During my last several years as a principal, I had the pleasure as serving as an “Editorial Adviser” for the National Association of Elementary School Principals. A total of 10 principals from around the country serve at any one time, each serving a three-year term.

One of the responsibilities included a book review each year for Principal magazine. I came across this particular one, from 2004,  and decided to share it as a blog post. One reason for sharing it is that illustrates a point I made in during a webinar for the Council for Leaders in Alabama Schools (CLAS). We talked about the opportunities we have to delegate to students. Delegating lightens our load and gives students a sense of ownership and a stake in the program.

Here is my review of Ron Clark’s The Essential 55.

It is often said that the best things come in small packages. Such is the case with The Essential 55, a little book outlining how we can give to young people what the author’s grandmother gave to him—an upbringing “…which included respect, manners, and an appreciation for others.” Ron Clark was the 2001 Disney Teacher of the Year. He began his career in a rural North Carolina classroom before taking on the challenge of teaching 5th grade in Harlem. In The Essential 55, Clark presents each of the 55 rules that shaped the culture of his classroom. The real enjoyment of the book comes in reading the anecdotes accompanying each rule. Each one helps us get to know the students in Clark’s class and why that particular rule was indeed essential.

Would you like to make your life easier by delegating responsibilities to students? Rule #17—which involves making transitions from one subject to another in 10 seconds or less—will give you some ideas. As one example, Clark explains the steps involved in setting up the overhead projector (closing the blinds, turning off the lights, closing the door, pulling down the screen, wheeling the projector into place, and plugging it into the wall). Because each step is delegated to a particular student, Clark can simply say, “Let me show you that on the overhead projector” and the whole process is set in motion, a process which is complete in the time it takes him to pick up his overhead pen. The students take pride, and amaze other classes, in how quickly they make transitions. Little do they know how much instructional time they save over the course of a year.

My favorite is Rule #16—“Homework will be turned in each day for each subject by every student with no exceptions.” Ron Clark then shows us how he accomplishes that goal. Between assigning detentions for those who fail to turn in homework, displaying a banner outside the room stating how many days in a row everyone completed all homework, and using peer pressure, Clark fashions a classroom culture that makes doing homework the “cool” thing to do. Ten days in a row with all homework being done triggers a daily treat. Clark makes cookies, brownies, or other treats for the class each night as long as that streak remains intact. This super teacher feels the nightly routine of mixing up a batch of baked goods is a small price to pay for what he gets in return.

Ron Clark’s approach to classroom management is clearly a three-legged stool made of high expectations, an unmistakable belief that children can succeed, and a support system that makes students want to do the right thing. All three ingredients are a must for the magical recipe we see in this book.

As a young person, Ron Clark was “…shown how to enjoy life, take advantage of opportunities, and live every moment to the fullest.” Every child deserves the same lessons. Picking up a copy of this book is a great start towards making this goal a reality.