Raising the Bar

I recently had the opportunity to hear Ron Clark speak. If you don’t know anything about Ron Clark, he is teacher who has changed the lives of low achieving students by setting high expectations and teaching lessons that appeal to the students’ strengths and interests. He currently runs a school in Atlanta, GA where all of the students come from low socioeconomic backgrounds and are taught material that is two levels above grade level. A major component of Ron Clark’s presentation that I attended was on “raising the bar.” I was immediately taken back to my first year of teaching.

During that first year, I was often criticized for having expectations that were “too high” for my students. At the time, I was teaching middle and high school students with moderate to severe autism. My students had received little, if any, early intervention and no ABA instruction. When I began setting up my classroom, I had all of these great ideas like teaching money, time, life skills, social skills, etc. My excitement was extinguished when my coworkers began talking about all of the things my students couldn’t and wouldn’t do. My students had spent their entire school career sorting items by color, shape, and size to prepare for a job at a sheltered workshop. I remember being discouraged by the way other people viewed my students. After all, it was not the fault of my students that ABA interventions had never been implemented into the classroom. 

The beginning of that first year was rough. The sole focus of the classroom was on potty training the students, teaching appropriate behaviors, implementing functional communication training, and working on basic academics such as identifying numbers and counting with correspondence. However, I knew where I wanted my students to be, and in order to get there, we needed to first work on the basics. By the end of the first semester, my students were ready to start working towards meeting higher expectations. 

As teachers, it is our responsibility to provide students with the best education possible. Our students can only achieve what we expect of them. If we are only expecting our students to complete workshop activities and engage in inappropriate behaviors, then that is what we will get. However, if we raise the bar, our students can grow into successful, productive members of society. When we raise the bar, we can change the lives of our students. Many of the students that I had the opportunity to work with that first year of teaching are now participating in community-based instruction, whereas before, their problem behaviors were so severe that they were not eligible for such programs. 

When we raise the bar, we are doing so not just for our students, but for our own teaching. We must implement research-based teaching procedures that will assist our students in achieving success. Positive behavior interventions and supports need to be put into place to help teach and reinforce appropriate behaviors, direct instruction should be used to teach new skills, and learning must occur in natural settings to teach for generalization and maintenance. Combining all of those principles helps students successfully meet higher expectations. Raising the bar leads to better instruction, higher test scores, and lifelong learning. Therefore, I challenge all educators to stand up and make a difference by continuously raising the bar. 

Written by Jennifer Rodecki, M.Ed.
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