#DBC50Summer 4/50: Learn Like A Pirate

Not a week goes by that I am not asked this one question.  It may come from a former student, parents of former students, another teacher, instructional coaches at other workshops, the custodial staff at my school, etc who asks “the question” that everyone who has left the classroom is asked (or a very similar version of “the question”).

A few weeks ago, I was tying up loose ends in the media center before students went home for the summer.  As is the usual during a class change, students stopped by to say hello or exchange hugs on their way to the next class, asked a million questions, switched out library books, or knocked on the windows to the media center (I work in an honest-to-God fishbowl) then waved.  It’s my favorite five times of the day because I love hearing their energy as they switch classes, calling out to one another, sharing funny stories, singing, etc. Our school custodians were helping me break down cardboard in the makerspace and one of them mentioned that he could tell that I love my job by the way I interact with the students and that I’m always smiling (it’s true – and can be a bit annoying for some; I swear I do have a neutral face, and even a scowl occasionally, ha!). I thanked him for noticing and agreed that yes I do love my job very much.  He immediately went on to ask “the question”… “Do you ever miss teaching in the classroom? Would you want to go back and have your own class again?”

Now, hold that thought… I’ll come back to this.


This weekend I am blessed to attend #BadgeSummit in Chicago, IL where ISTE2018 is hosted!  This one-day event pulls together the greatest minds of Digital Badging in the world to share, discuss, and learn from one another.  (Spoiler – One of the Pirate crew will be presenting! Must find him tomorrow!) Because of his amazing work in this arena, my director Lucas Gillispie was invited to present, and brought along three of his EPIC Academy mentors. After a cancelled direct flight to Chicago O’Hare, a rescheduled connecting flight in DC, a successful four-person stand-by for a different direct flight (you know that’s a big deal) where we all scored window seats, we finally boarded a plane 2 hours later.  My seat mate was AH-MAZING (aka, she didn’t speak at all while I tried to read) so I was able to take in nearly all of the 4th book in the DBC line up, Learn Like A Pirate by Paul Solarz (web, twitter). I finished it up in the hotel and had to reflect!

Side Note: They put a country girl in the city and keep saying it will be a fun adventure…  If you happen to see me around Chicago, expect to see a “deer in the headlights” look. I may not be able to hold a coherent conversation due to the insane amount of city life I’m trying to overcome.  Don’t judge.

Now… back to “the question”… I miss the connection with the students after working with them and building relationships for 180 days. There is a bond between my students and me where they become “my kids”.  As Paul mentions in Learn Like A Pirate, this relationship started before they ever entered my classroom.  A quick high-five or a good morning was all it took to begin building the relationship in the years leading up to being in my class.  That relationship would blossom during our 180 days, and without fail, I would ugly-cry on the last day of school every year.  I still do… again, don’t judge.

Before reading #LearnLAP, that would have been my answer – it’s the same answer almost any educator will give you that has left the classroom to move into another role like administration, counseling, specialist/support staff, etc. After spending time with Paul (totally on a first-name basis because, I swear, we had a heart-to-heart conversation while I read this book; he just doesn’t know about it) my answer has changed.  YES – I MISS BEING IN THE CLASSROOM!  I want to scream it from my 14th floor window right now.  He got me so excited about his student-led classroom and his passion for empowering students by allowing them to have all of the control (or perceive to have all of the control because ‘the teacher’s decisions are final’, per Paul).  I want to jump back into a classroom next year so I can implement all of these amazing ideas!

He wrote this book in a way that his student-led classroom is easily replicable!  He breaks down the PIRATE acronym meant for teachers, created by Dave Burgess in Teach Like A Pirate (the mother’ship’, if you will – Pirate Pun for the win) and rebuilds it for students.  He focuses each letter on a necessary component of the student-led classroom.  Each letter makes his student-led classroom successful.  This book is all about empowering students to take charge of their learning and accept full responsibility for what they learn, or don’t learn. Paul even has them watch the clock to let their peers know when it’s time to transition to the next part of the day through a five-minute warning and then a stop time. As in the #TLAP post, I will not share his acronym with you here; you’ve got to get the book for all that juicy goodness!  He discusses the important of collaboration, feedback, making improvements, having students up and moving, using the 21st century skills, and genius hour/Passion projects. There information on makerspace, Mystery Skype, Quality Boosters, rigor (that’s a soapbox for me all by itself, like “innovation” is for Don and Paul did an amazing job keeping me off of it).  It’s a whole lot of awesome wrapped up in only 250 pages.  Those pages FLY by when you’re reading!  Throughout the 250 pages, Paul gives you resources and lessons that he’s used in the form of QR codes (or links for digital versions of the book)!  Rather than tell you what he does, he SHOWS it to you!  This was a great addition to the book!  I’m not sure whose idea that was, but kudos to you!  I couldn’t check out the links until I got to the hotel, and when I got here, I couldn’t stop looking at them!  I was overwhelmed at the vast amount of resources available at your fingertips to empower students within this book!

I have to tell you that my biggest takeaway from this book wasn’t the empowerment of students though. Now, please, settle down. (Whew! I hope Paul, Dave, and Shelley aren’t having a small heart attack right now if they’re reading this – keep going; trust me. It’ll be okay.)  I realize that the book centers on the idea of student-led classrooms and empowerment and collaboration and student success being more than a grade, etc… I get it.  And I wholeheartedly agree with every single one of those principles!  However… my biggest takeaway from this book is even larger than those massive philosophies of education.  Ready?  It’s a big one…


Boom – dropped it. Am I right, though, or am I right?  What really stood out to me through this entire manifesto of Paul Solarz (which fit perfectly as the 4th DBC book as it really pulled together the pirate teacher’s role, genius hour, being bold and relentless in reaching students, etc) is that Paul doesn’t expect any of these things to “just happen”.  He repeatedly says that it is the teacher who must MODEL the collaboration for students.  The teacher must MODEL appropriate use of “Give Me Five.”  The teacher continually MODELS expectations in peer feedback.  The teacher MODELS posing the questions that produce better answers, so that students will begin asking these questions of one another.  Paul never says, “on the first day of school, students get thrown into this whole idea of leading the classroom, doing whatever they want, and I let them figure it out Hunger Games style when an issue arises”… nope. He starts the year by modeling his expectations and continues to revisit the model that he expects students to follow throughout the year with immediate feedback when the model he’s established isn’t met.  Therefore, my big takeaway isn’t the obvious empowerment, collaboration, newly & brilliantly formed PIRATE acronym… instead, it’s this reminder that if I want students to perform a task a certain way, act a certain way, react a certain way… I need to be their model.

If I want students to know how to check out a book in the media center, I need to model that. If I want students showing kindness to other students, I need to model that.  All teachers need to model that.  If I want students to engage in a love of learning, I need to model a love of learning by showing that I never stop trying to better myself. All teachers should exhibit a life-long love of learning.  If I want my students to be risk-takers and not fear the epic fails that will inevitably come with those risks, I must model that for them.  I cannot be afraid to fail either.  Teachers must learn from failure and remember that eyes are watching our reactions to our own failures!  For example, we can’t throw the technology out tomorrow just because it didn’t work today; we problem-solve and try again.

It doesn’t matter if your students are in PreK or if they are in college, they are watching.  Eyes are on you, as the educators, at all levels, all the time – you do not get time “off the clock”.  They’re watching you at school, on social media, when they run into you at the store (Wait, you don’t live at your school either? Weird!), when they overhear you venting to another teacher about “that kid” on your nerves that day, when they feel the stress of standardized testing radiating off of us, when they see the eye roll toward a teacher that you don’t see eye-to-eye with… they are watching.  You don’t get time off.  We should be modeling these habits that will help them be successful, not just in the next grade level as Paul says, but help them be successful at life.  If you are a classroom teacher, or if you are like me, and have left the classroom (while some days desperately missing the relationships that can only be built over 180 days of love, laughter, and learning), we must all remember that we are modeling behaviors for students.

Are you modeling positive, successful behaviors?  Are you sure?  All the time?

I had to do some soul searching myself… I don’t model those appropriate behaviors ALL the time. I admit it. I get aggravated.  Sometimes, I give up when something frustrates me. I am insanely scared of failure. I worry that others may see me as weak, or delight in my shortcomings, if they see me fail, so sometimes I put up a wall and refuse to fail by not even trying to begin with. I’ve got to do better, even though I don’t have my own classroom of students anymore. All of us can do better, if we’re honest with ourselves, regardless of our educational job title. If we want to empower our students to collaborate, lead, and succeed, we must first model collaboration, leadership that creates other leaders, and success through failures. Paul taught me that, maybe inadvertently, through his amazing addition to the DBC line up, Learn Like A Pirate.

With that in mind, I recommend that you click this little hyperlink right here… BUY THIS BOOK.  While you’re at it… go ahead and pick up Book 5/50, too! Do you know what the fifth book was?  I’m so excited to write about Ditch That Textbook by Matt Miller next!  You’re also going to learn something pretty shameful about me from my early years in education… see you soon!

In the meantime, check out these additional Learn Like A Pirate treasures!  In true PIRATE fashion, you can check out the community on Twitter by searching for #LearnLAP!  You can also add your thoughts on the Flipgrid that Andrea Paulakovich and I co-pilot (Amazing idea, Andrea)!  The passcode is DBCSummer!

Dave’s blog announcing release of #LearnLAP!

Subscribe to Paul Solarz on YouTube!

The Principal Center Podcast: Learn Like A Pirate.

Vicki Davis: Episode 73 of the 10-Minute Teacher Podcast

KidsCode: An Interview with Paul Solarz



5 thoughts on “#DBC50Summer 4/50: Learn Like A Pirate

  1. Pingback: #DBC50Summer 5/50: Ditch That Textbook | AliciaRay.com

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  3. Pingback: #DBC50Summer 10/50: Explore Like A Pirate | AliciaRay.com

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  5. Pingback: #DBC50Summer 15/50: The Classroom Chef | AliciaRay.com

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