the school trip registration page:

"Free Field Trip Opportunity from Boise State University, Albertsons Library and The Arts and Humanities Institute
You are invited to encounter Shakespeare's 1623 First Folio. Help theater, poetry, and literature come alive for your students at this once-in-a-lifetime event.
In celebration of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's 1616 death, the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C. has arranged the ultimate book tour, with a Folio stopping in each state for a limited time.  As the only stop in Idaho, Boise will play host to the book that gave us The Bard as we know him.  Don't miss this unique chance to share Shakespeare with your students!"

Dates: Monday, August 29 - Friday, September 16

To find out more, contact the First Folio team at firstfolio@boisestate.edu.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Idaho Coaching Network, Year Two

I'm excited to be attending training meetings this week for the Idaho Coaching Network. It's my second year, so I'll be mentoring a "newbie" to the program and helping her with planning and drafting a unit, among other tasks. This year I'm the only teacher from my district participating in the ELA branch of the Network, but I get to hang out with (and learn from) lots of generous, dedicated, experienced teachers from other districts. Our coaches are wonderful, and I can honestly say it's been the best teacher training I've ever received.

One of the biggest benefits to me has been my growth as a presenter, whether it be in professional developments (PDs), conference sessions, or the public speaking aspect of classroom teaching. I've learned to give more meaningful feedback and to plan and write engaging, meaningful units that align with the standards. And I'm seeing myself as more of a teacher-leader, which encourages my administrators and colleagues to view me in that role, too.

If you teach in Idaho, consider learning more about the program and asking your district to let you participate next year. It's a time commitment for sure, but the training and research will stretch you as a professional. Continuing ed credits are available through Boise State University.

Visit the Idaho Coaching Network for more information and lots of free resources. If you're on Twitter, join the conversation at #IDedchat.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Free Ninth Grade Vocabulary Presentation with Lots of Images to Help Kids Learn Words

Words 1-50
As the summer winds down (I can't believe I'm saying that!) I am finally getting to my vocabulary reboot. The one I promised myself I would accomplish this summer so my students don't have to endure bland, rote, pictureless vocab instruction for one more day.

Although I certainly haven't finished the project, I'm off to a good start at last. The list I'm using as a base for freshman vocabulary comes from 100 Words a High School Freshman Should Know on vocabulary.com. Some words on the list seem fairly basic (like camouflage), but can students use the word camouflage to describe the pattern of fur on a wildcat, or do they think it only applies to a military-inspired, splotchy green pattern of fabric? And for ESL students, this may be the first exposure to the word.

Words 51-100
Here's my Vocab 9 presentation in two parts, free for you to use in your classroom. I don't own the photos in the presentation, so be sure not to use it for anything but educational purposes. If you share the slides with a colleague, please attribute it to me, Amy Ballard here at ChristianTeacherPublicSchool.blogspot.com.

This is only part of an effective vocabulary curriculum. I hope it helps engage students visually with words that might otherwise seem abstract. Be sure to let me know how it goes!


Tuesday, August 2, 2016

National Coloring Book Day and a Grateful Heart at the End of Summer

The early days of August are typically a stressful time for teachers as we are forced to acknowledge that school is officially just around the corner. We know that the calendar still says it's summer, but there's a mental shift that has to take place. Are we ready for this?

Skyscapes Coloring Book
Maybe not! There's that tiny voice of panic that can invade even the cheeriest summer morning. "Dear God," we may be praying, "I don't know if I can do school in two weeks!"

It's a good reminder to be thankful for the good things in life, to savor the gifts of a good God at the end of summer. I'm savoring blueberries today! This week I'm also connecting with friends new and old because it's just harder to do that during the busy school year.

Need a nudge to even meet with friends? Visit Christian foodie and blogger Melanie Kathryn's cheery site, Gather For Bread. I plan to make her Blueberry Chocolate Chip Muffins today.

In addition to being thankful and connecting with encouraging friends, we may need some targeted stress relievers as we head into teacher work week, end of summer conferences, or training.

It Is Well With My Soul Coloring Book

Maybe it's time to hop on board the adult coloring trend. Today is National Coloring Book Day! This blog is affiliated with two companies that publish gorgeous coloring books for the secret designer/artist in you. Using the links in this post and around this blog will help support Christian Teacher, Public School when you purchase from Dayspring and Dover Publishing.

Angular Animals from Dover

Whatever your remaining summer days look like, remember to spend time at Jesus's feet (Luke 10:42), and if you have children, bring them with you. In my family it's challenging to get my three kids on the couch at the same time in the morning for Bible story time, but God has blessed richly when we make it happen. Let's be like Mary and "choose the good part" this August.


Adult Coloring Book

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Winner of Words To Live By--Announcement

Words To Live By
It's time to announce the winner of our book giveaway. Congratulations to Brandie G.! I've sent you an email, and Dr. Parker will be in touch shortly to get you your copy of her devotional book, Words To Live By: 52 Words That Lead to an Extraordinary Life.

A quick note about our giveaway: There were several entries that made it into Rafflecopter even though the corresponding comments didn't show up on the blog post because of technical difficulties. Those names were in the contest pool, too. I'll be talking to Blogger about how to make sure comments show up in the future.

The winner was chosen by random by Rafflecopter.

My prayers were answered in that we had a fun week with lots of new faces, and I hope Dalene's and my interview was a blessing to you as it was to me.

For those of you who are Christian teachers, I hope you'll stop by often to find encouragement, commentary on current events in education, teaching strategies, and devotional writing especially for you. Not a teacher? Share Christian Teacher, Public School with a teacher in your life.

Thanks so much for stopping by!

For more by Dalene Vickery Parker, read Balance and Boundaries, a guest blog post she wrote for this blog.
Teachers will want to read her excellent first book, Christian Teachers in Public Schools: 13 Essentials for the Classroom.
Missed Dalene's interview about Words To Live By? Catch it here.
And find Dalene on her Web site, www.worddoctor13.com.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Rafflecopter Giveaway of Words To Live By Ends in One Day

Just one day left to enter the Rafflecopter giveaway! Dalene Vickery Parker is giving away a copy of her new devotional book, Words To Live By. It's been so much fun having her back on my blog. The number of view has been through the roof, and I've loved hearing from some of Dalene's former students, friends, and readers. Our contest ends Saturday at midnight EST, so make sure you've clicked on the Rafflecopter box in the post below and followed the directions to enter up to two times.

What to do while waiting for this exciting contest to end? Check out Balance and Boundaries, a guest post Dr. Parker recently wrote for this blog. And remember to find her on her Web site, www.worddoctor13.com.


Wednesday, July 27, 2016

An Interview with Dalene Parker About Her New Book, Words To Live By

It's a great day to welcome back author Dalene Vickery Parker, who's here to share with us about her new devotional book, Words To Live By: 52 Words that Lead to an Extraordinary Life. Dalene is a high school teacher in the South Carolina public school system. I hope you enjoy our interview!

Dalene has agreed to give away a copy of her book, so make sure to enter the giveaway by clicking on the Rafflecopter box below. You'll have two chances to win. Contest ends Saturday at midnight EST.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Note: If you're using Firefox, you might not be able to leave a comment on this post. Please try another browser if you're having trouble.

Welcome back, Dalene! I can't say enough good about your first book, Christian Teachers in Public Schools, so it's exciting to have you share with us about Words to Live By. I got my copy in the mail on Tuesday, and I've ordered more copies to share with friends. It's going to be a great devotional and resource for me, I can tell already.

Let's get started!

freebies, freeby, free Christian book giveaway
Available at Amazon
Amy Ballard: I see that you've gotten your doctorate. Congratulations! Tell us a little bit about your degree.

Dalene Parker: In 2013, I earned a doctorate of education (Ed.D.) from Bob Jones University. This challenge claimed every weekend, every holiday, and every summer for five years. The level of excellence expected and the consecration of every intellectual pursuit to God’s glory made this degree meaningful far beyond its prestige or monetary value. Far from making me feel any smarter, the pursuit of this degree made me realize how much more there is to learn! I owe a huge debt of gratitude to all the family, friends, administrators, and professors who supported me through this effort.

AB: What an accomplishment! How did you meet and decide to work with Linda Gilden? Is there a story behind your collaboration?

DP: Linda and I attend the same church and were neighbors for many years. We attended our first writing conference together back in 1991.  From there, she pursued a path of full-time writing, speaking, and editing while I taught high school English full time and wrote only in spurts. However, our writing paths began to merge again a couple of years ago as we collaborated on the book proposal for Words to Live By. Twenty-five years after our first writers conference, we have a book together! I can honestly say that although I may have originated the idea for our book, it would never have materialized without Linda’s insight and persistence. I could not ask for a better co-author.

AB: Your book focuses on words. Why are words so powerful in a Christian's life?

DP: First of all, God’s Word in a Christian’s life provides wisdom, guidance, strength, and comfort for every situation and every relationship. Likewise, the words we speak, read, and hear impact our actions, feelings, and relationships.  Words are powerful. It is our responsibility as Christians to use them with care.

AB: That's something we all need help with! How will this book be a blessing to teachers specifically?

DP: Many of the stories in Words to Live By come from experiences in the classroom, insights gained from interactions with students and colleagues. Many other stories deal with issues universal to all ages, stages, and professions. Teachers will be blessed by the focus of one word per week and its impact on their personal and professional lives.

AB: I love that idea. Sometimes it's hard to carve out time for daily devotions, during the school year, but it's so important. How can your book make it easier?

Christian Teachers in Public Schools
DP: I know from personal experience that it makes a huge difference in my school day if I have prioritized having a quiet time, making sure I’m attentive to what God is trying to teach me
before I try to teach others.  Words to Live By provides a short, but meaningful way to put our antennae up for scripture and life lessons to apply throughout each week – at school and at home. Whereas we might forget the focus of a daily devotion, the emphasis on the same word throughout the week should help us retain our focus!

AB: I agree! What is one of your favorite words you focus on in the book? Why?

DP: I have a new favorite word each week! Seriously, the word celebrate keeps rising to the top of the list because each day is cause for celebration in some way.  I want to celebrate each breath, each moment, each opportunity, each relationship, and even each challenge God provides because He makes each of those things worthwhile and meaningful.

AB: What a great word. I noticed your book includes an appendix listing all the scriptures used throughout.  Why is that significant?

DP: Again, the focus comes back to God’s Word and its power.  As we wrote about the 52 weekly words we selected, we made a special effort to include scripture from every book in the Bible.  This feature gives our book the sense of being completely undergirded by His Word from Genesis to Revelation.

AB: I love that! I am reading and enjoying my copy of the book, and I know it's going to be something I use throughout the year to enrich my quiet time. Dalene, thank you so much for blessing us today! I wish you and Linda success and joy as you introduce others to your book. And have a wonderful school year!

DP: Thank you for having me.

Find Dalene at her Web site, www.worddoctor13.com.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Coming Thursday: An Interview with Dalene Parker and a Free Book Giveaway

Available now on Amazon.com
Stop by on Thursday for a fun interview with author Dalene Parker, whose new book Words to Live By: 52 Words that Lead to an Extraordinary Life is available now from Worthy Inspired. Dalene and coauthor Linda Gilden explore fifty-two words in five devotions for each week, "encouraging the reader to live more fully."

Love freebies (especially Christian book freebies)? We'll be having a Rafflecopter giveaway of Words to Live By! Make sure to check back on Thursday for giveaway entry details and to meet this sweet teacher and writer. Contest ends Saturday at midnight EST.

Dalene is the author of the outstanding Christian Teachers in Public Schools: 13 Essentials for the Classroom. Read the guest blog post she wrote for us, then head to Amazon to find her books in paperback and Kindle editions.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Praying for Russian Christians

"Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body." Hebrews 13:3 (NASB)

I've noticed a huge uptick in views from international readers, especially in Russia, over the last few weeks. I hope my readers overseas know that this blog is intended for you as well as for teachers in American public schools. My heart breaks for Christians in Russia right now. I am praying for you.

Here in America, if a student asks me about my faith, I can answer him. If a student asks me to pray for her, I can do so outside of class time. I can take hand-me-down clothes my kids have outgrown to a neighbor's house and speak to my neighbor openly about my faith in God. I can stand in the public square and give my testimony.

The rights of Russian citizens to share their beliefs with those around them have been greatly diminished by new anti-terrorism legislation recently signed into law by Vladimir Putin. Evangelists need permits. House churches are banned. Christians will suffer discrimination reminiscent of the Cold War years. What's a Christian to do?

I know that in times of tribulation, the Church has historically been strengthened and purified by its trials. God does not lose control when earthly governments turn up the heat on His followers. He is still our shepherd, and we are still His sheep, and He knows us by name.

I wish I knew the names of the Christian teachers and evangelists in Russia for whom I am praying. Readers, I hope you'll join me in praying for our friends in other countries hostile to the Gospel. They need encouragement right now. May God send it to them through our prayers.

My Story a Finalist in Elevator Fiction Contest

I'm excited to announce that a flash fiction story of mine is a finalist in a contest sponsored by the SF Bay Area chapter of the American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW). Three finalists were chosen, and the winner will be announced in September. I'll be eagerly awaiting the decision!

Watch later this week for our new interview with author Dalene Parker, a friend of this blog and of Christian teachers in public schools. Her new book, Words to Live By, is available now. Dalene's giving away a copy, so don't miss your chance to enter the contest!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Encouragement Through Cards

"Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing."    
                                                          I Thessalonians 5:11 (NASB)

In my community this July, it's a busy time for birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, and baby showers. I found myself yesterday going through my greeting card organizer, desperately seeking the perfect card for each occasion looming on the calendar. With Idaho Core Coach Network meetings coming up and teacher work week starting on the 15th, I don't want to get behind on the celebrations.

Chalkboard Blessings Anniversary Cards
I had cards that would work for most of the special events coming up, but I couldn't find a single anniversary card in my hoard. Fortunately, Dayspring Cards had the perfect box of cards for me. I chose the "Chalkboard Blessings" set of 12 cards for just $5.99. With the Customer Appreciation sale going on, I was able to use a coupon code (THANKYOU) and save 25%.

I hope you take advantage of the sale to replenish your card supply, too. Using the affiliate links here helps support this blog. Dayspring also offers many beautiful and free eCards in their studio.

Let's keep encouraging one another in Christ.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Coming Next Week: An Interview with Dalene Vickery Parker and a Book Giveaway

Available now on Amazon.com
I'm so pleased to announce that author Dalene Vickery Parker will be back next week in a new interview to introduce her book Words to Live By: 52 Words that Lead to an Extraordinary Life. Dalene and coauthor Linda Gilden explore fifty-two words in five devotions for each week, "encouraging the reader to live more fully." Love freebies? You'll want to stop by next week because Dalene is giving away a copy of the book! Make sure to check back for giveaway entry details and to meet this sweet teacher and writer.

Dalene is the author of the outstanding Christian Teachers in Public Schools: 13 Essentials for the Classroom. Read the guest blog post she wrote for us, then head to Amazon to find her books in paperback and Kindle editions.

5 Ways to Create a Summer to Remember

We’ve looked forward to these days for months. After wishing and planning, hoping and waiting, summer is finally here! Long days of outside fun, road trips, and ice cream dripping down sticky fingers are ahead of us.

But before you know it, August will roll around again. We’ll wave goodbye to summer days while waving hello to routines, packed lunches, and new beginnings. Instead of dreading the eventual end of summer, let’s live purposely during the days we have. Let’s create a summer to remember, one that we’ll look back on fondly when the next season arrives.

Read Kaitlyn's 5 Ways to Create a Summer to Remember at Dayspring.

Using our affiliate links like the one above helps support this blog. Thank you!

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Is All the Busy-ness Necessary?

I'd like to welcome guest blogger Melody Smith, whom I met at the P20 Educator Conference last week. Melody teaches middle school in eastern Idaho. Here she touches on a subject so many of us teachers can relate to--giving our kids quality parenting time.

Thanks for joining us!

Melody Smith

Is All the Busy-ness Necessary?

"All your children shall be taught by the LORD, and great shall be the peace of your children."   Isaiah 54:13

I raised five kids who were active in everything from music lessons to soccer games. At times we spent more time away from home than at home. I wasn’t kidding when I told people we lived out of the van. We had snacks, drinks, changes of clothes, water, wet wipes, and shoes of all kinds and sizes mixed throughout car seats and school bags. We were a busy family, and I often bragged about it; I was a proud mother of busy children.

Once or twice a year we would have some down time - a break when there were no sports, scouts,  school, or music lessons for a couple of weeks. Those were the aaaahhhhhh times. Those were the be-at-home-as-a-family times. Those were the times I wondered,  “Can our life be more like this, somehow, someway? Do we HAVE to be so busy we live out of the van? Am I being a parent or just a chauffeur?”

It’s easy to get caught up in the “busy-ness” of kids’ activities. 
As parents, we want to support our kids’ growth in all areas of their lives - we want them to be well-rounded individuals. As kids get older, they start discovering their interests and talents. It’s also when families start getting caught up in it all. Before you know it, you’re living out of the van, and asking the same questions I did. So what can we do to make sure we don’t get so caught up in activities, we don’t have time to be a family?

Limit activities to those that are the most beneficial to your kids.
When we moved from Southern California to Eastern Idaho, we were 19 miles from the nearest town and school. We went from a 9-5 town-living lifestyle to a 10-12 hour farm-living lifestyle. This forced us to evaluate which activities were priorities. We still wanted our kids to have a variety of interests, but we couldn’t be “running to town/school” two or three times a day. Here are three questions we asked and how we answered them when limiting activities:

1. Would the activity help our children grow spiritually and emotionally? We wanted our kids to develop values and habits that would help them withstand the pressures of their growing-up years. We wanted them to develop peer relationships that would support those values, so they would become strong individuals, ready to take on their roles as adults. We decided church youth group and girl/boy scout activities helped with that goal, so they went to the top of the list.

2. Would the activity be something our children could continue to enjoy as an adult? Music is important to my husband and me; we began playing instruments as children, and we find great joy playing them as adults. We determined each of our children would find an instrument that would give joy throughout life. It took some experimenting, but each of them plays at least one instrument, and music lessons or school band went next on the list of priorities.

3. Would the activity allow our children to develop an interest based on their personalities? We determined each of our children could pursue one other activity that they enjoyed. Those activities were as varied as our children, but we asked them to limit the chosen activity to just one thing that truly interested them. I have to admit, it took some experimenting, but each of them found something they really loved doing. This focus allowed them to become very skilled at what they liked most, and it also gave us more family time; when we realized not everyone needed to be involved in all the same things, our running around time was cut considerably!

When we no longer lived in the van, I was no longer a chauffeur - I became a parent.
We used to spend so much time “getting to” activities, we had no time “be” anywhere. I was so involved in hustling around, re-stocking the van for the next round of activities, I wasn’t really involved in my children’s lives. Coaching them to do better at sports competitions was my only type of teaching moment, and helping them find the seat belts made up the majority of my supporting moments. My conversations with them were limited to, “Hurry up, we’re late” or “You must have left your [whatever] in the van.” My help with their school work amounted to shouting ideas through the chaos to the back of the van.

It was only after circumstances forced us to limit our activities that I felt I had more time to be the mom. I could sit and listen to kids read aloud or help them focus on homework at the table. We had one-on-one time over inside or outside chores where we talked about their school and peer concerns. I was more involved in their lives than ever before because I had time to really share the moments of their lives. I finally realized being the busiest mom in the neighborhood wasn’t necessarily something to brag about - being truly involved and present in my kids’ lives was!

What about you? Have you felt your family is too busy? What have you done to take the busy-ness out of your family life? We learn from each other, so share with us!

Melody blogs at thewordwisewriter.com. You can follow her on Twitter @wordwisewriter.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Coming Tomorrow: Guest Blogger Melody Smith from The Word Wise Writer

Melody Smith
It was so much fun meeting new people at the P20 Educator Conference in Twin Falls last week. One of the new friendships I formed is with Melody Smith, a fellow teacher-blogger who attended my Choose Your Own Adventure narrative writing session. After getting to know her just a little, I asked her to write a guest blog post for me, which I'm excited to share tomorrow. Melody blogs at The Word Wise Writer and tweets @wordwisewriter, so be sure to stop by and get to know this middle school teacher, writer, and proud mom and grandmother. And stop by tomorrow for her take on those busy days of parenting when it's tough to keep our priorities in order.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Easy Box-Top Catcher Craft

I used to cringe whenever I heard that the PTO was collecting box tops again. Oh, it's a great way for a school to earn a little cash for extras like a new ball cart for recess. And I do use a lot of products with box tops on them. It's just that it seemed to be too much trouble for me to collect the box tops and get them to school.

I know--it's such a little thing. But when you teach full time and have three kids, even the little things can be too much to add to your plate.

Last year, I solved my box top problem by thinking outside the box.

I'm not a pack rat, but I do have an odd habit of saving those adorable, tiny boxes from bars of soap or pantry items. In cleaning out the "tiny box cupboard," I found a vanilla extract box that just begged to be used for something. I thought of those Box Tops for Education.

You could do a really cute craft with this idea, but all I did was tape the vanilla extract box shut, cut a rectangular hole in the top, and slap a label on it. Now the box sits within easy reach on the kitchen counter top. Whenever I have a few box tops set aside, I trim them with scissors and pop them into the box top box.

Did my contributions make a difference to my school last year? I think so. At least they made a difference to my son, whose third-grade class was ahead in the box top contest all year and got to tape the principal to the wall with duct tape!

Have a time-saving project for teachers? Please share it in the comments!

The Outlaw Takes a Bride Is Finalist in Will Rogers Medallion Awards

I wanted to share the news that my mom's book The Outlaw Takes a Bride is a finalist in the 2016 Will Rogers Medallion Awards. For those of us who love clean romance novels, that's good to hear. The Bible tells us to "approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ" (Philippians 1:10 KJV). It's nice to see inspirational fiction being picked as a finalist in a prestigious contest like this one.

Susan Page Davis did an interview here for her newest book, River Rest, earlier this summer. I just finished reading that one, and it was sweet and fun, though it did make me homesick for Maine.

Also making me miss my home state is another of my mom's new books, Tearoom for Two. It's a contemporary cozy mystery from Guideposts Books.

I hope you've enjoyed some good reading this summer, and not just those very important professional journals and ed books! Leave a comment to share your summer reads, then hop over to Facebook to congratulate Susan!