Friday, July 8, 2016

Summer Reading: Teach Like a Pirate

I have been hearing about the book Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess. For a while. (I'm often behind the trends!) I decided to make this book my next read and reflect book. It's short and (so far) a quick read, so I'll finish it this summer.

The title of this book conjures all kinds of images. And, after all, dressing like a pirate would be great for early childhood, right? But that's not what this book is about. Dave Burgess writes: "Pirates are daring, adventurous, and willing to set forth into uncharted territories with no guarantee of success." That sounds like teaching young kids to me! And like the kind of teacher I'd like to be.

Burgess continues that pirates reject the status quo, embrace creativity and independence, take risks, travel with a like-minded crew, and don't worry about what people think of them. The "pirate" philosophy is built on these things: Passion, Immersion, Rapport, Ask/Analyze, Transformation, and Enthusiasm.

Most teachers are passionate about their students. And passionate about helping students learn and grow. But no teacher is passionate about everything he teaches and everything he does as a teacher. Burgess says that pirate teachers work to consistently bring passion into everything, even when they are doing or teaching what they find uninteresting. Teachers must look at three categories and identify their passions within those categories.

  • Content Passion - What subject matter do you enjoy teaching? Look for specifics not just broad areas. For example, I really like teaching math - especially number sense. I enjoy helping kids break down numbers and look for different ways to create a number. I like building number problems about our day or our classroom. Now, in my church kindergarten class, I will often say things like, "We have 3 boys and 4 girls. How many kids do we have in all? How many chairs will we need? If I'm going to sit, too, how many chairs will we need in all?"
  • Professional Passion - What about teaching/education drives you? What are you passionate about as a teacher (not specific to subject matter)? This passion often connects to why you became a teacher. I love to see kids make connections. I love to see the light bulbs go on. I love to help kids discover things for themselves. I love when kids are excited about what we're doing.
  • Personal Passion - What are you passionate about that is not related to your profession? Find as many ways as possible to connect your personal passions to your work. I love to make things, especially things that are recycled or repurposed. I like finding creative ways to solve a problem. I like art. And I can see times when bringing in these ideas have really made me (and the kids) connect to content.
Dave Burgess says: "Teaching is a job filled with frustrations, trials, and tests of your patience. Use your passion to soar over obstacles instead of crashing into them and burning out." I can see how not doing this caused me some difficult times in my last second grade class. And when I shifted to focus on my passions caused many difficulties to minimize.

Immersion is the ability to give yourself fully to the moment. Teachers who are immersed in the lesson or the classroom are fully engaged with what's happening. Students can feel when teachers are immersed/present...and when they are not. "A lack of immersion in the present sends a clear, although unspoken, message that this moment is somehow less important and not significant enough to be worth undivided attention."

Burgess uses a great analogy. He says that teachers can be lifeguards or swimmers. Lifeguards are focused on the pool and what's happening in it. But they are also separate and distant from it; they are on the sidelines. Swimmers are in the pool, participating in the action. They are a part of what is happening, fully engaged. 

If a teacher is immersed and fully present, he is excited about what's happening. He draws students into the action. "An instructor who is fully immersed in the moment has a special type of intensity that resonates with great power in the classroom, regardless of the activity." Immersed teachers have a plan for lessons but are not afraid to deviate from the plan if something happens in the classroom. Teachable moments come that won't wait and won't come again. If we are in the moment, we can follow those opportunities and help kids make lasting connections.

In my second grade class we were raising butterflies. One day a student noticed that a butterfly was emerging from a cocoon. A few already had, but it had happened overnight when we were not there. A cry went up about the butterfly. My math lesson was over. We watched what was happening. We talked about it. We found a video online so we could see the process again. I suggested we write about it and they did. The lesson changed because we could be fully in the that I could have never scripted. (And we continued subtraction with regrouping the next day.)

I have enjoyed reading about the first two characteristics and look forward to the rest of the book. While it focused on students that are older than I typically teach, I can see some definite applications and parallels to my younger kids. 

I'm already ready to teach like a pirate. Arrgh!

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