Friday, February 21, 2014

Learning From a Pirate

This past weekend I had the privilege of attending a workshop with Dave Burgess, the author of "Teach Like a Pirate." Myself and ten of my colleagues joined with a neighboring district in this fantastic experience, giving us a second wind of inspiration for the rest of the year and beyond. If you have never had the chance to read this book or see Dave in person and you are attached to the education field, you must act quick. The framework that he lays out is inspiring, practical, and at the core of why I endeavored into  education in the first place.

There is always some skepticism when trusting a pirate but Dave quickly disproved any gimmick theories. He laid out some important elements of great teaching. First he talked about passion. In his book Dave states that a teacher must bring passion each and every day to the classroom. This has to come from one of three areas on any given day: 1) passion for the content you are teaching that day 2) passion for your role as an educator 3) passion related to your personality of life interests. He told us that without one of those three, your students will know that you are not fully engaged in the class that day and they will follow suit.

After about one minute of being in the audience, I thought, "I wish I was in his class." He gave us several of his "hooks" for how to start lessons. Hooks are how we start the class and get our student's attention by mixing an activity, a joke, or a creative exercise with the content you are teaching that day. This takes energy and creativity but if done right you can "trick" your students into learning. He explained that every class should be a performance and as a teacher you should always ask yourself two questions: 1) If they didn't have to come, would they? 2) Could you sell tickets to your class? These may be ambitious questions to ask yourself 180 days a year but he offers an important point. How can we expect great things from our students if we don't model that behavior ourselves? In other words, if more than a few students are not engaged, it is our responsibility to hold their attention. Rather than focusing on classroom management, why don't we spend that time creating lessons that keep their attention. And as Dave says, we will inevitably fail as teachers but the key is taking risks to provide students with a fantastic educational experience.

Dave described the times where he woke up in the middle of the night and tried to sneak out of the house unsuccessfully without his wife noticing to run down to Wal-Mart to pick up materials for his next lesson. He explained that he carried around a notepad to jot down all of his ideas over the years. In his words, half of them sucked but some of them turned out to be great lessons that made a huge impact with his students. This is the point when he proclaimed his frustration with people who claim that they are not creative. He gets particularly frustrated when teachers tell him, "Its easy for you, you are creative." Dave explained that this statement discredits the eleven years he has worked tirelessly in designing lessons, taking risks, going out on a limb, bringing 100% energy, and learning from mistakes. This is what makes great teachers and if we all spent time infusing our passion into our teaching we would prove that all of us are creative.

We left this workshop feeling inspired for so many reasons. First, it helped us realize that great teaching and making truly significant gains with students take a great amount of effort. This is not always popular and can be met with a great deal of resistance from those that want to maintain the status quo. Second, teaching is not a perfect science, but taking risks and failing is part of improving in everything that you do. If we are not doing this, we are not doing enough. Third, we are all creative and the old rule that you must draw a hard line between your working life and your personal life puts us at a disadvantage. True learning takes trust and personalization. If our personality or interests are not mixed with our classrooms, we are not offering our full passionate self to our students. Last, our students deserve our best everyday. They will meet our enthusiasm and if your enthusiasm is a rare sight in your class, they will know that it is not real or sustainable.

We need passionate teachers like Dave Burgess everywhere. We need students to talk about our class when they are not in it. We need students to fight to get in our classroom because they are afraid of missing something great. Can you imagine if our schools were like this throughout the country. Dave reminded me that we have a noble purpose that should not be taken lightly. We hold the future in our hands and if we put our passion, creativity, and energy into our classrooms, we can make an impact that will resound for generations. If teaching like a Pirate is what it takes, then we all must buy an eye patch. Leading is Teaching.


  1. To Do List....
    1) learn one awesome magic trick using cards based on the historical data of Benadict Arnold!

    1. I may never be a magician, but that trick is going to be learned and used next year. Chelsea your reaction was the best!

  2. Imagine selling tickets to my class... I had better step it up...

  3. Thank you for everything you have done, do, and will do for our kids!