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

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!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Next Teacher Conference on the Horizon: Idaho Super Conference

What's next for Idaho teachers on the conference scene? You might have heard of the 2016 Super Conference scheduled for the state in-service days, October 6-7. It's called "Learning Across All Dimensions," and it brings together an array of professional organizations that traditionally conduct their own conferences, like the Idaho Council of Teachers of English and the Idaho Science Teachers Association. Putting us all under one roof is genius! We'll be able to rub shoulders with colleagues in other disciplines and sit in sessions that really stretch us professionally.

I've submitted a couple of session proposals. Whether they're accepted or not, I plan to be at the conference. After all, with "Super" in the title, it's bound to be an adventure. If you teach in Idaho, I hope to see you there!

Coloring Books to Relax

Friday, July 15, 2016

What Happened When I Interviewed Hip-Hop Artist MK Asante (And a Truck With a Confederate Flag Drove By)

MK Asante (publicity photo)
MK Asante gave me a few minutes of his time after what he called the "academic high" of his second address to the teachers at the P20 Educator Conference at the College of Southern Idaho on Wednesday. The interview was an academic high for me, but as it turned out, there was a tone shift, a key change, five minutes in:

"Look at that," Asante interrupts himself. "Wow."

This eminently calm man is bristling.

I look through the green CSI landscaping to where a pickup truck I hadn't noticed is making the turn to exit the campus. Its in-your-face exhaust noise isn't what has MK staring. It's the oversize Confederate flag on display in the back of the truck.

"Is that normal?" he asks. "Is that normal to you?"

It's his first visit to Idaho, and the question is entirely serious.

I look him in the eye. "I'm surprised to see it on CSI campus, honestly, right now."

We couldn't be more different--I'm white, born and raised in the white state of Maine, now living in rural, white Idaho. He's. . .MK Asante, African-American, born in Zimbabwe, grown up on the streets of Philadelphia, acclaimed recording artist, filmmaker, university prof (he's older than he looks).

I have an idea what an Idahoan might mean by flaunting a Confederate flag. Maybe support for states' rights. Maybe just being a rebel. But I want to know what it means to MK Asante. I ask him.

"It means that they support the enslavement of my people. That they wanted to keep my people in slavery. That's what it means."

I sense that he's thinking a lot more than he's saying. From his heightened tension, I wonder if he thinks it's not a coincidence, that someone knew he was going to be speaking here and decided to make a statement. I ask him that, too.

"I really don't know," he says. "I'm in a completely different space, so. . .I don't know. . . ."

Me: "There are a lot of Confederate flags in Idaho."

MKA: "Yeah, so that's what I'm saying. I mean, I don't know. They did just drive right past here with. . .It was like they had it blaring, like, 'Yeah,' like making a statement. But you know, I mean, at the end of the day, not only do I know where I am, like, in terms of being in Idaho, but I know where I am in America. I understand America is a very racist place. You know what I mean? So I'm never surprised by anything that happens in America in terms of racism because slavery was legal in America for three hundred years. . . .But that's what [the Confederate flag] represents to me. It represents people that. . .people that are not my friends."

"Idaho is one of the least racially diverse states," I say. "I think people in Idaho don't realize how. . .front-line that issue is when you live in Philly, or North Carolina [Asante's current home], or wherever."


Buck by MK Asante
Asante has spoken sincerely and passionately to Idaho teachers at the conference about growing up Black in Philadelphia and about how a culture of racism and the school-to-prison pipeline were facts of life for him. I've also heard him speak (more explicitly, as one would expect) of race issues in a recording from The Breakfast Club, a NYC radio talk show. Race is far from the only thing on this creative young professor's mind (witness his resume and many albums, books, and awards). But as his memoir Buck eloquently narrates, when you grow up Black in Philly, you have to learn two codes: the Black people's code and the White people's code. If you're white, you only have to learn one.

I haven't planned to bring up racial issues in our twenty-minute interview, though. There is no pressing need to talk about it. Asante is here to talk to teachers, who are also the audience for my imagined story. An in-depth treatment of racism in America is not the point of his message or mine this sunny day in July. I'm a teacher-blogger, not a reporter. For so many good reasons, I could leave the issue of race alone.

But racism has come up, and not because I'm asking or Asante is pushing it. The tone, the meaning of the interview has changed.

For a while, we pick up where my questions left off. We talk about "dope" rhyme in hip hop and why the rhythms of Shakespeare and of hip hop are two completely different things.

But Asante comes back to the Confederate flag as we're wrapping up. He needs to say more specifically how seeing the flag affected him.

interview, Idaho
Asante at the College of Southern Idaho
"We had just come from this thing in here." He motions to the Fine Arts building where he's just given his second keynote talk. "A lot of love and a lot of good energy, and so. . .I must have had my guard down a little bit, you know what I mean? It's so peaceful right here, we're sitting under this beautiful tree. . .So in a lot of ways, my guard's not up in the usual way. It's not like I'm walking down a street that I don't know. . .I'm very much feeling peaceful and, like, at peace.

"That [the flag] completely changed my energy, like. . .Okay, now I have to be vigilant. Now. . . ." He laughs. "I just need to be aware of where the **** I am, 'cause. . .like I said, that's like a clear sign of, like, 'Yo, we hate you. And we wanna kill you. And we wanna enslave you.'" His voice remains low and calm, even as he says it.

MKA: "That's what it represents to me, so it's like, 'Okay, now I have to make sure that I'm just vigilant and protect myself. I have a family, I got a son, I have a baby on the way. . .You know, the whole Black Lives Matter thing. . .You keep hearing that language: 'Black Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter,' but it's because there are some people that really don't value Black life."

He goes on. "There were times in this country--and there are still times in this country where. . .you're like a target. So. . .that moment, it made me more vigilant. It made me more aware of my surroundings. And it broke the false sense of security that I might have had, coming out of a kind of a euphoric experience, and being on an academic kind of high. . .On a campus, you're just totally not expecting that, and then when that happens, you're like, okay. . .this **** is real, and even though I'm on this campus. . .that doesn't really matter."

Asante stands. It's time for the folks from CSI to take him to dinner. I thank him one last time, still mulling over what's happened. Something tells me he is, too.

As I head for my car, I'm hoping he won't remember Idaho only for this--won't think our state's population is represented by one random driver of a pickup truck with an in-your-face symbol of. . .Well, who knows what it really means to that driver? God forbid Idahoans should all be judged by the actions of one member of our majority demographic group.

Yet isn't that what people like the young MK Asante, growing up in Philadelphia or Pittsburgh or Chicago, have received from the bad apples in the white segment of American society?

Asante told teachers in his keynote, rhyming as per usual, "If you make an observation, you have an obligation." Whoever you are, teacher--whoever you are, American, you have an obligation. This issue affects you, whether you noticed the truck with the flag or not.

Find MK Asante on mkasante.com.
Leave a comment below!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Coming Tomorrow: An Interview with Hip-Hop Artist MK Asante

Buck by MK Asante
Don't miss tomorrow's "What Happened When I Interviewed Hip-Hop Artist MK Asante (And a Truck With a Confederate Flag Drove By)."

Asante is the author of several books, including It's Bigger Than Hip Hop and his new memoir, Buck. He is a professor of creative writing and film at Morgan State University and an award-winning recording artist.

New Free Thank You ECard: You Brightened My Day

Christian, Bible verse, thank you, encouragement, encourage
You Brightened My Day eCard
Here's a new eCard from my store, Brevity, on TPT. It's free to download and share, and the square shape makes this one easy to post on social media. Enjoy!

When God Wants To Bless You

CSI, College of Southern Idaho, teacher
The P20 Educator Conference was a huge success, and coordinators tell me that the dates are already set for the same week next year. If you're an Idaho teacher and you missed it, plan on attending next year.

The high point of the conference for me was an interview with MK Asante, hip-hop artist, author, university professor, and keynote speaker. After his first keynote, I approached him about interviewing with me, and he was generous enough to give me twenty minutes of his time after the conference. As it turned out, the interview took a surprising twist. I'm going to have to keep you in suspense on that one for a little while, but I'll have stories here soon.

Earlier in the day yesterday, I also had the chance to visit with my friend Janet and marvel about the way that God picks up the threads of our lives--all those "random" things we've done for so long--just when we finally surrender control of it all. What we'd tried to make sense of but couldn't, the trials, the work experiences, the family craziness, God had a plan for all along if we would just let go. For both of us, the winding path of a life spent following the Lord has begun to seem more visible and more compelling lately. The destination and the goodness of it and the way to it seem more designed.

On the drive home from the conference, I had a good hour and a half to think about my eventful days at CSI. I kept thinking, "God must want to bless me. Look what He gave me!" I'll share more about the specific blessings soon. But just think about that. A day when you know God wants to bless you! Maybe that obedient surrender that my friend and I were talking about has to happen first. Then God can bless.

"If you love me, keep my commandments," He says in John 14:15.

And, "'For I know the plans that I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope" (Jeremiah 29:11).

I believe God offers that love and care to all of mankind. And this one, also from Jeremiah: "'Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know.'"


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Too Much Fun at the P20 Educator Conference in Twin Falls!

Having a blast at the P20 Educator Conference at the College of Southern Idaho! I have to thank all the people who turned out for my first presentation of Faith and the Public School Teacher. You were all so generous and civil (I say that because we covered some controversial territory!) and didn't complain about my not having enough handouts for the 31 of you who packed the room. Next time I'll request a bigger room and more time! But truly, the discussions were thoughtful and helpful, and I couldn't ask for a better crowd. Thank you to my friends and family who prayed for me!

My earlier presentation on Choose Your Own Adventure: Writing and Publishing Narratives Using Digital Technology was also tons of fun. I gathered lots of ideas from my wonderful attendees on classroom strategies to try, tech stuff, etc. and I even found a new friend who has agreed to guest blog for us soon.

One more quick story before I crash for the night. . .

The College of Southern Idaho has a wonderful planetarium at the Herrett Center. Several of us teachers went and viewed one of the planetarium showings ("Rock on Demand": The 60s, 70s, & 80s) to relax after our busy day at the conference. I had the pleasure of being seated between two adorable children (one of whom went to sleep partway through) and being surrounded by fellow teachers.

Toward the end of the showing, the Pink Floyd song "Another Brick in the Wall" came on, and we all started chuckling because the song is a protest against teachers brainwashing their students in a "rigid" school system, to paraphrase Wikipedia. To me it's about a dystopian (or just plain Communist?) society, brainwashing vulnerable school children with government-approved propaganda--not something any of us would approve of. I felt like we had a moment.


Monday, July 11, 2016

Avoid Burnout and Get the Most Out of an Education Conference

Tomorrow is conference day for me, so I'm linking back to a post I wrote on 6 Strategies to Avoid Conference Fatigue at Education Conferences. The P20 Educator Conference I'm presenting at is only a two-day event, so I'm sure burnout won't be a factor, but for those of you heading into week-long conferences, these tips will help you pace yourself and get the most out of your experience. Enjoy!

Narratives of Grace

Narrative is a powerful way of connecting people with people. The best teachers use it to connect students with wisdom and knowledge to encounter their world with confidence. The best writers tell stories to help readers learn about their own journeys and the heroes they could become.

Reading in Luke Chapter 4 this morning, I'm struck once again by the compelling nature of the Gospel story. Jesus, born to a virgin, fulfilling prophecy, teaching his teachers, well-pleasing to His father, refuting the Devil's blasphemies, casting out demons, healing the sick--loves me. That's a story I want to read and share again and again while it is "the favorable year of the Lord" (v. 19).

Even as a public school teacher whose job requires prudence in the matter of living my faith, I know that God will be faithful to bless the opportunities He gives outside of the classroom to witness of God's grace to me. And in the classroom? Faith is the conviction of things not seen (Heb. 11:1). God's power extends beyond the limits of my free speech. When our lips are silent, God still works.

Be faithful to tell your story of grace to those around you with humility and love.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Tis the Season for New School Supplies

8 Encouraging eCards for Teachers, Summer and Fall Collection
It's the middle of July, and you know what that means--back-to-school sales! Some people gripe that "It gets earlier every year. . ." like stores putting out Christmas decorations right after Halloween, but school supplies at rock-bottom prices are never out of season to teachers.

My husband and I recently took our four-year-old to pick out supplies from the list his kindergarten teacher sent home with us on screening night. Pencils, paints, crayons, markers, glue sticks in the cart. One kid down, one to go.

Even though it's my little guy's first year in school, I think I was more excited about the new supplies than he was. After all, some of us teachers may have secretly chosen our careers because of the school supplies.

I'm blessed to work in a school district where the classroom supply budget is what I consider generous. Shopping for supplies can still be a nightmare, though, as we try to stretch the dollar. And aren't we all looking for that one vendor that has everything we're looking for in a cute design at the right price?

I've purchased my classroom supplies from many different sources over the years, and I'm not sure I've found the best way to get the job done yet. One year I fell in love with a company's free-shipping-to-home feature, only to be frustrated when my items arrived in many installments, each with a separate invoice. I never did get an accurate read on which items had arrived and whether my total matched what I'd thought I'd spent. Even their customer service couldn't provide a totaled invoice.

Scented markers from Mr. Sketch
Fortunately, there aren't a lot of imperative supply needs in high school English. Much of the class work requires only lined filler paper and a pen or trusty number two pencil. I always stock up on 3 x 5 cards and smooth-writing pens (my luxury item!) and of course, Expo markers. And it wouldn't be Mrs. Ballard's room without the smelly markers, a holdover from when I taught kindergarten. We use them on big chart paper to draw Venn diagrams, character maps, thought webs, vocab charts, and everything in between.

This year, I also splurged and purchased a few DVDs for classroom use, including Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility starring Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet, a must when studying British Romantic literature. And yes, even high school senior boys will watch it because the late Alan Rickman is a familiar face (and voice) from Die Hard and the Harry Potter movies.

What are your must-have school supplies to start the new year? Where do you buy them? Know of a steal we can all snatch up? Leave a comment to share.

Catch me Tuesday, July 12th in Twin Falls at the P20 Educator Conference: Reaching for New Heights. I'll be speaking on using Choose Your Own Adventure narrative techniques to teach creative writing. I'll also present Faith and the Public School Teacher. Hope to see you there!

Fun at Nursery School

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Leadership in Band of Brothers Unit

Now available from Brevity on TPT
It's been about a year in the making, but my Leadership in Band of Brothers unit is finally complete. Writing a Common Core-aligned unit was the main requirement of the Idaho Coaching Network class I took throughout the last school year, and my unit for the class was inspired by binge-watching the documentary film series Band of Brothers with my husband. While I wasn't sure some of the material in the film itself would be appropriate to show in class, I knew that the story of the 101st Airborne and Easy Company would be highly engaging to my sophomores.

The motif of Leadership often comes up in everyday conversations with high school students, not just when it's prompted by literature studies. Kids want to be leaders, and they need vivid examples of real-life leaders to emulate. Maj. Richard "Dick" Winters of Easy Company fills those shoes perfectly. Leadership in Band of Brothers gives students the opportunity to learn from the D-Day heroism of Winters and his men and to reflect upon leadership traits in their own lives.

I test drove the rough draft of the unit this past spring with success, though some areas needed to be revised afterward. Now the revision is done, and it's finally time to make the unit available on Teachers Pay Teachers! I feel like a proud Mama.

Here's a snippet from the TPT description:

Designed for 10th grade Social Studies or ELA classes, the plan is ten pages with links to some 30 additional pages of materials. Students will read Chapters 1-5 of Stephen E. Ambrose's bestselling nonfiction book Band of Brothers, the basis for the documentary film series. Students will also engage in learning activities such as Document Based Inquiry, close reading, script writing, reflective self-survey, and recording a radio broadcast.
Classroom tested, Common Core aligned, and ready to teach. All you need to provide is the book Band of Brothers or access to the first five chapters. High quality unit lasts three weeks or more and pairs well with other WWII readings such as The Book Thief.

I hope the unit finds a home in lots of Social Studies and ELA classrooms. Now to finish prepping for conference day! Have a great weekend.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Find Christian Teacher, Public School Elsewhere on the Web

Christian teachers belong in public schools as a ray of sunlight in a darkening world, an example of the believer to a world that is seeking. They can't thrive without God's help, though. They need the Holy Spirit to guide and to go before them. And they need encouragement from fellow believers who know that the struggle is not in vain. That's why Christian Teacher, Public School is here. To offer encouragement and light for dark days.

If you agree with the message of this blog, won't you follow us by email? You can also follow the Christian Teacher, Public School board on Pinterest and find us on Facebook.

8 Encouraging eCards for Teachers, Summer and Fall Collection
Support this blog by shopping at Brevity on Teachers Pay Teachers, where I offer many freebies in addition to resources on bullying prevention, literary elements in Shakespeare, and classroom management. See my latest eCards for back to school!

You can also help support Christian Teacher, Public School by shopping with our affiliate links for excellent products from Dayspring Cards Inc. and Dover Publications. I don't advertise for companies I haven't used and loved for years. Right now, both companies are having summer sales. Dover is offering up to 75% off on summer clearance through July 25, and Dayspring creates a sense of suspense with their Secret Summer Sale (shh!!), where you can use code SUMMER30 to get 30% off their top ten summer gifts.

Best of all, you can share this blog with teacher friends. Thanks for reading and blessing me! Teachers need encouragement, and I hope this is a great place to find it.

Words To Live By, A New Book By Dalene Parker and Linda Gilden

Available now on Amazon.com
Dalene Parker has been a friend of this blog almost from its inception, so I'm proud and delighted to see her new book, cowritten with Linda J. Gilden, come to fruition. And what a beautiful concept! Words to Live By: 52 Words that Lead to an Extraordinary Life explores fifty-two words in five devotions for each week, "encouraging the reader to live more fully." Being a writer and an English teacher, I'm immediately drawn to the word-study approach in a devotional. With a cover as pretty as this, it would make a wonderful gift for teachers. Can't wait to read it!

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 hop over to Amazon to find her books in paperback and Kindle editions.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Revising a Unit

It's been a blessing to be part of a network of Idaho teachers who are learning to be CORE literacy coaches for the past year. This August I begin year two of the training, when I'll be coaching a "newbie" to the program. In the meantime, there are loose ends from last year to tie up.

I'm currently revising the Social Studies/ELA unit I created for CORE coach class last year on the book Band of Brothers by Stephen E. Ambrose. My unit received critiques (one of them especially helpful), and now it's up to me to make needed improvements and submit it. My coach says I retain the rights to the unit, so that means I'll be able to post it in my Teachers Pay Teachers store when it's all done. Hooray!

One area in need of revision is the DBIs (Okay, I had never heard of that term before taking the class. It stands for Document-Based Inquiry). Here's how the Idaho Coaching Network describes DBIs:

"DBIs use a multi-phase approach, revealing new information in small mystery-like puzzle pieces, through the integration of variety of text types (visuals, videos, informational texts, primary source documents, etc.), which builds curiosity and engages students.  DBI follows the principles of scaffolding, moving students from simple to more complex texts.  As students move through these phases, they gain new knowledge (puzzle pieces) and assemble a grander picture; all of the phases work together to tell the whole story.  Ideally, each phase will answer questions from previous phases as well as lead students to a deeper understanding of the topic.  Finally, students will synthesize the knowledge they have learned through each of the phases and demonstrate their understanding through written or oral language."

Although I used a DBI when I first taught my new D-Day unit this spring, I realized that more thought was needed to make the learning activity even more effective. I need to think carefully about how to use the artifacts and the process as a whole to gradually lead students toward synthesizing knowledge gained and demonstrating their understanding in meaningful ways. I want to add artifacts (the photos, maps, articles, and other pieces that make up a DBI folder) and be sure that every piece that's included strengthens the inquiry process.

Besides the DBIs, I'm also strengthening the vocabulary and independent reading portions of the unit, as well as making the whole document and its attachments more visually appealing and user-friendly (can't go wrong there!). Portions of the unit that focused on close reading, the theme of leadership, and the culminating assessment (writing and recording a D-Day radio broadcast) were already fairly strong and needed little work.

Even though I feel I procrastinated revising my unit, there is something to be said for taking time off from working on a project and then returning to it after several weeks (or in my case, months). I was able to look at the document with fresh eyes and be more critical of my work in a constructive way. It also helped that I went in to school to work on it instead of trying to work from home. As it turned out, I was unable to work in my classroom because it was being worked on, but I found a home in the school library, which was dim and quiet and cozy, just right for getting some real, focused work done on my unit. There's still work to do, but it's coming along. I'm so thankful!

Coming up on Tuesday, I'll be presenting on narrative writing and on Faith and the Public School Teacher at the P20 Educator Conference at the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls. There's prep work remaining for my presentations, so I'll be a busy beaver for a few days! But I couldn't be more excited.

What helps you revise a unit? Please share!

World War II Discovery Kit

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Wishing for a Magazine That Doesn't Exist. . .Yet

I love magazines. Sometimes I think that I blog because I'm pretending I'm a magazine mogul. It's been a lifelong regret that my college class schedule didn't allow me to take the Magazine Publication class offered at my school. It's the one that got away.

Reading the most recent issue of Christianity Today has me enraptured all over again. What is it about magazines in print form that still charm us, even when everyone's getting their news and gossip online?

Musing in this vein caused me to wonder, is there an excellent magazine for Christian teachers in public schools?

I've seen many publications for Christian teachers who teach in Christian schools. I've seen dozens of fine publications for teachers of all sorts who teach in public schools. But where's a magazine specifically geared toward public school teachers who hold to the Christian faith?

Why would such a magazine be important? For the same reasons blogs like this one and books like Dalene Vickery Parker's are important. Because Christian teachers in public schools need encouragement and help from each other. Sometimes they need perspective. Sometimes they need legal advice. Sometimes they need assurance, or fresh ideas, or a reminder why they're in this calling to begin with.

Could such a magazine make a go of it? Would it succeed and thrive? I don't suppose anyone in publishing would recommend launching a print magazine of any kind right now. The market for magazines is not steady, with print subscriptions down significantly. Online subscriptions are on the rise, though, experts say. One of the biggest hurdles is competition from free online media, complete with video content. According to Thad McIlroy on The Future of Publishing, "The shift of ad dollars to the web is perhaps the biggest problem facing broad-circulation magazines today."

I don't know if my imagined magazine would succeed in print form in today's market. If someone would launch it, though, I know what it should look like.

The magazine would be glossy and image-filled. Everything in its pages would offer encouragement, beauty in the midst of harsh realities, and direction for Christian teachers in public schools. Profile articles would follow teachers who are navigating the stormy waters of America's schools well. Intelligent reporting would cover the news on religious freedom issues, education trends, and conferences worth attending. And many voices would be heard, with many perspectives on the issues that face teachers today. It would be a magazine for every Christian who teaches in public schools.

I don't know why the blog post on this topic right now. Like I said, it's on my mind. But so is Luke chapter one, where two women were blessed by God and given children miraculously even as their little corner of the world experienced a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Maybe this magazine is not a reality yet, but maybe God will bring it to pass. Maybe I need to start praying.

What magazines do you love? Does a magazine like the one I'm describing exist? Please leave a comment.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Unstructured Play Week, Day 4, Part 2: Finger Paint Is Everywhere!

"For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." Ephesians 2:10 NIV

By my daughter, age 11
Welcome to Day 4, Part 2 of Unstructured Play Week at Christian Teacher, Public School. Earlier I listed my 12 Tips for Adults in the Lives of Kids who are Artists. Now it's time to really make a splash, with finger paints!

Finger painting is a rare treat for preschool kids because the adults in their lives are afraid of the mess. When doing art with my preschool son, I sometimes underestimate the time it will take, the mess it will make, and the fun he will have! Finger painting falls under Unstructured Play because kids get to call the shots. Don't give them patterns. Don't show them examples of finished work. Just get your hands in the paint and have fun. The art will follow.

The Paint
Ordinarily, I steer clear of washable paints for school and home use because the colors tend to be less vibrant. When I taught kindergarten, I recommended Prang watercolors because there's a noticeable difference in brightness. When it comes to finger painting, though, washable, non-toxic paint is the way to go. Right now my kids use Rich Art's Clear Colors Washable Tempera Paints in primary colors that mix well to form other colors. When dry on the paper they're not as bright as I'd expected, but they do the job. Another option? Make your own finger paints.

The Paper
I bought Pacon Finger Paint Art Paper in a big, messy masterpiece-friendly 11" x 16." It's not too pricey, and it's worth the investment to get the best look from the paint and make sure the paper won't deteriorate.

Other Supplies and Prep
Even with washable paint, you need some type of smock (an old tee shirt that's a few sizes too big is perfect) or apron. To protect surfaces, lay down newspaper, and have paper towels handy to help with cleanup. Use paper plates to hold the paint while in use. You'll also need to designate a safe, flat surface for finished artwork to dry.

 After a few unexpected days off, we finally broke out the finger paints at the kitchen table. My daughter, eleven, is more comfortable than the boys are with getting her fingers messy for the sake of art. She focused on abstract paint application techniques and not on a specific theme or subject.

Vampire painting by my middle son
My middle son, nine years old and more reserved, painted a vampire. His inspiration was a favorite video game he's been missing since our family has opted for a "Privilege-Free Summer." We're trying to get the kids outside more and get them reading. It's been good to be able to sit down with the kids for Bible story reading and prayer more regularly.

The youngest, age four, was also hesitant to get his fingers messy. How blessed am I to have kids who wash their hands! But he dipped a finger in the black paint and soon got started. His favorite art subject is super heroes. I'm glad I took a picture of his painting before he decided to slop water on it with a paper towel!

Super Heroes
This picture is of "Super heroes doing the things that they like to do." It's fun to ask kids to tell you about their artwork. Sometimes you get a whole story to go with it.

I hope this post has been fun, and that it encourages you to include unstructured play time in your children's and your students' day. If you haven't read the other posts in the series, here are the links again. Please leave a comment and share! And happy Independence Day.

Unstructured Play Week
Day 1 Paper dolls
Day 2 Kitchen Chemistry and Cooking
Day 3 A Hike Up the Creek
Day 4, Part 1 Every Child an Artist, including 12 Suggestions for Grown-ups in the Lives of Young Artists

Coloring Books to Relax