33 Essential Quotes from Teach Like a Pirate

See why this Dave Burgess classic is a must-read for educators.

Image credit: Pixabay

One of the amazing benefits of hosting the Teachers on Fire podcast is the opportunity to hear about the voices that are shaping the thinking and inspiring the practice of great educators around the world.

In 2018, I first heard about Teach Like a Pirate from Adam Moler, an early guest on my show. Like many, my first reaction was skeptical. Who was Dave Burgess? And why would I ever want to teach like a pirate?

As I hosted more guests and expanded my PLN, the endorsements didn’t stop. Eventually, I realized I needed to find out what Dave Burgess and his #TLAP community was all about.

And I’m so glad I did.

Dave is bold, engaging, and inspirational. Along with a host of practical ideas for learning activities, he challenges our assumptions, redefines our mission, and helps us dream again.

If your passion for education could use some ignition, Dave is your guy and Teach Like a Pirate is your book. If you’re ready to reimagine your mission in the classroom, read on.

33 Essential Quotes from Teach Like a Pirate

  1. Pirates are daring, adventurous, and willing to set forth into uncharted territories with no guarantee of success. They reject the status quo and refuse to conform to any society that stifles creativity and independence. They are entrepreneurs who take risks and are willing to travel to the ends of the earth for that which they value. Although fiercely independent, they travel with and embrace a diverse crew. If you’re willing to live by the code, commit to the voyage, and pull your share of the load, then you’re free to set sail. Pirates don’t much care about public perception; they proudly fly their flags in defiance.
  2. I’m passionate about creating lifelong learners. I’m passionate about increasing the self-esteem and self-confidence of my students. I’m passionate about having students leave my class with a larger vision of what is possible for their lives.
  3. To keep your passion for teaching alive, find as many ways as possible to incorporate your personal passions into your work.
  4. Passion is all about being on fire in front of your class.
  5. People are drawn in and love to be around those who are passionate about their lives.
  6. Don’t let the current overemphasis on standardized test scores lead to the loss of the teachable moment.
  7. Creative ideas don’t come out of the blue; they come from engaging in the creative process. That critical process starts when you ask the right types of questions and then actively seek the answers.
  8. Creativity is rarely about natural brilliance or innate genius. Much more often creativity results from properly directed attention, laser-like focus, relentless effort, and hard work. Outsiders see the glorious results but know very little about the blood and sweat that happens behind closed doors. Creative genius is something people tend to romanticize, but the reality is not very romantic at all. Like any skill it takes practice and effort.
  9. Education can be used to uplift and inspire or it can be used as a hammer to bludgeon and beat down. We must collectively agree educating the next generation is worth the time and effort and that our students deserve to be uplifted and inspired.
  10. If you haven’t failed in the classroom lately, you aren’t pushing the envelope far enough. “Safe” lessons are a recipe for mediocrity at best.
  11. The key to failing without quitting is to shift your paradigm to believe there is no such thing as true failure — only feedback.
  12. Spend more time on your passions, hobbies, and outside areas of interest and then seek ways to incorporate them into your classroom. Cultivate new hobbies and watch new areas of your brain explode in creative output.
  13. Grow! Try new things and do those bucket-list items. Notice the world around you and treat it like the bountiful supply of creative ideas that it is. It’s not just good for your life…it’s great for your teaching. Exploring the world and your passions allows you to bring a new perspective and energy into the classroom. It allows you to become a powerful role model for your students. We always say we want them to be life-long learners, so we must show them what that looks like.
  14. I believe the best books to read about teaching are rarely in the education section. I always have three or four books on my nightstand, a book in my car, one in my school bag, and several more on my phone. I consider it one of the most important parts of my job to constantly expose myself to the high quality thinking of other people.
  15. When I only focus on my teaching, I am not nearly as creative as when I find time to humor my strange obsessions.
  16. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking time spent developing yourself into a well-rounded person, above and beyond your role as an educator, is wasted or something to feel guilty about. It is essential and will pay dividends in not only your life, but also in your classroom.
  17. If you can’t explain why someone should pay attention to what you’re saying, maybe you shouldn’t be saying it.
  18. By lighting yourself on fire with enthusiasm, you can become a beacon of bliss amidst a bastion of boredom and banality.
  19. It doesn’t particularly matter what the subject is; our mission is to teach in such a way that who we are as human beings has a more powerful and lasting effect on students than what we say.
  20. As for the side dishes and dessert, those are the parts of your lesson only the uptight and misguided view as a waste of time. There is no award given to the teacher who fills every class period with bell-to-bell direct instruction. It doesn’t matter how much material you teach, it only matters how much is received.
  21. No content standard in any class at any level is more important than nurturing and building a love of learning. Designing a class that empowers students to become life-long learners, avid readers, and voracious seekers of knowledge, will have an impact that reverberates for a lifetime and beyond.
  22. Much of your success as an educator has to do with your attitude towards teaching and towards kids. The rest of your success is based on your willingness to relentlessly search for what engages students in the classroom and then having the guts to do it.
  23. Sometimes it’s OK to do things in class because it increases the fun factor and fosters positive feelings about school.
  24. We have unbelievably talented kids sitting in front of us and many are starving for the opportunity to display their creativity. We should do everything we can to provide them the opportunity to hone their artistic skills and create.
  25. After finishing a unit, I often provide a day for students to get into collaborative groups and create non-linguistic representations of the material. For example, I may ask them to create a visual depicting an event or concept. It can be a literal interpretation or a symbolic representation; I encourage my students to be as creative as possible.
  26. Whether you use it to create a mood or tie it into your curriculum, music is an element of presentational power that can help you transform your class.
  27. When used correctly, technology can enhance the effectiveness of your lesson, increase engagement, and even strengthen the relationships between the humans that comprise your class.
  28. Technology as a replacement for live interaction between teachers and students concerns me.
  29. Our economy no longer rewards people for blindly following rules and becoming a cog in the machine. We need risk-takers, outside-the-box thinkers, and entrepreneurs; our school systems do the next generation of leaders a disservice by discouraging these very skills and attitudes.
  30. To ascend to the level of greatness, you have to be on fire with passion and enthusiasm. Mediocrity is incapable of motivating. You just can’t be on fire about mediocrity. There’s no energy, no juice, and no fuel to ignite action.
  31. We’re skyrocketing forward into an educational landscape that is changing every day. In these exciting times, we must be ready to take on the challenge of redefining greatness for a whole new generation of teachers and students.
  32. We aren’t just teaching facts to memorize or skills to learn; we’re uplifting lives and helping students fulfill their human potential. We’re shaping the mothers, fathers, world leaders, entrepreneurs, and artists of tomorrow.
  33. “Starting” may well be one of the most difficult and under-appreciated skills of all.

 

Just Start: Get on the Track of Improvement

By settling for safety, we miss out on certain growth and learning.

Photo by NordWood Themes on Unsplash

“Fear is always triggered by creativity, because creativity asks you to enter into realms of uncertain outcome. This is nothing to be ashamed of. It is, however, something to be dealt with.” — Elizabeth Gilbert

At the outset of the new year, AJ Juliani issued a challenge to the education world: blog — or engage in blogging activities — for thirty days.

His call was a welcome one. Research has long been telling us that our students learn best when they are given the time, tools, and opportunity to reflect thoughtfully on their own learning journeys. In Leaders of Their Own Learning, Ron Berger calls this sort of metacognitive activity “writing to learn.”

The same principle applies for educators.

Writing to Learn and Learning to Write

The more we speak, write, tweet, vlog, and publish about our learning and professional practice, the more we will learn, grow, and develop as educators. And as we make our own learning visible, others benefit and grow as well.

John Hattie talks about the power of collective efficacy. Stephen Covey calls it win-win. Simply put, we’re better together.

Our professional growth isn’t just about reading and listening to the established voices in education. It’s also about sharing and contributing our own experiences.

So, as passionate educators, why don’t we participate in the global conversation more than we do?

It’s Not Really About Time

The typical response says we don’t have enough time in the week. But for most, that’s not actually the case. As Laura Vanderkam demonstrates convincingly in 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, most of us actually do have the time.

When you get right down to it, most of us aren’t hitting ‘Publish’ for one reason: fear.

We fear embarrassment. Rejection. Crickets.

We assume that our voice doesn’t matter. That no one will pay attention. Or worse yet, that we’ll be exposed as an imposter.

As Elizabeth Gilbert points out, most of us don’t publish creatively because the outcome is uncertain. There’s just no guarantee of success — whatever success means.

So we take the safe option.

The Power of Practice

But people who aren’t publishing are overlooking an absolute guarantee: improvement.

That’s right, I said it. When you create content consistently over time, your growth and improvement is guaranteed. You can’t help but get better.

In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell makes the case that repetition is highly underrated. He tells story after story of individuals who simply put in the time on their craft to gradually become an expert in their space.

Marques Brownlee

Earlier this year, I listened to a podcast featuring YouTuber Marques Brownlee, a soft-spoken, thoughtful, and charismatic tech reviewer. He talked about how he began publishing YouTube videos back in high school simply because he loved the medium and enjoyed the process. As he describes it, his first 100 videos were viewed by audiences of around 100 people.

Today, Brownlee’s videos earn millions of views apiece. He has 7.7M subscribers.

It’s not all about growing an audience. That’s not really my point, although the size of his growing viewership does speak to the value of his work.

What I’m more interested in is those first 100 videos. Just think about the sort of headspace he was in to continue creating.

As he puts it, he created content simply because he enjoyed it. The views and reactions were secondary.

And because he stuck with it, he’s obviously eclipsed Gladwell’s 10,000 hours. He’s become a master at his craft.

The Teachers on Fire Podcast

In March of 2018, I realized a long-held dream by launching a podcast for educators, Teachers on Fire. I didn’t really know what I was doing, and I had questions about everything from applications to equipment to guests.

It took a lot of work to get started, and it definitely wasn’t easy. My sound quality was awful at the beginning, and I made a ton of unfortunate mistakes that made the process even more painful.

The interview for my very first episode took forever to complete because the recording app I was using crashed at least six times. It was a frustrating first experience.

Almost a year later, I still don’t have it all figured out. But I’m learning. I’m growing. I’m improving my craft. I’m miles and miles from where I started, and my conversations with education leaders are inspiring listeners around the world.

Consistent Content Creation is a Direct Line to Improvement

I don’t consider myself a skilled artist. But I have zero doubt in my mind that if I set aside three hours a weekend to learn and practice pencil drawing for 52 weeks, I would be a much better artist by year’s end.

Absolutely no doubt in my mind.

I’m convinced that the same holds true for any kind of creative publishing. Once we embark on the commitment of regular creation, improvement isn’t a question. It’s an absolute certainty.

And as we hone our creative skills, our contributions to the world around us become more valuable.

This is what I want my stepsons to know. My students to know. And you, fellow educator, to know.

We can lament our lack of creative skills. Or we can take action.

Just start.

My #OneWord2019: Create

This will be a year for new content. New learning. New relationships.

@MisterCavey on Instagram

It was in the final weeks of December that I started to see the #OneWord and #OneWord2019 hashtags pop up on Twitter.

I was unimpressed at first, but as some of my favorite edustars (like Rose Pillay) started to reflect on their #OneWord2019, I decided to take a closer look.

It looks like the One Word idea has been around for a while. Although you’ll find One Word resources all over the web, the philosophy behind the movement seems best developed in a book called One Word That Will Change Your Life by Jon Gordon and Dan Britton.

Without reading the book, my take on #OneWord is simple. Choose a word that best frames your hopes, goals, and expectations for the year ahead. Choose a word that anchors you, clarifies your mission, and reminds you of your purpose. Choose a word that you can use to connect your growth and learning as the year unfolds.

It took me most of the last week of December, but I finally found my own #OneWord2019.

CREATE.

I want to see creation unfold in three dimensions this year.

1. Create new content.

In the last two years I’ve become a committed content creator, a journey that would take a different post to fully describe and unpack. But in general, create > consume has become a mantra that I preach and model consistently.

Of course my biggest step along these lines in 2018 was to begin the Teachers on Fire podcast. The show was and continues to be the realization of a personal dream, and I can’t begin to explain all the ways I’ve grown and learned as a direct result of my work there. When educators around the globe share their appreciation for the podcast, it’s a tremendous encouragement. It gives my work meaning and reinforces my commitment to it.

I also started writing more in 2018, but that’s an area where I’d really like to turn up the heat in 2019. In 2018, I wrote about 30 posts in total. Today, my goal is to publish two blog posts per week: one personal and one professional.

There are many reasons behind this push for greater consistency, another important concept deserving of its own post. But for now, this is what I’m committing to. Two posts per week.

I have one more piece of content in mind here that I hesitate to put on the record, but maybe the power of public accountability will be the boost I need to make it happen consistently. YouTube. I’d like to start creating content there on a weekly basis as well. Stay tuned!

One more thing. It’s also a goal of mine to complete my Master’s thesis this year. That’s another form of content — not the kind that will be visible to most, but a pretty important byproduct of two years of academic study.

2. Create new learning.

I want to give my students new learning experiences this year. In particular, I want them to create, design, revise, and create products they have never created before.

I want to create the sorts of learning experiences that will challenge them, require critical thinking, and demand new sets of skills. That’s the kind of teaching that I get excited about.

In my own life, one way to for me to experience new learning is to read more books than ever before. According to my Goodreads account, I finished 10 books in 2018. In 2019, my goal is 15.

I know I can hit 15 books simply by reading my Kindle before bed every night. I generally try to read 5% of a book (or books) in my account before lights out. Doing that will push me through the equivalent of a full book every 20 days this year. So that’s the plan.

As I mentioned, my MEdL thesis studies will require more academic and field research in the areas of podcasting and professional development. That’s not only new content — it’s new learning, as well. That’s learning to look forward to.

In general, I want to improve my attitude toward learning this year. That means adopting a stronger growth mindset, taking more risks, learning new skills, and stretching myself into uncomfortable spaces in order to experience personal and professional growth.

3. Create new relationships.

One of the unexpected side benefits of starting the Teachers on Fire podcast last year was the formation of so many new friendships with other educators. It’s an amazing feeling to receive support and encouragement from principals in California, teachers in the UK, and authors in Wisconsin. It’s a PLN at its best.

In the fall of 2018 I also took a teaching position at a new school, and in many ways this community is still new to me. I’ve already built meaningful friendships here, but there’s plenty of room for deeper connection. New relationships are waiting to be formed, deeper roots to be planted.

On a personal and completely different note, my wife and I would also love to have a baby this year! We’ve been trying for some time now, and I back and forth between going all in on hope and expectant prayer versus the pragmatism of emotional management. But there you have it — I’d also love to (pro)create a little Cavey this year. That one is in God’s hands.

My #OneWord2019: Create

I can’t wait to create: new content, new learning, and new relationships. 2019 is going to be an amazing year, and I look forward to learning from you along the way.

Why don’t you join me. And CREATE.

@TimCavey on Instagram

by Tim Cavey, MS Teacher in Surrey, BC, Canada and host of the Teachers on Fire podcast.

Staying Hungry

Before I’m an educator, I’m a learner.

Photo credit: James Barker

“The best teachers I know are the ones that still see themselves as works in progress and are continually looking for new ways to improve. They are learners. They are students of their profession and calling.”

— Jarod Bormann in Professionally Driven: Empower Every Educator To Redefine PD

At 40 years old, I’m now in my 18th year of teaching at my fourth school. With memories of being the “young guy” on campus still fresh in my memory, I now wear the label of veteran.

Of course, those years of experience offer confidence and insight. 17 years removed from rookie, I have a clearer sense of my professional strengths and weaknesses.

I know a whole lot more about classroom management and student behavior. I have a firmer understanding of what optimal conditions for learning look like. My thinking around assessment and learning has evolved astronomically. I’m better at setting personal boundaries and establishing self-care practices that allow me to be better in the classroom.

But I’m keenly aware that I still have a long, LONG way to go and a whole lot more to learn.

And I love that.

There might have been a time early in my career when I envisioned the master teacher as an educator who had basically arrived. This was the teacher who held her students’ attention with hypnotic powers. Who oozed the sort of charisma that inspired incredible heights of work, creativity, and achievement. Whose timeless classroom management systems had been tweaked to a state of permanent perfection. Who drew from a bottomless well of instructional resources to locate a solution for every possible challenge. Who personally knew every inch of their content area and whose expertise was legendary.

Who never made a mistake, never failed, who never felt embarrassed or frustrated.

Today, there might be some aspects of confidence and mastery in that vision that I still strive for. But I also recognize that most of that picture of “arrival” is mere mythology.

I now see that year-over-year consistency leads to stagnancy, that comfort breeds complacency.

As I continue to grow as a professional, as I learn from my PLN, as I read Mindset by Carol Dweck or Professionally Driven by Jarod Bormann, I’m constantly reminded that we’re all — ALL OF US — on a continuous journey of growing, stretching, and learning.

Even the best among us fail, miss the mark, pick ourselves up and continue to learn.

Especially the best among us.

I took a new teaching position this year, and in some ways, a new position means going back to square one. Hitting reset.

It’s a chance to ignore my old assumptions and beliefs, to reimagine every moment, every class, every course, every subject. To critique my own practice. To push the limits of what is possible for every one of my learners.

I want to push myself into uncomfortable spaces and take bigger risks.

Because I haven’t made it. And because “making it” isn’t the goal, anyway.

“If you haven’t failed in the classroom lately, you aren’t pushing the envelope far enough. ‘Safe’ lessons are a recipe for mediocrity at best.”

— Dave Burgess in Teach Like a Pirate

I’m a student of my profession.
I’m a lifelong learner.
And the appetite for growth is real.

So I’m getting after it.
I’m seeking to stretch, risk, grow, and learn.

I’m staying hungry this year.

Good Teachers Take Risks

“Successful teachers endure the vulnerability of being a learner and take risks to provide the most effective instruction to their students.”  —  @torreytrust

Photo by @AlexRadelich

I was doing some research this summer and came across an article written by Dr. Torrey Trust titled Professional Learning Networks Designed for Teacher Learning.

The headline seemed simple enough. There’s nothing particularly revelatory about the power of solid PLNs (even though there’s still an absurdly high number of teachers who aren’t connected anywhere outside their own school, but that’s a post for another time).

But then, near the end of the article, came the quote. Here it is again:

“Successful teachers endure the vulnerability of being a learner and take risks to provide the most effective instruction to their students.”

Yes and YES.

Think about what we want to see in our learners. Curiosity. Hunger for improvement. Grit in the face of difficulty. Tolerance for ambiguity. Imaginative design. Creative innovation. Problem-solving. Growth mindset.

Too often, though, teachers don’t do the hard work of modeling this for our students. We settle for staying sane. Running a tight ship. Checking all the boxes. Getting the job done.

And we mean well. I mean, we’re all in this because we care about kids, right? But comfort creeps in. We fall in love with our pet systems. And the Mr. Cavey of 2019 starts to look, sound, and act an awful lot like the Mr. Cavey of 2018.

What we pride as consistency actually makes us grow stale. We stagnate.

Learning involves risk.

Is learning actually risky behavior? Of course it is. Whether it’s serving a volleyball, dancing the tango, or writing a blog post, the process of learning risks discomfort, fallibility, and public failure.

We’ve all seen (or been) people who make the choice for safety. People who absolutely refuse to play volleyball, step out on a dance floor, or publish their thoughts. People who refuse to try a new application, or travel somewhere unfamiliar, or ask their crush out on a date.

I’ve had students like that.

And I’ve been like that.

Safety. It’s a slow death.

This year, let’s commit to being vulnerable. Let’s commit to taking risks in front of our students. Let’s reject the safety of the known for the vulnerability of learning.

Because in the end, we can’t expect from our students what we aren’t prepared to do ourselves.