Can I let you in on a little secret? I miss being a classroom teacher. After teaching for 19 years, I became an elementary school librarian. With a fixed schedule, I teach all grade levels, but it doesn’t feel the same. I miss building strong relationships, forming a classroom community, and students accidentally calling me, “Mom.” Now, they accidentally call me their homeroom teacher’s name. I miss that feeling of “making a difference.” Some days, I feel like kids are coming in and out of the library through a revolving door. I wonder if 45 minutes once a week is actually making a difference.
A Life-Changing Experience: The Ron Clark Academy
This month, my resource team (Art, Music, PE, STEAM) and I, along with our principal, had the opportunity to visit the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta. I was amazed at the exceptional examples of teaching we saw. These teachers spend every day going above and beyond to build relationships with their students and their parents. The staff is truly a team that spends time building each other up. The students in this 5th-8th grade school are not only taught rigorous academics, but they are taught manners and social skills.
At the end of the two-day conference, I was missing the classroom even more. I shared this with Kim Bearden, the cofounder of the Ron Clark Academy. She was signing her book, Talk to Me: Find the Right Words to Inspire, Encourage and Get Things Done, and she asked what grade I taught. I told her my internal struggle of being a school librarian versus a classroom teacher. She paused, looked at me, and said, “But you get to build relationships with every child at your school!” In that moment, something clicked. She was right, as an elementary librarian, I have the opportunity to positively influence every student in my school.
Applying RCA Classroom Strategies in Resource Classes
Teach Social Skills and Manners
My team and I are already planning for next year. We are going to read Ron Clark’s book, The Essential 55: An Award-Winning Educator’s Rules for Discovering the Successful Student in Every Child. Our team would like to incorporate instruction on basic manners, simple things like how to say, “Please” and “Thank you.” Every student we met at RCA was able to introduce themselves to us, shake our hands, look us in the eye, and have a meaningful conversation. At lunch, students would come up to us and introduce themselves and ask if they could join us. They would ask us questions about our jobs. If there was a lull in the conversation, the students artfully asked another question. We were so impressed at how confident and respectful these middle school students were.
Use Singing and Chants to Teach Content and Ease Transitions
This year, I am going to start using songs and chants to teach content. RCA kids are taught short songs or chants to help them memorize difficult content. They also use drums, singing, dancing, and chanting to ease transition times. Students are always moving. There is no time for a student to get bored because instruction is broken up into bite size chunks followed by some type of movement. During my 45-minute block, there is plenty of time to incorporate this strategy. For some great ideas on student engagement go to Hope and Wade King’s website, Set the Stage to Engage. This husband and wife team teach at RCA and have some very innovative ideas on how to keep your students engaged.
Six Years of Relationship Building
I realize that as a resource teacher, I get to watch my students grow up and change over the course of their entire elementary career. That is six years to try to build a positive relationship with every student in my school. My experience at the Ron Clark Academy not only inspired me, but it made me want to be a better librarian. I left RCA feeling slightly overwhelmed, but ultimately energized and inspired. My mindset has shifted: I am first and foremost, a teacher and always will be.
Author: Colleen R. Lee
Colleen R. Lee is a former middle school English teacher and Elementary Teacher. She is currently the Elementary Librarian at Greenfield Elementary School in Chesterfield County, VA. She is frantically working on the first draft of a YA Fantasy during NaNoWriMo this month. Follow her on Twitter @MrsLeesLibrary.