(This post originally appeared on Feeding Change in 2012.)

I regularly receive emails from teachers around the world looking for advice on how to use video games with their students. While each teacher, student and learning environment is unique, my first piece of advice is always the same:

Play the game yourself. For fun.

As surprising as it might sound, this simple suggestion is often the one thing a teacher doesn’t do. As adults, we are often very reluctant to ‘play’ for play’s sake. This is unfortunate because play is essential to successfully use games in the classroom.

Playing Games = Respecting Games

I’ve been playing video games since I was a kid and never stopped. I play to unwind, connect with friends and have fun. It seems that for many educators playing video games is still seen as something only kids do. It’s something to grow out of. This, despite tons of evidence to suggest otherwise.

Still, I repeatedly talk to teachers who want to use games in their classroom, but don’t want to actually play the games themselves. There’s always the same reason: no time. That worries me because when you choose to bring something into your classroom to engage and build your students’ learning , you must respect it yourself. If you don’t, the kids will know. And then you’re in trouble.

Minecraft is a great example. (You were wondering when Minecraft was going to come up, weren’t you?) Without diving into Minecraft, exploring it and spending time building, surviving or whatever, you cannot know the game. If you don’t know the game, you don’t know it’s potential. You don’t know the amazing possibilities it can offer your students. And you don’t know what to do when things go wrong. You won’t know what advice to give the student trapped in a hole unless you’ve been trapped yourself. You won’t be able to make build suggestions to a redstone-tinkering student unless you’ve done some tinkering yourself. In short, you won’t speak the same language as your students. You won’t be literate in the language their speaking. And that’s no place from which to teach.

Hope for Non-Gaming Edus

But all is not lost, non-gaming teachers! You have your holiday break approaching. What a perfect time to find a game of your choice and settle in for a marathon gaming session. You did it for Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey. Why not do it for Minecraft, Portal or Civilization or another game you could justify bringing into your classroom? Play. Have fun. Consider it Professional Development.

And speaking of fun PD: Teachers looking to dive into Minecraft this holiday break are invited to play on the GamingEdus Professional Learning server. Teachers and their kids from around the globe are building, playing and sharing ideas in Minecraft. Get a Minecraft account and fill out the White List request and you’ll be blowing stuff up with us in no time.

Check out the video tour here:

Happy Gaming!