Teaching and Learning Like a Pirate

Feeling a little burned out? Looking for a way to find the joy in teaching? Have a I got a couple of book recommendations for you! Run straight to your local library, bookstore, or get on Amazon and buy Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess and Learn Like a Pirate by Paul Solarz. Both will give you a ton of ideas on how to keep kids engaged, focus on learning, empower your students to be more self-directed, prepare students for responsible citizenship and adulthood, and just plain have more positive energy, creativity, and FUN in the classroom!


Dave Burgess, author of TEACH Like a Pirate, is an award-winning biology teacher from San Diego who incorporates showmanship and pizzazz into his teaching. In his best-selling book, he explains what it looks like to incorporate his PIRATE philosophy in the classroom:

  • P is for Passion — Incorporating passion for not just content and teaching, but also things you are personally passionate about
  • I is for Immersion — Teaching in the moment; being present with your students fully when you’re teaching
  • R is for Rapport — Developing good relationships with students
  • A is for Ask and Analyze — Asking really good questions and analyzing your situation; fostering inquiry and learning from mistakes
  • T is for Transformation — Making your classroom and your teaching stand out: it should be something students see as special and exciting
  • E is for Enthusiasm — The most important element of all: making your lessons come alive; making lessons and activities irresistible; marketing

I really liked reading about Burgess’s creative ideas for hooks and the idea of “marketing” upcoming activities and lessons to build students’ anticipation. A simple project could be turned into a “challenge,” and it is the teacher’s attitude and demeanor can change it from a chore into something to look forward to. Just reading this book will inspire and encourage you to try a few things to spice up your teaching. Not only was it fun to read, but it got me excited about implementing some new ideas right now, like as in the next day’s lessons. As I high school teacher, I really appreciated this book because so many books about engagement and teaching techniques are directed at elementary grades. Not this one: this book’s techniques can be used by teachers of any grade level, and the fact that the author is a high school teacher gives it street cred for me.


In LEARN Like a PiratePaul Solarz (who is from Arlington Heights, IL, by the way!) discusses how to empower students to take responsibility for their own learning. I’m a huge Daniel Pink (DRIVE book) fan, which explores what motivates people and comes to the conclusion that there’s no motivation like intrinsic motivation. Solarz’s book is written in this same vein and offers suggestions and techniques for helping students become intrinsically motivated. Solarz changes Burgess’s PIRATE acronym to the following:

  • P is for Peer Collaboration — Building a strong sense of community within the classroom.
  • I is for Improvement — Helping students focus on improvement and how to keep getting better (there is no “good enough” and learning from failure)
  • R is for Responsibility — Sharing the daily classroom tasks and allowing students to step up and take responsibility on their own
  • A is for Active Learning — Making lessons fun and memorable and…well…active!
  • T is for Twenty-First Century Skills — Incorporating technology and skills students need now and in their future
  • E is for Empowerment — Creating an environment where students take risks, make decisions, set goals and carry out plans to achieve them, and take ownership for their actions and words

This was really good as well. I did absolutely agree with the author’s assertions that students need to be given more opportunity to make decisions, be leaders, collaborate, and take ownership. Because the examples in the book were from a 5th grade classroom, not all of them could be incorporated exactly as described in my high school classroom, but I do think everything could be modified to at least address the principles being stressed. Solarz’s classroom would be a great model for the Charlotte Danielson Framework because students are the focus and share the responsibility for learning.


All in all I highly recommend these two books! They’re easy, quick reads that will leave you feeling encouraged and inspired. You’ll definitely end up with a couple of new ideas percolating, and if you’re like me, you’ll see lots of potential ways to tweak what you are already doing to make it even more fun and engaging.


    • Wow, thanks! My English department chooses trade books to read every summer, and last summer half of us read Teach and half read Learn. Most of us ended up wanting to read the other book because we liked the first one so much. Everyone in the department loved both books (and that is not something that happens with our summer reading every year…). We’ve definitely been encouraged and inspired by them – thank YOU for everything you do!

    • Hi, and thanks! Our English department all really loved TLAP and LLAP last summer — good stuff. Our summer reading this year is Master the Media by Julie Smith: haven’t begun it yet, but we’re hoping it will be as good as last summer’s reading.

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