Talk Like a Pirate Day: 5 things headteachers can learn

On International Talk Like a Pirate Day, let's admit that pirates are surprisingly good role models for school leaders

International Talk Like a Pirate Day: There's plenty that school leaders can learn from the pirates of old, says Dan Worth

Yarrrggh, me hearties. Brace the mainsail and shiver me timbers, it be International Talk Like a Pirate Day again. Yargh, I swear this day comes around quicker every year.

While pirates have a reputation as blood-thirsty cutthroats, only interested in plunder, booty and pieces of eight, they can, looked at in another light, be seen as great role models for teachers. After all, Blackbeard, the most famed (and feared) pirate of them all, was really called Edward Teach.


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Talk Like a Pirate Day: pirate treasure

Not convinced? Then prepare to walk the plank, you scurvy sea dog! Or, read on below as we outline just some of the ways that pirates can be inspirational leaders. For one day at least.

1. The importance of democracy

Much like the Vikings (another misunderstood bunch from history), pirates were actually great believers in the power of democracy and had plenty of rules for allowing every member of a ship to express his* opinion.

This just goes to show that being a school leader, you can allow time to let others have their say and put forward counter-proposals to your own without your own fearsome reputation being undermined.

(*Sadly, women weren’t allowed on pirates ships – let us note for the record that equality of the sexes is not an area in which to take guidance from pirates.)

2. Teamwork and leadership

Following on from this is the fact that pirates had clear roles, worked as a team and took direction from strong, decisive leaders.

There was no role overlap or petty political games about who would sign-off on the latest quartermaster’s report. It was all for the greater good and the captain stood atop them all, with final decision-making responsibility when required.

This is why pirates, despite usually being significantly under-resourced, could give the well-drilled British Navy the run-around for hundreds of years.

Ensuring that your staff have clear roles and know what is expected of them, that they can work together as a team, and that you take ownership of your own duties and carry them out fairly and for the benefit of the majority, is all part and parcel of being a great school leader.

3. Adapting to adversity

One thing you notice about pirates is that they were remarkably good at dealing with adversity.

Lost an eye? Stick a patch over it and become a captain. Missing an arm? A hook will be fine! No leg? Wooden stump. Next! Thankfully, medical abilities have improved since those times but the courage that pirates showed in the face of hardships is commendable and an example to us all.

Sure, things may not be perfect, but would Blackbeard sit around in his cabin avoiding a stack of marking he had to get through, or a difficult field trip assessment he needed to finish? Of course not, so why should you? Adapt, improve and overcome.

4. You have to go digging for treasure

Pirates were entrepreneurial. They didn’t just expect treasure to fall into their laps. They knew it took hard work, perseverance and following surprisingly intricate, tea-stained maps to discover the plunder they were after.

Being a school leader is no different. You know your pupils are gems but it takes time and effort to get them to sparkle at their full potential. Good staff are worth their weight in gold but sometimes it takes time to get the right team together to put the transformations you have in mind into place.

So don’t be disheartened if you haven’t got everything quite where you want it now, take inspiration from piracy and realise that it takes time to find the treasure you are seeking.

5. Stick to a code 

The pirate code is a document any leader could learn from. It sets out rules on everything from the importance of respecting the ship’s curfew, to the requirement for pirates to keep weapons ready at all times and ensuring that disputes are settled in a fair and proper manner.

Readapt this code to schools and it becomes about respecting teachers’ right to stop working after a certain hour of the day, ensuring that supplies are well-maintained and listening to disputes and issues when they arise in a thoughtful manner.

OK, so the pirate code might be more a set of guidelines than an actual code, but, nevertheless, there’s plenty within it that serves as remarkably good advice for school leaders, too.

So there ye have it. Pirates be more like teachers than you realised! Now, let us celebrate this accord with a rousing song from the greatest pirate film of all time. All together now...yo ho ho….
 

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