This is Part II of 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).

Before I go on, we talked about this on our podcast – Teachers Talking Teaching – and I just want to clarify the use of the word Trashy. In that conversation it made perfect sense and it made perfect sense afterwards, but for those who don’t exist in the space between myself and John I wanted to make clear what I think he meant. He meant lite reading and this could indeed be taken that way. However, I’m Bruce Lee-ing this book (adapting what is useful, rejecting that which isn’t and incorporating my own). So understand that while it is easy to read there is something to it. It isn’t pure fluff.

So we had P for Passion covered, what’s next on our super acronym?

Immersion – stop presence of mind and minding your presence.

This is the overall message here:

He’s no pirate, a captain is too close to local government for Swanson

While Burgess starts with a rather awkward allusion to Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A Heinlein – phenomenal book btw – referring to a quote from Anne, a certified Fair Witness and should be able to give accurate testimony as to why Mike is the most primo of lovers and in this case is only able to describe his total immersion in the situation. Thus illustrating that immersion and presence in the moment is important. Being present in the classroom models that what you’re doing is worthwhile, it is important. Here we start to get a look at Burgess’ version of enthusiasm/passion in action.

Is immersion simply mindfulness re-branded?

One of the mindfulness techniques that I try and practice is the deliberate taking stock of a moment as it’s happening. When I’m talking to my daughter Audrey I make sure that I pause to listen to the emphasis she puts on phrases, I’ll note the way particular features look at that moment. It doesn’t really matter what it is but I take a moment to really drill down and focus on something about what is “now”. This is how Burgess’ immersion sounds to me at the start. Be present and not distracted.

To be brutally honest this is something that I at times struggle with in my teaching. The ADHD effects my internal homeostasis and that presence of mind can slip away. But here Burgess changes direction. Note that here he moves from talking about teachers being focused and not distracted by outside tasks to teachers who are actively participating with the students. Not doing the same task obviously but coaching at their side, not from the sidelines.

What does this mean? Well I think a junior football game compared to a senior football game is a good example of this type of practice. In my son’s Under 8’s football team the coaches run the field with the students and give them feedback as they play. In senior coaching you have the direct instruction but during the game you provide only meaningful feedback at the half-time break – you might yell instructions from the sideline but it’s not proper guidance that will drastically improve play beyond the immediate situation.

I’ve often noticed the difference in videos as a baby sitter compared to videos as an interactive task. Same again with work in general. This is where I feel icky with long periods of silent work. I often joke that it’s when the ADHD kicks in, but its more than that. I don’t feel comfortable with a significant part of my time with the class being me watching them work.

More than his cheesy allusions to Stranger in a Strange Land, I couldn’t agree more with his analogy to the immersion of the teacher within the classroom as the focal point for the student energies. You are the focal point that allows the diffuse energy of classroom to become a spotlight on their growth – to intensify their collective efforts.

No room for lukewarm

I’m curious as to how to really immerse the students. Part of what concerns me is that the students we teach often haven’t realised they don’t have the power to stop time. I don’t want students just killing time in our classrooms, I want them to realise how much more enjoyable (and not just productive) their time is if they’re actively engaged or immersed. They’ll be here for the same amount of time regardless. They’ll just be less bored if they choose to switch on – I want to model that.

I think immersion is more than just mindfulness re-branded for Burgess. It’s an active and deliberate process. Here we run into my favourite edubuzz word – intentional. Intentional in our interactions and our modelled presence of mind. Interact and guide the students with purpose, not just because the Ritalin wears off.