Teaching & Learning
Borrowing, Adapting, Re-using, Creating - How to improve our skills, find our voice, and craft our niche within professional boundaries. Part Two.
by Chantill Lopez
“Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination…Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic.”-- Jim Jarmusch
What is teaching anyway? Pedagogy and pragmatisms? Is it fluid and changing? Is it science or art, a craft or a formula? In Part One of this article, featured in the Winter edition of the Pilates COREterly, I discussed various scenarios in which you might handle someone borrowing your work, how you choose to react, and giving credit when credit is due. In Part Two, we explore how we learn to teach influences, what kinds of teachers we become, and the different borrowing “situations” in which we might find ourselves in the future.
In my experience teaching is a blend of creating and following a formula - a process in which we start with a framework, but must adapt to an internally and externally changing environment. In any given teaching moment we have an opportunity to try new things, shift our perspective - or that of our student’s - in the name of effective learning. Because we work with the physical form, our field gets even more complex requiring greater degrees of fluidity and demanding higher levels of adaptability.
Part of evolving ourselves as teachers is discovering what techniques best reflect our inner selves, what methods of teaching accentuate our talents and strengths, and which approaches bring us closer to mastery.
Parker Palmer, author of “The Courage to Teach,” writes: “Here, I believe, is the proper and powerful role of technique: as we learn more about who we are, we can learn techniques that reveal, rather than conceal the personhood from which good teaching comes.” But how do we establish what those techniques might be? We borrow and integrate pieces of what inspires us. No matter how we do that, it is the way we continue to stretch ourselves and create our own teaching style and voice. We try on words, demeanors, philosophies, theories and other ways of teaching to discover who we are as teachers, not just to collect more skills. If the two are woven inextricably together (personal exploration and technical skill) it’s no wonder borrowing can become a tender subject.
And if that’s the case can we accept that nothing is original and that each of us finds our voice by how we connect, combine and recreate material that has already been created? How do we do it with integrity and humility?
Influence - For Better or Worse
How we were taught to teach, from whom we were taught, and the atmosphere in which we learned play a big part in terms of how we "perceive" the boundaries of knowledge sharing.
If our teachers are guarded, defensive and portray a sense of secrecy or combativeness we begin to believe that this is not only how we should behave, but that it's warranted. If our teachers are willing, open and portray a sense of generosity with regard to sharing the work, we begin to believe that this is the spirit in which teaching Pilates should be taught and teachers educated. Either way, we end up with a distinct set of beliefs that affect how we conduct ourselves later on.
Another influencing factor can be whether or not we were adequately guided as emerging teachers or got the support we needed to develop professional ethics. Was professionalism demonstrated to us in a way that created a strong sense of how to behave? Did we get the information we needed to be successful on multiple fronts: as technicians, teachers, and professionals? If not, then the paths we cut may be less than in line with our values than we would like.
The Assumption and the Agreement
We spend much of our time making assumptions about other people. So what happens when one party assumes they have a right to your work, an agreement you have not willingly or knowingly entered into? In certain contexts, this assumption negates the pursuit of any professional agreement that would clearly acknowledge the sharing process.
In our teaching community, with multiple levels of exchange happening all the time, our assumptions can be hard at work leaving the necessity for agreements short changed. Both our assumptions about what's appropriate behavior and whether or not we seek out the necessary agreement, which can manifest in many different forms, is often dictated by the context of the exchange. As we all know the exchange of information takes place in a multitude of venues with endless people and situations throughout the various phases of our learning and our careers. Thoughtfully attending to context can, however, give us an opportunity to adhere to meaningful professional standards when sharing knowledge, which is almost always happening.
Everything In Context
Each time we enter a new context, whether it is situational, financial, or relational, we also enter a new agreement with the teacher as to how to handle sharing information. Sometimes this agreement is unspoken and assumed, which can be troublesome, and sometimes it is overt.
Examples of Pilates-based contexts:
Explicit Training Opportunities
In the teacher training paradigm most of us enter as novices. The first stages of learning involve careful observation, and integration through imitation and mimicry. As we learn to become teachers, we spend a lot of time in this acquisition phase, spending time doing and saying things just like our teachers. After a while we begin to see what works best for us and adapt the information to more fully suit us.
We enter into an agreement of knowledge sharing with our teachers. This is one context where borrowing and adapting is clear. Our teachers guide us, give us feedback and help us see the right or wrong way of conveying the knowledge. Everyone works under the understanding that the teacher is freely giving their knowledge.
Typically whenever we pay for information we can assume it is ours to use freely. This is an instance where the agreement is explicit because we are buying the information.
Implicit Training Opportunities
When we are involved in classes such as are offered to a general Pilates population of students, listen to a podcast or watch a video of someone teaching sometimes the agreement as to what we can "borrow" is unclear. Are we just a student, attending for personal practice and growth or are we listening, watching or attending in order to gain insight for a specific professional purpose? When the agreement is implied we leave room for misunderstandings.
In these situations the best we can do is announce ourselves and our purpose (if in person) and if not in-person then we can make sure to credit the source.
For those times when we are exposed to teachings that are freely given via the internet or in dialogue, round tables or other non-paying venues, the agreement is implicit. We assume that since the teacher is giving or sharing their knowledge freely that we may use it at will. As in the context above attribution is a crucial safeguard against any notion of stealing or lack of reciprocation.
Peer to Peer (Complementary Roles)
As in the previous contextual example, this type of exchange implies that sharing is acceptable, but in my experience it can also be a very grey area, often fraught with misguided or inaccurate assumptions. Of course, the depth of our relationship will often dictate how we proceed, yet the importance of clarity cannot be overlooked. Asking permission, making any desire to use or adapt the given information should be explicit both to adhere to a high professional standard, but also to preserve the personal investment. When we assume too much in this context we are apt to suffer the greatest consequences.
Mentor/Mentored, Coach/Student, Client/Service-provider (Contrasting Roles)
When we are learning in a relational or one-on-one environment, we must look closely at what is being shared and if we are being given permission to share it further. Part of any healthy relationship is communication, and it is up to us to maintain a clear and honest feedback loop to avoid getting the wrong idea. Sometimes in these learning environments we are given insights that are personal and not meant to be taken and passed on. Although each interaction lends itself to the shaping of who we are as teachers, working to influence our demeanor and notions about teaching, this intimate sharing is often designed to stay between two people alone.
What You Can Do
»Evaluate according to context.
»Hold everything up to your personal and professional values.
»When in doubt give credit. ALWAYS. (It is a powerful habit to develop no matter what the context is.)
»Be clear about when you intend to take something from another teacher.
»Be honest and upfront. At the very least, if you know you are taking a class or a session in order to "take away" some nugget always make your presence known. (I know the value of anonymity and it's okay if we just want to be treated like any other student, but notice if your intention shifts.)
»Blend, adapt and re-create according to what inspires you and lights your fires.