On August 6, approximately 5,000 teachers, principals, superintendents and staff members from schools in Region 9 joined the East Alabama Regional In-Service Center (EARIC), part of Auburn University’s College of Education, for a presentation by “America’s Educator,” Ron Clark. The half-day event was held at the Auburn Arena and combined information, motivation, inspiration and fun!
The event began with a welcome from Dr. Kim Walls, head of the Department of Curriculum and Teaching. Her message, which was reinforced with a video playing on the overhead Jumbotron, helped our school partners in attendance understand three major points about Auburn University’s College of Education:
- Our graduates are prepared to lead and excel in the classroom;
- Our professors are engaged in research that is relevant to our school partners; and
- Our graduate and distance education programs offer great opportunities to our school partners.
Kim’s welcoming words were applauded by all in attendance, including a boisterous cohort of Auburn faculty and students, sitting together in their matching green tees.
Cheri Hayes came next to welcome the crowd on behalf of the Alabama State Department of Education, before Dean Betty Lou Whitford introduced Dr. Tommy Bice, Alabama’s State Superintendent of Education.
Dr. Bice, much like Ron Clark did after him, said this to the teachers in the audience: “The only thing that can change education in Alabama is right here in this room!” Bice explained how Alabama’s graduation rate is rising and that he has a goal of getting that rate to 90 percent. He also said the State Department of Education is here to support teachers, not threaten them, and that it’s OK to bend a rule in order to help a child. His message was clear and consistent: we are here to help our students, and we must not let irrelevant rules or political grandstanding stifle our creativity, passion and dedication to excellence.
After an enthusiastic ovation, Dr. Bice introduced his friend Ron Clark, who ran out of the tunnel and onto the stage and announced that he would have loved to listen to Dr. Bice all day, and that we in Alabama are fortunate to work under his leadership. And once Clark got started. He did not stop, or sit, or slow down for almost two hours. Like Dr. Bice, Ron Clark’s basic message was fundamental: do everything you can to help and inspire and lift up your students.
He began by saying his school, the Ron Clark Academy, was like a bus, but they had to cut holes in the floor so they could “Fred Flintstone it. And that means we have runners, joggers, walkers and riders!” He went on to show that the real joy in life comes from being a runner, and that we find our best selves by serving others – in this case our students. He encouraged teachers to move rather than sit on a “drool stool” and to infuse their teaching with energy, passion, animation, and joy.
He also used the illustration of the big blue slide that they use at Atlanta’s Ron Clark Academy to go from the second to the first floor, as opposed to the traditional method of trudging up and down a set of stairs – “like everyone has always done.”
Clark was equal parts theater, motivation, inspiration, and information. But his ability to connect with the audience of East and Central Alabama educators was phenomenal. All in attendance had fun and left feeling inspired to do their best to raise up their students, to engage them in new and creative ways, and help them grow into the best people they could be.
Thanks and congratulations to Sandy Armstrong of EARIC, Dr. Tommy Bice, and the State Department of Education for a great way to kick off the year with our school partners, and for reminding all of us that what we are really all about.