A few summers ago, I read Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess. I was blown away with the level of enthusiasm this educator has for teaching and learning. I loved his ideas and was inspired to make a few changes in the way I thought about my classroom and the way I planned and taught. I put the book on my shelf and determined to continue to come back to the book. Then, life happened. I really didn't get back to the book again even though I knew there were excellent, not to be missed, ideas there that could help me transform my teaching.
Then, in January, I saw a flyer that immediately caught my eye. Right here in Milwaukee there was going to be a conference that they were calling an "innovation symposium." There were all kinds of great people who were going to present about ideas like genius hour, global connections, gamification, flipping the classroom, etc. Already, I was quite interested. Then I saw that Dave Burgess, the pirate himself, was the keynote speaker. I knew immediately that I HAD to get there. Even though attending this conference would mean missing record day and giving up the precious time in my classroom to clean and pack things up, I just had to get there.
Summer Spark at University School of Milwaukee (#usmspark)was every bit as cool as it sounded. It was like an edCamp on steroids. There were so many forward thinking people there! We all were pirates in the making. The best part of the conference, of course, was hearing Dave Burgess speak. What a way to start the summer! His presentation was dynamic and filled with nuggets of wisdom. He gave us ways for "unlocking" engagement. The truth is that "an engaged student is rarely a behavior problem." I was reminded of the amazing ideas that this teacher has for bringing his classroom to life for students. The reality is that we teachers do need to make sure we are bringing presentations to students that will bring them in. He reminded us of the mistake a lot of us make of transitioning instead of delivering content at that peak moment of engagement. I love the idea of having "engaging presentations with handles on them for students to pick up." One of the best parts of his presentation was when he talked about asking questions and analyzing results. Three nuggets of wisdom made it into my notebook during this part of the talk:
- "It's not supposed to be easy, it's supposed to be worth it."
- "Safe lessons are a recipe for mediocrity"
- Failure = Feedback for Teachers
What an honest reflection of the kind of work risk-taking teachers do. It is such a reminder for me of what I want for my students. I need to be working hard to engage them and I need to be able to take risks to do so. The work that I do needs to be worth the time that I spend doing it. Making my lessons engaging is worth that time. I love the level of detail involved in asking the questions to make good ideas for lessons into awesome experiences for students.
"Students will forget lessons, but they will never forget experiences." Another piece of wisdom from Dave Burgess is that teachers should work to provide an uncommon experience for students. Since students are bombarded with things that compete for their attention, we need to make our lessons remarkable in order to gain their engagement.
Listening to this educator speak about lessons and engagement made me realize that I have become somewhat complacent. I have not taken the time to create amazing experiences for my students. Although I have spent hours writing plans, I have not taken the time to ask the questions that will bring out the creative ideas. I have not been working to engage my students to the full extent of what is possible. I want to change that.
Here are the two big questions that every teacher should ask himself according to Dave Burgess:
- If your students didn't have to be there, would you be teaching to an empty room?
- Do you have any lessons that you could sell tickets for?
Both of these questions make me cringe a little. I don't think I have good answers for either one. I think that I have worked to create relationships with my students and they might want to come to school if they missed me, but I don't necessarily think they would be there for the learning. At least, not the last group of students. I want to change that. Next year at this time I want to be able to give resounding and positive answers to those two questions. I want to be confident that my students would come even if they were not required to be there. I want to have lessons that are so amazing people would pay money to be there.
This summer as I work on outlining my units, I will get out Teach Like a Pirate and I will think creatively. I will brainstorm hooks and think about how to provide experiences for my students in all content areas. Most of all, I will remember that in order to improve, I need to keep trying. I will fall flat on my face at least once and probably several times trying out some new ideas. If I expect my students to have grit and to persevere through failures and challenges, I need to be willing to do so myself.
So there you have it, I am raising the pirate flag and setting sail. Time to find some buried treasure, mateys!