Summary: Lead Like a Pirate By Shelley Burgess
Summary: Lead Like a Pirate By Shelley Burgess

Summary: Lead Like a Pirate By Shelley Burgess

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Working hard for something we don’t care about is called stress; working hard for something we love is called passion. —Simon Sinek

We love walking into schools where passion is evident. Positive, inquisitive energy radiates within the walls and around the campus. Everyone wants to be there. Students and educators alike are excited to learn and grow together.

It takes a passionate leader to create this kind of high-energy environment. Thankfully, passion is contagious. Everyone wins when highly effective leaders bring their passion to work because these leaders have a knack for helping those around them uncover their passions and capitalize on them.

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

As a leader, you have an amazing opportunity to make your passion come alive in your school and district. You can use your passions to inspire, transform, and create classrooms and schools that come alive with electric and engaging learning. But if you want your passions to guide and infuse your work, you must first understand what your passions really are — and what they are not. Because let’s be honest: You can’t be passionate about everything. If you feel the pull of guilt because you don’t get excited about every aspect of your work, you aren’t alone. Listen, it’s okay not to feel overwhelmed with excitement about some things — even if other leaders you know are passionate about those things. What is important is that you know what you are passionate about — and how you can bring that enthusiasm and excitement into your work for the benefit of your students and staff.



It’s easy to get focused on the urgent tasks to the neglect of important, long-term goals. But the reality is, if you want to transform what is happening in your school or district, you have to immerse yourself in the work that has the highest impact on increasing student learning and building a rich, powerful, and positive culture. It isn’t reasonable to expect that spending only 20 percent of your time doing highly impactful work will yield the type of results you want. You need systems and strategies that give you the freedom to spend the highest percentage of your time doing the most impactful work. As leaders, we can show up to work each day with nothing on our to-do list and still be busy all day simply reacting to what’s thrown at us from the moment we walk in the door. We can be exhausted at the end of the day and hope that what we did that day helped our school to change, but hope on its own doesn’t create change. Action does. Intentional time and focus devoted to the right things are what will ultimately propel you forward.

Highly effective leaders — PIRATE leaders — roll up their sleeves and participate in the work alongside their staff and community members. That personal involvement means they always know the “pulse” of their school or district. They invest time in both the big and small moments of leadership. They regularly immerse themselves in classroom observations and engage with teachers and teams about how to ensure student learning thrives. And they can often be found on the playground jumping rope with a group of students, or in the cafeteria chatting with kids at the table, or reading a book to a room full of kindergarteners, or talking with a parent volunteer in the hallway. No matter where these leaders are, they practice being fully present and intentional with their time and energy.



Over time, I have come to this simple definition of leadership: Leadership is getting results in a way that inspires trust.  —Stephen M. R. Covey, The Speed of Trust

At the core, good rapport and great relationships are built on trust.

Why is it that one leader can present a new initiative or program to a school and it is received with open arms, while another leader introduces the exact same idea — with the exact same level of passion and enthusiasm — but the program barely gets off the ground?

Why can one administrator be in classrooms on a daily basis, snap photos of teachers and their work, post them on Twitter, and then have engaging conversations about the lesson afterward, while another leader would have a grievance filed against them for doing the same?

The answer is trust!

Nothing leaders do matters much without the trust of their teams and communities. It’s nearly impossible to build the kind of schools we dream of — the kind where students and staff are beating down the doors to get in rather than out — if we don’t have their trust. Trust is the oxygen of our school systems. You can’t see it, hear it, touch it, or feel it, but without it, you will find yourself struggling to survive


Ask & Analyze

Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers. —Anthony Robbins

Good questions inform; great questions transform.

If you really want to transform your school, its culture, and the way you and your staff members work and learn, start asking better questions. Traditional questions elicit traditional responses, but the transformed questions inspire a new way of thinking. Take a look at the examples of transformed questions on the opposite page.

PIRATE leaders ask questions like these — questions that challenge the status quo, inspire outside-the-textbook experiences, and encourage new ways of thinking about practice. They


What are your goals for this year?


What magic do you want to create in your classroom this year? How can I help?

What memories do you want to create for students in your class this year? How do you plan to do that?

What’s something you have always wanted to do in your class, but haven’t tried yet? How can I help make that happen?


What strategies will you use to engage students in your lesson?


What could you do to create a “buzz” about next week’s lesson so your students are excited and engaged before they even walk in the door?

What will you do during your lesson that will inspire students to bubble over with excitement when parents or friends ask them, “What did you do in school today?”


What is the agenda for your next staff meeting?


How can you find out what your teachers want to learn? How could you personalize professional development to create experiences that would get your staff running into meetings, not out?

How could you transform your adult learning spaces to immediately and positively change the atmosphere and vibe of the room?

What hooks could you use before the meeting to get staff pumped up about the topic?



Transformation is much more than using the skills, resources and technology. It’s all about the habits of the mind. —Malcolm Gladwell

PIRATE leaders want to make a significant difference, a notable contribution, and transform the lives of their students. They have a clear vision about where they want to go and why it is an important journey for people to take with them. They have high expectations and create a healthy sense of urgency around the most important work, and they are skillful in managing and leading change. They know that great schools can change communities and change the lives of generations. They believe in the moral imperative of providing students with an amazing set of educational opportunities, they are clear in defining what these are, and then they orchestrate the experience.

If we are truly serious about creating the culture of getting our students and staff running in rather than out, we have to be willing to transform our daily practices. We can’t be satisfied with mediocre or status quo. We have to be relentless each day if we are going to take traditional education to new heights for our staff and students. “Whatever it takes” is the mantra of PIRATE leaders ready to make a difference.



Enthusiasm moves the world. —Arthur Balfour

PIRATE leaders infuse enthusiasm into their work. They bring it every day, and they are committed to being on. They are the champions and cheerleaders of their schools and champions and cheerleaders of those who work and learn there. They celebrate successes both big and small. You know enthusiastic leaders when you see them. They are the ones who can bring you up when you are down; they help you reignite your fire when it is starting to burn out; they point out how you have contributed and made a difference; they smile; they laugh; they engage; they commit.

As leaders, we have a responsibility to model positivity and enthusiasm. We can’t expect our staff and students to be enthusiastic about things that we are not enthusiastic about. We do this by being excited about everything that school is about. We cheer when students arrive. We throw a party when teachers and students take risks. We celebrate mistakes as well as successes, and we celebrate the learning that goes along with these. Most of all, our enthusiasm for our jobs and for our schools is evident in every facet of our leadership. This also holds true for the things we may not look forward to doing as leaders, such as rolling out newly mandated initiatives or curriculum changes at the state level (again). We don’t always have a choice in the day-to-day work we do, but we definitely have a choice in the way that we do it.

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