Sunday, May 3, 2015

The 31st Friday: Learn Like a Pirate

“A genuine teacher does not seek to impress you with their greatness, but instead to impress upon you that you possess the skills to discover your own.”
Charles F. Glassman

Many of you have read Dave Burgess’s book, Teach Like a Pirate. Obviously, Dave's book is well worth reading; however, I pulled the above quote from a subsequent and related book titled, Learn Like a Pirate: Empower Your Students to Collaborate, Lead, and Succeed. This new book, just out in print about a  month ago, was written by Paul Solarz, a 5th grade teacher in Arlington Heights, Illinois. I have been fortunate to have met Paul on several occasions and am thrilled that he will be sharing his insights on teaching and learning at an upcoming conference I am helping to organize, the inaugural What Great Educators Do Differently conference in Chicago.

I was thrilled when I received my copy of Paul's book and immediately started digging in. I just finished it last week and highly recommend it for all educators. Although impossible to summarize in a quick blog post, in essence, Paul’s book offers practical strategies for creating a “student-led” classroom.

In flipping through the book again just now, I reviewed every highlight I made (there are many) and then dog-eared several pages with highlights that still struck me as particularly impactful and worth sharing. Please note that these words from Solarz are extracted from all parts of his book and are about a wide variety of topics upon which he touches in different chapters throughout:

Give Me Five: Those three little words give my students the power to lead. When a student shouts, “Give me five!” everyone in the classroom (including the teacher) stops what they are doing, faces the speaker, and intently listens to their message.

Grades: Instead of assigning grades on student work, I give feedback that helps everyone grow.

Assessment: Focusing on formative assessment that takes a student from their Personal Point A to their Personal Point B will be more valuable than any number in a gradebook.

Rules: In our classroom, we have one rule: “Be a good person.”

Rigor: Rigor is different for each student. What is hard for one is easy for another, so I don’t plan “rigorous lessons.” Instead, I provide opportunities for students to find the rigor in our everyday work.

ePortfolios: We no longer use paper or pencil in science or social studies because all directions are posted online and all work is “turned in” via ePortfolio entries. No re ost papers. No more, “My dog ate my homework” or “I left it at home excuses. Everything is done online and published immediately.

Rituals: From walking through the door each morning to going home when school ends, students know what to do, when to do it, and how it needs to be done. These rituals make it easy for students to lead; a structured environment allows students to anticipate and respond to the classroom’s needs.

Passion Time: When I plan out my year, I schedule two “Passion Time” twice a week for 45 to 60 minutes each time. This is for my students to build, create, design, research, learn, survey, etc. about topics of their choosing. Passion Projects begin with an essential question that must e approved by me. To get the go-ahead, they must take a topic of interest and form it into a meaty question that can keep them actively working for a period of six weeks. We now call these questions PHAT (Pretty Hard and Tough) questions.

What great teaching tips these are for all teachers, regardless of the grade level or content area we teach! Again, these ideas just a smattering of profound nuggets that caught my attention; the entire book is well worth reading if you are interested in increasing your students’ ownership of their learning and the learning environment. As we kick off "Teacher Appreciation Week," I want to thank teachers around the world for “empowering your students to collaborate, lead, and succeed”; doing so is another way we Teach with Passion!


  1. Jeff this makes me want to buy the book. Following Paul online has been a course in itself. The fact that he put his techniques and strategies into words is awesome. Thank you for highlighting such an inspirational educator. By the way, have you recovered from your day as PE teacher?

    1. Jon,

      Thanks for reading; I do recommend Paul's book; very practical and inspiring! I am almost fully recovered from my day of teaching PE now; thanks for asking. Best,