Lessons From "Teach Like a Pirate"

Lessons From “Teach Like a Pirate”

Motivational book by Dave Burgess stresses teaching with enthusiasm



 Stephanie Parsons

Curriculum specialist for Grades K-2, Stephanie Parsons led her team in a book study of “Teach Like a Pirate,” by Dave Burgess.



When Grades K-2 Curriculum Specialist Stephanie Parsons searched for a book to lead her teachers through last spring, she decided to choose one that bypassed the usual content areas – math, science, reading or writing – and focused instead on motivation. So many people were blogging about Dave Burgess’ “Teach Like a Pirate” book that she chose that one, even though she had never seen him at a conference or met him in person.


But she solved that dilemma quickly. When the book study was done, she set up a Google Hangout for her team in April with Mr. Burgess himself. He sent ahead some complimentary books and spoke to 34 WFISD teachers – festively dressed in pirate hats, patches and scarves -- via videocam from his car while driving in California.


WFISD Communications Specialist Ann Work Goodrich asked Mrs. Parsons what she learned from Mr. Burgess’ book that would benefit her K-2 teachers—or any teacher. Here are her takeaways.




After the Google Hangout, author Dave Burgess (on screen) posed with the WFISD team for a group selfie.


Q: What part of “Teach Like a Pirate” is most useful to the WFISD classroom?

A:  I think the biggest take-away from the book for all of us is to teach with passion and enthusiasm. Find it. Be passionate about what you do. In his book, he says you can’t fake passion. You have it or you don’t. But enthusiasm you can fake, he said, so if you don’t have passion about a certain content, be enthusiastic about it instead. Children learn more when their teacher is passionate and excited and enthusiastic about what they’re teaching.


Q: Do you think passion and enthusiasm come and go for an instructor? You have it for some parts of the year or stages of your career?

A: Definitely! That would be true of any career. Also, some teachers are more passionate about certain subjects. In K-2, we’re self-contained, and we teach writing, math, spelling, science and social studies. Teaching history was one of my least favorite subjects. But I love to teach reading. I was passionate about reading. You can tell when someone enjoys what she’s teaching.


Q: Did you point to any particular idea in “Teach Like a Pirate” to help teachers drum up or convey enthusiasm?

A: We talked about a lot of his hooks. It’s important to hook and engage the students so learning will be more relevant for them. You grab their attention, they become interested, and they learn more. He offered 32 hooks, including the Kinesthetic Hook, the People Prop Hook, the Safari Hook, the Picasso Hook, the Student Hobby Hook, the Life-Changing Lesson Hook, and many more.


Q: What was your favorite hook?

A: We talked a lot about the technology hook, which he called “The Techno Whiz Hook.” We are a District that is moving into using lots of technology. We asked ourselves, “How can I create a paperless lesson? How can I involve technology in what we’re doing? Can I give my students an option to create projects digitally? How can we use technology to bridge the gaps?”


His point is not that you have to use all of the hooks but to make sure you do have a hook to engage students.


Q: His style is to be an actor, a showman, and bring that into his classroom. A lot of people say, “I’m just not that way.” Did some of your teachers feel that way? What do you tell them?

A: Yes, that was scary for me. When I first started reading his book, I thought, “Oh my goodness. What did I get myself into?  Will my teachers think they have to dress up to be effective in the classroom?”


We talked a lot about that in our book study. A lot of us aren’t comfortable dressing up like our lesson’s theme or centering our day around the topic we’re teaching. There are other ways to excite kids and get them engaged. You can give clues; you can have them work in teams to figure out what the lesson will be.


The biggest takeaway is that no matter what you do – whether you dress up like a pirate or George Washington or whomever you’re studying – just have passion about what you’re doing. Find what you’re passionate about in life and weave that into your lessons. Do you love to cook? Bring that into your lessons. Do you love to read? Bring that into your lessons.


Q: What other message did his book have for you?

A: He asked two questions for raising the bar that really made us think: If your students didn’t have to be there, would you be teaching to an empty room? And, do you have any lessons that are so good, you could sell tickets to them?


Q: Dave Burgess also challenges teachers to accept failure. He said he has had some spectacular failures. Did you talk about that?

A: Yes. Failure is OK. We need to continually let our students know when we fail, it’s a learning process. We all learn and become better people because of mistakes and failures. Nobody is 100 percent 100 percent of the time. How can we perfect anything if we think it’s already perfect?


Q: He also said, “Don’t fight students’ interests. Use them.” I thought of the fidget spinners.

A: Yes, he said to use trending objects to create interest in your lessons. I’ve heard of teachers using fidget spinners in math class. They put the spinner in motion, then see how many math facts they can complete while it spins. My son’s middle school science teacher had the class make fidget spinners with pennies as a science project. So, yes, you can take those popular trends and use them to your advantage.


Q: Are you recommending the book?

A: Yes, I think it’s a great book for teachers at any grade level.  I liked how he addressed the teacher who says that teaching is so hard. He said, “It’s not supposed to be easy. It’s supposed to be worth it. It wasn’t easy when I started. It wasn’t easy last week.  But you can build something incredible if you put effort into it.” That’s so true.