Teach Like a Pirate – Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an Educator by Dave Burgess (@daveburgess) is not a new book, yet it is still a relevant and engaging read for educators today. When first published, I remember the hype, but I was not in a place to join the pirate crew. I was about to embark on my own journey to rediscover my passion as an educator that led me back to Africa as an international teacher. Earlier this year, I found the book again as I delved into Twitter and its amazing network for educators. I committed to the decision to find out what it means to ‘teach like a pirate.’ #tlap
My first question was, ‘Why Pirates?’ The answer is twofold. First, it is a mnemonic for the pirate system and philosophy. Second, Burgess defines a pirate as follows:
“Pirates are daring, adventurous, and willing to set forth into unchartered territories with no guarantee of success.”
With this definition in mind, it is easy to see why many educators are joining the pirate crew as we look to shake up education to support our learners to thrive in an ever changing world.
Part I of the book is dedicated to explaining the pirate system and philosophy.
Burgess defines three types of passion. Incorporating passions into our teaching can be a source of motivation for both educators and learners.
Content Passion stems from the areas of curriculum that you are passionate about. When I think back to the subject areas I enjoyed in high school, I would say economics and history. Now my husband would laugh to hear this because I never remember any historical information, nor am particularly financially minded. However, in high school the content passion of my teachers rubbed off on me.
Professional Passion is the reason we become educators. As Burgess wisely surmised, we don’t always have content passion. At these times, we should focus on our professional passions.
Personal Passion doesn’t require a definition. Bringing our passions into our learning spaces means that we are teaching from our strengths and demonstrating to learners how following our passions can lead to learning.
“Your ability to completely give yourself up to the moment and fully ‘be’ with your students is an awesome and unmistakably powerful technique.”
Personally, I have always felt it important to model expectations for learners. If we want them to be fully engaged, then we need to be fully present. Burgess also notes that learners know when we are not truly present. He adds that through immersion, we don’t miss the ‘teachable moments’ because we are right there with them. He goes on to state that this is the ideal way to support struggling learners.
We all want to create an environment where our learners feel safe and valued, an environment where learners are willing to take risks and fail forward. It is paramount to know our learners and build those relationships; learners need to trust us and each other.
I too feel that this connection with our learners is integral to learning, and this is why I value our morning meetings. Following the Responsive Classroom (@responsiveclass) morning meeting structure helps us build our learning community and gives us an opportunity to start our day with a bit of fun through a variety of greetings, sharing, activities and morning messages.
This section of the pirate system and philosophy deals with creativity.
“Creativity is not the possession of some special class of artistic individuals, but is rather something that can be nurtured and developed in all of us – including your students!”
Burgess makes clear that creativity is developed through engaging in the creative process. “It is the process of consistently asking the right questions.” He goes on to add the importance of actively seeking answers. “Your brain won’t be happy until it has provided the answers.”
This reminded me of the process of diffused thinking. This is when you think of a problem and then relax and drift off. When you awaken, your brain has incubated ideas for focused thinking. This is explained better by Barbara Oakley (@barbaraoakley) in this video.
To take it further, I see Creative Problem Solving (CPS, #CreativeProblemSolving) as a way to transform learning experiences to both engage and empower learners. CPS approaches problems or challenges by developing new ideas following a process. The process begins with clarifying a problem to ask the right questions. Divergent thinking is used to generate ideas, and convergent thinking to evaluate and develop ideas. This leads to action or implementation. I look forward to sharing how I find ways to use CPS in education in future posts.
Transformation is about making learning irresistible to learners. To do this we need to know our learners and position and personalize learning to make it relevant. I think this ties in beautifully with learner agency, giving learners voice, choice and ownership of their learning.
Burgess suggests that if you only have one takeaway from this system, it is to ramp up the enthusiasm in your learning space. If you ‘act as if’ you are enthusiastic, you will begin to feel it. If that is not enough, “Make a conscious decision to focus on what empowers you.”
Bringing together passion and enthusiasm will make learning memorable. Last year, I has the opportunity to visit with my year 1 class from 2012. As they shared their memories with me, I was amazed by what they had retained. One asked me if I remembered what a cephalothorax was and others sang a dinosaur song I had forgotten. Neither spiders and dinosaurs are subject areas I am particularly passionate about, but I brought my professional passion, creativity and enthusiasm to our learning space, and made learning memorable.
Part II: Crafting Engaging Lessons
After outlining the pirate system and philosophy, Burgess moves onto the ‘How.’ He suggests working collaboratively to engage in the creative process to enhance the presentation of learning experiences. He shares a toolbox of strategies to energize lessons. He calls these hooks. They are questions designed to help you consider elements in your lessons. Burgess groups his hooks to incorporate different elements such as movement, art, music, drama and dance, STEM, props, suspense, etc.
“How can I harness the power of connecting my content to what students are already interested in?”
“Can they create something ‘real’ that will be more than a classroom project, but also allow them to interact with the world in an authentic way?”
“What types of essential questions can I ask that allow students the opportunity for personal reflection and growth?”
Again, I see the potential for using CPS tools in conjunction with Burgess’ hooks to promote engaging learning. To take it further, I would like to co-construct with learners to empower them.
Part III : Building a Better Pirate
In this final section, Burgess begins by asking:
“Do you want to be great?”
He suggests that great educators benefit learners and mediocrity fails to motivate learners. He then considers what holds us back:
- The fear of failure
- The belief that we need to have it all figured out before we begin
- Paralyzing perfectionism
- Lack of focus, or focusing on the insignificant
- Fear of criticism or ridicule
- Burgess makes three recommendations to overcome these barriers.
- First, take action and overcome the inertia. Once you get started, the ball starts rolling.
- Second, find a crew. Burgess advices you to grow your Professional Learning Network (#PLN.) Seek multiple perspectives, read widely, seek professional development, collaborate and reach out on social media.
- Finally, share treasures. Reach out and share your experiences. #tlap
- My Final Thoughts
- As an educator who has lost and found my passion, faced criticism and struggled on my journey, there have been many takeaways from this book. Some of my own practice reflects the pirate system and I can see myself integrating more, especially as I look to give learners more autonomy. I am excited to join the pirate crew and strive for excellence.
“Striving for excellence and full engagement is about getting better. It’s about adapting, adjusting, and trying to tweak and improve everything you do.”
- Lastly, I leave you with a visual hook. It’s unlikely to be an original idea as I’m sure others have created iMovie trailers, but after all this writing, I needed to play!
Images used in the video sourced from Pixabay.
Should you wish to see Dave Burgess in action, click on the photo below.
Burgess, D. (2012). Teach like a pirate: Increase student engagement, boost your creativity, and transform your life as an educator. San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consulting.