5 Questions with… Paul Solarz

I first read the Teach Like a Pirate book by Dave Burgess last year. It helped to change my outlook on inspiring students. Since then, I have become a frequent visitor of the #tlap chat on Monday nights. So, I was very excited to hear that Paul Solarz was publishing his first book, Learn Like a PIRATE, based on his experiences in the classroom, while utilizing the PIRATE spirit to inspire his students.

We are glad to have Paul Solarz join us this week to share his insight.


5 Questions with… Paul Solarz

  1. What do you most want your students to take with them from your classroom, school or district?

I want my students to leave my classroom ready to apply the skills and strategies they used all year long in our classroom.  I want them to transfer their learning to new situations because they will have learned to become adaptable & flexible problem solvers.  I want my students to be kind, thoughtful independent-thinkers who are confident and capable, motivated and hard-working.  I want my students to know their strengths and weaknesses and embrace them all because they understand that no one is perfect and that everyone can improve.  I want my students to be curious and interested in the world around them, and look forward to learning more about their interests and talents.

  1. What are the most rewarding and/or the most frustrating aspects of education?

For me, the real rewards are getting to spend each day with children who enjoy school and treat our classroom as an extension of their family.  Everyone is comfortable with each other, sometimes a little too comfortable!  Just like siblings, sometimes we get on each others’ nerves, but since we all respect each other and care about each other, everything is soon forgotten.  

My main frustration with education generally involves the lack of autonomy some teachers are given.  I’m extremely fortunate to be in a district that gives its teachers a great deal of autonomy.  Historically speaking, that autonomy has waxed and waned over time, unfortunately.  It’s difficult to innovate and take risks if you’re required to teach a program exactly as its written.  In my opinion, if districts want to encourage their teachers to work hard and progress forward, they need to provide resources but not require their explicit use.

  1. What advice would you give to young teachers?

There are going to be thousands of rules that you will need to follow once you become a teacher, but don’t let that stop you from being who you are.  You are entering the profession with the latest research, progressive pedagogy, and a head full of creative ideas.  Don’t let obstacles get in the way of good teaching!  Find a way to work within the rules, yet still teach the way you believe is going to make the most positive difference in your students’ lives.  It’s hard to argue with success, and if you do it respectfully, modestly, and with the focus on your students’ well-being, it will be hard for naysayers to argue with you!

  1. What has influenced your career the most?

I made the most improvements in my teaching after earning my National Board Certification in 2010.  National Boards taught me to be reflective and purposeful with everything that I do as a teacher.  That also coincided with more access to technology for my students.  Those two things combined to make me re-think the way I teach and the way I thought education should look like in my classroom.  Today, technology plays a vital role in content-acquisition, reflection, and collaboration.  I spend much less time telling my students what they need to know, and more time teaching them how to learn and communicate and problem-solve and create…

  1. As an educator, what are you currently focused on?

Since I just released my first book, Learn Like a PIRATE, I’m spending a great deal of time spreading the word about creating collaborative, student-led classrooms where the children are empowered to make decisions freely and take risks without consequences.  Our focus on constant improvement, rather than mastery or grades, helps each of my students try to be a stronger student today than they were yesterday.  Our classroom community is something we constantly strive to improve in order to be collaborative, respectful, and empathetic people.  The message is simple: When students own their learning, knowledge and skills are more transferable.


Paul Solarz is a 5th grade teacher from Arlington Heights, Illinois who has been teaching for 16 years.  He just published his first book entitled, “Learn Like a PIRATE.”  He was recently named a Top 50 candidate for the Global Teacher Prize, which many consider to be the equivalent of the Nobel Prize in Education.  Last year, he was named the 2014 ICE Educator of the Year for his use of technology in the classroom.

Paul believes in empowering his students to lead their learning, effectively integrating EdTech into the curriculum, and providing students opportunities to pursue their personal interests through Passion Time.  He focuses on 21st Century skills in the classroom, especially creativity, problem-solving, reflection, and collaboration.

For more information on the book, click here:

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