June 21st, 2012
12:45 PM ET

Creating an environment of change: Inside teacher training with Ron Clark

By Keiona Johnson, CNN

“Here’s the issue we have with education in our country. Educators go to college for four years, get a degree and they sit in a classroom and teach for 30 years. Rarely do they ever get out and see what’s going on in other peoples classrooms and so, we're just creating this cycle where we're not having anything new. There’s no growth, no development. So what we do at the academy is we let people come and see excellence… If you don’t see excellence, you don’t know how to get there.”  – Ron Clark

(CNN) - Recently, CNN got an exclusive look into Ron Clark Academy’s world-renowned educator training program in Atlanta.  On that day, nearly 120 teachers traveled from near and far to experience what one educator described as a “spiritual awakening.”

Created in 2007, the academy is a school and dedicated educator training facility that has welcomed nearly 15,000 educators from around the world.  The one and two day sessions are filled with excitement – from bungee jumping in the morning to dancing and sliding in the afternoon. There’s also lots of walking on desks, beating of the drums, poetry and rapping!  Participation is often required for those in attendance, as they learn how to incorporate music into the classroom, implement games to help promote student engagement and other creative learning techniques that steer them away from “teaching to the test.”

“What we do show educators when they come, is how to have eye contact with kids, how to ask questions that are really higher order thinking questions, how to develop relationships, how to build bonds with parents,” says Clark.

The lessons are taught by the academy’s ten national award winning educators, including co-founders Ron Clark and Kim Bearden.  The school’s many smiling students are also encouraged to greet and mingle one-on-one with their visitors.  There’s never a dull moment!

Once educators complete the program, they gain online access to the RCA Great American Teachers’ Club, which features downloadable lesson plans, chat forums and other exclusive teacher resources.

Ron Clark’s next educator training will be held in mid-September.

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soundoff (29 Responses)
  1. LaDirectora

    I applaud anyone trying to push our profession towards excellence.

    June 24, 2012 at 10:03 am |
  2. Sharon Pinder

    Although the video and the story emphasized singing, rapping, and dancing... that is certainly not the focus at RCA. When I visited, I observed many times when the students were working together in teams, seated listening to a teacher, or working individually as hard as they can. That is probably boring to watch on video, so maybe that's why they showed so much music and fun. However, putting complicated concepts to music makes them easier to remember! The RCA teachers take their students way beyond that memorized knowledge, asking them complex questions that require sophisticated thinking and problem-solving.

    The teachers at RCA are absolutely the best in their field, not only at motivating students but as experts in their content areas. When I watched Ron Clark teach, with no notes, and cover more American history than I ever learned in school, and then smoothly lead that right into a complicated math problem that the students were eager to solve, I was deeply impressed. Not only that, but the academy has rigorous behavior expectations, and every student I saw was the most poised and polite kid I had ever met.

    So, even though this short blog post and video may not have conveyed it, if you visited the academy you would see how impressive the teachers and students are. You would see a lot of singing, dancing, rapping... but you would realize that it's not a gimmick. It's just one of their many innovative techniques to help students achieve amazing successes.

    Although I only visited RCA for one day (and have read Ron Clark's books), that one experience impressed and influenced me more than all my other professional development hours combined! I am very grateful there are people like the staff at RCA, who give so much of themselves to help other teachers and students!

    June 22, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
  3. Teacher

    This looks great, but in my experience being an expert in your content area and being able to explain that information in a cohesive manner is much more important than singing, rapping, or standing on your head in the classroom.

    My students respect me and do well in and outside of class, because I work hard at becoming an expert in my area and study how to relate that material to the student's personal lives.

    June 22, 2012 at 12:04 pm |
    • More than a teacher

      There is nothing wrong with making learning fun and exciting and engaging!

      June 22, 2012 at 7:21 pm |
    • Mary

      I agree! It is very important to know your content

      June 23, 2012 at 1:39 pm |
  4. gwhiteside

    I have never had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Clark, but my daughter had Kim Bearden in middle school. There is no teacher more dedicated than Kim. She is straightforward and focused on her students learning not only "school lessons" but "life lessons". The creativity she brought to the classroom inspired them to want to be there and to want to learn. They were not antics, but rather her way to enhance their educational experience. For that I will always be grateful. The students at Ron Clark Academy are fortunate to have Kim as an educator.

    June 22, 2012 at 10:05 am |
  5. Trey

    Ron Clark Academy also gets results because they have the luxury of choosing the top fifty or so students over hundreds who apply. I've read his most recent book, and he does believe in placing the onus on learning on the students. However, if students don't get on board, he can expel them much more easily. Public schools can't easily expel students, much less for problems like not doing the homework or the assigned reading. That discipline–and the parental support that is expected–is the true success of Ron Clark Academy, not the rapping gimmicks. Also, I'm not sure how well those gimmicks would translate into a high school classroom. Mr. Clark is an excellent advocate of education, but his school is not truly a public school that contains the students who don't want to learn as well as those who do. I don't want to attack Mr. Clark, but I will attack news stories and education reform proponents who point to schools like RCA and somehow expect all public schools to produce similar results with their student populations.

    June 22, 2012 at 3:59 am |
    • Sara

      I completely agree. It's comparing apples to oranges–it's the same reason that pointing to charter schools as an example of how public schools should be run doesn't work. Until parents get involved and we as a society value education, hold students accountable and respect teachers, nothing will improve.
      I was raised in a household where doing well in school and going to college was the expectation. My parents supported my teachers, made sure my work was done, and you'd better believe that getting in trouble at school was followed by consequences at home.
      They didn't just drop me off at school and expect my teachers to raise me with no support or discipline–they understood that a teacher's job is to teach. A PARENT'S job is to prepare the child to learn and respect the classroom.

      June 22, 2012 at 9:59 am |
      • Sara

        Oops, this comment was meant to reply to Trey's remarks above.

        June 22, 2012 at 10:00 am |
    • atalayab

      Obviously Trey, you don't know much about the Ron Clark Academy. Your statement regarding having the luxury of choosing the top 50 or so students is far from reality at RCA. They purposely select students that mirror the composition of students you'd see in any public school. They choose students who are gifted, students who struggle academically, students who are in the middle as well as students with behavioral issues. Their goal is to teach to the level of the smartest student in class and help get the others who are struggling up to that level. The creative ideas and techniques used in their classrooms provide different and unique ways to reach different students at their level in an effort to elevate their game. I am a RCA Parent, and trust me, they are being taught far beyond what they would learn in any public classroom. Lets remember the definition of insanity people...doing the same thing and expecting different results. If you really want to teach kids these days you have to take what interests them and implement it into their learning environment. Kids today aren't interested in 100 year old, boring, played out methods...bottom line.

      June 22, 2012 at 11:01 am |
      • Susan

        It's unfortunate that when stories are done about RCA, it seems to appear to people that it's all about the singing and standing on the desks. It also seems to appear to public school teachers that it's about saying that we should replicate exactly what RCA is and then schools everywhere will be "fixed". From everything I know about RCA through Mr. Clark's books, being a member of the online teacher group and from my visit to RCA this past spring, Mr. Clark is very pro-teacher and about uplifting and empowering public school teachers to find their own way of inspiring their students, raising expectations and really engaging parents. In addition to Mr. Clark, every teacher and staff member I've come into contact with at RCA has been incredibly impressive. He surrounds himself with the best and encourages teachers and students everywhere to be their best.

        June 22, 2012 at 11:21 am |
    • More than a teacher

      The RCA ensures that all incoming 5th graders are a heterogenous mix of students. 1/3 are top performers; 1/3 are middle of the road; 1/3 are struggling students. It is not one thing that makes his school successful but rather several like rigor, relevance, and relationships!

      June 22, 2012 at 7:23 pm |
    • TeacherLady

      I understand the criticisms, but I would like to set a few things straight. The Ron Clark Academy as stated in a previous post does not choose the fifty top students. They carefully choose students who represent a variety of ability and socio-economic levels so that the school can represent what a public school classroom would look like. I can agree that the level of parental support is quite different in that they can require a certain amount of support, but the school rarely "expels" students. They work tirelessly to meet the needs of their students. Finally, to the teacher who thinks the singing and dancing is a gimic. Having visited the school, I can assure you that instruction and higher level learning is occurring, but as research has demonstrated time and time again, children learn and retain information in a variety of ways including through memory cues and engaging activities. If you have had the great pleasure of meeting these young men and women, and I say that because they certainly do not behave as any children I have ever met, you would see that they are eager, challenged, and excited to make dramatic changes in the world. They are not trained; they are just well-behaved thanks to the behavior expectations established and upheld by caring and masterful educators and staff.

      June 23, 2012 at 11:20 am |
    • Heather

      I will say that as a former student of Ron Clark, he knows what he is teaching and he had results like he has now in our public school system in North Carolina. He really cares for every student he comes into contact with.

      June 27, 2012 at 8:23 pm |
  6. Neeve

    Students do not wish to be entertained, they're way more hip than that. They wish to be inspired. No kid or adult was ever inspired to be a better learner or person because someone could rap, or dance on a desk. Learning comes from within – the best thing a good teacher can do is inspire the student to a quest for learning.

    June 22, 2012 at 1:34 am |
  7. Megan

    As a kid who just graduated from High School and now I am going to school next year to become a teacher and I did a lot of volunteer work at my former middle school through out high school I can tell you that the teacher who did try rapping and getting up and dancing ect. were the teachers we (as a class) disliked the most. Two of the best teachers in my school stood up in front of the class for an hour and a half and gave lectures!! The thing is that they never treated us like children, they never tries using "gimmicks" to make us learn. They helped us learn the most because they loved what they were doing and knew what they (pardon the french) hell they were talking about. The thing that I respect the most about those teachers (one was my U.S History Teacher the other was my Gov./Econ. and Sociology teacher) is that they gave us the information and let us come up with our own decisions. I cannot tell you how many time we tried batting our teacher into telling us there political stand points but both told us (rather bluntly) that they weren't there to tell us their options rather to give us the information and the tools to create our own options! that's what make a great teacher!! not a teacher who tries "gimmicks" and tries to get the students to "like" them but a teacher who knows their stuff and who doesn't treat the students like they are stupid and let them create their own options and lets them LEARN!🙂

    June 22, 2012 at 1:05 am |
  8. TC

    I've taught 18 years and never just "sat in my classroom" being oblivious to how or what others teach. Professional development happens all year long through the school and our region center. Gimmicks don't work long term. I've observed how others teach, informally, many times. The problem with teaching is that schools stretch our work loads to the limits where it's getting harder and harder to prepare for classes at the level they demand.

    June 22, 2012 at 12:10 am |
    • Kathryn

      Wow! I agree! I have been teaching for 24 years. I have the equivalent of two Master's degrees and have earned seven different certifications, not so I could bounce from career to career, but to enhance what I do. Teachers are REQUIRED in most states to continue their education. It never stops. Every year I am evaluated based on a plan of self-improvement. People that make generalizations like that are more than likely the ones who don't get out there enough.

      June 22, 2012 at 7:15 am |
  9. Lela Groene

    I agree with Rose and ytuque. I am a Montessori teacher, and I can guarantee you that we have more enthusiastic students who are excited to discover real learning and engagement through hands-on discovery in our deep, integrated curriculum than the kids subjected to the gimmicks of this school. It sounds like clown school to me. Our kids learn for the love of learning, and do not require dancing on tables or even stickers to engage in the subject matter.

    June 21, 2012 at 11:53 pm |
  10. Rose

    As a retired hs teacher of 33 years, I'm sick of people telling me I had to put on a show in front of the classroom. Hey, kids, how about you figure out that learning is important and my classroom is not a theater.

    June 21, 2012 at 11:17 pm |
    • joefresh

      spoken like someone out of the loop.

      June 21, 2012 at 11:44 pm |
  11. Susan Graham

    Mr. Clark and all of the teachers at the Ron Clark Academy are dedicated, creative and demanding. They are not about gimmicks; the depth of their passion and compassion is amazing. I'm a better teacher because of every experience I"ve had in connection with Ron Clark–his books, his teacher training, his webcasts, and his fabulous staff and students.

    June 21, 2012 at 10:36 pm |
  12. Joe

    I've got a tip for teachers too. Stop perving on your students. What the hell is wrong with these women today?

    June 21, 2012 at 5:54 pm |
  13. Justin

    I'm an educator, and I've read one of Clark's books. Teaching is not about gimmicks like this, but if this works for you and if this works for your classroom, then go for it. I love seeing teachers be passionate about what they do. This is just one way for a group of teachers to show that they're passionate.

    June 21, 2012 at 5:49 pm |
    • Let's Reach The Kids

      It takes more than passion to reach kids. Especially middle school age kids. This is where we failed. You reach them by catering to their needs, and the last time I checked, a class of 27 or more students needs were ALL different. It's not about "gimmicks". Its about understanding where their minds are and reaching them.

      I'm passionate about keeping my house clean but just because I share that passion with my child does not make him any more interested in keeping his room clean.

      We as a people are failing. Change is necessary. We should be open to improve.

      June 22, 2012 at 11:09 pm |
  14. ytuque

    I studied engineering and none of my best profs could rap, play the drums, or ever walked on a desk. Just decent people trying to do their job and had mastered their subject matter. Speaking of which, why do educators always talk about teaching methodology and gimmicks and not demand teachers be experts in their area of instruction?

    June 21, 2012 at 5:30 pm |
  15. Krellman

    Were vs. we're?..2x in a row...not so excellent

    June 21, 2012 at 5:07 pm |