The foundation of our classroom is based on 55 challenges that create high expectations, build a culture of respect and rapport, and allows my students to know exactly what I expect of them and when. If you haven’t read Ron Clark’s Essential 55 , I would highly suggest learning about his process and implementation. After reading this text, I thought critically about how I could use his ideas in my classroom.
This past year, I wrote all 55 challenges on separate yellow pieces of paper. There were some that just didn’t fit with my school that I removed and put in place holders. For example, some were about staying at a hotel overnight on a field trip, food manners, etc. Some of these items just didn’t apply to my specific students. Instead, I looked up the Ron Clark Academy additional school rules on their app. (Did you know they have a free app with all of their resources? Check it out!) I took a few rules from this page and made it work for my classroom. What I love about the Essential 55 is that it’s a moldable idea. You can make it work for the relevancy of your class and your school.
Why are they called challenges? Ron Clark and his academy use the 55 Essential Rules. However, I made a small tweak to create challenges instead. Students love a challenge; creating this foundation as a competition allowed for student compliance and expectation. Obviously they are rules that my students have to follow, but when I introduce them as challenges, it has an exciting ring to it.
At the start of school, a new challenge is posted in the classroom every day. The excitement and expectancy of a new surprise always hooks my students in. After the first few days, my students check out the challenges wall first thing without any prompting from me because they know today is going to be challenging. During our morning routine, we take a moment to talk about the challenge. Students model appropriate ways and inappropriate ways to follow the challenge. For the remainder of that day, we always come back to that challenge.
My first challenge is always “Speak only in complete sentences.” My students love catching each other. We use “jazz hands” in class to catch anyone who does not speak in complete sentences. This silent cue allows students to start over and respond in the correct way. They also love catching me! If you expect it from them, you have to expect it from yourself. What I love about this challenge is it ripples outside of the classroom as well. I see students catching each other in the cafeteria, at recess, and at special classes.
One of my biggest pieces of advice with these challenges is keeping the expectations high. If you do not follow through with the challenges or let something slide just once, it completely erases the value and purpose of these rules. For example, one of the challenges involves saying thank you within 3 seconds of receiving something. Towards the beginning of this challenge I gave out jolly ranchers to my students during a test. One student was so involved in their test that he forgot to say thank you. For a second I thought, “well it’s okay because he was distracted”. But then I realized that I had to follow through. I used this scenario as an example to my students and took the jolly rancher back. Did he ever get it in the end? Nope. The loss of this jolly rancher allowed my students to see I meant business. I can confidently tell you that my class was the absolute best at saying thank you for the remainder of the year.
Once all 55 challenges were up in the classroom, the remaining days were used as a review. I placed them all on a big binder ring and highlighted a new one each day at the front of the room. We never went a day without reviewing the challenge of the day and what it should look like. These challenges completely revolutionized the climate and culture of my classroom. Children need detailed expectations that are then followed through. It makes them feel safe, in a routine, and pushes them to hold each other accountable.
Model it. Expect it. Maintain it. It will change your classroom!