Teaching & Learning
Borrowing, Adapting, Re-using, Creating - How to improve our skills, find our voice, and craft our niche within professional boundaries. Part One.
by Chantill Lopez
A recent blog post entitled “Is it Stealing? Yes or No?” by a colleague of mine sparked a heated discussion among the readers. I was perplexed at first; I had never considered the use of someone else’s adaptation, cue or modification -- nor someone else’s use of mine -- as stealing. It got me thinking about the controversy: When does it feel like someone else is “poaching” your knowledge to use against you or is ill-intended? How proprietary are you with the particular version of Pilates that you teach? When is borrowing a compliment and when does it feel like blatant disregard?
When developing professional ethics around borrowing, adapting and reusing or blending the work of other teachers it is helpful to look at three primary components:
- Our personal and professional values
- The importance of attribution and giving credit: when and how
- Carefully evaluating the context of borrowing
How do you handle borrowing, adapting, and integrating other teacher’s work into your own? And more to the point: What is the professional standard you want to set and adhere to when doing so?
Imagine how you might respond to the following situations:
The scenario: You’ve been teaching for yourself for many years, working hard to build a solid student-base and develop a reputation for working with distance runners. One day a fellow teacher calls and asks if she can come and observe a session with one of your clients; she’d like to integrate some of your techniques into her teaching.
How do you respond? Do you say no out of fear that this teacher might take your hard work and use it to increase her own success? Do you feel proprietary and want to keep your programming to yourself? Do you ask the teacher to pay for your knowledge, take sessions with you to learn the material, or offer a workshop to disseminate your techniques? Or do you freely share your experience and information?
The scenario: A teacher begins to regularly attend your classes, but never indicates he is a teacher. You assume he’s just another student, then discover from a colleague that he’s a teacher a few miles away and he’s been using your long distance runner repertoire and variations with his students. You also learn that he is not attributing you for the programming.
What do you do? Do you confront the teacher and ask why and how he’s using your material? Do you invite him to train with you so that you can give him all the pieces, and ask him to attribute your work? Do you refuse to support the teacher and begin to talk about how he’s using your material without your permission? Do you ask your colleague to get more information and bring it back to you for ammunition, effectively acting as a “spy?”
Although there is not meant to be a “right” answer to any of these questions -- and there is likely a myriad of complex reasons that lead you to answer one way or another -- your initial responses are a reflection of how you view what you do (teaching), how you perceive the value of your time and training (financially and emotionally), and what you are most committed to in your teaching and in your work (education, service, community, creating meaningful work).
Personal Inventory - Your Personal and Professional Values
As you respond to the scenarios above notice your initial reactions. Then notice how you begin to justify or explain your reactions or how you navigate away from your immediate responses toward a place more in line with your deeper beliefs about teaching and your work.
When we begin to evaluate how to develop ourselves professionally we must first look at what motivates us personally. Then we can investigate how we would handle ourselves in certain situations.
To go deeper, answer these questions:
» What motivates me to explore other teacher’s techniques, tools, and contributions. (For example: To deepen my own understanding of concepts and theories. To enhance my current teaching by increasing my knowledge. To add verbal and manual cues to my toolbox. To develop a strong voice and a more unique offering.)
» What kind of examples have been set for me by those teachers who have guided me and taught me the Pilates Method?
» Do I come from a teaching lineage that leans toward being proprietary or open to sharing and exploring?
» Does that affect my current stance on sharing, borrowing and adapting repertoire or techniques?
» What am I committed to in my teaching, in my work? (For example: I am most committed to creating a financially healthy business. Or I am most committed to creating community and inspiring other teachers and being inspired.)
» Does my conduct truly reflect what’s at the heart of teaching Pilates?
» Do my professional standards reflect Joseph Pilates’ philosophy?
These may not be questions you’ve taken time to ask yourself before. Instead it’s likely you’ve ended up facing challenging situations such as these with no sense of what your professional ethics dictate. The bottom line is that how we handle borrowing, adapting and re-creating other teacher’s insights and repertoire is always going to be a personal choice. But we can make it an active choice and have it reflect our deepest values.
» When do I use someone else's cue, technique or variation in my teaching.
» Do I attribute or not? When would I decided to attribute and why?
» Do I credit my teachers and mentors in my teaching. When and why or why not?
» Am I clear about my educational goals and teaching aspirations both for myself and to those peers or teachers who I am in regular contact with?
» What actions do I take to reach these goals? Are these actions in line with my personal and professional ethics?
» Am I clear about whether or not the learning environments I put myself in are meant for me to take something away and share it or meant for personal use only?
» If the agreement for learning and taking away material is not explicit do I ask for permission?
» What efforts to I make to attend to different contexts?
Attributing and Giving Credit
I’ve noticed that some teachers constantly attribute their teachers or colleagues for tidbits and techniques. I’ve also noticed that other teachers never do. Giving credit is a key indicator that a teacher knows, and can humbly acknowledge, that they did not invent the wheel, that their brilliance is in part a product of all those who came before them.
Ways to attribute and give credit:
» At the beginning of a class as you introduce a focus.
» During a class as you introduce a new or complex series of exercises.
» As you use an unfamiliar cue or technique.
» Write it in your bio.
» Use quotes and references within your other writing (press releases, marketing if appropriate).
» Directly to the source by way of gratitude and appreciation for your current accomplishments.
In his book “Steal Like An Artist" Austin Kleon writes, The writer Jonathan Lethem has said that when people call something ‘original,’ nine out of ten times they just don’t know the references or the original sources involved. What a good artist understands is that nothing comes from nowhere. All creative work builds on what came before. Nothing is completely original.
Ultimately is borrowing, adapting, reusing and creating really about the “thing” that we imitate or take away? Or is there more to it? Kleon, an artist, writer, and creative entrepreneur warns us not to just copy, not to just take the product of other teacher’s brilliance, but to learn “why” they do it, to not “just steal the style, steal the thinking behind the style. You don’t want to look like your heroes, you want to see like your heroes.”