Nine-hundred of my closest friends and I had lunch with Ron Clark at the Independent Educational Consultants Association National Conference in Atlanta a few weeks ago. Ron Clark, who is the recipient of the 2000 Disney Teacher of the Year; two-time New York Times best-selling author; founder of the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta and all around good guy, has a totally different approach to education and guess what? His results are astounding.
Ron, well I hope it’s ok if I call you by your first name because after your presentation and subsequent conversation I feel like we are old friends. Ron is a high energy, fun guy who believes that inside each child is an over achiever just waiting to burst forth. The secret he says is tapping into our creative side to capture and motivate those we teach. Ron’s message was exciting; I think the best part was that he treated us just like his students. He called out those who were texting or drifting off and made it a point to deliver his message from among us; not from the podium. Ron made it a point to make eye contact with each one of us in the room while he spoke. This is not an easy task in a small group, much less with a group this size. Ron explained the value of this exercise: it makes people feel important if you make eye contact with them; and what better way to capture the attention of your students than to make them feel important.
During his early years as an educator Ron experimented with different teaching methods in the classroom. He said that in every class there are basically three types of students: gifted; average; and below average. The gifted student hardly needs to study at all to make excellent grades; the below average student is often on the spectrum or has learning disabilities; and the rest are in the middle. Ron explained that instead of teaching to the average student, where the gifted student doesn’t have to work hard and help the disabled students get by as he was told to do, he decided to quit “dumbing it down” and raise the bar. What happened was remarkable, Ron said. The gifted students worked so hard that when they went to college they excelled. Interestingly enough, the other students worked hard too…because they were not taught at their level of ability, but because they were challenged to exceed the expectations of others. The staff at RCA exceed the expectations of their peers as well and that is what makes it all work.
According to the data provided by RCA students that attend class at the Ron Clark Academy consistently outperform their national counterparts by at least 10%. This tells me Ron’s methods work. Ron encourages educators to visit the RCA and recalibrate their methods of teaching.
Thanks, Ron, for making the conference memorable.