Ron Clark, author of The Essential 55: An Award-Winning Educator's Rules for Discovering the Successful Student in Every Child, is a native of North Carolina. Clark has been featured on the Rosie O'Donnell Show, the Today Show, and the Oprah Winfrey Show among others. Clark took time from his schedule to share with Education World his thoughts about the importance of rules to students' entire lives.
Education World: Your book, The Essential 55, offers 55 rules that you say "are all explained, practiced, and enforced from day one in the classroom." How do you have time to do anything else?
Ron Clark: Introducing the rules and enforcing them really doesn't take that much time at all.
One main thing I point out to the students is that I don't have 55 rules because I want to be mean. EW: Today, most education experts recommend that kids participate in developing their own classroom rules. RC: I think the reason most experts say that kids should participate in developing the rules is so they will have ownership of the rules and, therefore, understand the reasoning behind them.
EW: Many -- probably most -- of your rules have less to do with classroom behavior than with social and moral behavior. The kids usually have a hard time learning everyone's names, so I enlarge the staff's pictures on the Xerox machine and after school we use them as masks. Everyone can remember a teacher who inspired them and who passed on a passion for their subject or activity. At Ipswich School we look for teachers who have something special about them; we recruit those who have something extra to offer and who are enthused about their teaching and their subject and are just as keen to enthuse others.
We have highly experienced, skilled and qualified teachers - a significant number have masters degrees, doctorates or other additional qualifications. The contagious effect of their passion is evident in the many letters of thanks received each year. He began his teaching career in 1995 at Snowden Elementary School in rural North Carolina, later moving to an inner city school in Harlem in New York City. TNT (Turner Network Television) made a TV movie about his life entitled The Ron Clark Story. He has traveled across the country talking to teachers, parents, students, and business and civic leaders promoting his rules, his dream, and his message that nothing should be allowed to stand in the way of achieving one's goals and dreams. The first day of class is devoted to discussing what the students will learn throughout the year and going over the rules. I tell them I have that many rules to help them become better students, so that when they leave my classroom they will have skills that will help them for the rest of their lives.

They deal with overall themes like living life to the fullest, taking risks, and handling mistakes. They are like, "55 RULES??" At first, they don't understand, but after about a month they are saying, "We love having 55 rules, because we know exactly what we can and can't do, and we know what the consequences are if we don't follow the rules." I think that parents and teachers expect too much of students sometimes. I think that is extremely important, and that is why I spend so much time discussing the rules with the kids.
When I was thinking about the rules, I knew I wanted to do something to teach my students pride. They are not only for students; they also are for adults -- for anyone who is interested in living life to the fullest, respecting others, and making a difference in the lives of others. The kids have to memorize their names and then speak to the adults who work at the school with respect, and say things like.. We then practice introducing ourselves to one another, working on using firm handshakes, making eye contact, and memorizing names. You can't be too strict, because if you are, the students will hate you, and then they won't respect you or want to be in your classroom. If you are too lenient, and if you avoid punishments because you fear the kids won't like you, then they aren't going to learn anything.
Skills will lead to confidence, and confidence will lead to pride and self-esteem." Clark believes his Essential 55 rules will build kids' self-esteem by giving them skills they can use throughout their lives.
Clark's work with disadvantaged students and his determination to make a difference in the lives of those students has garnered him worldwide attention; President and Mrs. I explain each one, and then we practice and role-play so that the students know exactly what is expected of them. Throughout the entire year, I bring up those points in novels, lessons, and classroom discussions. The problem is, there is no lesson you can teach that will place pride in the hearts and minds of students.
I was taught how to appreciate life and to help those around me at an early age, and as a teacher I wanted to pass those ideals along to my students. One of my rules deals with memorizing the names of all of the teachers at the school, as well as the cafeteria workers, custodians, and all other staff members. Just that little bit of effort goes a long way, and the kids are soon interacting with teachers all over the school. Feel free to use some of mine, but also make sure to create your own list and use the system you feel comfortable with. Teachers have to stick to their guns and not let their desire to have the students like them affect how they discipline students.

Of course, it takes a lot of time before all the students are following the rules as I would like them to. I use any opportunity available to inspire the students and motivate them to truly live life to the fullest. What I have found is that if you take the time to show kids exactly what you expect, they are far more likely to do as you ask. Other teachers would fuss at them to clean it up, but I wanted to take the time to discuss etiquette with them and show them how to behave while eating. I want the schools where I work to feel like a home, and I want my students to feel comfortable in that environment. It even gets to a point where the cafeteria workers and other staff members get involved in the educational process.
At the same time, teachers have to make education fun and they have to do things to make their classroom exciting and a place where kids will want to be. I tell them that the first week is just for practice, and that I will remind them of any rules they break. Just expecting students to know how to act and hold themselves in all situations isn't realistic if they have never been exposed to the correct behavior. We, as teachers, have to do things to get the kids to like us and enjoy us as teachers, but we can't let that interfere with our discipline plans and the way we keep order in the classroom. I tell them that after that trial period, every time a rule is broken, there will be consequences, and we go over those consequences as well.
Peterson, may I please have the pizza and French fries, and oh, by the way, how is your daughter doing?
I wanted to give the kids skills they could use throughout their lives, and, therefore, build their self-esteem. A class that was previously seen as the "worst class in the school" is well-behaved, polite, and doing extremely well. For example, when my students eat at a formal wedding reception or at a prom, I don't want them to have to look at others to see which utensils to use.

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