Excellence without Excuses

School has been is session for approximately 9 weeks. Have you stopped to give yourself a self-evaluation? Take time this week to self-evaluate to make sure you are doing everything excellencewith excellence. Aristotle once said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” Check your habits against these ten indicators to see if you are doing the small, day-to-day actions with excellence.

  • EXUBERANT – The American Heritage Dictionary defines exuberant as “full of unrestrained high spirits; abandonedly joyous; growing or producing abundantly”. Does this describe your testimony, attitude, spirit, or public relations style? Would colleagues describe you this way? I Corinthians 15:58 reminds us that we are always to “abound in the work of the Lord”.
  • X-RAY VISION – Have an “eagle eye” at all times. Continuously observe the countenance, demeanor, body language, and friend choices of your students. This will tell you how to help and encourage your students.
  • COMPASSION – Be considerate of parents and students. I John 4:11 states, “Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” Are you even-tempered? Do you love and listen to your parents and students? John 21-22 reminds us to “Keep yourselves in the love of God, looking for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And of some have compassion, making a difference.”
  • EQUIPPED FOR THE DAY – When the day starts, are you ready for it? A teacher should be equipped for the day spiritually, mentally, emotionally, physically, and professionally. Do whatever it takes to be ready for the day when it starts. Ho Boon Tiong reminds us that “The more you prepare outside class, the less you perspire in class. The less you perspire in class, the more you inspire the class.” Being prepared and equipped for the day should be routine. John Maxwell reminds us that “You will never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.”
  • LEADER – Teacher-leaders should always be credible in what they say and do. Is your message reliable? Cooperative and flexible should also be attributes of a good leader. And a leader must work well with others in a collegial manner.
  • LIFE-LONG LEARNER – A teacher must be a life-long learner…always thirsty for more knowledge. Teachers need to be professional readers in order to stay fresh and vibrant in the classroom. Dr. William Glasser reminds us that “Getting the job done, even done well, is good enough for nonprofessionals, but continually improving the way the job is done both for themselves and others is the hallmark of professionals.”
  • ENERGIZED – An energized teacher shows excitement for the content material, takes pleasure in teaching, demonstrates involvement in learning activities outside school, and practices energizing others. Check your vocal delivery, word choice, humor, eye movement, facial expressions, gestures, movement, and energy level. Have variety in your delivery style. Our message is too important to bore students with it.
  • NEEDS-ORIENTED – Teaching with excellence means that you recognize the needs of students and can differentiate for them. “Effective teachers recognize that no single instructional strategy can be used in all situations.” One size doesn’t fit all! Anita Turner reminds us that “A great teacher has the ability to present a delectable assortment of activities or lessons that will satisfy even the most finicky intellectual, emotional, and social appetite.”
  • CREATIVE – Imagine what good teaching looks like, and do it! Be creative! Do not let inhibitions scare you from being creative. Get out of your box! Creativity makes a lesson exciting and memorable for a student.
  • EXEMPLARY – The American Heritage Dictionary defines exemplary as “one that is worthy of being copied”. Are you worthy of being copied in word and deed? The Bible tells us that whatever we do in word or deed, we are to do all to the glory of Christ. John Maxwell reminds us that “You are what you do daily.”

Teachers that strive for excellence do the small things well, care about others, constantly improve themselves, and give it their all! Willa Foster wrote that “Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction, and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives.” Autograph each day with excellence.

How Important Is Scripture In Your Classroom?

A look at Jewish history



One of the most outstanding women in Jewish history was Queen Salome Alexandra who reigned from 78-69 B. C.  Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach, the famous leader of the Sanhedrin, was her brother. He made elementary education compulsory for all Jewish boys.  Joshua ben-Gamala, who was High Priest from 63-65 A.D., established that teachers should be appointed for every district. The subjects taught were reading, writing, natural history, arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, and the Scriptures. A teacher was held in high honor. In some cases, respect for the teacher probably surpassed parental respect.

Though various subjects were taught, the main emphasis was on the Torah, emphasizing both reading and writing Scripture. Large portions were memorized and it is likely that many students knew the entire Torah by memory by the time their elementary education was finished.  When a student turned ten, he entered “secondary school,” in which he studied oral Torah and learned Greek, Greek being considered the language of business and politics in the Roman world. During this time, male students would also find a teacher to “follow”, and in a way become their apprentice. When Jesus was a student, he chose to follow John the Baptist. It is at this point that a boy would participate in his first Passover in Jerusalem. Jesus’ excellent questions for the teachers in the temple at his first Passover indicate the excellent education He had received.

Students studied seven days a week, and even went to school instead of the synagogue. The reason students did this was not because the Jews of Jesus’ day considered biblical education more important than worship. It was because they did not separate education of the Torah from worship. In fact, education of the Torah was considered the highest form of worship. For Jesus, and for the Jews of Jesus’ day, school and synagogue were not separate or independent.  No, not at all, they were integrated.  In fact, the meaning of the word synagogue is: “the building where a Jewish assembly or congregation meets for religious worship and instruction.”

During the time of Christ, from birth to around thirteen years of age, a child’s life would have been focused on education.  This would include both boys and girls, girls now being included in Jewish compulsory education.  Though little is stated about Jesus’ childhood, we know that he “grew in wisdom” as a boy (Luke 2:52) and that he reached the “fulfilling of the commandments” indicated by His first Passover at age twelve (Luke 2:41). He then learned a trade (Matt. 13:55, Mark 6:3); spent time with John the Baptist (Luke 3:21; John 3:22-26) and began his ministry at about thirty (Luke 3:23). This parallels the Mishnah description of Jewish education quite closely.

While there are many things we can learn from the schools Jesus attended, I have chosen five.

  1. The most important subject to be learned is the Bible. More time should be devoted to learning and understanding its contents than any other subject.  It should be taught by the best teachers, should be the most demanding subject, and there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that at one’s school learning the Scriptures reigns supreme.
  2. Students are capable of far more than is generally believed. By age ten, a Jewish student had memorized the first five books of the Bible and was learning Greek.
  3. When God’s glory is the motive behind the education being given, the whole process is a grand act of the worship of God.
  4. Schools of elementary and secondary education should be viewed by churches as a God given responsibility, either to sponsor or to support. After all, is that not what the Great Commission commands?  (Matt. 28:19-20)
  5. Educators should insure that students do more than memorize. They must make sure they also understand.

What changes in your classroom could be made to incorporate more scripture?

Meaning-FULL Vocabulary

wordle-2There is no doubt that a strong, robust vocabulary is the mark of an educated person.  However, moving our students from the mundane to the robust takes intentionality and some practice.  Just handing out a page with words and definitions on it is not enough to create a strong vocabulary in our students.  Students must interact with words in rich, intentional ways both inside and outside the classroom.

How can we make our vocabulary instruction “meaning-FULL”?  The most important thing teachers can do is to choose words wisely.  This may necessitate deviating from a list given in a reader or curriculum guide and evaluating each word carefully, adding and subtracting until we keep only the best words.

  • Choose words that students can define with words they already know.

Effective instructions links new material to what the student already knows.  Nowhere does this hold more true than in vocabulary instruction.  Students must be able to define a word with words they already know or the word is not an age-appropriate selection.  (No thesauruses allowed!)

  • Choose words students are likely to hear, see, or use again.

My first year teaching The Bronze Bow, I taught the word “phylactery” as a vocabulary word; however, actually bringing in a real phylactery was a much better instructional tool.   I removed “phylactery” and replaced it with the word “ravenous,” a much better selection. Vocabulary work should be saved for words that cross contexts and times.

  • Choose words that have instructional potential.

Words like “tenacity” and “capricious” offer opportunities for character instruction (both positive and negative).

“Vocabulary Work-Up”

For the past seven years, I have been teaching vocabulary through a system I call a “Vocabulary Work-Up.”  Students prepare for the class discussion by interacting with the given words in five ways (see below).  They bring their written work to class and share what they have found with the class.  The teacher guides the discussion, affirming correct understanding or redirecting student work as necessary.  Each student is responsible to follow the discussion and to correct their work based on teacher and peer remarks.  This discussion typically takes 60 – 75 minutes (for 10 words).   There are no worksheets, memorization of definitions, or extra pencil-work between the discussion and the quiz.  Students are encouraged to use a word each day in a sentence with me.  The sentences must pertain to their life.  This interaction allows me to hear their pronunciation, monitor usage, and correct nuance (and get to know my students a bit better, too!).  It allows the student to “own” the words and to begin to incorporate them into their vocabulary.  (Each proper sentence earns a small piece of candy.)

Discussion Preparation

Below are the guidelines given to students for their discussion preparation.  Each word is “worked up” on a separate page of a marbled composition notebook.

  1. Context – Find the word in the text and give the complete
  1. Definition – Look the word up in the dictionary to help you understand what it means. Then, write the definition in your own words.
  1. Part of Speech – Identify the part of speech of the word as it appears in the context. Leave room to write more uses as we discuss them.
  1. Synonym/Antonym/Illustration – Choose two:
  • Give a synonym (syn.) of the word.  Use a word that you already know rather than looking up words in the thesaurus.
  • Give an antonym (ant.) of the word. Again, use a word you already know.
  • Draw an illustration.
  1. Original Sentence – Write an original sentence using the word correctly.

This approach has been successfully modified for use in younger grades and intensified for use in middle/high school.  Using this approach allows my sixth graders to master 180-200 words each school year and makes vocabulary the most meaning-FULL thing we do all year.

How do you approach vocabulary instruction in your classroom?

(For practical help in vocabulary instruction, check out Bringing Words to Life:  Robust Vocabulary Instruction by Beck, et. al.  This book offers excellent advice for word choice and some superb examples.  The companion book by the same authors, Creating Robust Vocabulary, offers practical application as well.)

Adding Spice to Your Reading Instruction

 Teaching with Variety

“Variety is the spice of life” is an idiom which refers to the idea that individuals prefer to participate in a variety of experiences instead of doing the same thing all the time. People like variety. You see this in everyday life when you shop for ice cream. This idea also applies to education, specifically to the teaching of reading. Doing the same thing every day is boring for students and teachers. You can add spicesvariety to your reading instruction by changing your reading groups, reading texts, and reading responses.

Reading Groups

Teaching the whole class ensures all students receive the same instruction. It also saves planning time and class time. However, this form of grouping does not meet individual needs, makes it difficult to involve all students in a discussion, and makes it more difficult to informally assess individual students. Teaching the whole class is best saved for teaching phonics, vocabulary, and specific reading skills/strategies that all students need (drawing conclusions, comparing/contrasting, summarizing).

Teaching with ability or skill groups meets the needs of the individual student or group by helping struggling readers and challenging proficient readers. When using small groups, more students participate in the discussion and informal assessment is easier to manage. Ability groups also enable you to provide text at students’ instructional reading level. Teaching skill groups is best used to reteach or practice specific skills.

Partner groups provide students with opportunities to assist others. The use of partner groups requires training and good classroom management so students stay on-task and cooperate with each other. Partner groups are effective for repeated oral reading to increase oral fluency and reciprocal reading (one student reads a page while the other listens and asks questions or summarizes what was read and then students switch roles).

Research groups also require training as students learn to cooperate with group members. Students with similar interests choose a topic. They develop research skills by locating information in books and on the Internet. Struggling readers benefit by working with proficient readers. Students share their research by writing reports, making posters, or giving presentations. Research groups give students authentic purposes for reading.

Literature groups (circles) involve students who read the same book. Most teachers offer students a choice of four or five books (historical fiction is often used). Students are assigned a job sheet to complete while independently reading the chapter. Students meet to discuss the reading. Literature groups develop leadership skills by providing students the opportunity to run their own group while the teacher moves among the groups and facilitate.

Literature Circle Roles

Discussion Director: writes questions for the group

Vocabulary Enricher: chooses difficult words to explain

Character Analyzer: identifies character traits with supporting details

Passage Picker: chooses passages to read aloud

Text Connector: connects the text to real life or a different story

Summarizer: summarizes what previously happened

Reading Texts

Narrative text contains story elements (setting, characters, theme, plot, resolution). The organization is usually in chronological order consisting of paragraphs that unfold the plot. Historical fiction, realistic fiction, and fanciful fiction are examples of narrative text. When reading narrative text, have students identify the story elements. Ask students to predict what will happen and later let them confirm or revise their predictions.

Informational text is usually written in a factual writing style. The organizational structure is varied (topic/detail, cause/effect, compare/contrast). Textbooks, newspapers, Internet articles, and encyclopedias are examples of informational text. Although most teachers use narrative text, it is important that you also teach comprehension using informational text. Provide books on interesting topics (sports, animals, how-to books). When reading informational text, have students identify the main idea, visualize concepts, or summarize the text. A major portion of reading instruction should focus on the life skill of understanding informational text so students can “read to learn.”

Reading Responses

Student responses can be varied instead of always writing book reports or answering questions. To develop deeper understanding, responses should require students to refer back to the text and provide support. During-reading responses increase understanding. While students read, let them complete a concept web, answer questions, make T-notes, or participate in reciprocal reading.

After-Reading responses promote retention by allowing time for reflection and analysis. After students read, let them sequence events in words or pictures, tell three things they learned, make a character web, act out the story, write a new ending, compare/contrast on a Venn diagram, or summarize what they read.


God created your students with differing abilities. Jesus, the master teacher, is an example to all teachers. He met the specific needs of people by using variety in grouping; He taught large groups, small groups, and individuals. Jesus used variety of instructional strategies as He taught with examples, illustrations, miracles, and questions. Reading instruction at the elementary level should prepare students for lifelong reading. Doing the same thing every day for six years does little to excite students about reading class. Add variety by using different types of text while teaching the whole class a couple of days and teaching in groups several days during the week. At least once every quarter, use literature circles to read a novel. Students don’t always have to do the same thing. Vary the types of reading responses with different texts and with different students reading the same text. You too can add spice to your reading instruction by adding variety.


Dr. Tammie Jacobs has been an educator for over 30 years. She currently serves as the head of the Department of Elementary Education at Bob Jones University, teaches elementary education courses, and supervises candidates during practicum and clinical practice.


Copyright Journal for Christian Educators, Winter 2014 ed. Vol. 20. No. 2.  Reprinted with permission of the American Association of Christian Schools.