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"The Essential 55" in your Elementary Classroom

Ron Clark's Phenomenal Book Brings Out the Best in Your Students

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A few years ago, I watched Disney's Teacher of the Year Ron Clark on the Oprah Winfrey Show. He told the inspirational story of how he had developed and implemented a set of 55 essential rules for success in his classroom. He and Oprah discussed the essential 55 things that adults (both parents and teachers) need to teach children and hold them accountable for. He compiled these rules into a book called The Essential 55. Eventually he wrote a second book called The Essential 11.

Some of the Essential 55 rules surprised me with their mundane nature. For example, "If you don't say thank you within 30 seconds, I'm taking it back." Or, "If someone asks you a question, you need to answer it and then ask a question yourself." That last one has always been one of my pet peeves with children.

Here are some of the ideas that Ron Clark says are essential for kids to learn:

  • Make eye contact
  • Respect other; ideas and opinions
  • Do not save seats
  • Say thank you within three seconds of receiving something
  • When you win, do not brag; when you lose, do not show anger
  • Do your homework each and every night without fail
  • Do not talk in a movie theater
  • Be the best person you can be
  • Always be honest
  • If you are asked a question in conversation, ask a question in return
  • Perform random acts of kindness
  • Learn the names of all the teachers in the school and greet them
  • If someone bumps into you, even if it was not your fault , say excuse me
  • Stand up for what you believe in
To tell you the truth, I had felt fed up with students' general lack of manners for quite awhile. For some reason, it hadn't occurred to me to teach good manner explicitly. I figured this was something that parents would teach their children at home. Also, there's such a big push towards standards and test scores in my district that I didn't see how I could get away with teaching manners and common courtesies.

But, after hearing Ron's passion and his students' gratitude for what he had taught them, I knew I had to give the concept a try. With Mr. Clark's book in hand and a determination to see solid improvement in how my students would treat me and their classmates in the coming school year, I set out to implement the program in my own way.

First of all, feel free to adapt the 55 rules to your own needs, preferences, and personality. I've adapted it to be "Mrs. Lewis' Essential 50." I got rid of some of the rules that didn't apply to my circumstances and added a few to reflect what I would really like to see in my classroom.

After school started, I introduced the concept of my Essential 50 to my students. With each rule, we would take a few moments to discuss why it's important and how it will look when we act a certain way. Role-playing and a frank, interactive discussion seemed to work best for me and my students.

Right away, I saw a difference in my students' behavior that has lasted for months. I taught them how to applaud for things that they like, so now they applaud whenever anyone enters the classroom. It makes the visitor feel so welcome and it always makes me smile because it's so cute! Also, they have really taken to answering me formally, saying "Yes, Mrs. Lewis" or "No, Mrs. Lewis."

Sometimes it's hard to fit a non-academic subject like the Essential 55 into your busy day. I struggle with it, too. But it's definitely worth it when you see such a visible and lasting improvement in your students' behavior and manners.

If you haven't checked out Ron Clark's The Essential 55 for yourself, pick up a copy as soon as you can. Even if it's mid-year, it's never too late to teach your students valuable lessons that they will likely remember for years to come.

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