I’m going to be totally honest about the things I learned and how I feel about my time at RCA. I encourage every educator to visit and find out for themselves, because it really defies adequate explanation.
While I saw absolutely uplifting and amazing things around every corner, I didn’t drink the kool-aid. There are many things that don’t fit with my current ideas about teaching and learning. That doesn’t mean they don’t/won’t work. It means that I don’t think they will work for me. At this time.
It was an unbelievable two days. My mind is spinning from all I witnessed and learned. In attempting to tell about it, it’s been hard to know where to start. I’ve tried to put my thoughts down so many times and in so many forms and it just didn’t work. There is just so much.
So… Let me first reflect a little on my pre-RCA wishes and questions…
Things I thought I’d like:
Joyful student engagement – check!
Tight classroom management – check!
Extreme positivity from all staff – check!
Playful, fun environment – check!
Emphasis on kids being important changemakers now…not just when they get older – check!
All of these things are the heart of what RCA is about. They have EXTREMELY high expectations for the kids, academically and behaviorally. Because they come from a place of love, the kids meet those expectations every time…or they are corrected quickly and given feedback for improvement. The love for those kids is evidenced EVERYWHERE…on the walls, in the halls, on their faces, in their lessons.
Questions I had:
How does student choice fit in with their model?
There wasn’t much student choice in the curriculum that I was able to see. It seemed that the lesson was the lesson and the content was the content. While students may be given some choice in assignments, I didn’t see any. All teaching that I saw was whole group. The teachers discussed group work, but it was in context of small groups working on the same assignments.
How do I push for change without pushing?
It seems that you have to push, or at least refuse to accept less than your expectations. If the students know first that you come from a place of love and respect and then are taught the expectations and how to reach them, it should all be ok.
How do house competitions fit with an anti-extrinsic reward mentality?
House points reward behavior and they recommend limiting rewards to five points at a time. The key to houses being successful is not the rewarding of points, but the building of community within them. My focus has been on the points, when it should be on building the sense of family, community, and support. I need to teach them what it means to belong to a house and help them to build the relationships with each other.
Things I wanted:
Meaningfully connect with inspiring teachers – eh.
Get classroom management tips for increasing accountability/sense of urgency – check!
Find ideas for enriching lesson activities – check!
Be bold – eh.
I was a little less successful in reaching my personal goals. I did connect with some inspiring teachers, but I wouldn’t say I did so in a meaningful way. I had a few lovely conversations with a few lovely people, but I wasn’t really able to dig in and make real connections. Throughout the training, we were either sitting in a workshop or class observation, interacting with students, or in transit. During lunch and wait times, there were students there to speak with us. I loved having the opportunity to talk with them, but I would’ve loved just a bit of time worked in for the visiting educators to process the experience together. I’m sure that if you went with a group, or went by yourself and stayed in the “recommended” hotel, you would have the opportunity to make time for this outside of the training. I didn’t do any of those things. In the rare moments when we were waiting for the next thing, I was trying to wrap my brain around what I’d just seen while also taking in all there was to see around me.
As for being bold, I tried. My best opportunity was a missed one. Ms. Barnes led a workshop on the blues. After teaching us the structure, we were tasked with writing an original blues verse and performing it on stage. I formed a group with a couple of teachers near me and we were able to write the verse, but when it was time to perform, they really didn’t want to. I pleaded with them to go and they said they’d go third. And then we didn’t. And I pleaded a bit more. And then we ran out of time. They were relieved, but I was disappointed. Simply visiting RCA was stepping out of my comfort zone, and I wanted to be bold and take advantage of every opportunity to step outside of my box. I did put myself out there and speak to people more than I usually do. I spoke with Mrs. Bearden and Mr. Clark and some of the other teachers when I had the opportunity.
Gaining classroom strategies for management and engaging lessons? Goal attained! I haven’t written any chants yet, but some are brewing. I have pages and pages of notes with ideas. I’m working through them slowly. If I try too much all at once, I know I’m dooming myself to fail.
RCA is a magical place. The energy and positivity greet you from the first moment and don’t leave you. There is music everywhere. There is magic everywhere. There are smiles everywhere. One of Ron Clark’s expectations is that you greet everyone as if they are an old friend. They do that. Although you are one of 200 teachers in the building, you feel valued and important.
Most importantly, RCA is about what is possible for kids. You can dismiss this or that as unrealistic, but they’re doing it. Not the way the public schools do it…that’s for sure. But they are proof that if you decide to put kids first and let that lead you, then you can do anything. Anything.