Following my first year as a building principal in 2012, I came across a book that turned to be a cornerstone of my professional educator library and has heavily influenced my ideas about how we engage students in an educational environment. After reading it myself, I bought copies for the staff. The book was the spark. The passion for teaching and learning has been the flame. Incrementally, I have observed much of my staff use the ideals in the book to create lessons and experiences for their students that make me proud to be a lead learner and principal. That book was “Teach Like a Pirate” by Dave Burgess.
Over the course of the past several years, I’ve connected with Mr. Burgess on twitter. @burgessdave. As a connected educator, this social media tool has allowed me to develop a professional learning network that consistently and constantly equips me with a direct resource for new ideas, motivation, and resources. It is hands down my primary source for relevant, current, and innovative best practices in education. (The twitter topic and it’s power to promote professional learning is a completely different topic and blog post). That being said, I’ve participated in the twitter #tlap chats regularly to glean motivation and innovative ideas from other educators around the country and love seeing these applied in my building.
That being said, last March, I received the preliminary program for this year’s Illinois Reading Council’s 2015 Conference #IRC2015. I was excited to see that both Dave Burgess (#tlap) and Donalyn Miller (#titletalk/#nerdybookclub) were going to be featured speakers. I’ve referenced Donalyn Miller in a previous post about reading emergencies at http://dunlapgradeschool.edublogs.org/2015/09/28/a-true-reading-emergency/.
I connected with Dave on twitter and invited him to dinner with the DGS royals and was elated that he agreed to join us. I was thankful to provide such a unique learning experience for the staff to eat and socialize with a fellow educator that is so passionate about reforming the classroom in ways that spark engagement and boost creativity. Upon entrance to the restaurant, Dave placed a folded up piece of paper on the table and instructed us not to touch it. Talk about hooking us early on with a mystery. We were all intrigued and somewhat antsy to see what was contained in that small folded up piece of paper. Following dinner and conversation, Dave took time to do what he does best: engage and inspire educators by modeling practices that could be applied in any classroom across grade levels and content areas. I am so glad that the team of teachers below was able to share in this experience:
It was no secret, that Dave has a passion for magic, entertaining, and MATH. We were amazed by his ability to recognize math patterns to perform some pretty unique ‘tricks.’ Although they were equally impressive, the final exercise required different individuals at the table to input a variety of randomly selected digits and operations into a cell phone calculator obtained from another team member at the table. Following the input of numbers, the equals sign was pushed and the answer was 62639. This seemingly random and meaningless number had us stumped. Dave then asked for us to reveal the contents of a folded napkin. Upon unfolding it, it my name was written across it. Still stumped, he directed us to the keypad on our phones where M=6, A=2, N=6, D=3 and Y=9. Amazing.
We ended up that positive note and parted ways for the evening, in awe of what we just witnessed. When I returned home, I framed the napkin. Not because it was written by an author and educator that I have tremendous respect for, but because of what it served to teach me about education, instruction, and learning. I plan on placing it in my office as a reminder of the following:
1. The experiences we create for children should be magical. I look at my name inscribed on a napkin and can’t explain how the randomly selected numbers and sequences arrived at the answer. It is an experience that still brings a smile to my face a day later reflecting on it. The environment we create for our students should be similar. Can we expect them to reflect on a math worksheet with fondness and admiration? The answer is. NO! What can we do to create a similar sense of magic in our own content areas and grade levels? How does that apply to math instruction? How does that apply to reading, writing, social studies and science?
2. We don’t have to have the answers for children. The best part of the entire delivery was that we had higher level, in-depth conversations about the math patterns involved in his ‘magic’ without ever determining the final answer. Dave laid the foundation for these conversations and facilitated some talking points, but never gave us the answer. Learners should construct their own knowledge and hold collaborative conversations regarding this knowledge.
3. We can teach content standards within the context of well-thought out and orchestrated learning tasks that are memorable and in some cases, life-changing. There is a difference between teaching content and teaching children. That one napkin reminds me that a well-thought out lesson can have adults debating the use of calculation, math practices, and operations. We will remember that. If Dave can do that for a group of educated adults, we can do that for our students.
In addition to dinner, my team was able to be involved in three of Dave’s presentations at the #IRC2015 conference. These sessions focused on creativity, passion, and development of a PLN (personal learning network). There were moments of clarity, a-has and amazement, but mostly, sparks of light that are ready to ignite a fire of learning at DGS. I know that the experiences encountered today will translate to improved learning experiences for our students. The team that attended also left renewed, rejuvenated, and challenged to find ways to #tlap their lessons and improve their content delivery, focus on their passions, and foster learning environments that “kids want to buy tickets to attend.”
So that little napkin with my name inscribed symbolizes more than just a fun dinner out. It reminds me that we can’t just be a spark, we have to bring the heat!
And as Dave says, “We can’t be good…. we have to be remarkable!”