One-Man Book Club: Teach Like A Pirate

“Are we ready to start full speed?” Dave Burgess keynoting Day One of the South Shore e-Learning conference in Hammond, IN, June 6, 2018.

Yeah, I know. 2012 was a long time ago. Doing a One-Man Book Club post on Teach Like A Pirate is like live-tweeting an episode of The Office I’m watching on Netflix. But it’s what I’m reading right now and the thoughts are spilling out of my head onto my screen, and for many of my colleagues at the South Shore e-Learning Conference it was their first exposure to this loud, crazy SoCal guy. I wanted to watch the show through their prism, and the experience stirred up some memories.

Dave Burgess keynoted a conference I presented at last week. Leading up to the two-day event I went to the library and got his book. Even though I’d seen him outline his TLAP philosophy with Matt Miller on the 2016 Virtual Summit, I was pretty psyched to get the In-Person experience. I still wanted to read the words in black and white.

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Image via Goodreads.

(Burgess runs at like 7000 rpm. My laid-back Vegas kids used to tell me I talked too fast. If they were in a room trying to listen to the Teach Like A Pirate keynote their heads would have exploded. Having read the book was like having built-in subtitles for the presentation. 10/10 would recommend.)


 

I just finished my 15th year of teaching. I was a pretty by-the-book guy at the beginning. Things have changed since those early years, thanks in part to a lot of reading, a lot of connecting, a lot of trial-and-error. And error. And error. Let’s just say I’ve been trying to get better for a while. Reading Teach Like A Pirate, my mind snapped. I recalled a long-ago online conversation I had with Matt Vaudrey, co-author of Classroom Chef.

If you’ve read the book or seen the TLAP preso, you know what started my reverie. The Six Words.

TLAP 2

“It’s Easy For You. You’re Creative.”

TLAP 3

I remember struggling with classes that weren’t buying what I was selling. I remember spending prep time and after-school time searching for activities and lessons that would get my students’ attention. I remember being amazed at what my fellow math teachers were rolling out to their students. Everything I found online was brilliant and clever and creative. I remember thinking, “there’s no way I could come up with stuff like that on my own.” I remember falling flat on my face many a time.

But I remember having success just often enough to keep trying. Which is good, because as one of my favorite UNLV professors used to say, teaching is like being a performer. And you have to nail 900 shows a year.

All these years down the line I should point out, she never told us how tough the audience would be for those 900 shows. Or that they’d be able to tune us out with a tiny little computer they’d all carry in their pockets.

As Burgess says: “Would your kids be there if they didn’t have to be? Do you have any lessons you could sell tickets to?” I felt like I had to work harder than anyone else because before I could teach my kids anything, I needed to make them want to show up for my class. I used to tell them, “someday I’ll be that old, bitter teacher who hands out a worksheet then goes to read the paper with my feet up on my desk. But today ain’t gonna be that day.”


 

 

 

I’m not a pirate. Not a good one, anyway. But I’m down with Lesson Design. Which, it turns out, once you get past the bandanna and earring, and the grilling analogies, is what “Teaching Like A Pirate” is all about. Intentional lesson design, every time.

I’ve got a certificate on my classroom wall from ETS. It’s a Certificate of Excellence for my score on the Math Praxis exam. Me and a couple of my UNLV classmates studied hard for that test. The semester of student teaching we met three times a week after school at a coffeeshop/bookstore near where we all taught in Vegas to work through problems from the study guide. But the State of Nevada also requires a passing score on the Pedagogy test for licensing. Ugh. That one is not as easy. My idea of lesson planning as a pre-service teacher was limited to:

  1. Check the section in the textbook
  2. Select example problems
  3. Select guided practice problems
  4. Select homework problems
  5. Rinse, repeat

That’s all. And on the Praxis or in the classroom, it wasn’t good enough.

I eventually stumbled across Dan Meyer and the greater MTBoS and started to get an idea of teaching with the end in mind. It’s a concept that Bill Hanlon of the Southern Nevada RPDP introduced to us. It was a unit design tactic he called BAM, but it applied equally to lesson design. Later on I was exposed to Desmos, and then Hyperdocs. All tools for designing lessons from the ground up, thinking deeply about what questions to ask, what I wanted my students to ponder, what tools and resources they would need.

I’ve claimed as a class motto for years, “You want better answers? Ask better questions.” Turns out I have common ground with Burgess there too.

TLAP 4

Then Burgess goes on to include a section with literally hundreds of questions a teacher can ask when planning a lesson, questions that can spark creativity and create hooks to student engagement. Pretty much everyone I know can take two or three or six of these questions and create something incredible in their classroom. Without a single trip to Goodwill.


 

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It turns out that once you get past the pirate persona there is a seriously good teacher who is passionate about not just punching a clock, but in creating learning experiences for his students. And Teach Like A Pirate makes clear that there is no secret sauce, except for a willingness to take chances, to accept failure as part of learning, and to recognize that nothing great comes easy.

TLAP 1

I don’t know about greatness. I’m still trying, still learning. I doubt I’ll ever have a “guest speaker”. But we sing and dance a lot in my classes, get up and move around. Use visual hooks. Stick crazy memes and GIFs in my slide deck. Try new things. Shift on the fly when it’s called for.

Maybe I’m not such a bad pirate after all.

Leyahs Card

 

You Do You

What kind of education conference did I attend this week? Well, one keynote speaker managed to work “Bless your heart…” and a Pusha T v. Drake reference into the same hourlong presentation. Literally, something for everybody.

(Side Note #1: Now keep in mind: you can say “bless you” like “thank you” and that’s one thing, but there’s no mistaking the meaning behind “bless your heart”.)

Via Bless Your Heart, Tramp: And Other Southern Endearments by Celia Rivenbark

(Side Note #2: “You do you” is the rough equivalent outside the South. Sounds like it should be a good thing, often kind of a sideways putdown. But not as clear-cut. Sometimes it’s just, “yeah, cool, man, go ahead, do your thing.” Which is fine.)


In a time when you can be anyone, reinvent yourself over and over, authenticity is a rare commodity.

As an example, the first-year NHL franchise Vegas Golden Knights are unabashedly Vegas – the pre-game show, the social media presence, the community outreach. Given a chance to build their brand from the ground up, they picked a 21st century combo of local flavor and connectedness.

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Image via NHL.com

 

As I process the two days, I’m rolling around those keynotes, and teacher growth, and the idea of authenticity.

So, those SSeLearn keynotes – Dave Burgess & Josh Stumpenhorst. A little bit of contrast in style: Bombast and Thoughtfulness. The Pirate and The Teacher Of The Year.

There’s some blowback out there in the online educommunity regarding TLAP – like, do I need all this costume stuff, and do I have to be that loud?

Only if that’s “you”. Because kids can smell fake a mile away. But if Dave’s methods hit home, there’s nothing wrong with amping up the enthusiasm in your classroom.

If Dave Burgess is a Tony Robbins disciple, Josh Stumpenhorst comes from the Daniel Pink school. He believes there are things that motivate students, and those things are probably not what you’d guess. Especially if you were trained up with behavior charts and an emphasis on grades. And when you sit with him and listen, you just know he’s right.

The keynotes were great. Inspiring. And as for the breakouts, I really appreciate the teachers who took time to craft a session, to share what they’d found with us. The vast majority of the presenters at #SSeLearn were regular classroom teachers, sharing like they’d share in the faculty cafeteria or in a department meeting, just amplified to a larger audience.

At South Shore, teachers had a chance to figure out who they are, to get help with tools that can help them on the journey, and how to connect with people who have been there.

Teachers had 200 sessions from which to choose, giving them the opportunity to build their own brand from the ground up, to reinvent themselves, to “do you”. Cool thing was, I sat with Catholic school high school teachers from Illinois, kindergarten teachers from Hammond, tech coaches from Porter county, all in the same day. Sometimes all in the same room. Diverse people, diverse needs, and based on the feedback I read, everybody got at least something they could use out of the two days.


The day two keynoter dropped me a line to thank me for some of the tweets I sent out during his preso. Which was kinda cool.

Josh is more my style by the way. During his keynote he referenced innovation day at his school, calling it “a thing we’ve been doing for the last 11 years” and shared some photos and stories of student learning that had happened as a result. What he doesn’t talk about was how large a role (note: a Very Large Role) he had in launching Innovation Day at his school, and in helping other schools kick off their own editions. He’s an author and speaker and, oh yeah, a former Illinois Teacher of the Year who got take a photo with the President of the United States, but when you sit in on his session he’ll tell you he’s a librarian and a dad and a husband and a runner who has found out some things about teaching and learning, and wants to share them.

Being chill is so cool.

I don’t need to be twitter famous. I don’t need a million followers (although I like big round numbers as much as the next guy.) I’m pretty comfortable in my own skin, I’ve learned to listen more than I talk, and to offer help when I can but also to accept help when its offered. Which makes the South Shore conference way more than a chance to re-connect with teacher friends from my old district. It’s a chance to keep working at being me.

The South Shore conference has grown in three years from a one-day event for 300 or so School City of Hammond teachers to a stop on the statewide Summer of eLearning schedule with more than 1000 people in attendance. It only gets better from here.

As you might have guessed, I’m not the only one who feels that way. Ryan Eckert, an elementary school principal in Crown Point, was inspired to start a twitter chat to keep the learning going. The turnout on the first night was fantastic and the conversations led to further connections and sharing of resources. Share and support. That’s what we do.

So, my fellow #SSeLearn learners, you do you. Our kids are gonna reap the benefits.

 

P.S. Mad props to the team that launched this awesome event and keeps it flying year after year:

We Belong

You don’t belong.

Sports teams use it as motivation. (“Nobody believed in us!”)

It’s been fodder for a million Hollywood movies, from Karate Kid (“Love your car, Mrs. LaRusso!”) to Kung Fu Panda.

If you’ve been around the teaching game for a while, you’ve been told: our kids crave connections. They need relationships. No learning can happen until you connect with your kids. They need to know they belong.

I can relate.


 

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Image via nwi.com (source)

Up here in the Region, we’ve got a little bit of a chip on our shoulder. To the point where we fight over which parts of this area qualify to carry the title “Region”.

We’re not Chicago, even though we border the City of Chicago, in the County of Cook, in the State of Illinois.

And we’re definitely not “Indiana“. Best way to prove you’re not “Region” is to wear a “Colts” anything.

So, we don’t belong.

(We wear that like a badge of honor, by the way.)


Indiana Summer of eLearning

For the last 6 years the Indiana Department of Education has put on a series of conferences during June and July known as the “Summer of e-Learning“. My former district, the largest district in Northwest Indiana, and the 11th largest in the state, started thinking it should be able to host one of the 22 conferences last year.

The state had a plan. I’ll paraphrase: You guys are a pretty big district (13,860 students in 2016). Host a conference just for your district. Get your feet wet. Find your keynoters and presenters. Get a facility. Then check back with us. Let us know.

So they did.

After 370 attendees, nationally-recognized speakers, presenters from within the SCH and beyond descended upon Hammond the Monday after school let out, well, what could the IDOE say?

Fast-forward to the Summer of 2017: We’re in the Big Leagues. (And yeah, I know… “we”? I work in a different district now. Teaching in Hammond is the family business. Old habits are hard to break. Sue me.)

Buddy Berry & Christine Pinto keynoted. Almost 600 teachers and administrators registered.

Everybody got something they can use RIGHTNOW.

Alisha Foor and her team put on a whale of a show. Crushed it behind the scenes during 12 months of planning, and knocked it out of the park during two days of awesome learning and sharing experiences.

Yeah. We belong.


 

When I taught in Vegas, my Midwestern-ness stuck out like, well, a flashing neon sign. (“Mr. Dull, why do you wear a sweatshirt and shorts?”) When I taught in the HMD, maybe I was “from there”, but I lived out with the cows and the corn. Now in an exurban district, where everybody’s “from here”, even though I live in the city, I’m still kind of an outsider. I found that out when people here weren’t heartbroken over the Stracks bankruptcy. (Seriously, like I had a tear in my eye when I lined up for lunch today and saw a big tray of Stracks chicken on the table.)

So maybe I don’t belong either.


 

I’ve been stalking hanging out online with a group of math teachers that call themselves the MTBoS (Math-Twitter-Blog-o-sphere). I steal all their best teaching ideas, follow them on twitter and at their blogs, and just in general fanboy a tiny bit too much.

But what can I say, they changed my outlook and strategy on teaching, and probably saved my career.

(No really, that was my presentation title at South Shore e-Learn).

But really, they’ve got superior firepower from the neck up. Way out of my league. I can use their stuff, but I could never make their stuff.

I don’t belong.

But this morning, with a donut balanced on my travel mug/water bottle, and my laptop, well, on my lap, settling for in for the keynote, I open twitter and see this in my mentions:

Shah MTBoS Tweet

(I had posted this in a twitter chat I occasionally hang out in, in response to a question. The #MTBoS hashtag gave it a signal boost).

And, squee.

Here’s the blog page, with about a million other presos linked there. But for reals, for about 20 seconds there, Sam Shah made me feel like a million bucks. Like…

I belonged.


 

If you’ve never seen Christine Pinto, she looks like she’s about 12. Weighs 80 pounds soaking wet. She doesn’t have a commanding stage presence. But she is a lowkey powerhouse. If you listen… oh boy. You’ll learn. One of her main points in her preso is:

And guys, that’s the takeaway from today. We belong. Our kids belong. And it’s our job to give them an opportunity to prove it. In Hammond, they walk their talk. Two of the most powerful sessions I attended were led by students. Buddy Berry’s freshman daughter knocked ’em dead with “A Techy Teens Tools For Teachers”.

But my last session of the conference… oh man:

A 3rd-grader taught about 30 of us how to use Animoto to make book trailers. Had a Google Classroom and a slide deck and everything. Yeah.

She belongs.

I belong.

All of us, on a Tuesday and Wednesday of summer break, when we should have all been laying on a beach somewhere, instead, the Island Of Misfit Toys, we’re all inside an urban high school, learning, together, getting better, for our kids. Kids we won’t see, probably, for like 8 more weeks. Doesn’t matter.

We belong.