I first found out about Ron Clark in 2006 when I was in college. A TNT movie special, called "The Ron Clark Story" was coming on one night and I decided to watch it in my dorm room. I knew it was based on a true story and I was inspired throughout the entire movie. At the end, just before the credits rolled, I read the caption, "His school, The Ron Clark Academy, will open in Atlanta, Georgia in the Fall of 2006." Really, RCA didn't open until 2007.
From then on, I read whatever I could about this amazing, energetic, bold, and creative educator. I got my hands on his books, The Essential 55 and The Excellent 11, and I told my professors and peers about him and the work he was doing. By the time I graduated in 2008, Ron Clark...okay, and Harry Wong...were the two main educators I wanted to model myself after.
Throughout my years of teaching, I kept myself updated on things going on at the Ron Clark Academy. I heard about how unique it was and that they allowed teachers to visit, but never dreamed that I'd be able to go. Last summer, I decided to take a chance and ask my Headmaster if I could go to a teacher workshop at RCA. He and I had been talking about my doing new things in the classroom for the upcoming school-year and I suggested RCA would be a model school for me to visit. I almost fell out of my chair when my Headmaster told me I could go! I remember being SO unbelievably excited; I could hardly contain myself! Yes, as cheesy as it sounds, that was one of my favorite moments in 2012!
So...on Friday, September 21, 2012, I, along with a hundred or so other educators from across the country, visited the famous Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, Georgia.
The students escorted us to the library and I was one of the first people to enter the building. I felt like a rock star when I walked through the door. Music was blaring and students were lined up alongside a red carpet cheering for us and welcoming us to their school. I rocked my way down the carpet and was overwhelmed by the smiles, the cheers, and the claps. I turned the corner and my heart started racing as Ron Clark himself came up to me, gave me a huge hug, and told me he was glad I was there. He asked what I teach and when I said, "5th grade--all subjects," he pointed at me and said, "YOU are coming to my 5th grade math class first thing this morning!" Awesome! He went on to greet other teachers and I was able to mingle and get to know the kids. Those children were the most well-mannered and polite kids I've ever met and I really enjoyed getting to know them. It was a little difficult to carry on a conversation due to all the music and people and students jumping on the bungee trampoline! Yes--kids were taking turns on a bungee trampoline that was located in the middle of the library. It looked like so much fun!
Around 9 a.m., it was time to watch Mr. Clark in action! We made our way upstairs...the steps have coins in them, by the way...currency from all over the world:
I'll go ahead and say this now...later in the day, another curious teacher and I found one of the secret passageways:
Anyway, back to Mr. Clark's math class. These students had only been in school for two weeks, but the 5th graders were solving equations like little mathematicians and working on 8th grade algebra! Mr. Clark was very engaging and I noticed that he used a lot of Whole Brain Teaching strategies. The students sang at times, gave oral responses in unison, learned songs to remember math rules, and encouraged others when they were stuck on a problem. If Mr. Clark called on a student who didn't know the answer to a problem, he would not move on to another child for the answer. He waited on the child to think it through, or he would guide them through the problem. He later told the visiting teachers, "Too many times, we call on a student and if they don't know the answer, we move on to another child and say, 'So-in-so, would you please help her out?' Well, I don't do that here and the students know it. When I ask a question of a particular student, that is their question and I expect them to answer. If they can't answer, I know that I need to guide them more. However, I will not move on and let them "get out" of answering." I really like this approach but felt a little guilty because I tend to move on to another student in order to hear the right answer. This was a habit I tried to change once I got back to my classroom.
I loved how Mr. Clark taught manners as he taught math; he also required the students to track him with their eyes. He demanded focus. He said, "Good mathematicians are always ready. They're on it, focused, and ready to go. It's gotta be boom, boom, boom! When I come to you, you've got to be, like, 'Three! One hundred! Negative five! Come on, what's next?' You have to be on it, focused, and ready because when you are, our class goes like this...psh, psh, psh!" Imagine him saying all this while walking on the desks and using dramatic hand gestures. The students turned things around and even earned a red button...but you'll need to go to RCA to find out what that means--it's awesome!
After observing Mr. Clark, my group moved on to Kim Bearden's classroom which had been transformed into a football field. All the tables and chairs were pushed out of the way and the yard lines were clearly marked on the floor. The students took part in a grammar activity and eventually sang a preposition song to the tune of Queen's "We Will Rock You."
|Part of Mrs. Bearden's classroom|
Mrs. Barnes's 7th grade language arts class was next. She combined reading and drama and I appreciated how her students encouraged each other after they performed their scenes.
I observed Mr. Townsel's 8th grade science class next.
|His classroom is through the right door.|
His students were working in groups to create density columns with various liquids. I loved the animals in his classroom and was a little jealous of his really cool table that looked like part of the Lunar Module:
6th grade Social Studies/World Geography with Mrs. Hildebrand was next. It was in her classroom that I realized none of the teachers at RCA used a textbook as they taught. (Even in Mr. Clark's class--he never referred to a book when he wrote those massive equations on the board!) I'm not sure of the curriculum they use. All I know is they have to know their material well!
The classroom observations ended too soon for me, but I was happy to eat lunch! I enjoyed lunch with the sweetest girls--a 6th grader and a 5th grader--and a visiting teacher. The girls told me about the "houses" they were in and we later learned more about this from Mr. Clark:
In the afternoon, we visiting teachers attended a variety of workshops. My first one was with Mrs. Bearden, who shared with us how to bring learning to life for our students by transforming our classrooms. I implemented one of her ideas once I returned to school and you can CLICK HERE to read all about it. She was inspirational!
Another inspiring lady was Mrs. Barnes. In her workshop, I sang the blues and learned how to make more cross-curricular connections in my units.
Mr. Clark led a workshop about working well with parents and students and at the end of the day, we experienced a treat! Each Friday, the four "houses" compete by giving creative performances, which we were able to see, and the students were amazingly talented! I was so impressed. Before we all left, the students performed for the visiting teachers! I loved their song and dance--what a great ending to a wonderful day!
Before we left, we had the chance to be "slide-certified" and get pictures with Ron Clark. I wish I had gotten a picture with Kim Bearden too!
I learned a great deal from my visit to RCA and was so inspired when I returned home that I read all his books again! Here are a few questions that I came away with:
- What can I do to get my students excited about learning?
- How can I encourage manners and respect in my classroom?
- What can I do to show my students that I care about them? How can I make them feel special?
- How can I create a supportive classroom environment for my students?