Lessons learned from 30 days of PIRATE teaching

Lessons learned from 30 days of PIRATE teaching

After constantly incorporating PIRATE hooks in my teaching for a month, I saw students’ eyes light up — and realized I was already a bit of a PIRATE teacher before. (Sketch by Matt Miller)

For an entire month, I morphed into a pirate in my classroom.

Well, that’s not totally accurate. There were no eye patches, hooks, peg legs or parrots.

I morphed into a PIRATE, as in “Teach Like a PIRATE,” the widely-read teaching book penned by Dave Burgess. The word “PIRATE” in his book is an acronym describing six traits of a passionate, on-fire, engaging teacher. It stands for:

  • Passion: Infusing your teaching with content passion, professional passion and personal passion
  • Immersion: Your ability to completely give yourself up to the moment and fully “be” with your students
  • Rapport: Making students feel important by developing relationships with them
  • Ask and Analyze: Ask great questions and always analyze your situation
  • Transformation: Make your classroom and teaching exceptional and worth noticing
  • Enthusiasm: Light fires under your students with zeal for education

I embarked on a self-imposed “30 Day PIRATE Challenge” (read more by clicking here). For a month, my goal was to incorporate at least one of Dave’s PIRATE hooks (see sketch above) to hook my students and reel them in to the lesson. (Did anyone catch the mixed metaphor there? I’ve never seen a pirate go fishing before, have you?)

The process started fantastically. I incorporated a few hooks in my first day of class. I did a story telling unit with a mystery object in a bag (Mystery Bag Hook). I checked out a conference room and had students become fashion critics at a fashion show (Safari Hook). I posed students like mannequins to illustrate new vocabulary terms (People Props Hook). I even used the Mime Hook and silently let them command me to do things in Spanish.

That string of great new ideas went on strong for about two weeks. However, to be totally honest and transparent, my last two weeks of the “30 Day PIRATE Challenge” weren’t as PIRATE-like.

About a week ago, I realized that my challenge was coming to a close and I started getting down on myself for letting it go. Then I started to realize something: some of my activities in those last two weeks resembled Dave Burgess’s PIRATE hooks in some ways. My students are techno-whizzes, so I use that hook quite regularly. I love teaching Spanish by making stories up with my students as the characters, so that covers the Storytelling Hook.

I’ve realized that most good teachers have always had a little PIRATE in them. (Not a reference to those dumb Captain Morgan commercials, I promise!)

Passion and enthusiasm aren’t new concepts. Neither are developing relationships nor constantly analyzing how things go in your classroom. Of all of the opinions about “Teach Like a PIRATE” I’ve seen, 99 percent is positive. The few nay-sayers contend that most of its ideas are nothing new, that teachers have been using many of these ideas for years.

My response to that: That’s not the point. The “Teach Like a PIRATE” concept isn’t about unveiling brand-new untold secrets about education. (Even though I’ll bet that everyone comes away with several new ideas that they never thought of before — AND that some have their eyes opened to a wide world they’ve never seen before.)

It’s about showing us something that works. AND it’s about showing us an enormously important aspect of education that sometimes gets lost in the pedagogy and tech tools and legislation — the value of tying excitement to teaching.

If the only thing we all come away from the PIRATE movement with is an increased focus on making classrooms a place you could sell tickets to, education may just move leaps and bounds forward.

In all, in 21 days of teaching (that’s 30 days minus weekends), I incorporated 20 hooks into my classes. All in all, with a busy life, grades to keep up with and a family to enjoy, I’m pretty happy with that. I think my students were, too.

And, as a bonus, I added some PIRATE to a workshop I presented recently. In the book “Teach Like a PIRATE”, Dave Burgess describes an activity he does at the beginning of the school year to tap into students’ problem-solving and creative-thinking skills. In short, it’s a skit about a plane crash and helicopter rescue. Judging by the way he describes it, it’s pretty outrageous.

Well, I sprung it on a group of teachers on a Saturday afternoon. My version, as I describe it, was less “outrageous” and more “ridiculous.” But it was entertaining at least (I hope!).

And I got it on camera! Check it out below. (Oh, and check out the guy in the foreground who is ENTIRELY unimpressed by the whole thing and checks his phone the whole time. You can’t please everybody!)

If you’ve tried teaching like a PIRATE, what have been your experiences? If not, is there something here that resonates with you? Share it in a comment below!

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