#TLAP: Tone Makes a Difference

It’s been a crazy time, and last week school started for staff in Fluvanna County. Ever since Monday, it’s been a flurry of activity, but I have had time to begin incorporating new ideas and projects into my work already. One thing I have already done is changed how I present to staff, and the results were fantastic. Let’s travel back to August 1st…

On August 1st, I was at the high school to attend the opening day faculty meeting. I had been scheduled by the principal to present since the end of the previous year. Over the summer, I had developed a Slides presentation to introduce FlucoTech, and later I’d tweaked it to add in stuff about my role as an ITRT. My presentation already used Bitmoji images, as they are fun and draw the audience in. The only thing left was how I would present all of the information.

After meeting both Dave Burgess and George Couros in the early summer, I realized what a difference the way information is presented makes. This was further demonstrated by the Bowtie Tech Guys at WVSTC. How we share that information is just as important, and after this summer, anyone who tells me that students should simply learn the information because they have to should think again. As Burgess discusses in Teach Like a Pirate, we’re competing for students’ attention from so many outlets. If we can’t go with the flow and hook them on our material, we have lost them and we have lost out.

As teachers, we have attended professional development sessions where we loved hearing the presenter, and others where we’d rather gouge our eyeballs out because it was so boring. Think of how those sessions were presented though. Did they engage you? Did they draw on stories, jokes, imagery, videos, or some other form of showmanship? Think of how the “boring” sessions were presented now. Was it simply a presenter speaking in a bland manner while referring to some kind of slide presentation?

For my presentation, I grabbed my pirate flag and hat. This alone had folks curious. The image on the title screen of my slide was a bitmoji that said “Let’s taco about it”. My presentation was the last one scheduled on the agenda… over two hours into the faculty meeting. By this time, people are ready to go, they’re done, they’re bored. My teachers were high school ones, and they were quite a large group.

I immediately start with “Ahoy there!” and get a lackluster response. I remark to the principal that his crew must be dead, and then do it again. This time I get a much better response, and from there we are off and running. I’m loud, I’m animated, I’m working to get them to laugh. The information itself is not the most interesting to many of them and I know that, so I draw them in in other ways.

When I was finished, I heard many compliments from my teachers, and how they enjoyed the presentation. Some told me it was the best one of the morning, others appreciated the way I made them feel comfortable. I have since heard many more compliments, which lets me know I’m on the right track with engagement. I also had a lot of teachers reach out to me for help after that, which really contributed to my busy schedule at the high school last week.

In contrast, I have yet to do such a presentation at the middle school, and I do feel this has made a difference with the staff I have interacted with so far this year. The principal has mentioned having me present at a faculty meeting next week, but this is not set in stone just yet. We will see what happens when I do though.

Overall, I have found that tone and showmanship make all the difference. I am definitely heading in the right direction with my work, and will keep building on it throughout this year. All it takes is a small spark to make a big difference!

Copenhaver Institute 2017: Day 1

I just got back from Copenhaver Institute today, and man is my brain on fire! I loved this training, and am so glad that I had the chance to go this year. I’m so glad that my district helped to sponsor so that I was able to go on scholarship. I couldn’t miss, and in fact, I would have been so disappointed if I did. The only reasons I wanted to go to it was because both Dave Burgess and George Couros were going to be there. I knew it was a rare opportunity to see both men in the same place, so I happily volunteered to go.

I arrived early Monday morning around 7:15. This was a task in itself, as I had had a concert the night before in Richmond and didn’t get home until 11:30. Then I had to get up at 3:45 AM and hit the road by 4:30 AM. I was tired and sleepy, but my coffee was finally kicking in. Check-in was easy, and I was able to take my gear to my dorm room (yes we stayed in those!) before things got under way.

Day 1 meant welcoming Dave Burgess to Copenhaver, and he did not disappoint! I had known he was high energy and passionate, but nothing could have prepared me for what I witnessed during the morning session. I kept joking that there was something extra in his coffee and that “Teach Like a Pirate coffee” would be a good seller for teachers.

Dave lived and breathed his presentation, and he definitely had us on our toes. He talked of how to incorporate the PIRATE system into teaching methods, and even demonstrated some ways to do/not do lessons. Educators had to learn that they cannot compete with the media and gizmos that students have today. Their content is not some raw, bitter pill that they need to make students swallow. If they don’t take risks and try new ways to teach, then they will never get better at their craft. An educator’s work isn’t supposed to be easy, but it is supposed to be worthwhile and fulfilling.


Now why might he have this Victoria’s Secret bag?…

For the first time, 3 hours passed very quickly and I was in awe of the things that he covered. I wanted to bottle that passion and enthusiasm for myself. I decided that I would begin working on a plan for my WVSTC presentations. They would become my test run.

The afternoon was filled with workshops. We attended one with Dave, and then one with other presenters. The latter were first. I chose to attend the sessions geared to middle and high school educators, since I work with students and teachers in that area.

The first session dealt with creativity and technology, and it was horrible. It introduced both learning streams and hyperdocs to attendees. Learning streams were no good for me, as my district is working with Classflow. However, I was disappointed with the hyperdocs setup… I love hyperdocs, and this presentation did not make me want to go any further with them. It was cut and dry and bland. The presenter wasn’t engaging either. I had hoped for better.

Thankfully, before Dave’s session, I met up with some other educators who felt the same as I did about the session. We split ways, but I ended up staying with a wonderful new friend, Heidi, who had also attended the session. Heidi and I became fast friends. We shared very similar views on Dave and George, and we lived and breathed learning and expanding our minds at these sorts of things. People began to think that we had known each other before Copenhaver, but were surprised to learn that we had just met. It was great. Give her a follow on Twitter, especially if you teach foreign language at the secondary level or love technology: @htrude07.

Our second presentation was with Dave. He let us have a question and answer session with him, and he gave us some feedback based on his experiences. I think a lot of people started to shut down when they found out that he was no longer going to be in the classroom. He is working on building his publishing company and getting the word out about the PIRATE system. Another part that shut down educators was the discussion on homework. They did not agree with him, but that’s all right. However, I think for some it was the final straw.

A reception was held at the end of Day 1 for Dave. There were plenty of drinks and food. Dave signed books and took pictures with folks. He also had other books from his publishing company available. I could have totally picked up quite a bit. However, I only bought 140 Twitter Tips for Educators. I had been eyeing this book on Amazon, and it was the only copy left that Dave had brought with him. I took it as a sign and snatched it up. As he signed it and my Teach Like a Pirate book, he told me that tip #127 was the best and the most powerful in the book. At the table I discovered that it was not only powerful for it’s words, but also because Dave wrote that particular tip. I asked him to then write something witty for that part, so he did.


Dave’s powerful tip!

The reception ended with Dave performing some magic for us. Heidi and I were right in the middle of the action, and she helped Dave with the card trick that he was doing. Even while doing magic, he was able to incorporate some of his hooks into his little show. I was glad that I got to witness it. He had presented this vibe all day, and I was still reeling from it even after heading for dinner. I couldn’t wait for the second day to begin!


Dave performing some magic for us!

Teach Like a Pirate: Final Thoughts

With the book finished, I am left with many things to still ponder over, as well as how to make some of this apparent in my work next year. I have some vague ideas, but they need to sit and brew for a little bit before anything can come of them.

I am ready for Copenhaver Institute with this book. I am eager to see how Burgess presents his material to us in the sessions, and what the breakout workshops will involve as well. I’m ready to be creative and have fun, which also turns into lots of tweeting and sharing.

The easiest things to add into my work right away are the passion and enthusiasm portions of the PIRATE system. I at least did this with KidsCollege, and it really allowed me to let loose. I think it was a big part of the reason I came home so exhausted each day. Every day I also picked up/dropped off my students dressed as Steve from Minecraft. I had my pick ax or sword, depending on the week. Somewhere in the back of my mind I wondered how it appeared to others, but I drowned out that voice with a “who cares???” The kids loved it, parents loved it, and I had a blast with it. They even put my image with one of my classes on the PVCC website to showcase KidsCollege:


I am going to make my work in Fluvanna County even better this coming school year. I’ve gotten my feet wet, and I know the system much better now that year 1 is completed. Teach Like a Pirate is going to help my presentation/engagement side of my lessons. If I get through the other books like I wish to, then Art of Coaching and Lead Like a Pirate will round out that set this summer.

Here’s to being better! If you want to join me this year, follow me on Twitter: @tisinaction

Teach Like a Pirate: Beware Holding Back

On the way to becoming a pirate, one must remember that there are obstacles that can hold a pirate back. These obstacles may happen alone or they may happen in groups. The point is, they will hinder any pirate who lets them get in the way.

Five ways that a pirate can be held back:

  1. Fear of failure
  2. Fearing having to know everything before beginning
  3. Perfectionism
  4. Lack of focus
  5. Fear of criticism or ridicule

Fear of failure is always going to be in the back of anyone’s mind. We don’t like to fail, especially if we’re not used to failing. It’s not a mindset that may have been instilled in us as youths, so we struggle to recover from failure that hits us as adults. I used to be really scared to fail or mess up when taking a risk with my lessons or ideas. I still am in a sense, but I don’t let this hold me back like I used to. I’ve applied this to areas outside of my teaching as well. Quite some time ago I decided that I would live my life without regrets. When making decisions these days, one thing I think about is “Will this be something I regret if I don’t do it?” In many cases, if the answer is yes, I’m going to do the thing.

This fear cannot hold us back. We cannot allow ourselves to be tied to its chains. Instead, we have to change our mindsets to recognize that we can’t always be successful. We won’t always have the best plans or ideas, but that’s why there’s failure- so we can review, reflect, and try again. That’s one of the reasons I keep this blog- it tracks my reflections on my first attempts so I can make changes and try again. I’m not perfect, and neither are any of my colleagues.

We also don’t have to know everything about our great plans at once. Great ideas come and they are flashy, but they can’t be rushed, nor can we allow ourselves to think we’re going to know everything about the outcome, research, or data. Things take time. We often think we have no time to lose, that we cannot let time go to waste, but when we rush our ideas or plans, they won’t work out.

If we expect that we have to know it all right away, then we don’t give our ideas and plans time to blossom into what they should truly become. Instead, we are left with a mediocre version of what could have been something great. And if your great plan messes up? That’s okay. Review, reflect, and try again. You’re only going to get better as you push yourself to move forward.

Perfectionism is another way that we can hold ourselves back. Being a perfectionist also can be tied to a fear of failure. We know kids who are brought up to be this way. They must get perfect grades and be the best. When they are faced with the fear that they actually don’t know something or won’t do well, they break down. It’s hard to accept that they cannot get what they have always gotten in the past. This perfectionism carries on into adulthood.

Of course, not everyone was raised that way, but we all carry some amount of perfectionism in us. We can’t wait until the time seems right and everything aligns just so. We have to move forward when we can and take the shot, make the attempt. If we don’t, we’re only going to hold back, and by then it may be too late. It’s like that cheesy inspirational quote: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

Of course, we can’t take all the shots for everyone. If we try to do that, then we lose focus. We can’t say yes to every project and idea that gets thrown our way. We stretch ourselves too thin, and then we can’t give our best work to the projects that we are working on. There are times when we really want to say yes, but if we do, then we stretch ourselves far too thin.

We have to prioritize our work and our lives. We can’t stretch ourselves beyond the breaking point. We can’t overstress ourselves or take on so much that we can’t give our best. There’s also our personal lives to think of as well. As much as we’d like to be a superhuman, we can’t be, and we shouldn’t be.

Finally, we can’t let ourselves fear the critics. There are critics everywhere, and they don’t have our best interests at heart. Perhaps they’ve failed with a similar idea, perhaps they don’t want to see someone succeed, or some other unknown reason. We have to ignore those people and push forward anyway. And if we fall, then we get back up again.

Sometimes people walk in at the wrong moment. It’s not the best moment, or it’s so brief that they don’t see the big picture. They see one tiny detail and think they know all the reasons why we’re doing the wrong thing.

In order to be a pirate, we have to remember the above, and not let any of these obstacles control us. We control our fate and our destiny, and we cannot let ourselves or others get in our way!

Teach Like a Pirate: Dare to Be Great

As the book begins to wind down, it starts to focus on how the reader can become a better pirate. The very first chapter in this section is all about greatness. Or rather, the lack thereof. It’s not that there aren’t great teachers out there; it’s that there seems to be a stigma at wanting to be a great teacher, to go above and beyond what’s required. Granted, life can interfere and ruin plans, but that’s not what this chapter is about. It’s about those that are shunned for wanting to be the best they can be. Those that:

  • love to research new ideas and try new methods
  • Seek their own PD
  • Takes risks, make mistakes, and try again
  • Always try to find the positive and try to make the impact

I will admit that even I got some sideways glances when I told people I was excited to make this my summer of learning finally. There were events or issues over the past few summers that did not make this possible. I wanted to finally use summer to learn and grow as I wished. As soon as KidsCollege and Copenhaver Institute have finished, I’m planning to delve into some of my reading and blog. I’m planning to research on professional development and work on things for the newest blog feature that will debut in August. I want to learn what I want and be better at what I do.

I know I’m not the only one out there that feels like this. I’ve seen fellow colleagues with this same kind of passion and desire to be great when I go to edcamps, conferences, and Twitter chats. We want to be more than just another teacher, and we want to do better by our students and those we work with every day.

We face the eyerolls and the teacher room rants with a shake of the head. We have to push forward and stand above those who would find us odd, strange, or silly for wanting to do these things. Yes, we love to do things our own way and do more. We don’t get paid any more for it than someone else. There’s no overtime pay added to our checks. We do what we do because we love it.

I’ve found myself teaching KidsCollege this summer. Yes, the chance for some extra income was great. However, the way I chose to approach the program made all of the difference. I’ve tried to keep myself going and “on” for my students, no matter morning or evening session. This book has helped me see that it’s what my kids deserve. I go in with a passion burning in me, and the kids know that. They see me and they also see me in my Steve head. They love it. Kids that I don’t even have in my classes come to me to talk, for high fives, for fist bumps, and even the random hug. It has been a learning experience for me, and I have cherished my time with the program. It ends in two days, but it has given me a tiny taste of the pirate life.

My summer has just barely started with the ending of this program, and yet, it is going to be what keeps me going with my learning. I have my next book lined up for after Copenhaver. I am ready to learn and become better. I want to take risks, I want to make mistakes, I want to reflect, I want to succeed.

I’m gonna do what I want in the end. I’m stubborn and I do things my own way. This recent song of Icon for Hire’s fits perfectly:

Teach Like a Pirate: Don’t Forget Your Hooks!

As a pirate, one cannot go anywhere without their hook. Or, in this case, hooks. Part II of Teach Like a Pirate is all about hooks, and how to use them within your lesson. Hooks help you reel in the students, and keep them engaged. Burgess has created hooks for a variety of scenarios and situations, and based on my reading, it seems like keeping this part of the book close at hand will help any pirate-in-training as they plan new lessons.

The following hooks were mentioned in this part of the book:

  • Kinesthetic
  • People prop
  • Safari
  • Picasso
  • Mozart
  • Dance and Drama
  • Craft Store
  • Student Hobby
  • Real World Application
  • Life-Changing Lesson
  • Student-Directed
  • Opportunistic
  • Interior Design
  • Board Message
  • Costume
  • Props
  • Involved Audience
  • Mystery Bag
  • Storytelling
  • Swimming with the Sharks
  • Taboo
  • Mime
  • Teaser
  • Backwards
  • Mission Impossible
  • Reality TV
  • Techno Whiz
  • Contest
  • Magic and the Amazing
  • Chef
  • Mnemonic
  • Extra-Credit Challenge

Wow, what a list! This is why keeping the book handy during the planning stages is recommended because there’s no way anyone could keep track of all of the different hooks and what each one means.

Hooks are ways to take one’s lesson to the next level. They allow teachers to keep students involved and engaged in the lesson beyond just giving the basics. Teachers know their content area and many have spent years and years learning the knowledge that they now currently possess. Knowing the content is one thing; getting it into the hands of students is entirely another.

I think back to some teachers and professors that I’ve had in the past who knew a lot about their subject matter, but they were some of the most boring presenters. It didn’t matter what they were telling me because I tuned out. Chances are, I was doodling in my notebook and taking notes when I thought something was important. Really I was just counting down until the class ended and I could do something more interesting, or when it was time to go eat.

Hooks are ways for teachers to present their content and engage those students who are often bored and off task. With the particular list above, a teacher doesn’t have to use every single hook all of the time. They should instead peruse the list and decide which hook would work best with the particular lesson. It’s not enough to just decide to use a hook. Like with technology, the hook should be chosen to suit the lesson, not vice versa.

I am going to start with the hooks I am most comfortable with and branch out from there. I am really hoping that the workshop breakouts at Copenhaver will address the hooks and give us time to incorporate them into our lessons. I think I’ll start with preparing for my presentations at WVSTC because the lessons are finished and simply need to have some engaging presenter flair added.

Teach Like a Pirate: The Third Circle

And now we come to the meat of the book. Whereas the first part of the book explained the PIRATE system, the second part is all about creating the lessons the utilize the parts of the system. As Dave says, it’s one thing to read about the system and find oneself agreeing with it; it’s a whole other thing to take the parts of that system and create something powerful and engaging for students.

This particular chapter introduced the third circle, the one often bypassed by teachers. One circle is content, and another is technique/methods. As teachers, we have been trained in both of these. As time goes on, we take professional development and college courses to update ourselves on our content and techniques. However, what many tend to ignore is the third circle, which is presentation.

I know many teachers who shun presentation, and find that education is not entertainment. A song and dance should not have to be done in order for students to pay attention and learn the material. They should learn the material because it’s required. At the same time, is that enough? Required material alone doesn’t mean that students learn it, or even adults for that matter.

Think about the museums or historical presentations that you’ve gone to in the past. Some were certainly better than others. The ones that drew you in had an engaging element to them. You didn’t realize you were retaining so much information until afterwards. You were so caught up in the presentation that you didn’t know you were learning.

Now think about the lectures or trainings that you’ve been to that you were bored to tears. You needed to learn the information and you needed to retain it, but the presenter was just so boring. You’re probably thinking of a particular class or training right now. You’re surprised that you remembered anything from it at all. Did you pay attention to what was being said? Or did you try to keep yourself awake and do other things instead?

These are the things one is left to ponder before the next chapter…