The End of Molasses Classes
“Get inspired!” says Ron Clark in this exclusive peek at his newest book.
A t first glance, Ron Clark seems like one of those superhero teachers of myth. After all, as an author and the founder of the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta, Georgia, he's been featured on Oprah and his life was made into a TV movie.
But when you read Clark's newest book, all of those accolades fall away. Instead, his love for teaching shines through.
In The End of Molasses Classes (available June 27), Clark outlines 101 strategies he and his colleagues use at the Ron Clark Academy (RCA). Here's a look.
Strategy #1 Be excellent.
At RCA, we believe that if we ask our students for excellence, we must require the same of ourselves.
What our teachers do sends a message to our students and has a wonderful impact. Ms. Mosely, one of our staff members, shows up before 7:00 a.m. each morning and has never been late in her four years here. She says she knows that children learn their behaviors from watching adults, and she is sending a message to them that being on time every day shouldn't be something unusual; it is expected.
Do This: Remember, the simple things matter. Stop to pick up even the smallest pieces of trash in your school. Use correct grammar and triple-check letters that you send home to parents. Dress your best-no wrinkles, rips, or sloppy clothing. Show up on time. And finally, don't gossip. If you are spending time complaining about people, stop.
Strategy #2 Create moments that will have an impact on children's lives forever.
When we headed to New York City with our fifth graders, we wanted to add a moment that the kids would never forget. I asked myself, "What would be the coolest thing that could happen to a child in New York?" and the answer came to me: We needed to get pictures of our students on the electronic billboards in Times Square.
We wrote to Panasonic, owners of one of the screens in Times Square, and they said no. We didn't give up, however, and eventually they agreed.
That night, we gathered the students in Times Square. At 11:32, the face of [student] Richard Douglas appeared on the board. It was fifty feet high. Richard's hands flew to his face and he said, "Oh, my gosh!" Then, Aleyna's face appeared, and she freaked as well! One by one, the students had their moment to shine.
Later, the students could not stop talking about the billboard. They said they felt strong and big and important. They said they felt special. That is how we want all our students to feel at RCA.
Do This: Try reaching out to your local paper. Most are willing to publish photos of area students doing well.
You can also have a local radio show do a shout-out to outstanding students. If you time it perfectly, you can have the radio playing as your students are working on an assignment. Suddenly, the announcers will start calling out the names of students in your class. Wow! Can you just see their faces?
Strategy #3 Uplift the parents and guardians who raise your children.
One of the greatest ways parents and teachers can support each other is by showing mutual respect. Teachers need to realize that children are the center of a parent's world, and we need to have patience when a parent seems a bit overbearing. We'd like for them to be more levelheaded, but we have to realize it's less about us and more about their love for their child. When they reach out and ask for assistance, we need to do all we can to be there for them.
Do This: If you know a parent worked hard to help his or her child study for a test, send home a note attached
to the test with a "Bravo" to the parent for a job well done. Have your students write haiku poems for their parents on Valentine's Day. What you do specifically isn't as important as showing parents their support is appreciated.
Strategy #4 Make learning magical.
When our students don't enjoy learning, we need to take drastic measures! When I read The Westing Game with my sixth graders, I wanted them to love it as much as I did. I used all my energy to bring the characters to life. It was useless. They didn't like it.
I knew I had to do something. A few days later, an old man walked into our room dressed as Barney Northrup, a character in The Westing Game. He passed out letters to each child before quickly exiting the room.
Inside, the students found an invitation to the reading of the will of Raymond Blood, to be held at Blood Manor. "Is it real?" they all asked.
"It sure looks real," I replied. That Saturday night, I got a limousine service to donate time and take students to "Blood Manor" (actually the home of some friends of RCA).
The students were placed in groups of two and instructed to find clues to solve the mystery (just like in the book). Things were going well until Dasia's group followed their clue into the kitchen. There on the floor with blood (ketchup) dripping out of his mouth was a friend of mine. Students flew all over the house.
After some quick crisis counseling, I told the students that the whole night had just been a test of their wit and skill. We got back into the limo, and the kids started to laugh to the point that tears were running down their faces. The next day, they ran into my classroom: "Mr. Clark, can we finish the book today?"
Do This: If you want to create the magic in your classroom but don't have time to be so elaborate, there are some quick ways to garner the same reaction. If you are reading a story that involves rain, storms, or other forms of weather, for example, turn off the lights and play a recording of rain and wind. To carry it a step further, ask the kids to bring umbrellas and flashlights to really bring the scene to life. Using a fog machine can add a great finishing touch!
Strategy #5 Teach children to walk with confidence.
In life, fifty percent of success comes from the knowledge we have obtained, but the other fifty percent deals with how we present ourselves.
At RCA we invite community members to participate in the "Amazing Shake." Volunteers are placed throughout our school at different stations, and the students are instructed to approach each person, make an introduction including a handshake, and proceed to the next person along the course.
The catch? One person has a hand bandaged, one is in a wheelchair, and others are distracted-reading or talking on a cell phone. In one case, a lady has dropped a stack of tissue boxes. Do students help her? The community member scores how students handle each situation on a scale of 1-100.
Afterwards, we meet as a school and the volunteers explain how each child could have handled their station in order to receive the full 100 points. They always stress eye contact, a firm handshake, and the power of smiling.
RCA students are polished, but it doesn't come easy. It takes work, but it's too important to their future success not to make it a priority.
Do This: If you can't get the entire school to buy into the activity, invite members from a local business to conduct the activity with just your classroom. Greet your students as they walk in your classroom each day with a handshake. Insist they make eye contact, shake with the appropriate firmness, and smile.
Strategy #6 Create lasting traditions.
Before our first class of students left RCA, we created Hogwarts-inspired portraits of them. The photographs were actually videos that moved occasionally. We hung them in the front entrance of our school. As those students excel in high school, and college, we will update their video portraits on-screen. It's as if they are looking over current students, encouraging them, and giving them hope that one day their portrait will hang above those halls, much like the portraits at Hogwarts. It's our "Muggle way" of keeping the spirits of our graduates in our school forever.
Do This: To create a similar effect, take headshots of your students who have made the honor roll for the entire year. Place those pictures on a bulletin board in your classroom, and year after year the group will grow and grow. Students will want to leave their picture on the wall at the end of the school year as well, and it will inspire them to achieve the grades necessary to do so.
Copyright © 2011 by Ron Clark. From the forthcoming book END OF MOLASSES CLASSES by Ron Clark to be published by Touchstone, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Printed by permission.