“America’s Educator” detailed his off-the-beaten-path teaching techniques Wednesday at Longview as he drew alternating periods of laughter and silence from the crowd gathered inside the Infinity Event Center.
The Longview Chamber of Commerce hosted its State of Education luncheon with Ron Clark of Ron Clark Academy, a highly acclaimed nonprofit college in Atlanta. Clark was also the inspiration for the 2006 TV movie, “The Ron Clark Story,” starring Matthew Perry, based on Clark’s life.
Throughout his speech, Clark recounted fond memories and anecdotes of his time teaching in New York and North Carolina and what the experiences taught him. He shared his perspective with various educators, leaders and residents at the event as he walked up and down the stage and approached the tables to ask questions of attendees.
Longview Chamber board member Mark Robinson introduced Clark as “the American educator” and briefly reviewed the awards he has won throughout his career. A video released ahead of Clark’s speech highlighted some of the exercises he uses at the academy to foster relationships between educators and students.
One exercise, he said, involves laying out photos of academy students on the floor and giving educators five red dots. Clark tells the teachers to place the dots on the photos of the five students they bonded most closely with. The exercise is repeated with five yellow dots with instructions for teachers to place them over photos of students they had a somewhat decent connection to. After the exercise, Clark and the teachers review the photos and identify the students who had no dots on their photo. The purpose of the activity, he said, is to identify marginalized students who were not getting enough attention and who educators should try to connect with.
He also talked about the different ways he tries to entice students to come to school. He said the techniques involved having the first day for eighth graders start at midnight and “abducting” students to take them on a trip to a camp, then having the students who were part of the abduction wear red pajamas on first day back to school. .
In an effort to imbue students with practical skills they can use in their adult lives, Clark brings professionals from various fields to the academy to teach students specific tasks – from a car dealership to occasion teaching students how to get the best price on a vehicle, physical education teacher showing how to change a tire.
“So when we reach out to the local community and they go through every lesson, it teaches something about life that you wouldn’t know otherwise,” Clark said.
Clark said he identified four personality types that include people who are driven to achieve team goals on the other end of the spectrum with someone who is “in the game”.
He said that to have an effective staff team, you need an environment in which good work is encouraged.
“You have people in your company who would do so much more and such better work and really kill it if they felt protected, valued, validated, like they had autonomy. Because when you have that, that’s when a special energy happens,” Clark said.