The Ron Clark Academy Experience (aka - Best PD EVER!!!!!)

If you are following me on Instagram, you may have seen a few pics from my visit to The Ron Clark Academy last Friday.  I couldn't wait to come home and share my experience with you.


If I'm being completely honest, I've been struggling with this post.  Not because I don't have anything to say (y'all know me better than that ;)), but because I don't know how to put my experience into words.  Nothing I could possibly attempt to articulate could begin to do it justice.  I wish I could press rewind and get a do-over.  I wish I could go through that day in slow motion so I could really take it all in and truly savor every.single.moment.



From the minute I woke up last Friday morning until the time I stepped foot inside the academy doors, the excitement and anticipation was palpable.  When we arrived at RCA, we were greeted by students who FIRMLY shook our hands, looked us in the eyes, introduced themselves with strong, articulate voices, and welcomed us into their home away from home as if they had known us forever.  If I had seen nothing else that day, I would've been perfectly content and beyond impressed just witnessing the confidence and maturity these students displayed.  I don't know many adults who can look me in the eyes during a conversation let alone 5th/6th/7th/8th graders who are seemingly pros at it!!!  These social cues will take them SO FAR in life!!!!!  AMAZING!




Our starting point was the school library.  Music filled the building...the kids were dancing...educators & administrators from all over the U.S. were gettin' their groove on, too...and teachers were jumping on the trampoline (yours truly, included...how could I not?!?!?!  That thing was AWESOME!!!!)  What a way to start our day!!!! 



Our morning wake-up call was followed-up by a trip into the main facility.  Speechless.  Totally and utterly speechless.  More singing.  More dancing.  Kids...staff...everyone.  I started tearing up.  I'm typically an emotional basketcase, but I was even moreso this particular Friday in January.  Mr. Clark himself welcomed us to the school and everyone was hanging onto his every word with bated breath.  Everything he said validated the way I feel about life.  NOT EVERYBODY GETS A COOKIE!!!!!!  My favorite take-away quote from his welcome speech went a little something like this.... "It's easier to raise strong children than repair broken adults."  #preachitmrclark   Trust me when I tell you that it was a speech every parent/teacher/administrator needs to hear!



After the welcome speech was passionately delivered, we were separated into groups to start our day.  We observed classes in session...attended workshops given by Mr. Clark, the incomparable Kim Bearden, and several other master teachers who teach at the academy.  Everything I witnessed blew me away.  Class participation was through the roof.  The teaching was flawless.  I've never witnessed anything like it.  While the teaching was beyond compare, the kids were even more impressive.  Their response to learning...determination to succeed...body language...EVERYTHING.  They had the TOTAL package.  They were abe to articulate their thinking...reason with their peers...respectfully debate...I could go on and on.


Kim Bearden is probably one of the most inspiring women I've ever had the privilege of meeting.  Ever.

I could've listened to her speak and watched her teach all day long!!!!



All of the behaviors that these kids display have been taught and modeled by a team full of educators who live and breathe best practices.  These kids are OUR kids.  They are our struggling students.  Our babies who stay in the middle of the road.  Our high flyers.  All so different, and yet they all have one thing in common...teachers who set high expectations and settle for nothing less than each child's personal best.  Teachers who have true RELATIONSHIPS with each one of their kids. They see abilities in these kids that they don't even know they have.  These teachers are doing more than preparing their kids for the next school year...they're setting these kids up for a successful LIFE.  

When you visit RCA, you have the privilege of eating lunch with the students.  I bonded with my little friend.  I seriously wanted to put her in my pocket and take her home with me.  I felt like I was having lunch with an adult.  We talked all about the academy...her future plans to become a chemist (HELLO!!!!!  I just wanted to be an actress when I was in 5th grade!  HA!!!!)....and all about her favorite teacher...Mrs. King.  I might be a little biased, but she was my favorite, too ;)

This is an old picture, but this is when I knew we were meant to be friends....same necklace and everything ;)



Let me just tell y'all.  I'm not just saying this because she's my friend, but Mrs. King...aka Hope...is the real deal.  I was thrilled when I found out I'd be able to watch her in action and I was double ecstatic to visit her classroom twice that day...once for a classroom observation and once for a workshop.  It's easy to see why she'd be a student favorite.  She is OUTSTANDING.  Truly.  I'm proud to call her my friend.  I teared up when Mr. Clark bragged on her during his workshop.  She and her husband, Wade (who also teaches at the academy), were born for this.  I get the chills thinking about how God has blessed them with the opportunity to inspire not only their students, but thousands of teachers across America.  

And just look at her brand new classroom!!!  
HELLO ALICE!!!

Magical classroom would be the understatement of the century :)


One of the HUGE things I took from my day of training was the importance of making learning FUN.  I feel like I already knew that...and live by that motto in my own classroom...but in this season of education where it feels like students are defined by their test scores and teacher ability is measured in terms of data, it's easy to forget how important having FUN in the classroom really is.  Yes...learning can be FUN!  And ENGAGING!!!  And authentic...meaningful...hands-on...and everything else.  I've always had kids come back to see me who say things like, "Remember when we sang our sight words in Ameri'Kindergarten' Idol?!?!" OR "I loved it when we played that math game!!!", but I've never had a student come back and tell me how much he loved a worksheet :)  
The teachers at RCA are masters of creating fun & engaging instruction integrated with loads of rigor and high expectations.  Hope has the most AMAZING ebook chock full of creative ideas to engage kids in learning.  Kim's ideas will transform your instruction, too!!!!  




After lunch we observed a few more classes, toured the entire facility, and attended a few more workshops.  We finished the day with a trip down THE slide.  And this is me after my trip down...totally slide certified :)




In case you're thinking about visiting, I don't want to give away the finale.  But I will tell you that the very last part of our day had me in tears...much like the rest of the day.  Emotional and inspiring.   The absolute BEST professional development I've had in my 13 years as an educator.  Everything else pales in comparison.  

One of the biggest things I got from Mr. Clark was the value and importance he places on maintaining and building relationships.  Not just with the students, but staff, parents, and the community.  Everything he said was so on point.  Building relationships is important, but maintaining those relationships...tending to them...is even more important.  I loved that.  

His speech about runners, joggers, walkers, and resters/sitters is one I could listen to over and over again.  So much truth and power in his words!!!


Every classroom was designed and decorated to a T!  I had to snap a pic of this room...my boys would be in HEAVEN!!!!!!!


These coins...all from different countries...were sealed into the stairway.  One of my favorite details of the school!!!


There was a little VW bug in Kim's classroom and we couldn't resist the opportunity for a photo op :)  


And here's the dragon next to the stairwell in the new building.  Is this not amazing?!?!?!  Breathtaking!  Just like the rest of the school!!!



We stayed around the academy after the day was over to attend the first girls & boys home basketball game.  There are no words.  Better than any other basketball game I've ever attended.  You'd think the kids would be EXHAUSTED from their day, but they were all there representing the academy and cheering on their team from the Dragon Pit.  They didn't miss a beat.  Cheering...dancing...and more cheering.   If I could bottle up the energy, enthusiasm, and excitement at the Ron Clark Academy, I don't think I'd ever have a bad day in my life.  Sure...I'd be exhausted as all get out by the end of the day...but I'd be as happy as ever.   

This is how RCA does basketball games...






The RCA Step Team was my personal favorite.  Best half time show EVER!!!!!



The proverbial cherry on top was getting to experience everything with some of the most dedicated, down-to-earth teachers in the business.  I'm so humbled and blessed to be able to call these girls my friends.  What an awesome thing to experience something like this together!!! 




And let me tell y'all.  This is what I love about teachers.  We YEARN to hone our craft.  We WANT to improve.  We WANT to give our kids the opportunity to experience "best practices" and teachers who genuinely LOVE them.  And we save and stretch our pennies to give ourselves opportunities to learn HOW to make learning fun/exciting/engaging/meaningful/rigorous/etc. for our kids.   RCA was full of teachers excited to learn these things...many of whom saved and stretched our pennies to get there.  I will tell you firsthand that it was...and IS...worth every single penny.  My life...both personally and professionally...is forever changed.  And I mean that sincerely.  

After my visit, I can tell you that this is what I want for my boys.  If my husband would get on board and if I could convince our families to move to Atlanta, I would relocate in a heartbeat to give my boys the opportunity to attend this school.  I'm not gonna lie to y'all.  I had a moment.  A moment where I sat back and got a little teary-eyed as I watched a group of 5th graders dissect a math problem with excitement and determination.  I was thinking about my boys and wondering what their future as a student will look like.  Will they approach all of their problems with this same type of determination and excitement??  Will their future teachers set the bar high and settle for nothing less than their best?  Their teachers this year are nothing short of amazing and I hope it always stays that way.


As parents, this is what kind of education we should be advocating for for our kids.  Not necessarily a carbon copy of what goes on inside the walls of the RCA academy ...although that would be amazing...but an education full of wonder and excitement.  An education that inspires our kids to perservere.  Teachers who challenge our kids to think and reflect.  Teachers who encourage our kids to respectfully debate and give them opportunities to step out of their comfort zones and grow as individuals.  Teachers who prepare our kids for the REAL WORLD.   Dear legislators and lawmakers...please notice I said nothing about more testing :)  thankyouverymuch

If you've ever thought about going to RCA, take a cue from Nike and just do it :)  Your life...both personally and professionally...will forever be changed...in the best way possible.  

You can learn more about The RCA Academy HERE: 



I couldn't leave the academy without some reading material....



I finished The Essential 55 on the plane ride home and these are currently being implemented into our "family rules".  Such great essentials to live by.  I'm in the middle of The End of Molasses Classes right now.  I still need to get The Excellent 11.



After meeting Kim and hearing her speak in person...and witnessing the way she conducts a classroom...I need to go back and reread Crash Course for the 3rd time, too.  If you haven't read this yet, it's MUST READ.



If you've ever been to RCA, what was your favorite part?!  Or the greatest take-away?!  I'd love to hear about your experiences!!!!  



16 comments:

  1. Love everything single thing about your post... and YOU! Can we go back, like, today??!!

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  2. I love what you said about preparing kids for the real world. I haven't read any of the books, but I'm adding them to my book list right now! Thanks for giving us a glimpse into your weekend!

    -Maria

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  3. What an amazing experience. Your description of the day is inspiring! Thank you for sharing it:)
    -Kristen

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  4. Girl, I just told my hubby, "Cara's post says exactly what I was trying to say in mine....but couldn't find the words." Life changing. Wish we could go back again today! So blessed to have experienced it with you, my friend! Luv ya!!

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  5. Love you and everything about this post! I could not (and actually didn't :)) have said it better. I'm so thankful that we got to share that day together...love ya...mean it!

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  6. Thank you Cara for sharing your experience. I just booked my trip to RCA. It has been a Bucket List item of mine for a loooong time. February 20th can't come soon enough.

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  7. Thank you for sharing your wonderful experiences at RCA! Love living vicariously thru you! (My husband said I should rescind my retirement plans after seeing how fired up I got after showing him all your pics:) Thank you for keeping me young! Hope to see you again sometime, too! Really think you would love Wyoming!:)

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  8. What an amazing post! I agree with you 100%, it was just the best PD ever. I am so glad I got to go with you and the girls!

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  9. After reading your post...I want to go even more!!! What an amazing experience for you. I wish my boys had the opportunity to go somewhere like this. :)

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  10. Howdy! My principal approved me of going to the summer conference this year.. I haven't registered yet but have been looking into it. I teach Kindergarten and am just wondering if there's a lot I can gain from this conference? I didn't realize it was a middle school only.

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  11. I love this!! After reading I immediately looked up the details and I now have to go!! Love your blog adn would love if you could check out mine and give any advice you may have! Thanks for being awesome!

    Pride and Primary

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  12. I started following the RCA after I saw that they had a robotics team. My husband teaches 7th grade science and started a robotics team last year. His school was the only public school there and they received 2nd place and best robot overall!!! Now that's I've seen all of these posts about it, I hope this is something we could do!!!! This would be right up his alley!!!! Thanks so much for sharing such an inspiring experience!!!

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  13. Oh. My. Goodness! There are no words!!! I have been wanting to go for a while and NOW... I will have to make it happen. Thanks for sharing your experience.

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  14. I love your post!!! Thank you so much for sharing

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  15. I'm going this summer!!! Ron came to our school to speak and every minute of the 3 hours was spellbinding. After reading your article I can barely believe I'm going in just a few short months! Thanks for sharing!

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  16. I'm not even a teacher but I'd love to come here just to visit since I'm about 45 minutes away from here. The school looks so awesome. I never even heard of it until the dance he did with some students went viral!

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