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The Excellent 11    by Ron Clark order for
Excellent 11
by Ron Clark
Order:  USA  Can
Hyperion, 2004 (2004)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Ron Clark, celebrity teacher and bestselling author of The Essential 55, introduces eleven 'special qualities' shared by the best of his own teachers and his parents - Enthusiasm, Adventure, Creativity, Reflection, Balance, Compassion, Confidence, Humor, Common Sense, Appreciation, and Resilience. He dedicates the book 'For all those who devote their lives to placing passion and a love of life in the hearts and minds of others'.

The author tells us that 'Nothing is more important than having enthusiasm' in working with children. Enthusiasm is contagious and 'self-sustaining'. His caveat? It must serve a purpose. He covers the challenges of lighting a spark in unmotivated children who 'so often fall between the cracks.' Next, Ron Clark advises teachers and parents to share their youthful sense of Adventure with children, which can be a wonderful bonding experience that builds trust - wish I could have been in his re-creation of the Alamo class! Creativity, he says, helps teachers get into students' mind-sets - I can visualize his example of a school-wide drama involving clues from The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and the integration of learning 'Rockin' Words' during physical education is brilliant.

He discusses the value of Reflection for both teacher and student, indicating that showing the latter 'how far they have come is a great way to build confidence'. Balance is presented in terms of balancing instruction for different learning styles in the classroom, the balance between life and teaching, and the balance between love and discipline at home. He speaks of modeling Compassion, in order to teach it, about teachers' responsibility to be aware of bullying and of the 'climate' of their classrooms. He has creative suggestions for teachers dealing with disputes and exclusion, and speaks of the importance of patience in the compassionate treatment of children (with a very relevant example of the introduction of laptops).

What boosts Confidence? Clark tells us that experience and preparation help, that success grows confidence, and confidence leads to success. He gives many examples of a teacher's power to build confidence in students. He goes on to talk of the 'joy and delight' that makes Humor a powerful classroom tool, reminds us that teachers need to be sure their humor is appropriate, but emphasizes that every classroom should have laughter. I'm a big believer in Common Sense, which the author applies to speaking positively to children, teaching them to be organized and to tackle tests. He also applies common sense to retaining new teachers in the profession.

Clark values showing Appreciation by students, to students, in fundraising and in job interviews. He speaks of the need for stronger societal appreciation of teachers (which I fully support) and of appreciation amongst teachers, administrators, parents and school superintendants. Resilience is #11, with a discussion of how to pace oneself and avoid burnout. Throughout, the author illustrates his rules with teaching methods and detailed examples from his own experience (including rap songs in the Appendix - invented to learns about U.S. Presidents and States - and advice on field trip organization).

It would be nice if we could clone Ron Clark, and so spread his passion for excellence through the school system. As an alternative, I hope that his Excellent 11 will have the wide readership that it deserves amongst all stakeholders in education - as Clark says, 'we all can make an enormous difference' in children's lives.

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