Ron Clark has 55 rules for the kids that he teaches at his school in south Atlanta each day. These rules cover everything from how to enter a room with poise to bringing a water bottle to class to how to be a graceful winner.
You may not know him, but hundreds of family foundation representatives who are gathered in Miami Beach for their annual conference hosted by the Council on Foundations now do. And they are impressed.
Ron Clark has testified before Congress, appeared on Oprah, and been named the coveted Disney Teacher of the Year. Yet with all the accolades and the considerable influence he wields, what is Ron Clark out to do?
Clark wants to change classrooms. This, he posits, is the key to raising successful children who will be ready, willing, and able to be leaders of tomorrow. From Clark’s 55 rules and today’s hour-long talk (though “talk” does not seem to do justice to the rapping, table jumping, dancing presentation at the breakfast plenary), what can we apply in our own work?
1. Be passionate about what it is that you do. Whether you are teaching fifth graders or protecting sensitive environments, love what you do and approach it with energy and enthusiasm.
2. Set high expectations for yourself and those around you. If you are not uncomfortable with the goals that you are trying to achieve, then your goals are not audacious enough.
3. If you’re not doing something that you love, then you are doing the wrong thing. Sitting next to a sixth-grader from Clark’s school, it was crystal clear that she loves school. “Life is short,” she shared. “It’s up to me and to you to make sure that we are happy each day.”
4. Remove the boundaries. It may be true that for the last 20 years, we’ve worked on fill-in-the-blank community problems through existing solutions. Ask why that has to be the only way. Be fearless; find a new solution. They certainly exist. Be creative and develop one, try it out, and accept that you just might fail.
Let’s take the energy and enthusiasm-and the rules and lessons-Clark and his kids demonstrated in Miami Beach this morning and apply them. Our field will be better for it.
Nancy Jones is the vice president for public affairs and communication at The Miami Foundation.