I will forever be grateful for the opportunity to attend the Ron Clark Academy Experience. Never had I been so excited about anything in my career. It is everything and SO MUCH MORE than you could hope for. This post will not be a play by play of what we did because I don’t want to give all the surprises away, but instead a photo tour of the school and the heart behind it. If you are planning a trip to RCA in the next year, skip reading my post though because even though I won’t share about the ceremonies or surprises, it is so much more fun to be blown away by every nugget of info when you are there! This post cannot compare to their delivery. I’ll write a separate post about the things I learned AND implemented already in my personal classroom.
When someone asked, “How was your trip?” right after, it was really hard to sum it up before processing everything. SO MUCH SO THAT I DIDN’T POST ANYTHING ABOUT IT ON FACEBOOK FROM WHEN WE LEFT UNTIL NOW… Not really sure why that is except that I felt I had to do the experience justice and didn’t know how to put anything into words without just talking your ear off about every little thing. Instead, I gave the few people who asked me about it some RC words of wisdom and said I’d write a blog post. A month later, the messy shorthand notes I took in my composition notebook are finally typed up and the word document is 23 PAGES LONG folks. Turns it out it’s going to be two blog posts!
I’ve seen AWESOME teaching across multiple states over the years, but Ron Clark Academy it is SO hard to put into words because it’s nothing like we’ve ever seen in education before. Maybe the most important thing I can say is that for two days straight for the first time in a long time, I LEARNED NEW THINGS EVERY MOMENT. It was a wonderful feeling to sit among students and learn alongside them things I didn’t know before either and be challenged in the activities we joined with the students. Whether it was a math concept that I had never fully understood how to do before or a government lesson on politics coming alive in a way I had never comprehended, I was learning and engaged. When is the last time you’ve gotten to see what you are learning in action in different environments in a school for an entire day (or two)? Every time our group person came to collect us and take us to the next place, I wasn’t ready to leave. We rotated to classrooms both observing teaching in action and to classrooms that were workshops for teachers. In the trainings, all the ideas and philosophies were new and fascinating. Again, I wanted to stay behind and soak up more information. Can you remember the last time you’ve felt like that? I’ve been to great trainings before and I appreciate people who share their knowledge, but I’ve ALWAYS been ready to leave when it was over.
1st question I got on social media: How did you get to go???
Backing it up a bit, our principal announced in the spring we could attend professional development of our choice within a certain budget. My friend, Krista, and I immediately knew what we would choose if it was approved. Our awesome principal approved for us to attend the two-day training at Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta. The summer dates were filled so we chose the next 2 day opportunity, which was in October.
The week before we left we found out that 3 teachers and an assistant principal from another elementary in our district (right across the street actually) were going the same days as us. We were excited to hear they were staying in the same hotel as us too (What are the odds??) and quickly got extra shirts ordered for them so we could match! It was super fun to get to know new friends and reflect on what we learned together throughout the experience.
(Day 2 Group Picture)
Not only did we get the chance to sit down and talk with Ron Clark one on one, we were in his classroom three times across the two days to observe his teaching or hear him speak on different topics. He taught an entire math lesson with music and sign language. He barely spoke, but the students were involved in responding to his signals every time. I’m wishing I would have broken the rules and taken a video of it because I don’t know how to describe it! These were fifth graders and it was barely a month into their first school year at RCA, yet they were on fleek!!
Kim Bearden’s name might not be on the school, but she is the co-founder of Ron Clark Academy and the executive director. RCA is full of the 3 Ms (Music, Movement, and a little bit of Magic). However, she first talked about the foundation they have behind it. Everything in RCA is a balanced scale of Structure /Discipline/Respect on one side and Creativity/Passion/Enthusiasm on the other side. She made it clear that you can not be successful at one side without the other. You need not only have polite, well-behaved delightful kids doing their time, but there needs to be a sense of joy, spontaneous smiles and laughter. You have to have the balance!
High rigor doesn’t have to eliminate fun.
A student interviewed one time said, “At RCA you have to be quiet and loud. You have to listen and focus and learn. There are rules for everything. But when it’s your time, you have to be big and bold and embrace everything they’ve taught you.”
We must have passion for relationship, content, how it is delivered, how the students receive it, passion for ALL OF IT. And this can look different for every teacher! Passion: If you exude it, people will be drawn to it.
This stuck out to me from Kim Bearden’s training. Pretend you are walking down a hallway of 7 identical classes teaching identical things at the same time. ALL THESE VARIABLES ARE THE SAME: same grade, same curriculum, exact same lesson plans, same décor, same hallway, all the same EXEPT the teacher.
If you could walk down the hall peeking in the window of those classrooms and choose your own teacher (or your child’s teacher) with all the other variables the same, WHAT WOULD LURE YOU IN?
IF YOU COULD PEER INTO YOUR OWN CLASSROOM, WOULD YOU CHOOSE IT?
WHICH VERSION OF YOURSELF WOULD YOU SEE?
If you glance in the window, are the students leaning in? Is there that support? Reflect on this.
You want people to walk by your classroom and say, “Good things happen in there.”
Best advice I learned from Ron Clark and one I’ve already shared with a dozen people in my life:
Draw a line on your body above your heart.
If something happens with a colleague, handle it with your head. Whether it’s a misunderstanding with a parent or a bad day with a student’s behavior, don’t let it bleed down… Don’t take it home.
Shrug your shoulders, do a shimmy and say “Shake it off!”
(If you say it, you have to really shake it off.)
Protect your family- keep only them in your heart. (Not to say you don’t love your students of course). Your spouse is like a sponge. You come home dripping negativity into them and the sponge can only take so much. Sometimes there will be days where you vent, but overall make the goal to say 3 positive things about your day before a negative comment.
Also: When someone complains at work, don’t nurture them. It tells them they are the victim. Don’t coddle them. Say “Get back up. Shake it off!”
More RC advice from this session:
-If you want to be here, hang out with positive people.
-Don’t talk about the principal.
-Runners get YES answers from the principal.
-Start a revolution. Cheer for the runners. See what you can do to free up their time. Let them know what you expect and that you believe in them. The riders will quit with this swell. Make an effort to cheer for teachers who are rocking it. Go in their room and say “I can’t be you right now, but I want to let you know I admire you. You make me want to be better.” Ask if there’s something you can do to help them.
-“Teachers who are killin it should have freedom.”
Seek out as many moments you can find with people who fuel your soul. We all know someone at work who is a ‘misery evangelist’. How do you not get sucked into the vortex of the negative person in your life? Don’t one-up the negativity that happened to them with your own story. Flip the conversation by making it positive! Be helpful and make their day. Continue to be positive and “Shake it off!”
“Fall in love with your classroom. It should always be changing. progressing. moving forward.” -Mr. Thompson
-1/3 of students at Ron Clark Academy have never been successful in school before.
-75% of RCA students have no father in the home.
-RCA teachers have a test each year to learn ALL parent names in the school. Teachers had to learn 476 names this year before school started. Parents come in on the red carpet the first day too, not just the kids. The message says: “I see you. I appreciate you.” The message is then reciprocated throughout the year.
-There are 300 pounds of coins in the stairs. There is one coin from every country!
-In every classroom, you’ll see a student with a drum between their legs or at their desk. Fidgety students or students with ADD are focused and listening because they are watching for when they can play their drum after a joke or along with a chant or celebration. My husband would have LOVED this as a kid! Remember that every student needs something different to be successful, and sometimes that may look a little unorthodox.
I thought this was a GREAT idea for a middle school/junior high, or grade levels within a high school: Every year, they put photos of every student all across the room. Teachers take 30 minutes to walk around the room and put dots (garage sale circle stickers with the teacher’s initials on them) on the back of the photos. This activity gives the whole school an awareness. It will make a difference!
Red dot: The sticker put on students you have a personal connection with. It’s that kid/family that will always be a part of your life and you’ll talk to them after they leave your class. These kids usually initiate relationships.
Blue dot: You know a lot about them and always have a conversation.
Yellow dot: You’re on a comfort level with them. You’re confident they would come to you if they had a problem.
No dots: LOOK AT THE KIDS THAT ARE EASY TO FORGET ABOUT!
What kids do you need to be intentional about? Some kids may need a mentor. Make these connections! You may want to sit with red dot, but choose a kid with no dots to make a connection with instead! You can look at the pictures and know “I don’t have a connection with this kid, but Mr. Walker does for example.
Take red dots out of the mix and you’ll be surprised! Ideas: Get some kids together that are yellow or no dots and give them a reason to be there. Pizza in the classroom, etc. ex. “Hey there, we’re having spirit week next week and I want to gather some ideas…”
Ron Clark also touched on a sensitive subject: Parents and teachers coddling American kids. We are raising a soft generation of kids, entitled and all about their self-esteem and them feeling good.
One of the sayings you will often hear at Ron Clark Academy is “Suck it up.”
Ron Clark said even their counselor is all “Umm.. Have you considered sucking it up?”
Yes, they have love, passion, and care for the kid. But one of his quotes is, “It’s easier to raise a strong child than repair a broken adult.”
On that note, this a quote from the Q&A session in my notes document:
Dr. Jones got her doctorate in how to use video games to teach math. She did her graduate research on a game called Timed Attack, so the characters from that game are also painted on one of the walls. She uses tetris, and all kinds of video games in her classroom. We got to see it and hear from her for about 15 minutes but I wish we could have observed students in her class! Dr. Jones has Promethean Activtables that 6 students can work on at a time. Over 100 lessons come pre-loaded on them.
On the side of her classroom, she has Mario boxes hanging on the wall that are actually upside down $5 boxes from IKEA. She has black construction paper taped under all boxes. Students can earn getting to punch open one of the boxes to see if it is the one with confetti. If they pick the right box to punch and confetti falls, then they get a class reward! This is such a simple and unique behavior incentive for the whole class!
Teachers at Ron Clark Academy TEACH HIGH. Even though 1/3 of the students come in without ever being successful at school, they still teach 1 grade level ahead and push the brightest kid. When you push the brightest kid, the test scores of all the kids will increase. Otherwise it destroys your gifted kids.
[You are the key. You have the passion and desire. Do NOT blame the kids. Don’t let the problem defeat you. Say “This is MY problem,” and it will be your power to fix it. Take ownership. When something doesn’t work right, look at yourself. -Ron Clark]
I’ll write Part 2 tomorrow: Training Takeaways and Application in my Classroom ! The next post will share my favorite chants and callbacks, how I implemented the house system, and three simple things I’ve consistently done since visiting RCA to raise behavior expectations in my classroom. Let me know what questions you have and I’ll do my best to answer.
If you’re interested in attending Ron Clark Academy, Donor’s Choose just started a match fund for PD with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. If you raise half your registration fee the first 2 weeks your project is live, the funds will be matched! How cool is that!? The 2 day RCA experience is $900, so that is a big deal!