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Dave’s Books on Amazon:
Other Books in the PIRATE Series on Amazon:
Play Like a PIRATE by Quinn Rollins
Learn Like a PIRATE by Paul Solarz
EXPLORE Like a PIRATE by Michael Matera
Dave shares a little about his family, background, and pastimes, and his background as an aspiring rapper (1:50)
Dave talks about his magic shows, and how he got into performing magic, the immediate impact it had on his students, and how it became one of the foundations of his Teach Like a Pirate philosophy (3:00)
Dave talks about the huge importance of being fully present when dealing with others (7:25)
Dave shares his journey from when he first started out as a basketball coach, through getting his teaching license, spending 17 years of teaching social studies, to where he is today (10:30)
Why Dave chose a pirate as the symbol of a great teacher (13:40)
Dave breaks down the elements of the P.I.R.A.T.E acronym (15:17)
Dave’s reply to doubters and cynics about the P.I.R.A.T.E approach (17:17)
Dave’s advice for people who see the potential of the P.I.R.A.T.E philosophy but don’t know where to start (18:45)
Revolutionize your teaching by asking yourself better questions (20:00)
How to get your admins to buy in to P.I.R.A.T.E teaching (21:15)
Dave’s advice to principals and other admins for creating the supportive environment that will encourage teachers to take risks (22:55)
Here’s what to do if you’re an admin and you want to start implementing the P.I.R.A.T.E teaching philosophy in your school (26:30)
You have a moral obligation to share your most effective ideas with the students and other teachers in your school (28:00)
It sometimes helps to be crazy! (31:15)
When and why Dave made the jump from teacher to full-time speaker and leader (33:14)
Some of the ways Dave has grown and changed over the years (35:40)
One of Dave’s greatest moments as a teacher (37:35)
Teachers are in the business of changing lives (38:30)
“If your students didn’t have to be there, would you be teaching to an empty room?”(38:55)
The best advice Dave has ever heard – “Pick yourself”(41:24)
What Dave considers his biggest strength (42:24)
Some of the authors who have most inspired Dave (43:04)
Dave’s advice to teachers on working with students – rapport & relationships (44:05)
Dave’s advice to teachers on working with other teachers – don’t try to “fix” people, but collaborate with them (44:55)
If Dave had a time machine and could go back to when he was first starting out as a teacher, here’s the advice he would give his younger self (46:26)
Books and authors mentioned in this episode
Connect with Dave Burgess
The P.I.R.A.T.E Elements
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Educators Lead Episode 74
CPR For Bored Students: How To Teach Like A PIRATE You Have A Moral Obligation To Share Your Most Effective Ideas With The Students And Teachers In Your School
Show notes: http://www.educatorslead.com/daveburgess
Welcome to Educators Lead where we interview leaders in education to offer inspiration and practical advice to help launch educators into the next level of leadership. I’m your host Jay Willis and I want to thank you for subscribing to our show.
Intro: Hello Edu Leaders Jay Willis here and I’m excited to introduce our featured guests today. Dave Burgess is a former teacher and the co-author of “P is for Pirate” and the New York Times bestselling author of “Teach Like a Pirate” which has been translated into four languages and has transformed classrooms all over the world. He’s also a popular keynote speaker and professional development seminar leader known for his outrageously energetic style. In addition Dave is the president of Dave Burgess Consulting Inc. which is disrupting the traditional publishing industry with innovative books, author friendly contracts, and creative marketing techniques. So that’s just a brief introduction Dave but if you don’t mind give us maybe a little glimpse into your personal life.
Dave Burgess: Yeah absolutely so I’m married. I run my, I run the business “Dave Burgess Consulting” with my wife Shelly, who is also an educator. And I taught for 17 years at West Hills High School – I was a U.S. history teacher and now I’m a full time speaker trying to emphasize my message and get the word out and help educators.
Jay Willis: Yeah. So what’s maybe something interesting about yourself that most people wouldn’t know?
Dave Burgess: Yes so I have some interesting parts of my background for I would say there for about 3 years of my life in the late 80’s you could not have convinced me that I was going to be anything but a rapper. So I was in a little rap and a D.J. group and for about 3 years that was all I could do. All that I was concerned about was going back to my dorm room at college so I could get back to my Technics 1200 turntables and little mixer and my microphone and my T.R. Roland T.R. 808 drum machine. So I have a background in rap music; that might surprise some people
Jay Willis: Wow! Have you ever met Mervin Jenkins?
Dave Burgess: I haven’t, no.
Jay Willis: Yeah he’s been a guest on the show – he’s known as like the rapping principal. And actually on the episode he he did a little freestyle. It was interesting! That was pretty fun so now I want to hear a little bit more about these magic shows. Can you tell us a little about I guess what, what got you interested in that and just give us some insight into that?
Dave Burgess: That got me interested to magic?
Jay Willis: Right.
Dave Burgess: Yeah. So for me I actually started…I had a restaurant magician come to my table. I was eating with my wife and a couple of friends and I was just so blown away. I went to the local magic shop and picked up something and I did it at the end of the class period for my students. And I was so shocked at the impact it had in front the students. Something that was seemingly pretty small had an enormously outsized impact with the students and so I went back and learned a little more, tried it in class, learned a little more, and then pretty soon it was kind of an obsession all on his own. And since then I’ve spent some time also moonlighting as a professional magician doing shows on the side as well.
Jay Willis: Yeah, well so I mean I know there’s probably a lot of factors involved. What would you say is the key to being effective as a magician?
Dave Burgess: Yes so it’s I think of very much has a lot to do with teaching and it’s I guess what I found. I’ve taken a lot of my hobbies and outside interests and that’s what’s been pulled together to create the Teach Like a Pirate system so if you actually read “Teach like a pirate” there’s not a single other educational book that’s referenced in there and it’s not because I don’t like other educational books. It’s just that that philosophy was taken and drawn from like my background in magic, my background in performance, like that and rap, my background as a basketball coach, and my background in sales marketing and entrepreneurship. And so , magic, one of the things…for example if you’re a street performer. that nobody has to, nobody has to stop, right? You have to grab them and you have to engage them you have to pull them in. And so a street performer…I mean they’re going to go broke unless they have a way not only of gaining an audience but they have to keep an audience too it’s one of the most real jobs in the world because the only way someone pays you is if at the end they feel you are worth it. That they’re going to reach into their wallet and pull some money and drop it in your hat because they can just as easily walk away and pay you nothing.
And so it’s a fantastic kind of philosophy as an educator that we have to grab our students, have to grab and we have to draw them in but that’s not all that we have to do –we have to be able to keep them and provide something of great value for them as well and that’s one of the things like about one of the essential questions of Teach Like a Pirate is – if they didn’t have to be there, would you be teaching to an empty room? Right? And do you have any lessons you could sell tickets for? Well that’s exactly what’s going on with the street performer and magic is that they have to have something of great value that draws people in
Jay Willis: Yeah. I had a chance to attend an event earlier this year with Oz Perlman I’m not sure if you’ve heard of the name. So he was performing I just I was just mesmerized. He was able to actually figure out my iPhone password using some of his magic. I was just amazed. I don’t have any idea how he did that but what was really impressive to me is how just fully present he was and just the intensity that he had the entire time. And I guess a question I would have for that and maybe also for being just a super engaging teacher is how do you build up to that level of focus and intensity? both for magic in for, for being an excellent educator?
Dave Burgess: Right and that’s what the I in the P.I.R.A.T.E system actually centers on – the IProba stands for immersion. And you really have to immerse yourself in the unfolding moment of whatever you’re doing in life and in fact I call it the number one top secret way to become a better lover. And so it’s all about that we are fully present in our interactions with our colleagues with our students. That’s a magical to them. It has an almost magnetic pull to it and it has a hypnotic quality to it and so if that’s a super important thing no matter what’s going on in the world our life. The community the school, the district like our building where the door closes and bell rings are really the unplugged all that until there’s literally be, And each unfolding moment of our class or our interaction with a colleague with them that is absolutely magical.
Jay Willis: Yeah I mean are there any tips that help you to kind of develop exercise that muscle of being fully present and, and just because it’s just kind of a different level intensity than most a lot of people just there sort of on the conveyor belt where they just kind of going through a lot of the time and so I mean. When I look at that I think man that is awesome like just the performance and engaging the students and all of that is awesome but it also looks very exhausting. So I mean like I guess maybe speak to that how do you either build up to that point or is it is it just kind of a different way of thinking?
Dave Burgess: Yeah I think it’s absolutely a mindset. That whatever the interaction that you participate in that moment is the most important interaction in the entire world so I think it’s a, it’s a mindset but I would also say that I think it’s the opposite of exhausting. Because I think it’s those moments that we’re fully immersed with our students that are most fully immersed in whatever it is that we’re doing. That’s when time flies and then all of a sudden that bell rings like oh my gosh like what just happened right there and you see the look of shock on kids’ faces as well where it’s like you have to be kidding me. And that’s kind of one of the biggest compliments I’ve ever had is at the end of a two hour keynote a person came up to me and said like I thought that like it was a joke I had to check my watch because I thought that maybe 25 minutes had passed and because they were just so fully into it and hopefully I was so fully into it as well that it made time disappear and so immersion is actually the opposite of tiring its actually energizing because it’s that moment where you completely lose yourself in what you’re doing.
Jay Willis: Yeah. Well that’s great so I had a chance to watch a TED talk that you’d done in a couple of your YouTube videos that you had and I noticed that with a lot of your magic tricks you kind of offer a disclaimer that it potentially could be just a complete and utter failure. And I was just curious I mean is there kind of a psychological thing that you’re trying to accomplish with the audience by saying that?
Dave Burgess: Yeah, absolutely I think it’s more engaging more entertaining if they believe that there’s a chance that it’s not going to work. And so that’s…one of the, one category, one kind of principle behind a lot of magician tricks is called “the magician in trouble” principle where when you think like “Uh-oh” something’s gone wrong here and then in the end the magician makes it all right that’s a highly engaged in the kind of take your audience on a rollercoaster ride. And so if for example if you select a card and I do something and I’m going to find the card. If you know for a fact that the card I sent down is your card, well then the punch line the climax…it’s, you got there early right. And it’s not as engaging but if you’re like “oh wait this is all gone wrong I wonder what’s going to happen” and then eventually it comes right in the end that’s something they did. Which is more engaging.
Jay Willis: Yeah. Yeah also jump in a little bit and talking about I guess you and your personal journey to a year and I guess for people who may not be familiar with your story if you don’t mind maybe start from the beginning and talk about how you got to where you are today.
Dave Burgess: Yeah so I was originally hired at my school as a basketball coach so I got into education through my love a basketball coach and then went back to school at night got my teacher credential and so much enjoyed working with the students then I went back as a teacher and actually got hired at the high school in the social studies department. Taught for 17 years there and partway through that time my friend and department chair came to me and said, “Hey, – I just got put on the professional development committee for the district and thought how cool would it be if you put together a workshop based on some of that crazy stuff you do down in your room that nobody understands”, and so that’s kind of where it all started. I did and I put together this workshop for the peers in my district and so it forced me to be very intentional about what I do my classroom and why it’s successful why maybe some other approaches are successful.
And so that’s one of the things I always tell people is if like they’re interested in writing a book if they’re interested in kind of spreading the message like go speak first because when you sign up and you have a deadline that you’re going to do a workshop at a conference on a particular day then that puts put some pressure on you and it’s so incredible to be able to sit back and to be reflective and to think about what is it that I do this may be different than other people that’s successful. Why is that successful and how can I help other people to incorporate some of these ideas into their classes?
And so when you put that together it just helps you so much and so I went through that reflective process to put that workshop together and I’m kind of obsessed with packaging materials in ways that make it easier for my students to understand. I call it putting handles on material to make it easier for them to pick up. So I wanted to put handles on my workshop and that’s where I came up with the whole pirate theme and I knew that I wanted to create a language around it that we could help, that would help spread and amplify the message and that’s where we are. We could get deeper into what the pirate thing means if you want to but…and then I don’t know I was just some crazy guy who was showing up at these conferences dressed like a pirate. I literally went anywhere anyone would listen to me like at my own expense. I just sent proposals everywhere – if you said that I could come and do an hour thing in your conference, I got a hotel, I got a plane ticket, a conference registration, and I went there and I basically recruited people into my room.
I’d walk by the lobby areas of these hotels and say hey there’s going to be a pirate in room seventeen at ten o’clock and play loud music. I wrote up my description to make it sound like you were going to Disneyland, and other people’s conference descriptions sounded like you were going to the dentist to get drilled right? And mine sounded like you were going to go to Disneyland I put my better lover sign that was just written on a foam board at this time, I’d lean it up to the front of the wall at the top in the seminar room. Everybody else would get up to read their PowerPoint slides and I would just get them into these rooms we’d pack them, break fire codes, jam them in along the wall, sitting on the floors and I would just go off. I would just rant and rave and do the pirate message and it all started to spread from there.
Jay Willis: So what made you choose the pirate?
Dave Burgess: I’m really obsessed with having a theme, a way of communicating messages that makes it more powerful. Pirates appealed to me because – it has nothing to do with wanting teachers to attack and rob ships at sea I always tell people, right? It’s the spirit of a pirate; if you think about the spirit of a pirate – they’re unconventional, they’re willing to reject the status quo, they’re willing to sail into uncharted waters with no guarantee of success. They’re risk takers, rebels, and mavericks. And I kind of saw myself as that maverick teacher. I’m kind of that crazy guy who they accidentally gave keys to one day and they haven’t they haven’t been able to get rid of me ever since.
And so I really love that spirit of the pirate and then pirates are also known for having hooks and this was exactly what I was trying to do I was trying to add hooks into everything that I did and help teachers add a hook to draw kids in it so that fit and then I am abnormally obsessed with the acronyms as many educators are and so and I immediately threw the letters down on in a notebook to see if I could come up with an acronym. And I knew I wanted to talk about passion and enthusiasm and there that P. and E were sitting at the back the cornerstones the front of the end of the word and then I knew that building rapport with students in relationships with students was something that was going to be critical to the “Teach like a Pirate” system and that’s kind of the heart of the system right there the R was sitting in the center and so it was a perfect fit and I’ve been doing it ever since.
Jay Willis: So talk about a few of the letters – so what do all the letters stand for in the acronym there?
Dave Burgess: The P stands for passion and I is Immersion as you discussed the R is Rapport, A stands for Ask and Analyze and that’s the part where we really kind of go deep diving into creativity and how we can develop higher levels of creativity and we kind of address that myth idea to some people that are creative and some people aren’t we dispel that myth. The T stands for Transformation about how you can transform school education and what kids believe as possible in their lives. And the E of course is Enthusiasm.
Jay Willis: Yeah and so then you mentioned briefly the hook. So what, what is the hook exactly?
Dave Burgess: The hook is what you do that draws students in, into what you’re doing in the classroom. Sometimes like for example I use the analogy of a barbecue. Suppose if I just brought out a raw steak and dropped it on the plate and served it to you. You wouldn’t be very happy with me, right? It’s the rub, it’s the season, it’s the marinade, right? It’s the side dishes, beverages, and desserts. And by the way also before I put my steak on I pre-heat my grill. I don’t put my steak down on a cold grill right? I pre-heat my grill. And the same thing is true of my content. I want to pre-heat my grill. I want there to be mystery, curiosity, buzz in anticipation before I begin. Like if you go out with a steak and drop it on a cold grill nothing happens but if you drop a steak onto a preheated grill then ssss it sizzles right? So I want my content to sizzle when I drop it. And so how you build that buzz, that anticipation, that mystery, that curiosity is to draw them in almost magically and magnetically into what you’re doing in the classroom. That’s the hook.
Jay Willis: Yeah well so how do you win over those people who might be cynical and say, “Look Dave, I just want to be real. I don’t really want to do all this showmanship stuff. I have this content and I want to share it with the students. I just don’t know about all this sizzle steak whatever you’re talking about there.” What would you say to that cynical person? How would you win them over?
Dave Burgess: Yes So I think it’s just a matter of whether you – it’s not about the show. it’s about effectiveness, right, and one of the things I always tells teachers is – they say, “Oh, I have to cover so much material like when am I gonna have time to do all this other stuff?” and I always tell them it, “It doesn’t matter what you say if nobody’s listening”, right? It always comes back to engagement. You can teach all that you want right, but it only matters whether they learn. And so it’s not the quantity of material that we teach, it’s the quality of it, and as to whether or not they actually are getting it and so it always comes back to engagement. These things…well I think once you try them and you see the effect that you have with students… It is something that it’s kind of it’s an addicting drug right once you teach like a pirate and you see how excited students can be about school and then they can run to your class again this is about creating schools that have kids running to get into them instead of running to get out and then when you see that you can create a class and have kids knocking down the doors to get in is something that you can’t imagine teaching any other way once you experience it.
Jay Willis: So, if there is somebody listening who hearing what you’re saying thinks. “Yeah. Gosh Dave that sounds really great but I don’t know…I don’t really know that I feel super creative.” Maybe they just haven’t exercised that muscle a whole lot. And so where they would start if you’re if you find yourself in a situation like, “Yes, I completely buy into what you’re saying but I don’t know where to start”?
Dave Burgess: So I call it the myth of the blinding flash of light that some people think that there’s creative people and not- creative people, that creative people just walk down the street and they’re like struck with these creative ideas, these flashes of lightning that hit them, and the not-creative people stand over the side like “Oh man how I wish I could get some of those flashes of lighting myself“, right? And that’s just not the way that creativity works. Creativity is a process, it’s hard work and I think the key to creativity is questions. Questions really are the key to creativity and that’s like e. e. cummings said, “Always the more beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question.” And so if you want to change a teacher’s classroom, I think you change their questions. If you can change the questions that they ask you can change their whole classroom and so the way that you start as a person who’s maybe bought in but don’t know where you start with your questions and you change the types of questions that you’re asking. For example, in “Teach Like a Pirate”, the center section of the book, there are 170 questions, the kind of questions I ask, all categorized into 30 categories of hook, and so it’s absolutely not true that there are creative people and not-creative people. It’s just some people have learned to ask themselves a different type of question.
Jay Willis: Yeah I think its Tony Robbins who says “Ask yourself a better quality question you’ll get a better quality answer.”
Dave Burgess: Absolutely yes. He said that questions were “the laser of human consciousness” which is another Tony Robbins quote. Actually I quoted him in the book with that one and it’s just so true.
Jay Willis: Yeah. What would be an example of a question that teachers typically ask themselves and then a better quality question?
Dave Burgess: I think a lot of teachers ask themselves, “How I can get through this content? How can I cover all of this stuff?”And a better quality question is like, “How can I make this come alive. How can I make this memorable? How can I create an experience out of this?” And so don’t just teach a lesson; create an experience because lessons are going to be easily forgotten but experiences live forever. So it’s like how can you create an experience so how do I make this learning stick? It’s like, “Here’s my content.” Yeah; that’s just not good enough in today’s world. How do I make it come alive?
Jay Willis: Yeah. Well so what if you have kind of a few ideas and you start implementing some different teaching strategies, what advice would you have on how to get buy in from the principal so they don’t just think you’re crazy?
Dave Burgess: Yeah well. So one thing I see is that at some schools the only time an administrator’s in the room is when there’s an evaluation going on. And if you let that be the situation at your school then you are in that situation where you’re nervous of when they might pop in and what they might see that particular moment. So one of the things I tell pirate teachers is to invite…when you have a lesson that you know is going to be amazing, to invite your administrators in. Sometimes people say “Well administrators they never come to my room” and I say “Well have you ever invited them?” So it’s not always on the administrator – they have a lot of things on their plate so invite them in.
And when they start to see lesson after lesson and they see the kids excited and they see the learning that’s going on then you don’t have to worry so much about that one time when they pop in and something very crazy is happening because they have a larger context to judge from. And so I think it’s actually better to get them into our room more often and you can also talk to them about what are some of the educational justifications behind what you’re doing and so sometimes it’s not that they are resistant necessarily; it’s just that they’re not fully informed about what the educational justifications in what you’re doing.
Jay Willis: Yeah. So I mean if there’s maybe a school leader listening who is thinking a lot of this stuff sounds great and they’d like to start maybe working on changing the culture of the school in general.. what advice would you give to principals in regard to just how to create a safe atmosphere that would inspire and encourage teachers to step out and kind of lead the way that you’re talking about?
Dave Burgess: So I think this goes to…there’s kind of 2 things so first of all everybody talks about wanting to support risk taking and a growth mindset. But what do you do when something fails and goes wrong? That’s the real test. It’s easy to support that risk taking teacher when it’s successful, but how do you respond when it’s not and that’s really when we find out whether or not you really support risk taking and whether you really support that growth mindset. All progress is found outside of your comfort zone. So if you as an educator if you’re never uncomfortable then you’re never growing. So you have to be willing to, to go through those failures. But when I think about changing the culture of a school…see, change isn’t something that you can announce from the podium right? You can’t stand at the podium and pass out eye patches and say hey this year everyone’s going to be pirates so let’s go and expect to work right?
Change is something that’s built from a grassroots level and I think I look at like building a snowball. So if you wanted to build a giant snowball and you went out and tried to grab all the snow in your arms, it would all crumble away and fall apart and you would end up with nothing. That’s not the way you build a snowball. The way you get a snowball is you get a little bit in your hands and you pack it tight and you shape, you form, and you work with that and then you add a little more to it and shape that and build it in a little more a little more and eventually it gets big enough we can put it on the ground and you can start to roll it and if you can get near a hill you can get some momentum as it rolls down and you can create a giant snowball.
But it always starts with that small little bit that you’ve got in your hands and you shape it. That’s the same way you flip culture at a school is you can’t just grab them all at once – a lot of the administrators are frustrated because they want everyone to change at the same time. That’s not the way it happens. You get that small group that is enthusiastic, that does buy, in that does want to be a part of the initiative, the movement, whatever direction that you’re going, and you work with them. So rather than dissipating all of your energy on the negativity, work with the people that are ready and then you’ll see an unbelievable thing happen as that energy that radiates out from that small group that will start to attract other people who say hey I want to know about what you’re part of right there and what will happen is you’ll be able to add them in and then to add some more in advance you’re going to get big enough to get enough momentum where you can set it on the ground at your, in your system and start to roll it. But it always starts with that small group. That’s why I love – a lot of times principals have started optional book study groups on Teach Like a Pirate where they didn’t say hey everybody must read this book. They said hey who wants to read this one? Who wants to be a part of this and I’ve seen the whole system changed because of a small initial group that began a book study and then eventually other people wanted to know what was happening. And they joined in.
Jay Willis: That’s great I mean I guess the book study idea that if they just maybe read a chapter week something like that I’m I know I’m I’m focusing here on the kind of instead of like the forest view maybe like getting down into the trees. So if you’re a principal and you listen to this you’re like, “Dave, I love what you’re saying and so I’ve identified a few teachers who are super energetic. I think they’d be on the team to help change the culture and so we have your book.” Like what would that look like I guess like having a meet once a week or are there some little things that I guess if there is somebody listening who’s wanting to start on this. How exactly would that look?
Dave Burgess: Yeah I think of there’s lots of different ways you can do it I know some have done it with a meeting – once a week or twice a month whatever it might be. Some have used online methods of doing it. Some have used Twitterchats. Some have used like Edmodo groups, Voxxer groups, and there’s all sorts of ways that it can be done. Also I mean we offer tremendous support so for example if you contact us we have a Google drive folder of links and resources and questions and books studies that other people from all around the world have put together. We collect those and then we offer the service you have all these questions and stuff that other book study groups have already put together. And plus, I’ll come in and I’ll greet the staff, I’ll introduce the book on the Google hangout or Skype, it’s totally free. I just come in and greet them, get them excited about reading the book, tell them a little bit of background on it. Some study groups instead of doing that, they prefer to do more of a question & answer as a culminating activity of their book study and that’s something that we try to support. We love book study groups and we try to give them the biggest hand that we possibly can.
Jay Willis: Yeah. Well. So I mean you have definitely put yourself out there as far as just being a pirate, dressing up like a pirate going to conventions and I’m sure that they’re part of the result of that is potentially it could be a little bit polarizing right? Like I would guess that some people would look at that and who would maybe think they’re just too a little too intellectual and refined for something like that? But at the same time just the message that you’re conveying is just so awesome and I think it’s just so transformational. But just somebody who’s listening to this who sees kind of you and sees what you’ve been able to accomplish, listens to your message, but looks at that and thinks, “I don’t want to stand out. I’m concerned about getting that much attention or I don’t want to be embarrassed.” I guess that’s probably a concern that most people have and that’s probably something I would guess you’ve had to overcome on some level yourself as well. Can you kind of speak to that like to that teacher who’s listening who’s thinking gosh I don’t like standing out. I’d like to implement some of these things I just don’t like kind of being an outlier.
Dave Burgess: Right so if you have a message – if there are any educators out there you have something that you’re doing in your classroom or again your school as a leader that is successful, it’s not just “OK” for you to share it. You have a moral imperative to share. And this is something that we talk to our authors about all the time because some people have a fear of “if I put myself out there kind of seems self-promotional and icky”, but if you have something that can help other people and you keep it to yourself and you know that it could transform classes and would help students and you because of issues you have you don’t share that?
Then that’s, that’s something that we have to address. You have a moral imperative to share the amazing stuff that you’re doing that’s helping other people. This is a completely over the top example but I’ve told this to people all the time. So if you’re in a crowded party and, and you know C.P.R. and someone on the other side of the party falls down and stops breathing and you make it loudly very clearly known that you can help that person – are other people going to consider you too bold and egotistical and “look at that person trying to draw attention to themselves” or maybe even if you push your way through some people to get over to get to them and you save them would they think that you are some kind of egomaniac?
No; they would think you were a hero because you had something that person needed that particular moment and you did everything that you possibly could to get it to them. And that’s the way that I look at it with educators and stuff that they can share. You have a moral imperative to share. There are students and there are teachers that are not breathing all over the world right? They’re in classrooms where they’re literally dying because of boredom and a lack of engagement or lack of relevancy of the curriculum that they’re learning and if you have something that could help that situation, if you have a way to spread your message to them, then you need to do everything that you possibly can to do to get that information to them.
Jay Willis: Well so how did you overcome that? Because I’m sure in the early days when you just kind of started thinking about spreading this message and dressing like a pirate to go places I’m sure you must have had some of that own self-doubt. Especially before anybody really knew who you were or what you’re going to say when you actually opened your mouth, and they just saw you dressed like a pirate. How did you, what was your internal dialogue like, like how did you overcome some of that?
Dave Burgess: Well, it helps to be crazy. (Laughter) So that’s one of the things I have going for me but also this is something that…I have about a little background in showmanship as I mentioned and I also I dress on a regular basis for my students for my class so dressing in character in costume wasn’t really too far outside the box for me. But I still see it today if I show up to school and maybe I’ve just been booked they haven’t done a book study, they don’t know me, and I walk in…You’ve just come into a professional development or school and you see some guy in the front dressed like a pirate walking around there’s a little bit, you see that kind of tension, a little bit the shoulders are kind of, the arms are crossed, like what is this going to be? And so I know that there are some things that I have to address early on in my workshops that are especially designed and put in my workshop where I can know I’m going to relax those shoulders of the audience and kind of be able to reach them just like a salesman knows like if you sell something you need to know what are the top rejections, the top reasons other people have for not buying and and then your sales pitch. If you’re not addressing those already then you’re not doing a very good job as a salesman and as a marketer and that’s how I look at presenting Teach Like a Pirate to teachers too. I know what some of the objections are going to be to my message and so built into my message is the answer to overcome some of those obstacles.
Jay Willis: Well so kind of jumping back into your journey to where you’re at now in your experience as a teacher. I mean at what point in your while you were teaching did you make the decision to kind of transition from teacher to being more of like a teacher leader or master teacher? I mean whether it were you kind of always is engaging or was there kind of is there a story or kind of a point in time when you kind of made that switch?
Dave Burgess: I did the workshop first for my my peers in my district and then that’s when I started to say hey you know what I have to get this message out there I saw it resonating. And so I started to travel to conferences and then eventually it got to a point where I was juggling both a full time teaching job and almost a fulltime speaking job and plus the book and marketing the book and selling the book and it got to a point where I needed just to make a decision and I decided that the best way for me to amplify my message was to move out of the classroom and to do this full time. And so that was a tough decision for me because I still miss the day to day interactions with the kids but I knew that this could never get to as many places I wanted it to get to if I if I kind of split my time and so I made a decision that I was going to influence more people by amplifying this message than I ever could have if I had just stayed in the classroom.
Jay Willis: Yeah, were you always super engaging as a teacher? Was there kind of a specific point or ah-hah moment where you became focused more on I guess the presentation than just the content itself?
Dave Burgess: Yes I like to think that I’ve been always fairly engaging but when it flipped for me was when I agreed to do that workshop and it really, really forced me to say, “OK. Like, I know that this is working in my classroom. But why exactly is it working? And how can I help other people do the same thing?” And so that that’s when it kind of flipped to me that leadership role when it became a matter that I had to really again get intentional about what it is that I do and what are the justifications for what I do. Why is it working so well and kind of what’s sort of the philosophy behind what’s going on here?
Jay Willis: Yeah well so I guess in comparing yourself day one as a teacher to the last day that you were a teacher. What are some ways that you feel you grew the most?
Dave Burgess: I think I learned which battles to fight over the course of my time. And that’s something I see with teachers all the time, I think they fight too many battles and when everything is a battle then nothing’s a battle, right? And that’s something that with basketball coaches for example like if you’re constantly screaming on the sidelines, well then what do you do when you’re really trying to emphasize a point, right? Because you were screaming the whole time so how does any particular moment stand out right? And so that’s why as a coach I always recommend that people have a little bit more of a calm demeanor because then when they really do want to punch a point home and they raise their voice and they get intense then it’s going to have more impact and that’s the same thing with teaching is that if you’re always fighting battles then really nothing is a battle and so you have to pick your moments.
And the other thing I think I learned over the course of time – I used to be very frustrated and upset with things that didn’t go right in the classroom and I would beat myself up over failures and lessons that blew up in my face and then that is something that I never stop having those failures I never stop having lessons blow up in my face but I had a different perspective about it and everything in the classroom that happens is just feedback. So it’s a matter of doctrine and that failure into feedback and it’s not something that you beat yourself up about it’s not something you beat your kids up about. Learning is messy teaching is messy creativity is messy and so things are going to go wrong and you have to fight through those things that go wrong learn from them in order to create something that’s amazing for kids so I used to beat myself up much more as a young teacher. So I kind of gain that philosophy.
Jay Willis: Yeah that’s right. Well so what was maybe one of your best moments as a teacher?
Dave Burgess: So one of the things I have really enjoyed is having students come back later and wanting to be a part of what’s happening in the classroom. So this actually became a bit of a problem for me as for some of these lessons like the lunar landing and different things like this. Where there will be so many ex-students who wanted to come and be a part of the lunar landing again it became like a space issue. But also I love when those those students come back and you hear what they’re doing and the impact, the influence that you had. Or they say, “You know what? I hated school until I was in your classroom and now like I’m teaching math in such in such high school and I’m trying to trying to teach like you taught.” And when they say stuff like that you realize that as teachers I mean we’re literally in the life changing business. It’s a mighty purpose that we’re a part of and when you see those kids come back and you realize that wow we really are life changers. Now I think that’s the most powerful thing.
Jay Willis: Yeah well and so do you have maybe a story like that just of a school maybe whether it’s just a classroom or school and the impact that the pirate mindset has made?
Dave Burgess: Oh yes, and this is something that comes to me just because it’s happening this week. For example Ryan McClain, who’s a principal in Ohio, he read Teach Like a Pirate, got on board, got his staff on board – and by the way he’s a co-author of Your School Rocks about spreading positive messages to your school community – and then he created something based on the essential question of “Teach Like A Pirate” which is this: If the students didn’t have to be there would you be teaching to an empty room? But what if your class was optional? What if school was optional? If they didn’t actually have to be there by law would your classroom would be empty?
And he wanted to put that to the test and so he created something called “Teach Like a Pirate Day” where they tested it. I initially told him that he was crazy but he went forward with it they tested it and said hey what if kids didn’t have to go to any particular classes, they got to choose where they went around the campus? And so he asked his teachers create sort of like a conference program. Like when we go to a professional development conference we go through the little catalog and we choose what sessions we’re going to go to? That’s what he did for his school on “Teach like a Pirate Day”. The teachers had to create something so compelling and so engaging and then write it up in such a fashion that they would actually draw an audience into their room, they would draw kids into their room.
And so the kids got their conference program and they got to choose their way and so there was a couple things that happened. First of all this was the first time that he’d actually seen kids running to classes because they didn’t want to be locked out and have a classroom be full of something that they wanted to experience. So the biggest behavior management issue on this day was running through the halls. It was the safety concern of kids running to get into their classes which is an unbelievable paradigm shift right? And then the other thing that happened is teachers on this campus said wow we actually, we can create stuff that is so engaging that they’ll they will knock down the walls to get here. And so it’s had an influence on the rest of the lessons that they teach as well and so actually that’s coming up, the reason I say this is it’s coming up this week, he’s doing it again for I think maybe this is his fourth year. He’s done it at two different schools and now it has started to spread to other schools and there are multiple schools around the nation that are holding a version of “Teach Like a Pirate Day”. So that’s something I’m super proud of.
Jay Willis: Wow, that’s neat. Now I’m going to roll through some rapid fire questions, if you’re ready for those
Dave Burgess: Yeah let’s go.
Jay Willis: So first of all what is the best advice that you’ve ever received.
Dave Burgess: So this advice I received did not come to me personally but it’s advice that I heard and that is from Seth Godin. Seth Godin said “Pick yourself.” I think too many educators, too many people in general, are sitting on the sidelines of life and waiting for someone else to pick them, someone else to tell them that they’re good enough, someone else to tell them hey you have something to contribute, please contribute it. And more people need to pick yourself and so I was sitting in that situation. When I was stuck trying to decide what to do with my book and am I going to sign a traditional publishing contract and then sign over all my intellectual property rights and all that kind of stuff and creative control my project or am I going to pick myself? I picked myself, formed a publishing company, brought Teach Like a Pirate out, actually published it off a laptop on my kitchen table. And that’s advice i would give to other people, too – pick yourself.
Jay Willis: What would you say was your biggest strength as an educator?
Dave Burgess: Undoubtedly a commitment to always be on when I step in front of kids. And that goes back to the barbecue analogy and that is that you don’t serve raw steak or people are not happy. It’s not edible when it’s raw, you have to turn on the propane, you have to bring a little heat and energy to what you do. And so I think my biggest strength as an educator – whether you walked in my class first period or the last period of the day I think you would have seen the same level of enthusiasm and energy and really commitment to bring it for kids.
Jay Willis: Besides, obviously, Teach Like a Pirate, is there a book that you’d recommend, that it is a book or two that that made a big impact on you?
Dave Burgess: Yeah. So first of all you mentioned a quote from Anthony Robbins/ Tony Robbins some of his work has had a big influence on the Teach Like a Pirate system and Seth Godin is probably my favorite author. I think I’ve read everything that Seth has written. So I love his work. And for people who are looking to kind of change their system and create a more like a culture of creativity in their system, George Couros’ book “The Innovators Mindset” is awesome. And, I know it’s kind of cheating, but I love all the books in our line including – there’s three other books in the Teach Like a Pirate series, for example, and I think those are having a big impact in classes right now with students – Learn Like a Pirate, Explore Like a Pirate, and Play Like a Pirate. So there’s some great stuff out there that we’re trying to put out to the world as well.
Jay Willis: I’ll make sure to put links to those in the show notes as well. What advice would you have for a teacher in regard to working with their students?
Dave Burgess: I think that building rapport and relationships is where it all starts. I got creative my first 3 days…before I’m even addressing my content, it’s about creating that psychologically safe environment for kids to feel comfortable in taking risks and for kids to feel comfortable in stepping outside of what might be the norm for them and building up from that. Rapport and relationships I think it happens not just in the formal time of your class but in that time around the edges of your classes so to me one minute spent informally with a student is worth 10 hours of class time. And so I’m looking for ways to try to incorporate some informal time for me to be able to interact with my students as well. So rapport and relationships – it always comes back to that.
Jay Willis: Well, kind of along those lines, what one piece of advice would you have for working with other teachers, especially those who might be a little bit more resistant to change?
Dave Burgess: You can’t go in with the attitude that you’re fixing people. That’s something that immediately causes resistance and immediately causes people to pull away if they feel like the interaction they’re having with you is about fixing them. It’s a matter of working with people, collaborating with them, and building those strong relationships with your colleagues as well. So rather than coming in and saying like, “Hey, you should try this because the stuff that you’re doing isn’t working”, maybe it’s something that you can do collaboratively with them. You can invite them into what you’re doing and make them a part of it. So whenever and this is something sometimes I see some administrators struggle as well is when you see, when you evaluate, when you go in and observe the lessons, you have to be very careful the language that you use when you’re discussing that. That’s something that my wife Shelly Burgess and Beth Huff do a fantastic job of addressing with their Lead Like a Pirate movement, about those coaching discussions that you have with your staff. How you word stuff, how you phrase stuff, and the attitude you have as an instructional coach on your campus can make all the difference in the world. So looking at some of their Lead Like a Pirate information would be wonderful.
Jay Willis: So last question – if you had a time machine and you could jump in it and go back to the point in time when you first made the decision to go into education, what advice would you go back and give to the younger version of yourself?
Dave Burgess: If you set up your classroom, your philosophy of teaching, in such a way that you think you have to have one hundred percent success in order to feel successful then you are setting yourself up for a career of disappointment. And so it is not about creating some perfect lesson. It’s about creating better lessons and learning and getting better and better. So that’s something that again and I mentioned this earlier where I felt like and I see this with teachers as well they’ll tell me they’re so upset they’ll talk about leaving the profession, and this lesson that blew up in their face. And I’ll dig down deep and find out what went wrong and it turns out that maybe like 29 students in the class were wonderfully engaged but there was like one kid who has a problem and they’ve set themselves up in such a way that that is considered a failed lesson for them, when 29 kids were amazingly engaged and that maybe one kid just had something going on that day, right? And so you have to set yourself up that it’s about getting better. It’s not about attaining some level perfection.
Jay Willis: Great advice. So finally if one of our listeners wants to reach out to you after the show what would be the best way to connect with you.
Dave: Burgess: So I’m always on Twitter. Twitter is one of the great places where teachers are connecting and collaborating. I am @burgessdave on Twitter. It’s my name just flipped around to Burgess Dave and T-L-A-P for Teach Like a Pirate. TLAP is the hashtag that people often use to talk about these ideas we have lots of offshoot hashtags and you can also find me at daveburgess.com. And if you go there and sign up for the email list to get all my blog posts and you get access to a Google drive folder with 25 beautiful Teach Like a Pirate quotes I put into beautiful digital posters. So it’s all yours free if you go to daveburgess.com and sign up for the email list. So any of those places are fantastic ways to connect.
Jay Willis: Great! Educators this has been a great interview today! For the show notes of today’s show and other resources visit EducatorsLead.com and type the word Dave into the search tool to find his show notes. Dave thank you for sharing your journey with us today.
Dave Burgess: Absolutely Jay! Thank you so much for having me on the show. Thanks for all that you do to help spread positivity in education and it was a pleasure to join you!
Jay Willis: And that wraps up another episode of Educators Lead!
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Educators Lead is a podcast created to help launch educators into the next level of leadership. This show is for you if you are interested in educational leadership as an assistant principal, principal, superintendent, teacher or someone who hopes to be a school leader one day. Educators Lead offers inspiration and practical advice to help you lead more effectively. Jay Willis interviews school leaders three days a week to discuss why and when these educators made the decision to move into school leadership, challenges along the journey, and stories that made it all worthwhile. Educators Lead is a great resource for any educator looking to make a greater impact.
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