I visited The Ron Clark Academy May 18th. The Ron Clark Academy is a private school located in Atlanta, GA for 5th – 8th graders. According to their website, “RCA is a demonstration school – a place where visiting educators engage in a vibrant professional development experience by observing best practices in action before participating in hands-on workshops.” Through my CTAE (Career Technical and Agricultural Education) Resource Network, I had the highly-sought-after opportunity (For real, it was booked in 1.5 minutes) to visit The Ron Clark Academy. It completely
changed confirmed the way I view my career in education. As I’ve read other bloggers (too numerous to begin to name) share their stories, the conclusions are all the same – it has reignited their passion as a teacher, it’s the best professional development ever (Really, it is! I wasn’t ready to leave), and it’s nearly impossible to explain. But, I’m all about giving it a shot, so here goes!
The Academy began like any other professional development with a normal sign-in process, and the normalcy ended there. Once they opened the gates in extravagant Willy Wonka fashion, students were lining the sidewalk of the entrance shaking our hands. Before I entered the door, I was impressed. An 8th grade boy saw my name tag, shook my hand, and said, “Casey, I’m so glad you’re here! Thank you for visiting us.” My jaw dropped and hit the ground. As I continued to gather myself, I pushed forward to the doors where THE Ron Clark was standing there (well, more dancing…), and he shook my hand. This was amazing in itself, but not the craziest thing. The red carpet was rolled out, students lined the carpet, music was BLARING, and everyone was dancing as they cheered the teachers on as we entered the building. Wow! What a special feeling!
herded gathered into a gorgeous, state-of-the-art gym where students were gathered around to speak with us. I’m a fairly shy person, and I CERTAINLY don’t walk up to a group of people to start a conversation with them. Michael, an 8th grade student, walked up to me and another shocked educator, shook our hands, and carried on a conversation with us. He listened to hear – like really cared to hear what we had to say. He never once looked for an exit (like I already was several times in my discomfort). He was completely present, and I was already learning from this incredible, young man. We chatted with the students for several minutes while they gathered everyone in, and the conference started.
Mr. Ron Clark gathered each of us, about 400 educators, in a large hall, stood on a table, and shared his story. Of course, I’ve had the great opportunity to hear him and Kim Bearden (the co-founder) speak before, so I already knew much of the background. He truly is a captivating and energetic speaker, and I can absolutely see how the students gravitate to him. You can’t help but to gravitate to the man. He sent each of us off into the organized chaos that is The Ron Clark Academy. First, our group visited one of the classrooms where we watched a review game of Jeopardy amongst the students. As soon as I walked in, a student jumped over a desk, and I immediately looked to the teacher to see his reaction – nothing. Ok…Maybe, he was just going to let this one slide? Nope. Another student jumped over a table. Ok…Maybe this is just, dare I say it, normal? Another thing I noticed was that the room was decorated beautifully. In fact, the whole building did not have one pasty, alabaster cinder block.
Each workshop was a whirlwind of information leaving me dying to take more from these amazing teachers. I’ll share my most profound takeaways because there were SO MANY – Seriously, you need to go…From Pamela Haskins, she suggested we find out what the next 2 grade levels expect and teach to that. Rigor isn’t more work (such as writing a 5 paragraph paper instead of 3), it’s taking that work to the next level. Junior Bernadette and Kyle Wolcott pushed the old adage, “If you build it, they will come” and pushed us to be runners and accept that behind every “No”, there may be a “Yes” lurking somewhere. From Adam Dovico, we were taught a mnemonic (I never thought I liked mnemonics, but this guy proved me WAY WRONG because I can still recall it over a week later with ease) to aide in our first 7 seconds of meeting someone – SPECIAL:
Ask a question
Lean in & Listen.
CJ Wallace and Corey Collins are both new teachers this year at RCA, and they shared that we must seek a No Fear moment and make it happen. Daniel Thompson shared about maintaining student intrigue through whatever (legal, of course) means necessary. Kim Bearden asked us a profound question, “If you were stuck in a school and had to choose a classroom you wanted to sit in, would you choose your classroom?” If I’m being completely honest, there are more days than I care to share (or confess to myself, even) that the answer is a resounding NO (That changed on May 18th).
I entered Ron Clark’s classroom during a math lesson. Music was blaring (a common trait of this school), students were chanting, he was jumping around like crazy, and he NEVER SPOKE ONE WORD! I just sat there in awe that these kids were doing math so well, and I was completely lost, myself. Shortly after, he turned the music off, and these kids started standing up and making comments such as, “I struggled here, but I think this is what I was doing wrong. Did anyone else have this problem?” For real, Ron Clark really never did say anything…The students were doing the teaching while he simply facilitated conversation. When necessary, he would guide the conversation (at the precise time) in the appropriate direction. I would have to write an entire post to share everything I saw in the classroom that was so profound, but it was truly an amazing experience which I plan to incorporate in my classroom.
Each student in the school is placed randomly (via a spinning wheel) into houses (very much Hogwarts-style). Each house competes with one another and lifts one another up. Most importantly, though, they lift other houses up, as well. Imagine (you don’t have to close your eyes) you’re a 5th grader brand new to the school. Everyone chants your name while you run up to the wheel. You anxiously spin this wheel knowing that where it stops is your family for the next 4 years. You run up the stairs to the slide and dive down wondering what awaits you at the bottom. By the time you hit the bottom of the slide, the wheel has stopped. You hear an eruption of cheers as you hit the bottom, and you’re instantly lifted up and celebrated by your new family. WOW! If I could bottle this up and bring it into my high school, what a difference that would make in these children’s lives.
Everything we saw would obviously work great in a middle school, and elementary schools would also easily incorporate the song and chant into their buildings. But, I left wondering how high school students would adapt to some of these teachings. I mean, they’re a little set in their ways. So…Nervously, I shared some of my experience with them, and the resounding response was, “Why didn’t you go to this place earlier in the year! We want this!”
My main takeaways (But, really, there are so many) which I will use in the future were:
- The magic and excitement are imperative to school, but it can’t work with clearly defined rules with follow-through.
- Students MUST be taught and expected to utilize their soft skills.
- Teachers should have a stage so that they can be higher than the students to aide in their focus of the teacher.
- When teaching, tell a story – it’s much more interesting.
- Students should stand when they need to say something.
- Teachers shouldn’t be concerned about embarrassing themselves – students truly do like that.
- No amount of discipline will work if the students don’t believe you care about them.
- Keep in constant communication with the parents about the good. When you have to say something bad, the parent knows you love their child.
- Frequently, make eye contact with EACH student in the classroom.
- Be a teacher who will jump on the tables every now and then. These kids need to know we’re a little crazy.
The day ended with me making the obvious choice to get “slide certified” which is a metaphor of choosing to take a new, different path and not taking the path most frequently traveled. I am forever changed through this opportunity, and I am so excited to try out some of the new things in my classroom next year. I had a great time and never want to stop learning. I can’t get enough, and isn’t that what professional development should be about? I want to be an inspiration to my students, and I want my classroom to be a place they want to be.
Also, even though I didn’t get to see her room (I REALLY wanted to), I would be doing this post a complete disservice if I didn’t briefly share about Hope King. Hope is one of the phenomenal teachers at RCA, and I’ve been trolling her blog, www.elementaryshenanigans.com . I accidentally came across her blog and have absolutely planned to incorporate some of her magical ideas in my high school classroom. You can also see her classroom (which is gorgeous and Alice in Wonderland themed) on her blog or on youtube.