Friday, March 6, 2015


I am very fortunate to have been given the opportunity to attend and present at the National Association for Professional Development Schools conference in Atlanta this year!

My team did a study on the perceived effectiveness of Penn State's preparation of new teachers regarding readiness to teach in classrooms with high diversity. Phwew, that's a mouthful! Basically, we wanted to know if the new teachers who were graduating from Penn State felt ready to teach in a classroom that had cultures different than their own. Our findings were really interesting, but hard to sum up in less than a 45 minute presentation! The basic theme we found was that the interns felt exceptionally well prepared to teach in general, but a little underprepared when it comes to authentic experiences with students in low socioeconomic situations, and with ELL students. 

We were lucky to be given a Thursday presentation slot, so now I get to sit back and enjoy attending all the other presentations!

Thursday's keynote speaker was Ron Clark from the Ron Clark Academy and also known from the movie The Ron Clark Story (where he was played by Matthew Perry)! And yes, I did just type Ron Clark three times in one sentence.

There is no doubt that Ron's presentation was highly engaging. He is full of energy, he's funny, he has a lot of great stories...but I left the conference room with mixed feelings.

Ron had a great analogy when it comes to the different kinds of teachers you find in schools. He described a school as a Fred Flintstone style bus. To keep the bus moving, you have to put your feet down and provide momentum. 

He described four types of teachers; Runners, Joggers, Walkers, and Riders. You've got the runners, who teach above and beyond. These are the people who take on every job, go to every dance recital, stay late, get there early, serve on a million committees...and do it all with a smile. Next, you've got your joggers, people who go above and beyond, usually THINK they are runners, but aren't actually doing everything they possibly could. The walkers are being dragged along by the runners, trying and usually failing to keep up with teaching trends, etc. Finally, the riders are the teachers that are sitting back and waiting it out until their retirements doing the same things they've done for 25 years.

I get the analogy. I've been a runner or a jogger for my entire career. This is where my mixed feelings came in. Ron said every teacher needs to be a runner all the time. If the people in your life aren't helping you run, he said you need to kick them off your bus. He said this applies to fellow teachers, administrators, and even wives and husbands. He said that if teachers on his bus want to jog or walk sometimes that they can get on a different bus...

I WANT to be a runner all the time. And I really try to run as much as possible. But I also have to recognize that my life has to consist of more than just my teaching. I invest much more time into my teaching than I think is healthy already! I love my kiddos, and I value them more than most other things in my life. But I do have other things in my life that also deserve my time and attention.

I also don't have the resources that Ron seems to have. He mentioned several lessons that he did with his kids, most of which seemed to be highly dependent on a gimmick of some sort that's purpose was to increase student engagement. Will I steal some of these ideas to do as a special activity? Absolutely, yes! I loved his ideas. But I simply can't afford to go out and buy 20 lab coats and goggles or 20 pairs of sunglasses or whatever material for 180 days of school, 5 subjects a day... And I don't feel it is reasonable to expect me to do that.

He also focused a LOT on how his methods impacted his state test scores. It really turned me off that he put so much effort into talking about test scores because I felt like he was validating them as a viable measure of teacher effectiveness...which they aren't.

On the other side of things, he did say some things that I think are very reasonable. Don't sit on your stool. If kids are in the classroom, you aren't on a chair. Move around. Smile. Do something that engages the kids as much as possible. Have high expectations for your kids and hold them to them. Don't "wussify" them. Teach to the top, not the middle. Don't spread poison in your school. Administration should celebrate their runners a bit more and get rid of the riders.

All in all, I enjoyed his presentation, and whether I'm fully on board with all of his thinking or did get me thinking. I wish I had the $700 it takes to visit his school for two days so that I could make a better judgement. 

Have any of you had the opportunity to hear him speak or visit his Academy? I'd love to hear your comments!

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