Teach Like a Pirate – My Interpretation

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.

Embracing Change, Start with Why

This academic year is all about change. A change in leadership slowly leading to different ways of doing things, including redefining our school mission and vision. A physical change to our learning environment to combine spaces leading to learners from different classes learning together in a hub. The expansion of the learning hub model leading to a change in our collaborative team. We will also be revisiting our planning process and our school scope and sequence. Most of these changes excite me, though we have had a few teething problems in our new team.

One of the biggest challenges has been changing our routines. Being part of an early years environment, we wanted to ensure we were valuing play. However, I felt like most days we were scrambling to meet our objectives. Our response was to make changes to what we were doing to make each day work, and I began to feel like all I was doing was chasing my tail. I felt like we had dismissed routines that had worked previously and replaced it with something that did not flow.

I decided to discuss this with my colleagues. Those who worked alongside me last year, felt the same way. We decided to revert back to our timetable as it was at the end of last year. As we reverted to this timetable, I explained what we did during each part of the day, and how we did it.

Then, several times in the course of a week, I had the opportunity to see Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle in a variety of contexts. First, through developing an essential agreement as a staff, and then when reading Taryn Bond Clegg’s (@makingoodhumans) post ‘Getting Parents Onboard.’ It inspired me enough to watch this Ted Talk.

Simon Sinek Golden Circle
Image from: https://blog.firstwealth.co.uk/first-wealth-why-day-simon-sinek-golden-circle

I realized that we  had spent so much time figuring out what to teach and how to teach it, that I had not explained why our timetable worked for us, or why we had made the decisions we had made in the past.

To an outsider looking in, it might look like we do not honor play because our morning has a strong literacy focus. However, we found that we needed this focus to meet our academic standards and we made sure that as much as possible, we provided a variety of fun learning experiences and gave learners choice. An outsider looking in might think that we did not value mathematics. Throughout the year, we tried many models and found that through math talks, a variety of games and some guided small group learning, our program worked. By the end of the year we felt we had found a balance between learning through play, developing social and self management skills, and mastering the required academic skills.

Going forward, I am going to not only honor learners, I am also going to honor the past. Change does not have to mean throwing everything out. Change and innovation should come about with a common understanding of purpose and frequent opportunities to reflect.


Bond Clegg, T. (2018, September 15). Making Good Humans. Retrieved September 16, 2018, from https://makinggoodhumans.wordpress.com/

Start with why — how great leaders inspire action | Simon Sinek | TEDxPugetSound. (2009, September 28). Retrieved September 16, 2018, from https://youtu.be/u4ZoJKF_VuA

Villis, A. (n.d.). First Wealth’s “Why” Day – The Golden Circle. Retrieved September 16, 2018, from https://blog.firstwealth.co.uk/first-wealth-why-day-simon-sinek-golden-circle

Learning to Find Our Own Way

Last week we began our unit of inquiry, Who We Are, with a provocation. We decided to use the Pixar Short Film, Piper. We used the visual thinking routine 10 x 2, to share what we noticed. During the first round, Learners noticed general details. It was at a beach, the baby bird wanted food, she saw crabs etc. In the second round, their observations focused around learning.

“The mummy wanted her to learn how to get food.”

“She was scared of the waves, but she tried.”

“She learnt from her friends the crabs”

and the thought that stuck with me the most, was:

“She tried different things and found her own way of finding food.”

These Kindergartners are beginning to understand that by following their own learning path, they will each make their own unique discoveries. They are beginning to unpick the importance of a growth mindset to fulfill their potential. They have given me another reason to follow the path of personalized learning to help each learner find their own way.

Our next step is the understand our own attitudes towards learning and find what helps and hinders each of us with our learning.  Inspired by Shirley Clarke’s @shirleyclarke_  and John Hattie’s @john_hattie new book Visible Learning: Feedback, (on Amazon or AmazonUK) we are going to survey our learners to find out more about mindsets towards learning and inquire into zones of learning. After that we are going to explore learning through passion projects.

I’ll let you know how it goes!You learn at your best when you have something you care about and can get pleasure in being engaged in.

Saying yes…

August has arrived and we are gearing up for a new academic year. With it comes a twinge of anxiety and a whole lot of excitement. After all, as educators we never know how far our impact will carry.

At this moment, my mind is buzzing with ideas, to do lists, organizing a combined learning space, memories of previous academic years, and it is just a tad overwhelming. Yet, when I take a moment, and think about those memories, I am reminded of how much I learnt last year.

Being a part of a collaborative learning community led to growth and learning I could not have imagined at this time last year. We began the year in two separate classroom as teachers who shared ideas, and ended it as a Kindergarten learning community, that knocked down walls, both literally and figuratively!

So, how did it all begin? It is probably a combination of many things, but the one that keeps coming back to me is our willingness to say ‘yes.’

Saying yes…

Saying yes has not meant that I, or our collaborative learning community did everything that was proposed.

Saying yes is more about being open to new possibilities for the benefit of all learners.

Saying yes is about considering what we can achieve together.

Saying yes is about failure and learning.

Saying yes is about learners’ agency: both educators and students.

In the past year I have said yes to:

  • working as part of a collaborative team that was able to do more together than I could achieve on my own;
  • deepening my understanding of how young learners develop number sense;
  • becoming a Seesaw Ambassador;
  • writing a blog;
  • tweeting;
  • leading PD for my colleagues;

and most importantly of all, our learning community said yes to our young learners.

  • Our learners discovered their voice and felt valued;
  • They learnt how to plan and manage their own learning;
  • They learnt about listening and collaboration;
  • They learnt creative problem solving skills;
  • They learnt about failure, perseverance, resilience and grit.

And I’m sure the list could go on. I am reminded of this quote by Mother Teresa that came across my Twitter feed:

Being open to new experiences and learning will have an impact!

Will YOU say yes today?

Reflection for Change

As we move towards the end of our academic year, I am in the process of collating data, writing reports and reflecting on the progress of the learners in our class. It is also an opportunity to reflect on my practice as a teacher. A year ago, I was doing the same thing and my reflection left me feeling vulnerable. Though I was working hard, I felt I could be more effective. By admitting to myself that change would benefit my learners, I had taken the first step towards becoming both a better learner and educator.

The first thing I did was to really look at the data. If I could identify my learners areas of strength and growth, it might be a reflection on my own strengths and areas for development.  The two areas for development that I chose to focus on were writing and the development of number sense.

And then, I needed to dig deeper. I needed to understand why the learners in my class were not confident writers, nor did they show confidence when working with number. I realized, that though I had taught it, I had not ignited a passion for writing or playing with number. I needed give learners that sense of ownership over learning, so that they felt passionate about learning.

The next steps… the how?

Professional Development

Education is changing. As educators we need to be learners for two reasons. Firstly, as role models for the learners in our care and secondly, to give them the best education we possibly can. So when I felt like I needed to learn more about developing number sense, I looked for online courses and did something about it. I highly recommend Christina Tondevold’s  (@BuildMathMinds) number sense courses.

Getting Connected

Education is changing. The best ways to find out and be a part of these changes, is by being connected. Initially, I used educational groups on Facebook to keep me in the loop. Now, I am more of a Twitter fan. I find it is incredibly diverse and generally very positive. I share ideas and I get to see what other people are sharing. Reading the blogs of other teachers around the world, inspired me to start this one. Recently, I read a blog post by Adam Hill (@AhillAdam) ctitled ‘Sins to Avoid as Teacher Tweeters,’ that shares great advice about how you can use Twitter to build your Professional Learning Network.


So far, the focus of changing my teaching practice, focused on things I could do myself. However, to truly make a difference, it wasn’t just me that needed to change my thinking, it needed to be a team effort.  I realized that collaboration was not just about attending planning meetings, sharing ideas and trying them out in our individual classes. It was about letting go of the culture of “my students in my class” and start taking responsibility collectively. The my learners became our learners. 

Through the collaboration within our grade team, we are able to harness our creativity to problem solve together. We take our ideas and build upon them, hopefully making them better. We are open-minded and willing to try new things. Not everything we have done as been successful and that is how we have learnt and evolved as teachers. Combining our knowledge and experience means we can do better for our learners.

Empowering Learners

The biggest change in my role as an educator has been the shift from my learners, to our learners to we are learners. Our focus this year has been building our learning community. At the center of this is our students, our learners. We need to listen to them and support them on their learning journey, not direct their learning. What does each individual learner want to learn? How can we help them get there? And if educators are there to support learners, then so are their families, thus adding to our learning community. How can we build family partnerships? 

By giving learners the ownership of their learning and by keeping their families involved, they have shown an enthusiasm and commitment towards learning that I have not seen before in all my years of teaching.

Sharing Experiences

Finally, if I am truly shifting thinking towards a collective responsibility, then I have a responsibility to share my experiences. I’ll be honest and say that tweeting, writing this blog and leading PD, pushes me well out of my comfort zone. For myself, I do so as a way to clarify my thinking and hopefully get feedback from my learning community. For other learners and educators, I share because I hope I can help others, as so many have helped me.

Link to quotefancy

Taking it further – Assessment for learning

Assessment for learning was the buzz word early in my teaching career.

Assessment Reform Group (UK 2002):

Assessment for Learning is the process of seeking and interpreting evidence for use by learners and their teachers to decide where the learners are in their learning, where they need to go and how best to get there.

Our planning documents included our learning objectives and our success criteria. We would share our objectives and ‘construct’ the said success criteria with them. Differentiated copies would be stuck into books and referred to during lessons. We would give feedback during the lesson and students would peer and self assess their learning. At the end of lesson we used 2 stars and a wish to give more feedback, and the next day students would respond. Students also had targets and were expected to be able to share them and how to get there.

Upon reflection, I would redefine my early practice as ‘assessment for teaching,’ because I was doing the heavy lifting. The learning was still being directed by me. So how has my teaching and learning changed?

Well, to start with, my teaching partner Zoe Roles (also on Twitter @RolesZoe) and our collaborative team, have been on a journey to ‘let go’ of what does not work for our learners and focus on building a learning community.

At the beginning of the academic year we focused on building our community and ensuring our Kindergarten learners knew what a growth mindset is and why they needed to have one. We began to ask ‘What do you want to learn? What are your goals? What is the first step you will take? What do you need from us?’

We modeled giving feedback and then asked our learners ‘What did you do well? What do you need to work on?’ We listened and we learned together.

The changes we have made have been to shift the focus from teachers to learners. The result has been that our learners are motivated and constructing meaning for themselves.

For example, when our learners were ready, they constructed their own writing success criteria based on all the discussions we have had about their writing in the past. I supported them with the organization, and the knowledge cane from them. During a recent writing on demand writing assessment, they reminded me to have the checklist available. Some chose to use it, and others did not. They also began to help each other peer review their writing, without direction from me. Why? because they owned it!

This week, inspired by Zoe, I shared data with the students about their knowledge of phonics and sight words. They loved seeing how much progress they have made this year and set themselves targets.

Then, they shared these targets with their families via Seesaw. One learner said:

“Mummy, come home early, I want to learn these sight words.”

Returning back to to the earlier definition of assessment for learning, I am reminded that learners were put first. Let them take the lead in their learning.


Assessment Reform Group 2002, Assessment for Learning: 10 principles research-based principles to guide classroom practice, Assessment Reform Group, London, United Kingdom. Retrieved from: https://www.aaia.org.uk/content/uploads/2010/06/Assessment-for-Learning-10-principles.pdf

Jean Piaget. (n.d.). AZQuotes.com. Retrieved May 16, 2018, from AZQuotes.com Web site: http://www.azquotes.com/quote/526183

Take a moment…

This past week has been emotionally overwhelming for me. So much so that by Friday morning I had a migraine and could not lift my head off the pillow.

It is that time of year when are asked to assess our learners, so we have data for reports. It is that time when we are asked to plan for the future. It is a time of uncertainty in an international school as we prepare to say farewell and welcome new faces too. In this uncertainty, teachers begin to complain, and I think that this, along with a thunderstorm that got me.

I would say that remaining positive has been a challenge for me and and as a parent, I need to model positivity for my children. Over the last few years, I have been doing well, but at times, I could do better. So what can I do differently?

A few years ago, I found a bracelet with the following inscription:

It is a reminder for me to live in the moment. Yes, it is important to reflect on the past. But rather than identifying problems and then finding solutions, would it not be better to identify what went well and then find ways to improve?

Looking towards the future and making plans is also worthwhile, worrying about the future is not. I lost my way last week, and that is okay. Moving forward, I am going to make two commitments to myself.

The first, is to live for today and appreciate the little moments. Sunday mornings are for grocery shopping in our household. Each week, we usually see one or two learners from Kindergarten. At the beginning of the year, there is always a look of surprise as they spot me out of context. Today, I heard my name, and one little sunshine bug came up to me and asked “Ms Raana, would you like a hug?” And I have to say, it made my day because she is showing respect for herself and others, and I have had an impact.

The second commitment comes from a book I have been reading ‘Kids Deserve It! pushing Boundaries and Conventional Thinking,’ by Todd Nelsoney and Adam Welcome.

One piece of advice in the book is to ‘find your people.’ Growing up in an international school setting as a ‘third culture kid,’ and now teaching in an international school, I have seen people come and go. Unfortunately, for me, this has made me reluctant to make new friends, as a way of protecting my heart. At the end of last year, my people moved on and I’ll be honest and say that I did not make an effort to put myself out there to make new friendships. This is something I need to change.

My second commitment to myself is to ‘find my people.’ I am going to make the effort to really connect with my friends around the world, and to grow my professional learning network, because as I continue to learn, I honor learners and myself.