APR Update: Ahoy, Hearties! Here’s a Treasure for your Library Coffer!

Deborah B. Gentry, Ed.D., CFLE, NCFR Academic Program Liaison
CFLE Network

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What does the focus of this column have in common with an entertaining summer movie and a tourist attraction in our annual conference city? Pirates! For most readers, summer is a time to relax, but also to re-vitalize, re-energize, and perhaps re-tool. I am eager to indulge in some escapist fun by watching the latest Pirates of the Caribbean movie to find out how it is that “dead men tell no lies.” The movie reminds me of one of the popular attractions of the same name in the Magic Kingdom at Disney World in Orlando where the conference will be held in November. Then, there is the book by David Burgess titled Teach Like a Pirate: Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an Educator which I have recently been perusing. Though it has been about five years since it was published, it is still capturing readers’ attention. If you have not read it yet, it could be a pleasant, easy study this summer. While Burgess primarily had a secondary educator audience in mind, the principles he puts forward in the book have applications for post-secondary educators, too. You may well find the book’s message inspires you to redesign various facets of the courses and workshops you are scheduled to teach next fall.

Burgess does not call upon today’s educators to emulate the illegal behaviors of rogues on the high seas. Instead, he urges them to be “daring, adventurous, and willing to set forth into uncharted waters with no guarantee of success” (p. xii). In part one of the book, Burgess tells readers that teaching like a PIRATE entails the following:

  • Exuding Passion for teaching, learning, and one’s subject matter;

  • Immersing oneself in the learning environment;

  • Building Rapport with learners;

  • Analyzing contexts and Asking good questions;

  • Facilitating Transformation through active, engaging learning; and

  • Displaying one’s own Enthusiasm while, at the same time, promoting learners’ enthusiasm and curiosity

In part two, the author describes and illustrates numerous presentational techniques, strategies, or “hooks” educators can employ in the classroom or workshop setting to catch learners’ attention and invite them to actively participate in the learning process. Burgess closes the book with a chapter that urges readers to hold realistic expectations about teaching and learning outcomes. He also advocates for a willingness to try innovative, new approaches, despite the possibility of failure or criticism from peers.

As I read the first portion of the book, I challenged myself to generate some applications for the family life learning environment. When high school and college faculty mentor students by taking them to state and national conferences, they are demonstrating their passion for continued learning about their field of study and practice. This is the case, too, when they make their CFLE designation visible to their students. Were a teacher to openly create his own multigeneration genogram at the same time his students are carrying out their own genogram assignment, then it seems to me to be a good example of immersion.

When teaching a course/class that involves sensitive content (e.g., domestic violence, sexual behaviors, substance abuse, depression, or suicide), an instructor who takes time to learn the names of all her students/learners is taking the first step toward establishing rapport with each of them. Were this same instructor to incorporate case studies into the instructional design of one or more of the courses she teaches (e.g., ethics and professional practice, family law and policy, or family resource management), such learning activities would prompt students to ask good questions, analyze situations, and apply content.

Let’s say an instructor embeds a service learning component into a parenting course. Hopefully, as his students observe, interact, and reflect during their service, they will be transformed by their real-world experiences. Lastly, how might teacher-learner enthusiasm manifest itself in the family life classroom? One of my colleagues,who teaches a marriage and family course, tells me she and her students exhibit plenty of enthusiasm when they carry out a game about mating choices and dilemmas. Another colleague who teaches a parenting course, reports high levels of enthusiasm for both himself and his students when each gets to engage with an interactive web-based simulation that allows him or her to “raise” a child from birth to age 18.

The PIRATE perspective has spread. More recently written books appear to expand upon that which Burgess started. In addition to reading Teach Like a Pirate this summer, consider perusing one or more of the following:

  • Learn Like a Pirate: Empower Your Students to Collaborate, Lead, and Succeed
    by Paul Solarz,
  • Lead Like a Pirate: Make School Amazing for Your Students and Staff
    by Shelley Burgess and Beth Houf
  • Explore Like a Pirate: Gamification and Game-Inspired Course Design to Engage, Enrich, and Elevate Your Learners by Michael Matera

In closing, let me share this charge which David Burgess issues in his book. “In these challenging and changing times, our students need leaders who are willing to venture forward without a clear map to explore new frontiers. We need mavericks and renegades who are willing to use unorthodox tactics to spark and kindle the flame of creativity and imagination in the minds of the young. We need entrepreneurial innovators who are capable of captaining the educational ship through waters that are rough and constantly changing. In short, we need pirates…we need you” (p. xii).



Burgess, D. (2012). Teach like a pirate: Increase student engagement, boost your creativity, and
transform your life as an educator
. San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc.

Burgess, S., & Houf, B. (2017). Lead like a pirate: Make school amazing for your students and
San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc.

Matera, M. (2015). Explore like a pirate: Gamification and game-inspired course design to
engage, enrich and elevate your learners
. San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consulting, Inc.

Solarz, P. (2015). Learn like a pirate: Empower your students to collaborate, lead and succeed.
San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consult