dave burgess

Teach Like a Pirate: Final Thoughts

With the book finished, I am left with many things to still ponder over, as well as how to make some of this apparent in my work next year. I have some vague ideas, but they need to sit and brew for a little bit before anything can come of them.

I am ready for Copenhaver Institute with this book. I am eager to see how Burgess presents his material to us in the sessions, and what the breakout workshops will involve as well. I’m ready to be creative and have fun, which also turns into lots of tweeting and sharing.

The easiest things to add into my work right away are the passion and enthusiasm portions of the PIRATE system. I at least did this with KidsCollege, and it really allowed me to let loose. I think it was a big part of the reason I came home so exhausted each day. Every day I also picked up/dropped off my students dressed as Steve from Minecraft. I had my pick ax or sword, depending on the week. Somewhere in the back of my mind I wondered how it appeared to others, but I drowned out that voice with a “who cares???” The kids loved it, parents loved it, and I had a blast with it. They even put my image with one of my classes on the PVCC website to showcase KidsCollege:


I am going to make my work in Fluvanna County even better this coming school year. I’ve gotten my feet wet, and I know the system much better now that year 1 is completed. Teach Like a Pirate is going to help my presentation/engagement side of my lessons. If I get through the other books like I wish to, then Art of Coaching and Lead Like a Pirate will round out that set this summer.

Here’s to being better! If you want to join me this year, follow me on Twitter: @tisinaction

Teach Like a Pirate: Beware Holding Back

On the way to becoming a pirate, one must remember that there are obstacles that can hold a pirate back. These obstacles may happen alone or they may happen in groups. The point is, they will hinder any pirate who lets them get in the way.

Five ways that a pirate can be held back:

  1. Fear of failure
  2. Fearing having to know everything before beginning
  3. Perfectionism
  4. Lack of focus
  5. Fear of criticism or ridicule

Fear of failure is always going to be in the back of anyone’s mind. We don’t like to fail, especially if we’re not used to failing. It’s not a mindset that may have been instilled in us as youths, so we struggle to recover from failure that hits us as adults. I used to be really scared to fail or mess up when taking a risk with my lessons or ideas. I still am in a sense, but I don’t let this hold me back like I used to. I’ve applied this to areas outside of my teaching as well. Quite some time ago I decided that I would live my life without regrets. When making decisions these days, one thing I think about is “Will this be something I regret if I don’t do it?” In many cases, if the answer is yes, I’m going to do the thing.

This fear cannot hold us back. We cannot allow ourselves to be tied to its chains. Instead, we have to change our mindsets to recognize that we can’t always be successful. We won’t always have the best plans or ideas, but that’s why there’s failure- so we can review, reflect, and try again. That’s one of the reasons I keep this blog- it tracks my reflections on my first attempts so I can make changes and try again. I’m not perfect, and neither are any of my colleagues.

We also don’t have to know everything about our great plans at once. Great ideas come and they are flashy, but they can’t be rushed, nor can we allow ourselves to think we’re going to know everything about the outcome, research, or data. Things take time. We often think we have no time to lose, that we cannot let time go to waste, but when we rush our ideas or plans, they won’t work out.

If we expect that we have to know it all right away, then we don’t give our ideas and plans time to blossom into what they should truly become. Instead, we are left with a mediocre version of what could have been something great. And if your great plan messes up? That’s okay. Review, reflect, and try again. You’re only going to get better as you push yourself to move forward.

Perfectionism is another way that we can hold ourselves back. Being a perfectionist also can be tied to a fear of failure. We know kids who are brought up to be this way. They must get perfect grades and be the best. When they are faced with the fear that they actually don’t know something or won’t do well, they break down. It’s hard to accept that they cannot get what they have always gotten in the past. This perfectionism carries on into adulthood.

Of course, not everyone was raised that way, but we all carry some amount of perfectionism in us. We can’t wait until the time seems right and everything aligns just so. We have to move forward when we can and take the shot, make the attempt. If we don’t, we’re only going to hold back, and by then it may be too late. It’s like that cheesy inspirational quote: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

Of course, we can’t take all the shots for everyone. If we try to do that, then we lose focus. We can’t say yes to every project and idea that gets thrown our way. We stretch ourselves too thin, and then we can’t give our best work to the projects that we are working on. There are times when we really want to say yes, but if we do, then we stretch ourselves far too thin.

We have to prioritize our work and our lives. We can’t stretch ourselves beyond the breaking point. We can’t overstress ourselves or take on so much that we can’t give our best. There’s also our personal lives to think of as well. As much as we’d like to be a superhuman, we can’t be, and we shouldn’t be.

Finally, we can’t let ourselves fear the critics. There are critics everywhere, and they don’t have our best interests at heart. Perhaps they’ve failed with a similar idea, perhaps they don’t want to see someone succeed, or some other unknown reason. We have to ignore those people and push forward anyway. And if we fall, then we get back up again.

Sometimes people walk in at the wrong moment. It’s not the best moment, or it’s so brief that they don’t see the big picture. They see one tiny detail and think they know all the reasons why we’re doing the wrong thing.

In order to be a pirate, we have to remember the above, and not let any of these obstacles control us. We control our fate and our destiny, and we cannot let ourselves or others get in our way!

Teach Like a Pirate: Dare to Be Great

As the book begins to wind down, it starts to focus on how the reader can become a better pirate. The very first chapter in this section is all about greatness. Or rather, the lack thereof. It’s not that there aren’t great teachers out there; it’s that there seems to be a stigma at wanting to be a great teacher, to go above and beyond what’s required. Granted, life can interfere and ruin plans, but that’s not what this chapter is about. It’s about those that are shunned for wanting to be the best they can be. Those that:

  • love to research new ideas and try new methods
  • Seek their own PD
  • Takes risks, make mistakes, and try again
  • Always try to find the positive and try to make the impact

I will admit that even I got some sideways glances when I told people I was excited to make this my summer of learning finally. There were events or issues over the past few summers that did not make this possible. I wanted to finally use summer to learn and grow as I wished. As soon as KidsCollege and Copenhaver Institute have finished, I’m planning to delve into some of my reading and blog. I’m planning to research on professional development and work on things for the newest blog feature that will debut in August. I want to learn what I want and be better at what I do.

I know I’m not the only one out there that feels like this. I’ve seen fellow colleagues with this same kind of passion and desire to be great when I go to edcamps, conferences, and Twitter chats. We want to be more than just another teacher, and we want to do better by our students and those we work with every day.

We face the eyerolls and the teacher room rants with a shake of the head. We have to push forward and stand above those who would find us odd, strange, or silly for wanting to do these things. Yes, we love to do things our own way and do more. We don’t get paid any more for it than someone else. There’s no overtime pay added to our checks. We do what we do because we love it.

I’ve found myself teaching KidsCollege this summer. Yes, the chance for some extra income was great. However, the way I chose to approach the program made all of the difference. I’ve tried to keep myself going and “on” for my students, no matter morning or evening session. This book has helped me see that it’s what my kids deserve. I go in with a passion burning in me, and the kids know that. They see me and they also see me in my Steve head. They love it. Kids that I don’t even have in my classes come to me to talk, for high fives, for fist bumps, and even the random hug. It has been a learning experience for me, and I have cherished my time with the program. It ends in two days, but it has given me a tiny taste of the pirate life.

My summer has just barely started with the ending of this program, and yet, it is going to be what keeps me going with my learning. I have my next book lined up for after Copenhaver. I am ready to learn and become better. I want to take risks, I want to make mistakes, I want to reflect, I want to succeed.

I’m gonna do what I want in the end. I’m stubborn and I do things my own way. This recent song of Icon for Hire’s fits perfectly:

Teach Like a Pirate: Don’t Forget Your Hooks!

As a pirate, one cannot go anywhere without their hook. Or, in this case, hooks. Part II of Teach Like a Pirate is all about hooks, and how to use them within your lesson. Hooks help you reel in the students, and keep them engaged. Burgess has created hooks for a variety of scenarios and situations, and based on my reading, it seems like keeping this part of the book close at hand will help any pirate-in-training as they plan new lessons.

The following hooks were mentioned in this part of the book:

  • Kinesthetic
  • People prop
  • Safari
  • Picasso
  • Mozart
  • Dance and Drama
  • Craft Store
  • Student Hobby
  • Real World Application
  • Life-Changing Lesson
  • Student-Directed
  • Opportunistic
  • Interior Design
  • Board Message
  • Costume
  • Props
  • Involved Audience
  • Mystery Bag
  • Storytelling
  • Swimming with the Sharks
  • Taboo
  • Mime
  • Teaser
  • Backwards
  • Mission Impossible
  • Reality TV
  • Techno Whiz
  • Contest
  • Magic and the Amazing
  • Chef
  • Mnemonic
  • Extra-Credit Challenge

Wow, what a list! This is why keeping the book handy during the planning stages is recommended because there’s no way anyone could keep track of all of the different hooks and what each one means.

Hooks are ways to take one’s lesson to the next level. They allow teachers to keep students involved and engaged in the lesson beyond just giving the basics. Teachers know their content area and many have spent years and years learning the knowledge that they now currently possess. Knowing the content is one thing; getting it into the hands of students is entirely another.

I think back to some teachers and professors that I’ve had in the past who knew a lot about their subject matter, but they were some of the most boring presenters. It didn’t matter what they were telling me because I tuned out. Chances are, I was doodling in my notebook and taking notes when I thought something was important. Really I was just counting down until the class ended and I could do something more interesting, or when it was time to go eat.

Hooks are ways for teachers to present their content and engage those students who are often bored and off task. With the particular list above, a teacher doesn’t have to use every single hook all of the time. They should instead peruse the list and decide which hook would work best with the particular lesson. It’s not enough to just decide to use a hook. Like with technology, the hook should be chosen to suit the lesson, not vice versa.

I am going to start with the hooks I am most comfortable with and branch out from there. I am really hoping that the workshop breakouts at Copenhaver will address the hooks and give us time to incorporate them into our lessons. I think I’ll start with preparing for my presentations at WVSTC because the lessons are finished and simply need to have some engaging presenter flair added.

Teach Like a Pirate: The Third Circle

And now we come to the meat of the book. Whereas the first part of the book explained the PIRATE system, the second part is all about creating the lessons the utilize the parts of the system. As Dave says, it’s one thing to read about the system and find oneself agreeing with it; it’s a whole other thing to take the parts of that system and create something powerful and engaging for students.

This particular chapter introduced the third circle, the one often bypassed by teachers. One circle is content, and another is technique/methods. As teachers, we have been trained in both of these. As time goes on, we take professional development and college courses to update ourselves on our content and techniques. However, what many tend to ignore is the third circle, which is presentation.

I know many teachers who shun presentation, and find that education is not entertainment. A song and dance should not have to be done in order for students to pay attention and learn the material. They should learn the material because it’s required. At the same time, is that enough? Required material alone doesn’t mean that students learn it, or even adults for that matter.

Think about the museums or historical presentations that you’ve gone to in the past. Some were certainly better than others. The ones that drew you in had an engaging element to them. You didn’t realize you were retaining so much information until afterwards. You were so caught up in the presentation that you didn’t know you were learning.

Now think about the lectures or trainings that you’ve been to that you were bored to tears. You needed to learn the information and you needed to retain it, but the presenter was just so boring. You’re probably thinking of a particular class or training right now. You’re surprised that you remembered anything from it at all. Did you pay attention to what was being said? Or did you try to keep yourself awake and do other things instead?

These are the things one is left to ponder before the next chapter…

Teach Like a Pirate: E is for Enthusiasm

Imagine going to the store and browsing the medicine aisles. As you wander, you find spy a newly added box- Enthusiasm. Intrigued, you flip the box over, seeking the directions:

“Spread virus liberally all over body every single day. Every. Single. Day.” 

Alarmed, you then seek out the warning label. Unfortunately, it doesn’t calm your fears:

“This medicine is contagious, and WILL rub off on others.”

What in the world is going on? Well, what if there really was a way to bottle enthusiasm? Would you take the medicine daily? Would you spread the virus?

In the last part of the PIRATE mnemonic chapters, Burgess focuses on Enthusiasm. And yes, he talks about viruses and medicine and spreading liberally. In fact, he believes that Enthusiasm is one of the most important parts of PIRATE, along with Passion.

Okay I’ve got this! I’ve had enthusiasm for my lessons! Well, no not all the time. Sometimes they were downright boring. I’m sure that in some ways my professional development sessions are the exact same way. I do not have enthusiasm all day, every day.

Enthusiasm and passion do match up well and go hand in hand. In fact, they can be married together. Burgess even says that if you can’t do the whole PIRATE system, increasing your enthusiasm is a good way to start and improve. Students are more engaged when their teacher is enthusiastic about what they are teaching, instead of droning on and on. With enthusiasm, you can fake it ’til you make it. You don’t have to love the subject, but you do have to act like you love it.

There are many reasons that we may not be enthusiastic about the lesson on a particular day. However, we have to remember that sometimes students see us just once a day, and however we teach that particular class leaves an impression upon them. I may be rocking it up one class period, but being a downer another. One group of students received my “best me”, while another group got the worst.

Therefore, it’s time to commit to being better as an educator with enthusiasm. One has to commit and decide how they will change their way of teaching so that students receive that enthusiastic side as close to 100% as possible. Grab ’em, hook ’em, engage ’em!

Teach Like a Pirate: T is for Transformation

The transformation chapter was actually a rather interesting read. As I read it, I realized that there were many teachers I know of who would rail against some of the concepts presented in this chapter. In fact, this quote at the beginning stuck out:

“For many students, school is filled with monotony, drudgery, and soul-killing suckiness.”

As for myself, I was thrown back into some of my favorite lessons that I taught my 4th grade students. I remembered my best one on the Stamp Act. The idea for the lesson was not my own, but my execution was so flawless that I had my students buying into the lesson. The premise was this: The principal would suddenly enter the room and tell the students about a new “Stamp Act” just approved by the Board of Education. Students would pay a nickel for every piece of paper they used or turned in. The profits would pay for the middle school students’ field trips. As the students spoke up in outrage, the principal ignored them, told them to quiet down, finished her spiel, and walked out.

I was left to deal with the aftermath. Students were asking questions and they were angered. They demanded to be able to write letters of protest to the BOE, which happened to be the next part of the lesson anyway so I fed into it. After they had finished their letters, I explained the connection to history, and we were off and running with the American Revolution. I was lucky enough that day to have the sense to turn on my audio recorder on my cell phone at the time, so I have the chance to relive the magic of that lesson over and over again.

I was always looking for ways to teach my students while entertaining at the same time. If I was having fun while teaching, they were having fun while learning. I didn’t have lessons like this every day; often it sometimes was a snippet or a joke or something crazy, like banging on a desk or tossing a chair to the floor… I think back then I was on the right track to beginning.

Now that I work with a different crowd, I’ve fallen off track a bit. I need to find ways to make the sessions I do with teachers and staff as engaging as those lessons once were. I do work with students from time to time, and often it’s one of the few times that I can work with them, so why not hook them when I do?

Burgess poses these two questions in this chapter:

1. If your students didn’t have to be there, would you be teaching in an empty room?

Back in 4th grade? I’m sure some students would definitely have been there and the room wouldn’t have been empty. Giving PD now? Yes. I’m sure I would. Part of the reason is these adults already don’t have to be there. Some just come for the points for licensure, not the content necessarily. Work is definitely needed here.

2. Do you have any lessons you could sell tickets for?

Again, I think I have at least one from 4th grade I could have sold tickets for. Now? No. Again, work needs done here.

It’s time for me to begin reframing what I do with my staff members. I need to start thinking and working through things in my own head. I do agree with the points that Burgess makes about reframing: Students already have other things competing for their attention. Telling them to just grin and bear it and get through the material so they can do better on their state exams or pass the class isn’t good enough. They’re learning to get through the short-term, not learning to learn. And it’s not interesting. Sorry, but as adults we don’t like things that can’t hold our interest. If you check your phone or computer or are doing something on either, then you’re just like a student experiencing disconnect.

I freely admit that I am not doing something to make my material insatiable. I need to make changes. Time to begin changing my way of thinking, brainstorming, and making notes when ideas hit! (And yes, I found a note taking app for my phone!)

Check out my other reflections on Teach Like a Pirate