Friday, October 21, 2016

A Magical Experience-Takeaways from RCA

About a week ago I returned from what I consider to be the best school in the world. If you've never heard of the Ron Clark Academy, its a non-profit school in Atlanta, Georgia. The students that attend the school are in grades 5-8. It is a private school and also an educator training center. People come from all over the world to experience RCA. It is unlike any school I have ever been to. You are welcomed with high energy and music, and by the end of your visit you never want to leave.

The energy of the students and staff is contagious. You can't help but constantly smile and look
around at all the details that were put into the school. The feeling you get as you spend time at this school is truly "magical." I will say, that the first day was overwhelming. Thinking about how I was going to implement everything put me at a loss, but the second day things became clearer. The teachers will tell you, "Don't try to go back and implement everything you've seen here." They encouraged us to try one thing at a time. This seemed so much less daunting, thankfully.

I'm not going to tell you every single take-away I had because that would be the longest blog post ever, and lets be real, you probably would stop reading at some point. So, I'm just going to share a few things that really hit home with me. The first
thing came from Kim Bearden, the co-founder of RCA. She hasn't had the easiest life (as you can read about in her book Crash Course: The Life Lessons My Students Taught Me). She was truly transparent, and told us that some days she didn't want to get out of bed. The things she was going through outside of school, made going to school seem daunting. To get through this hard time, she found that drawing on the energy of her students refueled her energy. This allowed her to share with her student the energy she had and this continued to be a cycle. This is what helped her get through the challenging times. We all have days that we don't want to be there or we have challenges outside of school that make the world seem as if its crashing down on us. This is what we have to do! I have been applying this advice this past week and it is amazing how it drives you!

Another thing that is very clear that has been established at RCA are relationships. Mr. Clark and his staff are big on developing strong relationships with the students, their families, and with each other. When relationships are strong, that is when your students will want to learn. They will want to succeed because they know you love them and don't want to let you down. From talking with the students, they know their teachers deeply care for them, so when they get "fussed at," they know the teacher or staff member is doing this out of love and the desire for the student to succeed.

One thing that really resonated with me was the high expectations the teachers have for their students and themselves. I am a firm believer in setting high expectations because your students can and WILL reach them. At RCA, they teach to the top. With the high engagement and rigorous content, their students go above and beyond. I have seen this work in my own classroom. The teachers also are constantly bettering themselves and developing new teaching methods that have yet to be discovered.

The last thing (that I am going to share here) that blew my mind at RCA was the house system. The students come to school and spin a wheel that determines which of the four houses they belong to. This helps them feel a sense of belonging and gives the students an automatic family at RCA. As visiting educators, we were able to choose our house. When we wore our house t-shirts the next day, we felt that we were part of a family. We had an automatic group of people who genuinely care about you and have your back! The cheers, chants, support, and encouragement
the students in the houses gave each other, was extraordinary.

The reason I was able to attend RCA this year is because our school is implementing Ron Clark's Essential 55. We are working on helping our students and ourselves become better human beings. After they leave elementary school, we want our students to succeed and to reach their full potential, and the 55 Essentials can help your students do just that.

I cannot put into words how life changing this experience was. Not only for my teaching practice, but my life as well. I could not stop talking about everything that happened and things that I saw. Its one thing to watch videos on RCA and read other's experiences, but I highly suggest making a trip to RCA for yourself. The tangible magic and excitement is seriously better than going to Disneyland. I came back rejuvenated and ready to get back into my classroom to change lives.

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