Over the winter break I was looking through some books in my office and came across one of my all time favorites. It’s called The Essential 55: An Award-Winning Educator’s Rules for Discovering the Successful Student in Every Child. While written a number of years ago, it offers timeless insight for parents and others working with children. Author Ron Clark, voted Disney’s Teacher of the Year, was confronted with a huge challenge when he found that his 5th grade students for the year had little interest in learning and were lacking in guidance. He quickly realized they needed to learn some basic rules. So, Clark compiled a list of 55 lessons to teach his students that cover all aspects of life, from human interactions and knowing how to say thank you to telephone skills and cafeteria manners. Those 55 lessons evolved into what Clark calls The Essential 55—guidelines for living and interacting with others.
Here are some sample rules:
Rule #1 Make eye contact.
Rule #6 If you are asked a question in conversation, ask a question in return.
Rule #7 Cover your mouth when you cough and say excuse me.
Rule #9 Always say thank you when you are given something.
Rule #15 Do not ask for a reward.
Rule #24 Keep yourself and bathrooms clean and germ-free.
Rule #25 Greet visitors and make them feel welcome.
Rule #30 After dining in the cafeteria or elsewhere, be responsible for your trash.
Rule #31 In a hotel room, leave a tip for the hotel workers who clean your room.
Rule #33 When meeting new people, shake hands and repeat their names.
Rule #35 If someone close to you drops something and you are close to it, pick it up.
Rule #41 At home, answer your phone in a polite and appropriate manner.
Rule #43 On escalators, stand to the right, walk to the left.
Rule #49 Stand up for what you believe in.
Rule #51 Live life so that you will have no regrets.
Rule #55 Be the best person that you can be.
After teaching The Essential 55, Ron Clark saw his 5th grade students who once struggled to read at the 3rd grade level now reading at the 6th grade level. Even more, they were gaining crucial self-respect and respect for others. There’s nothing fancy about these rules—they’re pretty basic. What a nice reminder though, that some basic guidelines (many are ones that my parents gave me!) can have such a meaningful impact on kids’ lives.