Friday, January 3, 2014

A Little Late to the Party

We were suppose to go back to school yesterday. Winter storm Hercules had other plans, and our Christmas vacation was extended by two days. I'm not complaining. While I do miss my students and I'm eager to hear about their vacations, the things they did and the books they read, I have used my extra time well. I spent time reading and researching.

I've been researching some trends in education and in my research on Genius Hour (more to come on that later), I reconnected with a guy I ran cross-country with my freshman year at PCB (now Cairn University). We weren't super close because I was a dorky freshman and he was a cool upperclassman, but he was (and is) a really nice guy and was part of the family that helped me make a smooth transition into college. Turns out he's been doing Genius Hour for a couple of years. Its been fun to reconnect and swap ideas and book titles.

I also spent time reading TEACH LIKE A PIRATE by Dave Burgess. When the book came out, there was a lot of buzz on Twitter and a large number of people all read it and had chats about it. I lurked in some of those chats (how can your curiosity not be piqued by a hashtag like #tlap?) but didn't participate. I hadn't read the book, and the impression that I got was it was something for elementary and involved dressing up to teach your lessons. So I kind of passed it off. That's just not my thing, and I teach high school.

Then came time for the executive board of the Maine Reading Association to plan it's spring conference.  One of the names that was floated was Dave Burgess. "Who?" I asked.

"Teach Like a Pirate".


My fellow board members had all read they book (They are elementary teachers. I still was so clueless!) and gushed about how amazing it was. From a marketing stand point, it made perfect sense to me. I hadn't read the book, didn't know the guy from a hole in the wall, but I knew from Twitter that he & his book would be a big draw.

Now I needed to read the book, preferable before March 8. After all, I was helping to plan and promote the event and would certainly be attending, even if just to support MRA. So here we are, back at the first of two snow days at the end of Christmas vacation. I started reading and playing around with visual note taking. This morning I finished reading Part 1 and spent about 30 minutes talking with my husband about the ideas that I took from just this first part of the book.

I can honestly say, I drank the Kool-aide. I came away from the reading encouraged, inspired, and challenged. What I thought was a gimmick that didn't apply to me, is actually very appropriate to my situation. I've been working hard to try to find the best practices that are the best fit for our school and am coming to the realization that we can't keep trying to fit into the traditional model of school. It just isn't producing the outcomes we are looking for. My co-worker and I have been lamenting that our high school students are disengaged from the learning process and unenthusiastic about school. You see, PIRATE is an mnemonic. The cornerstones are Passion (both professional and personal) and Enthusiasm. These are two things that we want in our students. These are two things that our teachers need to have. Students are not going to be passionate or enthusiastic about learning if their teachers are not exhibiting those qualities.

This is challenging me to rethink how I'm teaching. I'm not going to be able to change everything instantly. As Dave Burgess points out, "creativity results from properly directed attention, laser-like focus, relentless effort, and hard work." It takes time, and I admittedly have a lot on my plate, but it is important, and so I will start targeting bits of my lessons and figure out how to approach them in a way that will better engage my students.

I've already been thinking about that handful of boys that I know I'm losing. They're great kids, and are definitely capable, but they are struggling with the complex texts and the writing assignments I'm asking them to do. I don't want to lose them. I want them to know that while English might not be their cup of tea they can still succeed. I want them to learn to see the connections that I see between life and the books we're reading.

As I work on researching best practices and what works, and prepare my proposal for the school committee, I'm going to keep all this is mind. We want our kids to be engaged, enthusiastic, and passionate learners. That's not going to happen with a special program or schedule, they have to see it in their teachers before it can be fostered in them.

This is one of those times that I wish I had endless funds so that I could purchase this book for all my colleagues and pay for them to attend the workshop with Dave in March. I maybe a little late to the party, but I'm glad I made it.

If you driving distance of Auburn, Maine, and would like to attend the workshop, click here for a link to the flyer for the March 8 event.

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