I guess this is kind of turning into me doing my homework as I read Dave Burgess’ Teach Like a Pirate. It’s available here btw (this is not an affiliate/sponsored link, I get no money from this).
Dave Burgess is a very easy author to read and my largest concern was that perhaps this book would read like an over stretched blog post – but so far that hasn’t been the case. Fear not, I’m also more than a chapter in. It also took a long time to get to this because for a while I fell into the unnecessary trap of “serious books”. OK, so that’s a problem. It implies that the good that’s come from this book, even the community that has launched onto social media, is “less than”. Search #TLAP on and see the massive connected community of educators sharing their stories. This is a serious teaching book, it just happens to be an easy and fun read. Is it perfect? Not so far, but it has had a positive effect on me already.
So that said, like many books in this wheelhouse, it is gimmicky. I don’t mind that. I love me some Misfits, I’m comfortable with gimmick, but I prefer the term “Genre”.
And the word of the day – Passion.
A mere 10 pages in Burgess describes the real need for passion. As wonderful and meaningful of a job it is, Teaching is a profession filled with frustrations. Indeed, that has become my personal and much of the community’s overwhelming narrative lately. PIRATE in TLAP is an acronym and P stands for passion. Passion is often identified as one of the key factors when students are asked why certain teachers are their favourites.
Cookie cutter teachers aren’t passionate teachers
Burgess posits passion as the reason for there not being a one-size-fits-all approach to education. This is the problem with the current mainstream discussion about education. When we come from a position of ignorance (media/politicians) or ideology (teachers on either ends of the spectrum) we talk about education in such simplified terms. When the goal of teaching and learning is simple surface level transfer of facts than this may even be possible. However, I contend that this is only the starting point.
The reason that the standardisation of the profession, as opposed to the professionalisation of the profession, doesn’t work is that this isn’t a standardised job and education is more than the recall of facts. It involves imparting values, it involves social work, it involves making sure that students social and welfare needs are met and yes it involves teaching to a curriculum. Our days and weeks are varied in the way that no job I know is. That’s actually the allure of teaching for some, myself included. The standardised teacher with scripted lessons will not transform, lift and nurture students no matter how many facts are memorised. Of course, I would also argue that these facts are only retained up until they cease to be useful anyway. Their tested and dumped. It’s the passionate teacher that leads to authentic learning and deeply developed concepts.
But again, passion isn’t a standardised thing. Passion is enthralling but it can take so many different guises. We all know the teacher like Bill Nye. They’re great and the students love the excitement and get carried along.
But not everyone is Bill Nye. Burgess really got me thinking of the impact of Passion. As a child I remember being able to discuss art with adults at my school and in the end really getting involved in our art programme. It had nothing to do with our art teachers though but everything to do with Sunday mornings watching Sister Wendy. I can still talk about art, largely due to hours watching Sister Wendy. Her passion, albeit quiet and intensely joyful, had me hooked along on all of her journeys around the galleries of the world. Passion is powerful and it takes many guises.
So teachers come in all shapes and sizes, and cookie cutter teachers = bad. This is something that I’m also noticing in my discussions around the school. I’m super into Flipped Learning and how it has allowed us to achieve Mastery Gameful Learning. It has totally transformed my teaching. But the line I keep hearing that I just don’t understand is that it doesn’t work for all students. This makes no sense to me but what does make sense is that it won’t work for all teachers. That’s OK, I totally get that.
The types of Pirate Passion.
I don’t want cookie cutter teachers or hard-line prescribed pedagogies. We don’t all need to be the same, but we do need to be passionate. Mastery Gameful Learning and Flipped Learning are my professional passions, get your own, or join me. Whatever but be passionate about what you do. Do it well and do it reflectively. Get better and want to get better.
This is the crux of Burgess’ first chapter and I think he really hit the nail on the head with passion. There are three areas of passion that are relevant: Content Passion, Professional Passion, and Personal Passion. So my homework I decided was to identify these different types of passion that I want to focus on. I needed to jump start my passion and be more excited to be an educator again.
Content passion is something that I nearly always am able to muster up if I’m intentional about it. The crazy thing is that it’s gotten easier as I’ve taught for longer – surprisingly, the more I know about a topic the more interesting it becomes. When I first started teaching I was super into – the space topics, genetics and evolution and all things chemistry. Plants were a bore and don’t even start me on the dirt sciences. Geology, why do you even? But now, I love these even more. I think I’m at the point where the content passion is really easy to muster but it’s temporary. I need some more challenges and I definitely need to move into some new areas, maybe even stretch into some new faculty areas.
Professional passion, this was the big lift for me. When I started to get more intentional about this. To build on this I’ve decided to be quite intentional in my focus.
- Educational videos. I want to get back to regularly making more educational videos. I get quite passionate about the distilling information into something concise and informative. I also want to get better at the artistic side of making videos – more illustrations.
- Boardwork. I love the artistic side of it and I get a real kick out of the kids losing their mind as I live sketchnote their classroom discussions. I really enjoy a good white board!
- Professional Development. I’ve been lucky to run workshops and help teachers get better at some of the things that I’m not too bad at myself. Finding a way to do that in a more structured way is going to to be something I focus on. GOALS!
- Wellbeing. It’s the part of my job I enjoy the most. This next year I’m going to work on developing some programs that can be implemented within our content areas (things like social justice within the curriculum, how to be an ally in Science, etc.) – I’d really like to have some more seamless crossover between the social work of our classes and our curriculum work.
Personal passion is the one that means the most to me but isn’t necessarily the one that is always in the classroom. However, it has a place and depending on the passion then it might have a place in lessons or it might have a place in the more pastoral aspects of the school. Like many passionate teachers I’m a big ol’ nerd. That’s all being a nerd is really, getting excited and passionate about a personal passion. Now on that education and wellbeing tend to fall into personal passions or I wouldn’t be writing this but we’ll let them sit in professional passion for the moment.
So what is it that makes me uniquely me that potentially has a place in school?
Music. My music isn’t for everyone, I dig that. But when I notice the students with that shared interest I need to make sure I make that connection. On top of that, I really do enjoy music from most genres. Some of the most rewarding moments has come from taking the musical interests of the students seriously. If a student tries to share their passion with you and its something you’ve got the time to check it out, you should and take it seriously, that student has taken a risk. They get enough Olds telling them that music (TV, books, movies, etc.) were better when they were kids.
Gaming. Old school pen and paper rpg’s and trading card games. I have bonded with students – who’ve subsequently come to me with IRL problems – with hilarious stories of adventures past (losing your head because of some shitty roles) and the shared loss of our favourite PCs (the characters you play with in DnD. On top of that, we’re now building a nice little crew of gamers that meet to play Magic the Gathering at lunches. By allowing myself to share this passion with the students we’re developing a new and diverse community within the school. Gaming has also been able to influence our classrooms. This passion is largely the catalyst for our narrative driven gameful learning where we’ve combined the mechanics of some games, the accretive nature of learning in games and an overarching narrative to frame our curriculum.
A final question.
I would love to see a survey done of the teachers who self identify as Trad or Prog when it comes to the passion discussion. I’m curious about this divide. No one is doing this job because its easy or they don’t care. I believe all teachers are (or were at some point) extremely passionate about their jobs. I want ot know as to what the overwhelming passions are on either side of the spectrum? Is there much of a difference? Does one side value content passion over professional passion? I’ve long held the idea that the ideologues on both sides simply have differing perspectives on the overall goal of education. I think there are more similarities then there are differences.
Ah well, till we next set sail on the good ship #TLAP!