“The End of Molasses Classes” by Ron Clark

Each year, almost 3,000 educators visit the Ron Clark Academy (RCA) in Atlanta, GA to spend time in their classrooms, attend workshops, be “slide-certified” on their two-story electric-blue tube slide, and take a morning jump on their two-story bungee trampoline.

Right away, we can see that RCA co-founder Ron Clark is a different kind of educator – and he’s created a different kind of school.

In “The End of Molasses Classes: Getting our Kids Unstuck: 101 Extraordinary Solutions for Parents and Teachers” (2011), Clark shares “101 of the most effective strategies we have used to help children succeed.” The book is divided into four sections, discussing RCA’s core principles and values, and solutions for parents, teachers, and the community.

Punctuated with letters from RCA parents, photos, and “Do This” suggestions, “The End of Molasses Classes” is personal, passionate, energetic, inspirational, and exhausting. The segments are easy to read and full of personal stories and anecdotes. The foundation for Clark’s success is a mix of a willingness to ask for help, creativity, dedication, and enthusiasm.

Some of my favorite stories are a surprise apartment make-over the RCA staff did for a student’s home during Christmas; and the drive to put photos of students on a 50-foot Times Square billboard to make them feel special during a New York trip. Some of the most innovative ideas are an “Amazing Shake” in which kids practice meeting and greeting people (a greeting, a handshake, eye-contact, and a smile); student letters to the next class of students and to themselves as college graduates; a Golden Ticket and a red-carpet welcome for new students (complete with paparazzi, a band, and a cookout); an “Amazing Race;” and a field day with parents and staff playing musical chairs and water balloon wars.

One major concern is the line between rewarding outstanding effort while giving a failing score for something that does not meet high expectations, and crushing a student’s self-confidence. Clark suggests that to avoid resentful students and angry parents, teachers should show students examples of an outstanding grade, a passing grade, and a failing grade; and explain the behaviors that will earn a reward and the behaviors that will not.

Here are some of the highlights:

Core principles and values:
#1. Teach children to believe in themselves and don’t destroy the dream. When we walk into a classroom, we should “see” a class full of lawyers, business leaders, artists, and presidents.
#2. Not every child deserves a cookie. “We must hold every child accountable for high standards and do all we can to push the child to that level,” (page 8).
#3. Define your expectations and then raise the bar; the more you expect, the better the results will be.

Solutions for parents:
#26. Don’t be a helicopter parent. You can’t come to their rescue forever! “Parents: sometimes you just have to let your child take the punishment” (page 124).
#34. See the potential in every child. “When we raise our children, we need to remind ourselves that they will become what we see in them” (page 155).

Solutions for teachers:
#54. Give children a chance to respond and don’t give up too quickly. “If I have called on a student, it becomes that student’s opportunity and that student’s moment” (page 201).  Teach them to encourage struggling students and clap.
#57. Get on the desk! Or make a stage to stand on. Aside from being able to see the students and their notes, it’s fun!
#64. Don’t give children second chances on tests and projects. “If a child fails a test, he learns that he had better study harder for the next test because he is going to have only one chance” (page 225).
#65. Encourage children to cheer for each other.

Solutions for the community:
#83. Accept the fact that if kids like you all the time, then you’re doing something wrong. “Children want us to be strict, they want us to set boundaries, and they want us to be consistent” (page 268).
#91. Allow teachers the freedom to make their rooms reflect their personalities – allow them to use color! “After all, are we building these schools for adults or children?” (page 290).

I really enjoyed the high energy and dedicated enthusiasm that runs through the personal stories. As my son grows up, two of my biggest challenges are to restrain the “helicopter parent” in me and let him fail – and try harder! For more information about “The End of Molasses Classes” and the Ron Clark Academy, visit www.EndofMolassesClasses.com, www.RonClarkAcademy.com, and www.GreatAmericanTeachersClub.com.

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