I realized from the second I met author and high school teacher Dave Burgess at the ISTE conference that he is one of those people that just exudes energy and enthusiasm. He is the teacher we all wish we could be: passionate, fearless, motivated, and purpose-driven. He’s the type of teacher you might look at and think, “I don’t know how he does it. I could never be like him. I’m not that creative, and I don’t have that kind of energy. Teaching is a really hard job, and I don’t have it in me these days.”

Reading Dave’s book might just change your mind about that. In Teach Like a PIRATE: Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an Educator, Dave shares simple ideas that will inspire you and help you embrace the adventures and challenges of teaching.

What does it mean to teach like a pirate? As Dave explains,

…it has nothing to do with the dictionary definition and everything to do with the spirit. 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.

The book is divided into three sections. The first explains what it means to teach like a P.I.R.A.T.E., with a chapter for each letter of word (P-passion, I-immersion, R-rapport, A-ask and analyze, T-transformation, and and E-enthusiasm.) I initially assumed this section would simply lay the foundation for the rest of the book, but it was actually my favorite part and provided the most value for me personally.

There was one particular takeaway from the first section of the book that I know will impact the way I teach forever.  It’s related to the “deep, dark secret” that teachers hold: we are not passionate about everything that we teach, and we feel a tremendous pressure to BE passionate so that kids will be passionate, too. Dave explains that when you don’t have passion for your content, you must consciously make the decision to focus on your professional passion. That can be done by planning your instruction to include life-changing lessons, or LCLs. In other words, if you need to teach about railroads and you are not passionate about railroads, you can channel the enthusiasm needed to teach the lesson well by incorporating a message that has the ability to transform the lives of your students. The LCL for railroads could be perseverance, or hard work, or the potential for technological inventions (that students could create!) to change the world.

By tapping into those LCLs, you’re tapping into topics and values that are important to you (and for your students) even when the subject matter is dry. I can think back on many occasions in my teaching career in which I did this without realizing that’s what I was doing, and I saw the difference in my own energy level and the response from my students. I can also think of many times in which I just tried to “push through” content I thought was boring, or motivate kids by saying “you’ll need this for the test!” (something else Dave warns against)…and as you can imagine, the results were not good. From now on, whenever I have to teach something I’m not excited about, I’m going to plan an LCL so that the experience is more meaningful and enjoyable for both the learners and myself.

I also enjoyed Dave’s thoughts on the second I in PIRATE, which is immersion. He talks about being fully present in the classroom, and how student engagement decreases and behavioral problems increase when the teacher’s heart and mind are not totally there with the kids. In my experience, the worst days in the classroom are when my thoughts are focused on something besides the students–they become a distraction and an irritation instead of real human beings that I have a connection with. Dave gently reminds us to “swim with” our students instead of distancing ourselves and coaching from the sidelines.

Dave’s explanations on building rapport with kids were also excellent. He shares exactly what he says and does on the first three days of school. It’s in that section that you as the reader truly realize how out-of-the-box Dave’s teaching style is. I am a far more serious person in the classroom, but it was fun for me to read about how Dave grabs students’ attention, shakes their prior assumptions about how school works, and gets them excited to learn from him each day.

And before you write his approach off as being not your style, he leads into the Ask and Analyze section, explaining that it’s simply not true that there are only 2 types of people in this world, creative and non-creative. “For most of us, creative genius is developed through hard work, directed attention, and relentless engagement in the creative process.” Dave cringes when people write off the things he does as being “easy for him,” saying that discounts the years of hard work he’s put into developing his teaching style, and says that any teacher can do what he’s done by cultivating their creativity. His instructions on how to open your eyes to the flashes of inspiration that come to you and follow through on them is the most straight-forward and practical explanation I’ve ever heard. He teaches you how to “ask the right type of questions and actively seek the answers.”

In the second section of book, called Crafting Engaging Lessons, Dave provides many examples of the right type of questions as he explains various “hooks” teachers can use to engage students in lessons. Dave doesn’t claim that any of the hooks are truly original ideas–the incorporation of movement, the arts, mnemonic devices, etc. has been happening in many classrooms for decades. But the questions Dave provides are helpful in broadening your perspective to consider the different possibilities in your classroom, and the examples he gives from his own classroom are inspiring and sure to spark lots of great ideas of your own. Sometimes a teacher’s bag of tricks is so big, we forget everything that’s in there, and this section of the book is one you could return to whenever you’re at a loss as to how you can make a lesson or topic more engaging. I also think that Dave’s upbeat and practical suggestions might encourage you to try some things you’ve previously been afraid to implement.

The third and final section, Building a Better Pirate, reinforces the motivating tone that’s been evident throughout the book. Dave asks the questions we are scared to ask ourselves (Do you want to be great?) and he says the things that teachers desperately need to hear, but rarely do: A teacher’s impact can only be measured through generations, not through a single test. You don’t have to figure it all out before you begin. Kill the inner critic that blocks your creative flow. And, my personal favorite:

The media propaganda against education and teachers has reached a fever pitch of ridiculousness. It doesn’t faze me one single bit…Why? It’s simple. My purpose is too mighty to be dragged down by negativity. I just can’t afford it. What I’m trying to accomplish is too significant and game changing to allow anything to slow me down…You have to decide if what you’re doing is worth your complete effort and full attention. If it is, don’t let anything stop you.

UPDATED 9/17/13: Dave has generously offered to give away a signed and personalized copy of Teach Like a PIRATE to TWO readers of The Cornerstone! The winners are below! Thank you for entering.
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  1. Jessica Alva

    So excited! Heard amazing things about this book!

  2. angela hanson

    Looking forward to reading this!

  3. Terri

    I would like to read this book (in my spare time)!

  4. elaine

    Have read amazing reviews on this book! Can’t wait to read it!

  5. betsy hamilton

    I have used so much from this book already this year. Entering so I can have my own copy and share the school’s copy with my colleagues – I have been hoarding it!

  6. Dave Burgess

    Thanks so much for this fantastic review, Angela!! I’m looking forward to connecting with your readers and giving away the signed copy.

  7. Andrea

    I get my students engaged by doing as many hands on demonstrations/activities/games as possible. That way they are either all participating or excitedly watching their classmates do something (that may be pretty silly or cool…depending…). I have had some of my struggling kids have “aha!” moments after participating or watching an activity.

  8. Kim Bain

    Getting kids engaged is easy – just play a game! I have lots of reinforcement games we play after we learn a new concept. They don’t even realize they are still learning!!! I love it:)

  9. Heather

    Can’t wait to bring the Pirate to my campus!

  10. Donna

    Any time students are able to talk to each other, instant engagement.

  11. Vanna

    Would love to read this book! Downloaded the preview on my Kindle app, but haven’t purchased the whole book yet!

  12. Georgia

    Can’t wait to read this! Convinced my principal to buy 20 copies for a teacher book club.

  13. Angelique

    This book is on my to read list. But, I was completely transformed through ISTE 2013 in Asustin. The experience has inspired to step out of my comfort zone and seek greatness along side my students.

  14. jill rosenfeld

    looks like a great book for a summer professional book club!

  15. Diane Royer

    This sounds like a great book for our school faculty to use as a book study

  16. Susie Prendergast

    I’ve heard so much about this and would love to read it. Sounds like a great PLC-book club selection!

  17. Jennifer Ward

    What a great review! Thank you for this giveaway!

  18. Anne

    I like to use discrepant events when I can. It really challenges their minds. When I can find different challenging puzzles, I use them to help engage students in the scientific process. My favorites are the Mystery Tube, the Handcuff Puzzle, and a recent favorite is Petals Around the Rose.

  19. Melissa

    Teach Like a Pirate is undoubtedly a book that deserves our attention! I am sharing snipets from my encounter with the text frequently and encourage many other teachers to pick it up!

  20. Shaeley

    I work with English Language Learners (ELLs). One of my passions that dovetails nicely with my classes is learning more about other languages and cultures. Just by asking my students to share with me about their culture and language helps us connect, feeds my passion, and makes my students more comfortable in my classroom, too. Talk about a win-win!

    I am also passionate about using technology to enhance my professional growth. That’s why I love using social media like Twitter and Pinterest to get new ideas. In fact, Twitter is how I came across this blog, and now I’ve pinned it on my Pinterest page http://pinterest.com/pin/232216924509386375/. I hope to do more with my students this year to encourage them to get into social media as one way to pursue their passion.

  21. Tim

    This book sounds great!

  22. Genia

    Would LOVE to actually read the book! I’ve heard SO many good things from colleagues! I tried the play dough experience!

  23. Melissa

    I REALLY want to read this book because I have heard so much about it through Twitter!

  24. Dave Rios

    As an assistant principal I try to learn all the names of my 2000 students. I told one student naysayer “what’s wrong with trying to win the Super Bowl ” when he said I couldn’t do it. I also said I was going to go down trying! It’s amazing how students respond in the hallway or at lunch when you can call them by name.

  25. Bonnie

    Argggh! I would love this book!

  26. Marijeanne

    Great review!!!

  27. Jennifer Fairbanks

    I have been following #tlap on twitter all summer and I really want to find out all the goodness this book has to offer!

  28. Mary

    Sounds like an amazing read! I have a pirate themed classroom and now I have a new outlook on the pirate teacher leading the crew! I’d love to learn more!

  29. Misty

    What an amazing and inspiring guy to publish this raw information! Truly motivating!

  30. Amanda

    I’ve heard great things about this book. I’ve been trying to be more enthusiastic in presenting new ideas. It’s a quick and effective way to engage students.

  31. James

    This sounds like a great book. I know a personal passion of mine is poetry, which is easy to communicate to the students.

  32. Mike

    I’ve heard such great things about #tlap. I can’t wait to read the book!

  33. Carey

    This sounds like the perfect book for me right now! I’m at a new school and things are totally different. I could use a book that will help me by giving me tools to engage students!

  34. Andrea

    Cant wait to read the book!

  35. Kelley

    I find a bit of insanity to be useful. Teaching SS is often dry material for most kids. But if you have a pharaoh hat, or the gumption to act out the murder of Caesar, suddenly their interest and their understanding increases since it’a a lot more fun!

  36. Barbara Trombley

    Arrrgh! Sounds like a good ‘un!

  37. Emily

    Excited to read this book and get inspired to share my passions with my students

  38. Mary

    Engaging kinders is easy! Sometmes I need to find more passion for certain subjects.

  39. Fava

    Love the review and can’t wait to read the book

  40. Christy

    I love teaching first grade because getting kiddos engaged mostly involves getting up and moving! If they start getting zoned out I make it about movement.

  41. Laura

    Thank you for sharing. I need to invest in this book as a first year teacher!!! 🙂

  42. Devinne Baldwin


  43. Jana

    would love to have this book.

  44. Beth Jones

    I heard that this is a great book!

  45. Teresa R.

    Aaaaaaargh! Can’t wait!

  46. Jamie Theriault

    This book has been on the top of my list for a while!

  47. mel

    I’ve been hearing so much buzz about this book!

    A personal passion I love to share as I lead the learners is the whole idea of empathy and transformation. My favourite assessment with my grade 12s last year was a one-on-one interview with each student about the class novel (this replaced the “final test”). I asked them to share a few different thoughts, guided by a series of questions… many of those questions were based on probing for how their thinking had changed as a result of reading. Did they identify with any characters? Did they understand someone else in their lives better because of the reading? How did the author’s handling of the themes affect their own thoughts and feelings about our world. It was a great experience!

  48. Cathy Boris

    Looking forward to reading it!

  49. Tonya

    I’ve been wanting to read this book!

  50. Karen

    Oh gosh! I really want to read this book! I have heard the title and that the book is a good one, but reading Angela’s review has really sparked my interest even more!

  51. Alison Bodily

    I have a pirate theme in my 1st grade classroom. I use “gold” coins to reward good behavior, completed assignments, etc. Then twice a month I have a “store” where they can use their coins (or jewels if they’ve traded 10 coins for one jewel) to buy school supplies, candy, dollar store items, etc. So, obviously the title of this book got my attention! Looking forward to reading it, whether I win it or order it myself.

  52. Kristen

    I have been wanting to read this!

  53. kerri

    The first 3 weeks have been rough. I need some inspiration.

  54. Natalie

    Soooo needed to hear that comment from the book at the end of your blog!

  55. Colleen

    I would love to read this book!!

  56. Rachel

    I so often let others’ rules and standards squash my creative spirit with technology, one of my passions. Our new CCSS aligned reading textbook makes me feel like any creative thing I may have done in my reading class prior to this was not effective. I’m hoping that TLAP will help me rekindle my passion for teaching and leading other teachers with technology.

  57. Kristie

    Would love to read this book!

  58. sarah

    Sounds like a light, easy, motivating read!

  59. Ashley

    I love to get my kids through projects where they get to decide how they will learn & present their findings. They CREATE and And are engaged in their learning! 🙂

  60. Kristen Whitaker

    I have been wanting to read this! Hope I win !!!

  61. Monique

    I love math, so I am a math teacher. I try to make math fun for my students so they will learn to love math, also

  62. Jessie

    I have a personal passion that students really need to think for themselves. I think it is one of the most important skills that they than can get through school. I encourage them to share their thoughts and remind them to not let others think for them. I commend them on their effort and find ways to point out what part they said was accurate or how a misconception could help another learn.

  63. Karla

    I have not heard of this book, but I sure could use it this year! Thanks for the chance~

  64. Diane Mentzer

    I use a lot of technology and all I need to do is tell the students they will be using the laptops today and they are engaged.

  65. Ali

    Very excited to read this book! In my classroom, we use a lot of demonstrations, hands on activities and interactive lessons. I keep students engaged by keeping them up & moving with the smart board and educational games.

  66. Mags Delaney

    This sounds like the kind of book every teacher needs to read …. I want to be a PIRATE!

  67. Kaila Kolen-Smith

    One way I get and keep my students engaged is by visiting them at home and getting to know them outside the classroom.

  68. Fran Long

    This is on my reading list this year. After 20 years of teaching I need a refresher course.

  69. Amy S

    Great book! Hope I win!

  70. Connie

    My go-to strategy for engaging students is light-heartedness and humor. When we can get a little silly while still working hard, we all feel more involved in what’s happening in class.

  71. Nichole {youclevermonkey}

    Have heard only good things about this book – adding it to my reading list.

  72. Michelle

    I’m looking forward to reading this book. I’ve seen a couple posts recommending it. Now with the review I know I have to read it!

  73. Giovanna Garnique

    One way that I get my students to engage in the lesson is with food! I teach 6th graders and they love food! I try to use as many healthy snacks to teach my lessons.

  74. Christyn King

    This looks like it has some awesome ideas.

  75. Betty

    At the beginning of the year a few teachers were talking about what books they read this summer. Teach like a Pirate was on that was mentioned. I want to read it.

  76. jen mcdowell

    I engage my kids by getting excited myself sometimes it is hard though and that us why I would love to read this book it sounds like something I could really use and teach about to my colleagues I know many that need some inspiration and motivation already in the third week of school!!!

  77. ECoan

    I use the WBT Class-Yes to get my students attention, and lots of brain breaks to keep them engaged.

  78. Mary Tingblad

    Hook them in with whatever they are passionate about!

  79. Debi

    This book sounds amazing… Can’t wait to read it!

  80. Kris Boydstun

    I am definitely getting one for me and one for my student teacher. I hope I win one!

  81. Beth Ann Thornhill

    One way I add passion into my teaching is by bringing my hot air balloon basket to school to demonstrate density and buoyancy! Kids love it- climb in it and we study hot air balloons and name all the parts of the balloon plus where key vocab words are on the balloon!

  82. Lori Mitchell

    I would love to read this book! I am always looking for new ways to engage my students.

  83. Lizanne

    I have heard good things about this book!

  84. Jan

    You’ve convinced me.. the book sounds innovative and inspirational.. love the approach!

  85. Amanda

    Sounds like something I need to read right now!! Comp open to those in Australia?

  86. De Lambert

    Teach Like a Pirate! It’s like it was personally written for me… I love Pirates! 😉 Really want to read this one.

  87. Philip Cummings

    I really want to read this book. Thanks for the insightful review, Angela!

  88. Rachel

    I love to sing simple songs so I have changed many children’s songs into songs about our science and social studies content! The students love singing them and are always excited to sing our songs to anyone who comes in our room! Would L-O-V-E to win this book!

  89. Tess Haranda

    Nice review – not too much dog and pony show that glosses over the real intent of his message. Not only would I love it, but my amazing fellow teachers would. What middle school teacher wouldn’t love this kind of simile and easy-to-remember term!

  90. jaci

    I get them engaged with lots of hands on activities!

  91. Cathy

    Super excited to read this book

  92. Markisha

    I get kids engaged by using WBT techniques, doing hands on activities and getting them up and moving when possible.

  93. Darlene

    sounds like a great book – can’t wait to read it!

  94. Bobbi

    This book looks like an excellent read – as a new teacher I am always looking for ways to engage my students and keep that energy and creativity alive within myself.

  95. Tiffany

    This is perfect timing because this week is pirate week in first grade! Arrr! We’ve been making flags and treasure maps and counting our gold! Tomorrow we get to experiment with why pirates truly wear eye patches, should be an adventure. This book sounds like it is full of great ideas to keep my students engaged in learning, and myself as well! Going to get it even if I don’t win!

  96. Andrea G.

    I try to get my students engaged by giving them a reason to try and care. After giving them a purpose, I make it exciting. That may mean I jump around the room, “sing” songs, “draw” pictures on the board, toss plastic blow-up flamingos around the room…. whatever it takes.

  97. Jenna

    I like pirates (fictional pirates, not real pirates) so my friend sent me a link to this blog post. Unbeknownst to her, I already casually followed your blog and had wish listed the item on Amazon. Thank you for the review, I want to read this book even more!

  98. Shana

    This book looks amazing!

  99. Barbara Manny

    I have read a sample of this book and can’t wait to read the whole book now.

  100. Barbara Manny

    This shows you should read the directions first! I feel you need to make connections with your students. Know what they like and are into and make connections with what you are teaching to their passions. I also relate what I like with what they are teaching so they can make a connection with me as well.

  101. Patty Curley

    I can’t wait to check out this book, it sounds great!

  102. Teresa Samia

    I am excited to read this book!

  103. Chava

    I try to toss in the things I hear them talking about themselves, and once they’re engaged in discussion I bring it to the topic at hand. Doesn’t always work that great on the productivity end, but almost always a win for engagement!

  104. Justin Greene

    Want this book so bad. Great post.

  105. Lesley

    Great book!

  106. Linda Walenty-St. Laurent

    ]hoping to win a copy to gift to my Principal – I know he will love the book & embrace the TLAP philosophy – win for kids & win for teachers 🙂 keepin my fingers crossed!

  107. Robyn Marshall

    I’m looking forward to reading this book. I’ve heard great things, and I’m always looking for great PD reads.

  108. Barb

    I have had this book on my Wishlist for several months. Your review convinces me I should get it!

  109. Anne

    How can you really even call this a “review” when you are giving out copies of this book. You put out quality stuff, Angela. I can’t believe you honestly think that Pirate is at all a worthwhile read for teachers. It’s the most overhyped, arrogant, ignorant bs I’ve yet to come across. I have no idea why it has any kind of a following, and there are a million things that are more worthy of our time. Why should educators put any trust in fellow educators to “review” materials when it’s obvious you’re just it it for self promotion. I’d expect you to be so much better than this, but maybe I’ve put too much faith in
    Edutwitter at all.
    Additionally, on moral grounds do you really think the PIRATE acroynym is at all okay?

    • Angela Watson

      This post is from 2013. It was a new book at that time, and these were my honest impressions upon first reading the book and seeing Dave present.

      My site’s been around since 2003, so there’s a lot of stuff in the archives I’d write differently now. I consider these old posts a snapshot of my thinking at that time. They’re part of my journey as an educator, so I’ve left the majority of them up.

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