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  • Writer's pictureKaren Caswell

The Journey to Becoming a PIRATE Leader

Updated: May 16, 2020

I was so excited when I saw that this new book from Dave Burgess Consulting Inc. (boy, there’s been a flurry of them lately!) was available. I thought to myself, that’s me; this book was written for me – I don’t have title, but I want to be a leader! I couldn’t wait to read it…literally. I ordered it straight away though Amazon, then found out the expected arrival date was February 5th – almost 3 weeks away. So, I also purchased the digital version and was able to start reading immediately. 🙌🏼 That was last Saturday afternoon, and by mid-morning on Sunday I’d finished! I could have finished sooner if there weren’t those pesky things like chores to be done, children that wanted to be fed and the need for sleep. 😂 I’m so happy I didn’t wait – the week before returning for the 2019 school year was the perfect time for me to read this book.

There were so many aspects of ‘Lead Beyond Your Title’ by Nili Bartley that resonated with me as a classroom teacher, but also challenged me as an aspirational leader. To be honest, I wonder if in the years I was pursuing a promotional position I was a little too focused on the title that would go along with it. I don’t think I ever truly believed that I could lead without one – or more accurately, no one would see me as a leader without one (especially as I didn’t see myself as a leader without one). I’ve written in previous blog posts about my decision to stop applying for leadership positions and narrow my focus back to my classroom, putting all my energy into my students. The funny thing is, I think I’ve been more of a leader in the last 12 months since I made that decision, than in all the years prior when I was trying to attain a leadership ‘title’.

The entire book is Nili’s journey as an awesome pirate teacher and amazing pirate leader. She shares her story of first empowering her students (the SuperPIRATES of Crew 202 are brilliant) to empowering colleagues and administrators in her role as technology integration specialist. The underlying theme, and Nili’s own WHY, is empowerment. Nili’s leadership style focuses on empowering others to find and use their own passions and strengths – their superpowers. In leading her students in this way, what Nili was able to help her students achieve is phenomenal. There are so many practical examples of ways to develop a pirate classroom and foster a culture of teamwork (crew), support, risk-taking and innovation within a student-led classroom. As I was reading this section, I had to keep stopping to write down all the ideas that were popping into my head, as so many things aligned with what I had identified as goals for my class this year. Thanks for all that inspiration Nili!

Next, Nili shares how to develop into a leader beyond the classroom. How to take advantage of the many opportunities we all have to be leaders, how to back yourself and take risks, and how to overcome the Negative Nellie’s who try to resist. However in order to do this, it’s vital we have a clear definition of our WHY, and WHAT we want to achieve as a leader.

As I started to read part three, ‘Taking the Leadership Plunge’, I took a deep breath, as if preparing to really walk the plank – as I knew this section was the one I really needed to read. From the first chapter, ‘Believing We Are More Than Our Titles’ to the last, “It’s Time to Passion UP’, this section of the book is filled with practical examples of how you can lead. Nili provides so many insightful ways you can empower yourself as a leader, and in turn empower others. She is big on ‘passing the mic’ – to her students and her colleagues – inspiring everyone to find the leader within, and encouraging everyone to lead and also be willing to follow the lead of others. We need to build and expand our crew, because together we can achieve so much more. As Dave Burgess says in ‘Teach Like a Pirate’, “All pirates travel with a crew; you can’t sail, navigate, and fight battles all on your own.” I’ve been slowly but surely building my crew (to whom I will be forever grateful for their inspiration, encouragement and support) and am committed to keep doing so this year. As I continue my own professional growth, I will keep finding ways to share what I learn that are impactful for all within our school. And most importantly, it’s time to passion up and relentlessly work towards creating a culture where leading and learning with passion is embraced, where learning matters, but is also fun, and where we passion up every, single day for our students!

When we returned to school for our professional learning days this week, I announced that I was ALL IN PIRATE this year! I’ve aligned my goals with the PIRATE acronym, and created my own for the PASSION that drives me. I’m excited for my students to start on Tuesday so we can begin our PIRATE journey together – I have so much planned for this year and can’t wait to set sail!


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