Teach Like a Pirate, not so much

#saskedchat questions:
1. How do you integrate your Passions/personal side into your classroom?
2. How do you Immerse yourself into the content you are teaching?
3. Why is Rapport important with students important and how do you build on this daily?


I suppose this whole notion of teaching like a pirate hinges on romanticized archetypes like Long John Silver and Jack Sparrow. Who among us does not fancy Johnny Depp’s panache? I can imagine swaggering about the room, an edgy, fascinating creature captivating my students with my outrageous antics. Long John Silver is the better trope for educators. Jim Hawkens, bored with his mundane responsible existence, is drawn to Silver’s mystery and the promise of adventure. Long John can talk a good line to Jim, he knows how to build a relationship. Long John has a map to treasure and the map helps Jim negotiate an exotic island. Jim learns practical lessons on his journey, finds a treasure, and also struggles to find personal solutions to extreme problems. He respects  the wise and practical Dr. Livesey, but Jim is not inspired by him. Morally ambiguous pirates like Silver do.


I have issues with us romanticizing pirates. The history of pirates is frankly horrendous. They terrorize for personal gain, flout morality, and either lack empathy or disregard their humanity. The real pirate in the classroom is a pretty destructive, self-centered adult. Personal gain, not learning is this adult’s goal. The sorts of management tactics applied are inspired by paradigms of power. At best, I imagine the character Fagin from Oliver Twist. A rather twisted mentor grooming children to serve and emulate him. Creepy, and dangerous. I am not pleased with the pirate metaphor for teachers.

I confess I am something of a pirate about the school. There is a little hoarding in my room. I have resources I snatched from previous schools. I recall exchanging computer monitors from colleague’s classrooms simply to achieve aesthetic uniformity. I have a great deal of trouble respecting copyright laws. I will pirate media and text ruthlessly at 8:30 in the morning to create a lesson. I acquire PDFs (and distribute them) with abandon. I confess to overlooking age restrictions on media and application accounts. I am not a perfect moral exemplar. 

I have always been passionate about literature, technology, and art. These are three things I now find easy to integrate into my classroom. We spend a great deal of time talking about integrating technology into learning. For students this is an obvious approach. My blog here is an extended journey into integrating technology. There seems little point in elaborating on it and this post. There are always fellow travelers in the classroom or appreciate art. Understandably, there are other students find art pointless. I am called on to teach my students how to represent their learning in different ways, aesthetics enters into this. I’m feeling my greatest grief about integrating literacy into learning. It seems that my students are increasingly reluctant readers. I often read to my group and that affords me an opportunity to indulge my dramatic side.

I can’t immerse myself in every topic that I am asked to address in the classroom. I know I fail to inspire often. I believe passionately in the concept of a liberal education. An education that provides young people with a map, compass (moral and geographical), and the varied tools they need to explore. Where I don’t feel the passion for the subject, I try to remember to listen and respond to the passion that my students might feel for that subject. For example I have a little passion for sports, but I do know how deeply engaged my boys and girls are in very many different sports. You build relationships through being open to others. Pirates are passionate about themselves and their own needs, teachers are passionate about their students.

Posted in public education | Tagged , | Leave a comment


A gym class where people get to challenge themselves physically and mentally doing something a bit cool. The message is, “You are a responsible person.”

A sustained inquiry project that challenges a person to explore a passion and explain it to others. It integrates many literacies to research and represent. There is time to immerse yourself in learning.

Doing something cooperatively with others. Thinking about your own voice and how to make it compelling.



Noun      1.
 – a state of extreme happiness        

ecstasyrapture – a state of elated bliss
elation – an exhilarating psychological state of pride and optimism; an absence of 
Based on WordNet 3.0, Farlex clipart collection. © 2003-2012 Princeton University, Farlex Inc.

The question was posed in our Saskatchewan in education chat, “What exhilarates you in teaching? What uplifts you as you go through your days?” Too often, I consider the things that are dragging me down, and that’s a bit sad, if all too human. My growth and the growth of my students lift me up.

Posted in public education | 1 Comment

We Rail Away at Life

Posted in public education | Leave a comment

Enduring Technology

My recently deceased mother in law’s sony taperecorder TC-200, probably mid 1960’s. It’s not worth much. I couldn’t discard it without giving it a try. There seems to be a broken connection in one jack for the first channel speaker, but both stereo channels are working. It plays and records still. You have to respect the technology I guess. 

I do not have happy memories with these machines. For one thing, my mother in law tried often to get us to listen to her recordings of country old time music. They were not high fidelity studio tapes. They were recordings of my father in law’s band. He played events across southwest Saskatchewan up until his death in 1978. I should have been more tolerant. The music was meaningful to her. It is harder to reconcile the other memory.

A reel to reel in Madison, Wisconson, very like this, plagued me in grade four or five. To say I was a bad speller understates the case. To use the current jargon, I was in permanent intervention as far as my teachers were concerned. I have a strong memory of sitting in the library conference room facing one of these machines. I was being drilled on some sort of program to help me master spelling. Years of ferocious reading and writing with the help of a spell checker finally helped me. 

I’m doing a pretty traditional spelling program with my four and five’s and I worry about why. I really have little faith in learning pattern rules or memorizing, yet here I am following this enduring strategy. I am desperate to have them read and write as often as they can. That is the strategy I have faith in. What are they going to remember about this in 50 years I wonder?

Posted in public education | Leave a comment

Connecting to the Grid

  • What does ‘collaborative planning’ mean to you?
  • Why is working in collaborative groups important for teachers?
  • What skills are necessary to work collaboratively with others?
  • What is the difference between collegial and collaborative?
  • How can a staff develop collaborative habits?

Kelly Christopherson

I did a quick search through my posts on the topic of collaboration. I ran into a number of references. I reflected on Division directed teacher collaboration in my post Collaboration should be flexible and differentiated. It spoke to my beliefs about teacher collaboration. Most of my meditations on collaboration are directed toward student collaboration. I have always assumed I worked in a culture of collaboration. Looking back, I can only vaguely recall a handful of incidents where my request for curriculum ideas was rebuffed. 

Formal collaborative planning in Prairie South Schools manifests in our Learning Improvement Teams (aka Data Teams). These are grade alike teams focussed on a Division goal; currently, Reading Comprehension Strategies. Our LIT meets every two weeks essentially following this strategy: 

Creating Data Teams

I am not a fan of the process, but I am a fan of the team. We are sharing and learning together. The conversation broadens my understanding and I profit from different perspectives and resources. My problems are validated by my team mates and their solutions often help me when I am at a loss. Informal collaborative planning is embedded in our culture, though not to the extent I would like. I have attempted to share my Drive Curriculum and Instruction link with colleagues. Apart from being helpful to my grade four and five classroom colleagues, I wanted them to begin contributing to it. I guess I am still waiting for a teacher with my enthusiasm for Google applications.

Learning is connected and teachers are learners. We can simplify our connections and follow limited strategies or reach out in different ways to tap into the power of diversity. I think every teacher understands that. , or perhaps they don’t. There is sometimes a disconnect between what teachers think is good for themselves and what they think is necessary for young students. For example, children need recess outside and adults do not, or children should sit on the floor during assembly while adults sit in chairs. As adults, we dislike having others define what our learning goals should be. Collaboration involves sharing goals and group norms.

The nice thing about working collaboratively with your peers is that we don’t all need to bring the same skills to the group. The point of collaboration in my mind is that we lend each other our strengths and experience. In today’s learning improvement teams someone needs to be technologically literate. Do we really need to consider skills or do we need to consider attitudes? A lot has been written. Below is one list I found in a cursory search.


I think collaboration begins with a willingness to be open about your interests and needs. There is a lot of chatter and staff rooms about frustrating challenges to learning. These need not be venting moments. They can be the moment when a collaboration begins between two teachers. Being open is critical. If a teacher is not prepared to talk to the principal or consultant about learning issues, then they are not taking advantage of a real opportunity. Collaboration requires soft skills.

  1. Soft skills is a term often associated with a person’s “EQ” (Emotional Intelligence Quotient), the cluster of personality traits, social graces, communication, language, personal habits, friendliness, managing people, leadership, etc. that characterize relationships with other people.

Teachers develop collaborative habits through working with partners and mentors on immergent projects throughout the school year. I don’t believe that the district can create habits among teachers through professional development activities. Districts play a large role in building collaborative culture. The role of the district, through the school-based administrators and much-maligned consultants is to foster a culture of collaboration through building connections between staff, and offering opportunity. Consultants and administrators are supposed to be more in touch with the big picture then classroom teachers. A consultant should be able to to build a connection between two or more teachers were unaware of each other or the shared interest. If teachers refused to disclose their practice in an honest way to their principal, then the principal can’t take the opportunity to connect people together into teams. 

Posted in public education | Leave a comment

read, know, learn, go

I scheduled an hour each week for my students to browse the school library. For my sins, I distribute Scholastic Book orders most months. I read to my students as often as I can. I get them to share and write about what they are reading. Every day, twenty minutes is set aside for unrestricted silent reading. I’m still failing to reach too many boys and girls in my class. It is a familiar frustration I’m sure. All of them get fascinated by something they read. I can engage all of them in listening. Yet I cannot get them to draw the conclusion that further personal browsing might lead to other engagements.

Posted in public education | Leave a comment

My Underused JOT Script Pen

Here I am back in my comfort zone, tapping away at a virtual keyboard. I even feel comfortable dictating with Siri. I will keep playing with the different pens. Sometimes I sketch out math algorithms for students as if it my mini iPad was a white board. It works, but it is not an established routine for me. You would more likely see me walking around with a small white board and pen. I wonder what other people’s experience is with stylus on ipads. Until I get better using them, they will just be another illustration of being mindful of appropriate technology.

Posted in public education | Leave a comment


He chuckled to himself after organizing his desk so carefully, then became self-conscious as I framed the picture. 

Posted in public education | Leave a comment

An invitation to Grow

Creating positive learning environments has so many nuances that we could explore and discuss…

Questions to start us thinking:

  1. What do we mean by “learning environment”?
  2. Who is responsible for the ‘positive culture’ of the learning environment?
  3. How does school culture affect a learning environment?
  4. How can learning environments include global learning?  

Kelly Christopherson

Creating Positive Learning Environments

I understand environment to represent the external world that has an impact on us. The environment  consists of the physical, social, and cultural world I live within and interact with. For a young person, the physical environment of learning begins with their personal space and the classroom. It extends outward to the school, home, local community and our physical and natural world. Human interaction is part of that natural world. I am making a distinction between our culture and socializing here. A person learns their culture. This is the history, myths, values, beliefs, norms, traditions, and artifacts manifest in the curriculum and influences of home and community. Peers, family, organizations, and community provide social exchanges. These are also factors in learning. Humans do not passively react to the stimuli in their environment. We interact, and modify it, whether it be physical world, culture, or relationships.

Positive culture is a subjective term. In my classroom, the core values were reduced to respect, acceptance, and appreciation by Cayle Fiala, my intern. Perhaps I would add empathycooperation and learning to the list. Schools are for personal learning and the contentedness of learning in public schools demands cooperation. Achieving a positive classroom climate is the responsibility of all stakeholders in education. The teacher, by virtue of his or her resources, knowledge, and authority takes a leadership role in creating a positive culture. Each student in the school shares responsibility for exemplifying the core values. I encourage them to influence their peers as well. I think our culture should embrace and socialize young people in these values. Families in particular exert huge influence over young learners. The messages from home are critical. As young people become more independent, our popular culture’s values influence learning. We really cannot afford to absolve anyone in the global village from this responsibility.

At times it seems as if elementary schools, high schools, and post secondary institutions exist in a separate reality. They lie on continuum’s of cooperation-competition, reliance-self reliance (suggest others someone). Elementary schools push at the values of high school and post secondary through assessment for learning. Learning is less Darwinian in the elementary school classroom. Failure is less of a disaster. To me, this promotes a climate where the core values flourish. Without fear of the consequences of failure, the only valuable consequence is learning from experience, teachers and students can be risk takers. They can stop seeing solutions as lying within established boundaries. Learning can be untethered in every possible way.

One important way to untether learning is by broadening our experience of the environment (Another is reflecting on our own inner world). I have commented over the years on the ways digital technology opens doors for learning about the world. There are so many ways to link learners together these days. Part of what makes learning authentic is recognizing connections in the world around us. Technology is the quick fix for that. I advocate a studio classroom design with maker spaces, tech tools, and an acceptance of BYOD because this facilitates the core values I think promote a positive learning environment. I struggle with my training and decades of experience to move towards more democratic, student-centered, problem-based learning. I want my classroom to be inclusive and differentiated for the same reason. Sometimes, it even seems to be working.

Posted in differentiated learning, inquiry, internet, Project-based Learning, public education | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

A Secret love of Chaos, thanks P.K. Dick

… I will reveal a secret to you: I like to build universes which do fall apart. I like to see them come unglued, and I like to see how the characters in the novels cope with this problem. I have a secret love of chaos. There should be more of it. Do not believe—and I am dead serious when I say this—do not assume that order and stability are always good, in a society or in a universe. The old, the ossified, must always give way to new life and the birth of new things. Before the new things can be born the old must perish. This is a dangerous realization, because it tells us that we must eventually part with much of what is familiar to us. And that hurts. But that is part of the script of life. Unless we can psychologically accommodate change, we ourselves begin to die, inwardly. What I am saying is that objects, customs, habits, and ways of life must perish so that the authentic human being can live. And it is the authentic human being who matters most, the viable, elastic organism which can bounce back, absorb, and deal with the new. (P.K. Dick)

Philip K Dick on Disneyland, reality and science fiction (1978)
By  at 12:00 pm Mon, 

I recall telling someone when I first began teaching that I did not intend to fall on my sword when I reached eligibility for early retirement. There was much grumbling back then about superannuated teachers monopolizing substitute teacher spots. Room must be made for young teachers in the profession, people said. As I just wrote recently, the prospect of falling on my sword is now a bit more attractive; to rest… perchance to dream…. Yes, Hamlet is talking about death. Dylan Thomas was also talking about death when he urged his aging father to not go gentle into that good night. I won’t be raging all that much as my career enters its last few laps, but I don’t plan to ossify. 

I’m no anarchist. I imagine a survey of my colleagues throughout my career would characterize me as something of a company man. Order and stability are attractive qualities. My wife and I like routine and long range plans. Yet, like Phillip K. Dick, I have a secret love of chaos, or perhaps just the unpredictable. Interesting things happen in the apparent chaos of a classroom where students are given some responsibility for managing their time. My plans can come unglued for many reasons. The measure of myself as a teacher is how I deal with the moment. Dick remarks, “Unless we can psychologically accommodate change, we ourselves begin to die, inwardly.” I think that is true, and while teachers may not die in the classroom literally, we certainly become far less effective teachers.

A strong case can be made for retaining many of the practices and principles of public education. I won’t make it here. Our culture is changing around us in North America and Europe. Technology is once again transforming us, just as it did when the printing press challenged the practices of the medieval university. I relate to weary colleagues worn out by constant change, certain that we stray from good past practices. The change we face is real. We have to keep learning don’t we? It does not matter what point in our career we are. To paraphrase Dick, [it is] the authentic [teacher] who matters most, the viable, elastic organism which can bounce back, absorb, and deal with the new. 

Posted in public education | Tagged , | Leave a comment