This year my staff and I are reading Teach Like a Pirate" by Dave Burgess as we explore ways to creatively engage our students in the learning process. Below are reflections that I sent out to my staff at the conclusion of each week of reading together. They are personal reflections, challenges and observations as we learn and grow together! Thanks to Dave Burgess for pushing our thinking and helping us find our "Inner Pirates!"
THE PASSION CHAPTER
This chapter tugged at my heartstrings...(Passion...heartstrings....get it?) in regards to the fact that I had to admit to myself that I was not passionate about everything I taught or everything that I may do as a Principal. Seeing it in writing by someone else helped me realize that I am not alone. I like to be passionate about everything but is it truly possible? Defining my content passion, professional passion and personal passion (and actually writing it down) focuses my energy and enables me to be "on fire" whenever I am around students, staff and parents. If you haven't written your passions down, I would encourage you to do so.
On page 6 I liked the line, "....it is crucial to make the commitment to change your perspective and consistently focus on your professional passion........to include it in every lesson that I teach with what I call life changing lessons (LCLs).....they allow me to consistently bring it." Even on days like today where we are tired after Back to School Night, how did we "bring it" it today? Were we tired and mailed it in or were you filled with a passionate fire of enthusiasm about your lesson where you would be willing to have students come from miles around to watch you burn? Your answer matters.... to our students and to our community. They are counting on us....Teach Like a Pirate
THE IMMERSION CHAPTER
Well, the opening of the chapter certainly peaked my interest! As Dave mentioned when he spoke with us on Tuesday, hooking people into a chapter by his first few sentences got my mind thinking about how we can do that in our classrooms. Perhaps having signs outside our door that spark a message to students that get them excited about coming into the classroom for a lesson much like Dave started off this chapter would be pretty interesting. What if the sign was a question about what happened to a character in the book you are reading or "Danger: Hands on Experiment Happening Here..." It creates an atmosphere for learning and sets the stage for excitement, curiosity and wonder.
I enjoyed the lifeguard vs. swimmer analogy. It is easy to want to have a few minutes to yourself to catch your breath when students are working collaboratively. However, you tend to miss out on little details, teachable moments, and relationship building if you are not "all in" on a lesson. You only get students for 60 minutes a day. I may only get one interaction with a particular student on a given day. We need to make the most of that time and be immersed in the moment. Our kids are depending on us....Teach Like A Pirate.
THE RAPPORT CHAPTER
Rapport is a critical aspect of a successful classroom. Being a month into school we are starting to learn a lot about the students....what their strengths are, their areas of growth and hopefully even what they are passionate about on a personal level and on a learning level.
The quote that made me think a little bit happened in the last part of the chapter. Dave said, "I'm selling education....a life altering product that can transform the human spirit and literally change the world one student at a time........at the very least I want the most difficult and stubborn student in my class to leave with an open mind and say to themselves, "OK, maybe this guy is on to something." A question to think about is, "Do you think about how your most difficult or stubborn student feels about your class?" While the answer might not be the one you want to hear, it is an important one to consider. Thinking about the response, would your instructional strategies change for that student?.........Teach Like a Pirate.
THE ASK AND ANALYZE CHAPTER (In three parts)
This chapter comes at the perfect time. We are all feeling overwhelmed as the start of the school year is in the rearview mirror and the excitement and energy has been replaced with a feeling that seems to happen every October but is tucked away in the brain in the area of "things I want to forget." As the fall approaches, is the time when we want our creative juices to flow. Now that we know more about our students and what they are capable of......now that we are into our curriculum a bit.....now that we had the opportunity to get some "hands on" professional development at the start of the year. This chapter reminds us that regardless how how creative we may be, it comes down to asking the right questions of ourselves.
ASK AND ANALYZE (PART II)
Where do you get your creative ideas? Sometimes I do my best thinking on my drive to work, getting ready in the morning or even when I'm up in the middle of the night. However, with the million things running through my head sometimes I forget to write down those ideas and I miss out on opportunities. This portion of the Ask and Analyze chapter was another one that got me thinking about how important it is to jump on creative ideas when I have them. (Don't be the guy who misses out on two boats and a helicopter.) Read page 45 for the reference.
What plans do you have in place to capture your creative ideas? Do you keep a journal of ideas? Do you take notes on a cell phone? Do you use Google Keep? (If you don't know Google Keep, I can help you!) Do you keep a folder in your Google Drive and call in "Creative Ideas" and just drop things in that you find for later lessons? The same organization and creativity that we expect from our students is something that we should model ourselves. If you find yourself saying, "I'm not creative," it isn't because of lack of trying. It may just require a little organization.......Teach Like a Pirate.
ASK AND ANALYZE PART III
My first year of teaching was not great. I would constantly go home and question what I was doing. I knew they days that I had great lessons but they seemed few and far between from the lessons that had me banging my head against the wall. As I reflected on my first year I began to realize that many of the lessons that the kids enjoyed and the ones that I enjoyed teaching were the ones that involved risk taking, either by me or the students. The ones that didn't go so well were ones that were "safe" because I wanted to make sure I covered the material. I wasn't letting my creativity and "creative alchemy" take over my lesson planning because I was hyper focused on "is this the day the Principal walks in? I have to make sure I look like know what I'm doing."
I teach and lead best when I infuse my passions into what I'm doing. I enjoy reading, public speaking, sports, music and the list goes on. I have started (yes, there is still a long way to go) incorporating these things into my leadership style. Whether it is our faculty meetings, Professional Development workshops, weekly newsletters, inspirational quotes or coaching techniques, each one of my passions has a profound influence on who I am as an educator. Some of my passions I am good at....others I am not. Heck, I walked around town on Halloween as a Pirate this year. Talk about not comfortable.... How are you venturing outside your area of expertise and then bringing it into the classroom? Are you asking more of yourself or are you pulling into your parking spot and saying...."It's Friday...time to give an assessment." Your answer matters.......Teach Like a Pirate
THE TRANSFORMATION CHAPTER
Have you ever considered what it would be like to follow a student around for the day? I actually may try it this year. (It's a "thing" on Twitter.) We often get caught up in the 60 minutes we may have with that student and forget that they have six other teachers during the day with six other subjects. How do you make yourself stand out? What lengths do you go through to make sure you successfully deliver a "remarkable" lesson?
I know what some of you may be thinking. Rich has no idea what it is like. The kids aren't doing homework, some don't study and the parents don't support us. I can't do these "remarkable" lessons if the kids don't give the effort. My answer is...if you never do a "remarkable" lesson, will your class be remembered? If you never try it, you will never know. We didn't go into teaching to be "average." We all went into teaching to make a difference. Soon you will be reminded of your 5 words you wanted students to say about your class at the end of the year. What direction is your GPS headed?
As we head into the last letter in the Pirate Acronym (Enthusiasm) I hope you have been reflecting on your journey as a teacher. This weekend I had the opportunity to attend EdCamp NJ in New Brunswick with over 400 educators from across the state. It was a humbling experience as I listened to some amazing presenters and even had a chance to present myself. I continue to look inside myself to see how I can learn and grow as an educator. I can be more passionate, I can immerse myself more in what is best for students, I constantly seek to build rapport with my students, staff and community, asking questions, and analyzing myself along the way to ensure that I am doing everything I can to continue to transform myself into something bigger. I know that "Teach Like a Pirate" may not be for everyone. But, if it gets you to reflect on yourself and where you want to go, you may just find yourself pushing yourself to places you have never been.....with a little bit of ENTHUSIASM!......Teach Like a Pirate!
THE ENTHUSIASM CHAPTER
"Our mission is to teach in such a way that who we are as human beings has a more powerful and lasting effect on students than what we say." This chapter has special meaning this week when I think about Lynn Connelly. Although I only worked with her for two years I will remember her for being a great person....for her spirit and all around tremendous personality. She was always full of passion, always making your smile or laugh. Her personality could fill up a room. She loved her job. She loved her students. She loved her friends and family. Right up until her retirement she was enthusiastic about making a difference. She was a dear friend to many and will be sorely missed by those who knew her.
Through the good days and bad days that we have in the classroom, how do you want to be remembered? For me, I would hope people would remember my passion, my desire to make a difference, my love for learning and my desire to do whatever it takes to help students and staff achieve success. More importantly, that I loved what I did and that it showed in every facet of my being. In reading the "Enthusiasm" chapter, it reminded me that it's okay that every day you may not be "enthusiastic" but if you change the focus of your attention, think about your professional passions and be willing to light yourself on fire with enthusiasm, you carry a light that can shine brightly in the dark and make your classroom great for your students and your colleagues. Whether you have been teaching for three months or 30 years, bring the enthusiasm and let your students receive your joy.....Teach Like a PIrate.
Part II and III Reflections of Teach Like a Pirate to come!
Richard M. Hayzler
A life long educator and current Principal of Pequannock Township High School in NJ, Rich is excited to share his ideas and thoughts about education and how we can change the world for our students and our staff.