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Teaching Tips & Tricks, Podcast Articles   |   Mar 22, 2015

Dave Burgess’ truth: Collaborating with colleagues who don’t support your creativity

By Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Dave Burgess’ truth: Collaborating with colleagues who don’t support your creativity

By Angela Watson

Have you ever shared a great teaching idea with a co-worker who immediately shot it down and discouraged you from thinking outside the box? Listen as Dave Burgess of “Teach Like a Pirate” fame shares how you can express your creativity even when co-planning with colleagues who are reluctant to innovate. Discover how collaboration can be used to improve your teaching practice, not standardize it.

This post is based on the latest episode of my weekly podcast, Angela Watson’s Truth for Teachers. A podcast is essentially a talk radio show that you can listen to online or download and take with you wherever you go. I release a new episode each Sunday and feature it here on the blog to help you get energized and motivated for the week ahead. Learn more about the podcast, view blog posts for all past episodes, or subscribe in iTunesto get new episodes right away.

I want to introduce a new episode format I’m going to try out in episode 16. It’s going to be called Ask Angela Anything. This was a feature I actually had on my blog for many years, and teachers could type their questions into a Google form anonymously for me to answer on the blog. I used to answer three or four questions per post and it was a pretty popular advice column, as these things go, I guess, but I felt like the posts were getting to be too long. Some of the questions were really deep and I couldn’t answer them in just a few sentences, but they might have been too specific to a particular teacher’s situation to warrant their own blog post. So, I just kind of quietly ended the series, and if someone stumbled on an old post and submitted a really good question, I might sometimes answer it in a random blog post.

But I thought that Ask Angela Anything might be kind of a fun feature to revive here on the podcast. There’s a free web tool called SpeakPipe that lets you basically record a voice message on your computer or mobile device. When you hit the “Start Recording” button below, it will record your question for me, anonymously if you’d like, so I can include it on a future episode of the show and record an answer for you. If you don’t want your voice on the podcast, I also have the Google form available and you can type your question in, but I hope you’ll leave an audio recording, because I think that’s more interesting for podcast listeners, to hear your actual voice.

So, if you have a question you’d like me to answer here on the podcast, let me know via audio (below or on the main Podcast page) or the Google form. And then once a month or once every other month, depending on how many relevant questions I get, I’ll answer them in an episode of the podcast called Ask Angela Anything.

I am thrilled to have my friend Dave Burgess with us today. Dave has nearly 20 years of classroom experience and is a best selling author. I’ve had the privilege of hearing him speak many times and his messages always resonate with me. Welcome, Dave!


Hi, this is Dave Burgess, author of Teach Like a Pirate. And I really want to thank Angela for inviting me to be a guest on a podcast. I think it’s a fantastic podcast which is really reaching the hearts of a lot of teachers which is why it is resonating and becoming so popular. So thank you so much, Angela.

My story today is about something I overheard when I was setting up for a seminar. I was in a room one night, setting up my “Teach Like a Pirate” seminar for the next morning and I overheard a teacher talking to her mentor. She was saying,

“You know what, I’m new, and this is my first year teaching, and I came into this profession with so much excitement and so much creativity, so much that I thought that I had to share, and I’m so excited about designing all of these new and creative lesson plans. And as soon as I got in to my campus, I ran into the people that were on my team–the teachers in my department–and they were negative. They didn’t share my excitement, and they told me, ‘This is the way we do things around here,” and they pretty much rejected all of these ideas that I wanted to try in my classroom.”

She was almost in tears when she was sharing the story. And I just wanted to turn around and invite her to come to Teach Like a Pirate the next day, because I hear a lot of that from teachers, where they feel like that they are trapped, and they feel confined by being a part of a team that is maybe not as creative as them. Maybe they’re at a school where they don’t get the chance to express themselves.

I always tell people teaching is a triple venn diagram. There are three interlocking circles.

First, you have the content circle. You’re gonna share that with the other people on your team: the people that are in your grade level, teaching your subject matter.

Then there’s the second circle which is your techniques and your methods, and you’re probably going to share those, as well. You’re gonna have lots of techniques and methods that you worked on together, that you’ve learned through your credential program or through professional development seminars.

But then there’s this third circle that nobody is talking about and I love to talk to people about, and that third circle is presentation.

How are you going to present it in such a way that is relevant for kids? How are you going to present it in such a way that is meaningful, and that draws kids in almost magically, magnetically, to what you are doing in the classroom?

That is your opportunity to be YOU.

What is unique about you? Your particular strengths, talents, and your voice that you add to your classroom is what makes you most powerful and effective with students. It also helps to personalize you for your students.

So, many teachers can identify with this, where that they’ve been seen by one of their students outside of the school setting and they found that student is almost shocked to see them. It’s almost like they run into a glass window or something. I’m at the movies and one of my students sees me and says, “Mr. Burgess what are you doing here?” And I say, “Well actually Steven, I am a human being. I exist outside on the four walls of my classroom. I don’t sleep in the cupboards or anything.”

And so, when you bring more of yourself to work, you’ll experience that less often. And so I’m trying to bring more of myself to work. We spend too high of a percentage of our lives to unplug ourselves when we walk through the doors of the school house. So I’m always trying to find ways to add my unique voice: what is unique about me–my strengths, my passions–into my classroom and that’s in my presentation.

So, even though I teach the same subject as the teachers in the same grade levels in the same curriculum as me, it doesn’t mean that I have to teach just like them. I call it collaboration versus killaboration.

Collaboration is about making all of us better.  It’s not about making all of us the same. It’s about improving our practice, not simply standardizing it. And so even if you’re a part of PLC or team that shares content and technique, method, and assessment, but you can still add what is unique about you, your particular touch to your classroom through your presentation.

My favorite Christmas carol in the whole wide world is the “Little Drummer Boy.” And I love the idea. Here’s this boy who doesn’t have money or the finer gifts that everybody else is bringing, but he has is what is unique about him…he can play his drums and so that’s what he does. And really, that’s what it’s all about.

Forget about all the things you can’t control and play your drum to the best of your abilities. Nothing else really matters. You can offer no finer gift or higher honor to the world than to find out what your drum is and then play it for all it’s worth. That’s what I think teachers need to do– be less concerned about what other people are doing and fitting in, but finding that drum that you play better than anyone else in the world and be the one to play it for all it’s worth.

So again, I want to thank Angela so much for having me here on to the podcast. I hope that this is a message that resonates with you and feel free to connect with me. I’d love to talk to you more about these ideas.

Dave Burgess’ truth: Collaborating with colleagues who don’t support your creativity

I love that Dave is so passionate about the same issues that I’m passionate about. I think this was the perfect follow up to so many things we’ve talked about here on the podcast. In particular I’m thinking of episode 7 where I shared with you the story of how I made a huge mistake in emulating another teacher’s style of running the classroom instead of being true to who I am.

As I think back on that and reflect on what Dave just shared, I’m realizing more than ever how important it is for teachers to feel confident in expressing their unique personalities. If you want to really enjoy teaching, you’ve got to bring your authentic self into the classroom and share all of who you are with kids. Embrace those characteristics that make you unique. You might be teaching the same content as your colleagues, but you do not have to totally remove yourself and your personality from the equation. Sharing your real and authentic self is what makes your lessons memorable, and what makes them enjoyable, for both you and the kids.

Dave is super active on Twitter, so you can connect with him there at @BurgessDave. You can also leave your thoughts or a question for Dave in the comments of this post. We’d love to hear from you!

Collaboration is about making all of us better, not about making all of us the same. --Dave Burgess Click To Tweet

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Angela Watson

Founder and Writer

Angela created the first version of this site in 2003, when she was a classroom teacher herself. With 11 years of teaching experience and more than a decade of experience as an instructional coach, Angela oversees and contributes regularly to...
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