top of page

Book Reflection: Lead Like a Pirate


"Everyone wins when highly effective leaders bring their passion to work."


Beth Houf and Shelley Burgess, the authors of Lead Like a Pirate, explore what it takes to be a Pirate Leader. The first chapter of Section 1, specifically focuses on PASSION.


What is passion and why does it matter?

Passion can take on many forms: personal, professional, content. As we discover what drives us, it helps "...determine the direction we point our compass." Once we understand our passions, it is vital that we are transparent and share with all stakeholders. One challenge in this chapter is to share your passion with your staff. This critical step provides transparency and authenticity as a a leader. Furthermore, it provides a twofold benefit:

1. "...in the moments that are particularly tough, or when you are dealing with issues that you are not passionate about, you can draw energy to press forward from a content, professional, or personal passion."

2. "...being in tune with and vocal about your passions can help those around you to better understand you."


It is not only important to know your passion, we also "...need patience if we want to initiate positive change. Once we light a spark, we need to give it time to catch." We can't just expect change to happen overnight. We can use our passion to chart the course and use our passion to recalculate when off course. It is not only important to understand our own passion, it is imperative that we survey our staff for their passions. Beth and Shelley provide a "Top 3" activity in chapter one. This simple, yet profound activity, can be used to reveal the passions of your staff. It acts as a staff builder and allows teachers to tap into their passions. "The point is to get to know what drives the people around you. And if you're a leader, the point is to help them tap into those passions and use them to make school amazing."



My Connection, My Passion

Like Beth, I would define myself as an educational freak. I love anything and everything related to improving teaching and learning. I spend hours reading daily and then narrowing down the content into manageable chunks for my colleagues. I love to create, design, and develop new resources that support teaching and learning. Over the course of two nights, I designed 101+ Instructional Resources to support a group of teachers that needed readily accessible ideas. When I noticed that new educators to our district didn't understand the language of our appraisal process, I designed a Padlet that included a SMORE for each Educator Standard Indicator. Each SMORE provides a definition for an "accomplished" educator, guiding questions that can be used to reflect on each indicator, and resources to help you if needed. As I worked with new educators, I realized that the appraisal process can sometimes feel like a one-shot wonder, a dog and pony show. As a means to provide purpose for this somewhat mundane task, I modeled reflection by designing my own Google Site where I reflect on my own professional learning and growth.


When I am not sitting with a cup of coffee and complete and total silence (ok...sometimes I turn on my favorite K-Love songs while working), I am working with groups of teachers, district colleagues, or in one-on-one coaching sessions. During coaching session, I had teachers that needed help with long-range plans for Economics, AP Government, Pre-AP English II, Spanish I, Business Law, and Chemistry, and I was beyond elated when they asked me to help design long range plans (aka experiences), project-based learning, cross-curricular connections, or model lessons. I didn't care what the content was, I was passionate about designing experiences that would engage students and provide differentiated opportunities to meet all student's needs. My passion would keep me up into the wee hours of the morning to design Think Tank challenges, a Kindness Challenge driven by student voice and choice, creating a SMORE with Teach Like a Pirate HOOKS to support students as they mastered presentation skills, brainstorming formats for a Chemistry Family Night, or scouring Twitter and my professional learning network to find ideas to support teachers. While some may call me crazy, this is my passion.

Why does immersion matter when navigating the C's of Change?

As a PIRATE leader, you need to have a "...deep understanding and continue to grow in depth." Are you dedicated to walk the walk? Are you ready to dive in?


Immersion begins with pulling up your sleeves, digging into data, and getting to know all stakeholders. This can sound like an unrealistic request; however, when you "...immerse yourself in the work that has the highest impact on increasing student learning and building a rich, powerful, and positive culture..." it can turn into a goal that will point your compass in a direction of change. By intentionally devoting "...time and focus to the right things" you will "...ultimately propel yourself forward."


As we chart the course, and immerse ourselves into work that will impact students and build a positive culture, we must consider our role. Are we going to be a Lifeguard Leader or a Swimmer? As a Lifeguard, we sit in our towers and act as managers. We ensure our "operation" is running smoothly; however, we lose pulse of the kids trapped under the rafts or lose sight of our most important job, the swimmers. When we lead as a Swimmer, we roll up our sleeves and dive into the deep end. We work alongside the swimmers. We are immersed in learning.


As immersed leaders, "...people won't try to hide their weaknesses from you; rather, they will seek you out as someone who can help them learn and grow." Together, we create an environment where people feel free to take risks. We open the door to a focus that propels the ship into uncharted waters. Waters that offer treasure chests of opportunities. Opportunities to navigate the seas of change by immersing as a TEAM and re-organizing our time to leverage systems, elevate impact, activate our team, and delete, delete, delete.



How do you organize your time?

Beth and Shelley share the acronym LEAD to provide tips for organizing your time so you focus on getting back time and and immersing yourself in the work that has the highest impact.


Leverage Systems: Are you always dealing with discipline?

Within this chapter a familiar story plays out...the principal spends hours dealing with discipline issues and is left with little time to focus on what truly matters. How can this change?


1. "The first step toward developing a system is to better understand the problems."

2. As a staff, generate a list of the issues from the teacher's perspective, office perspective, and principal's perspective.

3. Work collectively to create a system that addresses the issues.

4. Stay consistent in implementation


Elevate Impact: What mundane tasks take up your time? What tasks are less than desirable?

We are all responsible for a task, an activity, a supervision, that we probably find less than desirable. BUT...what if we flipped the script on our thinking? What if we turned mundane tasks into opportunities to enhance our culture?


Activate a TEAM: How do you utilize teams within your building? Who makes up each team? Are students a part of a team? Check out Lead Like a Pirate to see how Beth started a Tech Team made up of students.

Consider this..."People are less likely to tear down systems they help to build."


Delete! Delete! Delete!: What can be removed from your schedule? Who else could help in your endeavors? Analyze how you spend your time (check out the sticky note activity at the beginning of this chapter) and then reorganize so you are immersing yourself in work that has the highest impact on increasing student learning and building positive school culture.



It Starts with Trust

"If we want meaningful change, we have to make a connection to the heart before we can make a connection to the mind." -George Couros, The Innovator's Mindset


As a PIRATE leader, every move you make is pivotal. "To be a PIRATE leader, you need to have a heightened awareness of what trust is, how you earn it, and how you can lose it." Within this chapter, Beth and Shelley provide two essential components of earning trust:


1. Character