Stop Thief!

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John Dabell

I trained as a primary school teacher 25 years ago, starting my career in London and then I taught in a range of schools in the Midlands. In between teaching jobs, I worked as an Ofsted inspector (no hate mail please!), national in-service provider, project...
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Is it okay for teachers to steal resources?

Theft is rampant in schools and I’m not just talking about the students. Teachers are at it too.

As a wet-behind-the-ears young pedagogue, one mentor told me to ‘go forth and conquer, but remember to beg, borrow and steal in the process’.  Another mentor recommended that all of us should operate with a head-CASE mentality (Copy And Steal Everything). This was stock advice and it’s been good advice too, although my criminal record is unblemished and I have a squeaky clean DBS. I’ve actually been stealing for years and I’d imagine every other teacher has too.

In fact, its advice for everyone. In his book Steal Like An Artist, Austin Kleon, says,

“When you look at the world this way, you stop worrying about what’s “good” and what’s “bad” – there’s only stuff worth stealing, and stuff that’s not worth stealing. Everything is up for grabs…Every new idea is just a mashup or a remix of one or more previous ideas.”

Kleon says that every good artist knows that all creative work is built on what came before and “Nothing is completely original.”

Like a thief in the night ….

Teachers are always begging, borrowing and stealing ideas because that’s how we learn. We all look to see what strategies, tips, techniques and advice is working well for someone else and we appropriate it for ourselves without shame. We might ‘call it CPD’, but really what we are engaged in, is professional plundering or said another way – sharing.

Is this the real secret of great teaching?

If you see a sparkling idea somewhere, then the chances are you take it away in your head and then try it for yourself within your own classroom. Why reinvent the wheel? All you have to do is take a ‘learning walk’ around school and pinch a bit here and there. You can pay colleagues informal visits in their classrooms, arrange a lesson observation or watch them via video technology; stealing is easy. 

Image: Shutterstock

Staff room chats are perfect grounds for sharing – spend as much time in yours as you can because you will always pick up more than a couple of biscuits. You might pick up a few crumbs of wisdom or an idea that gets the pulse racing.

As thick as thieves …

It would be nice to think that everyone in a school shares but this isn’t always the case. Sometimes we just don’t get enough time with our own colleagues to share ideas and if this turns us into opportunist-magpies, then so be it. When an opportunity comes along to spend time in someone else’s classroom: take it. If someone comes knocking on your door, then welcome them in.

Teachers work in silos for much of their time, so if we can get the chance to share, then we need to distribute expertise whenever we can. We all have some classroom gems and golden nuggets to share that can potentially enrich and embolden the teaching lives of colleagues, but that’s not always easy.

I worked in a school once that had a ‘Beg, Borrow and Steal’ noticeboard in the staffroom that acted as a deposit board for sharing ‘killer’ ideas. This working wall was covered in post-it notes full of informal tips that teachers used to help each other upgrade their craft. Everyone took something out of their bag of tricks, wrote it down and posted it for others to take. It was a superb lesson in ‘give and take’ and of course connecting ideas with others.

A PLN Kaizen:

Making connections is everything and whilst there is still a place for post-its notes, many teachers opt for a  Personalised Learning Network (PLN) as a way of boosting their kaizen.

A PLN is a professional development online tool that allows us to use social media and technology to reach with others around the world: to share expertise, ideas and resources and connect the learning dots together. Having a PLN is all about the 3Cs and the 3Rs:

  • communication, collaboration, community
  • relationships, relationships, relationships.

They are empowering and transformational and a sterling way of building a personal network of contacts. They also allow discussions and links to be made to materials that would otherwise be hidden, squirrelled away and hard to find.  

There are oodles of benefits to having a PLN as they promote:

  •         discussion, learning conversations and reflection
  •         a think tank mentality and thought leaders
  •         a Eureka personality  
  •         change agents
  •         an interactive community of learners
  •         lifelong learning

For more information on PLNs, take a look at the following video.

Twitter tends to be the backbone of a PLN because it allows you to connect quickly and easily linking and sharing to just about anything including articles, features, websites, videos, podcasts and blogs. Beyond Twitter, your PLN might include Yammer, Facebook, Pinterest, Linkedin, Skype, Moodle, You Tube and of course blogs …

Blogging: grand theft auto

Having a fibre-optic cognitive network often stimulates the need to go further, and for many that is to enter into the wonderful and sometimes weird world of blogging. Blogging is like an octopus on steroids and has made sharing ridiculously easy. People blog their thinking, publish and within moments the soul of ideas and the spirit of resources have been teared and shared, deconstructed, dissected, torn apart, re-crafted, adapted, edited, scavenged, implemented, grafted, re-engineered and stolen.

And why not? If something is worth taking and it can work in your classroom then do it. Teachers are good at taking, but even better at multiplying too.  

Okay, stealing is all a bit tongue in cheek and everyone knows that, but the essence of what we do is to give and take in order to improve teaching, learning and assessment. We certainly have no excuse for not sharing given what is available to us. Everything we do can be linked to everything others are doing in the spirit of change, connectivity and convergence.

The biggest crime we commit as teachers is not sharing.


9 thoughts on “Stop Thief!

  1. Stealing is easy but, for heaven’s sake, say thank you! It is not nice hearing someone else get the credit for your idea.

  2. Like A Thief in the Night! Is that a Take That reference? Great post. The best teachers are a real combination of all of the good ideas that they’ve encountered. Being a connected educator on social media and attending conferences or watching other teachers at work are all good ways to feed your magpie-like tendencies.
    Thief? Guilty as charged!

  3. A colleague once commented on what a great piece of work I had done and where did I get the ideas for it. I told him it was an adaptation of something I found online. He stared at me for a moment and asked “you mean you stole it from someone else? That is so wrong!” I laughed out loud thinking he was joking but quickly realised I was laughing alone and he was deadly serious.

    I explained to him that without using the fact that that someone else wanted to share their thoughts and expertise it would have taken me forever to do it all myself. Why reinvent the wheel? I asked him what he thought TES Resources is for? What are text books for?

    I agree that we must use / steal the wealth of expertise that is out there and encourage all staff to share what we do well on a more regular basis. I do agree with Disgruntled that a thank you is needed and a credit if you publish anything.

    I also think that we should share things that haven’t worked so well so we can either evaluate how to make them work or not waste time flogging a dead horse.

  4. Pingback: Silent Discussion

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