I just returned from the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) convention in Dallas and the experience was fantastic. The convention organizers knocked everyone’s socks off with a first rate conference. But there was one little probelm. What was the “buzz” this year among teachers? In a word, stealing. The convention opened with the general session speaker who told the packed audience of over 4,000 K-12 teachers to “steal their way to success.” Of course, “stealing” refers to the taking of another person’s teaching ideas, lesson plans, classroom management practices or their favorite science demonstration in hopes of becoming a better teacher. The keynote speaker concluded with, “… if you didn’t like this speech, I’m not offended because I stole it!” This theme of theft prevailed throughout the conference as presenter after presenter jokingly recommended this sort of tongue and cheek robbery. On my way to a session, a teacher stopped me and said, “I just wanted to let you know that I’ve stolen all of your ideas! They’re great.” This was intended to be a compliment, I think. However, my response caught her off guard. “How could you have stolen the ideas if I gave them to you in my workshop?” I continued, “Tell me about some original ideas you’ve come up with that I might put to good use.” I could tell by the uncomfortable silence that I had hit a nerve. “I’m flattered that you found my ideas useful. Let’s keep sharing,” I replied.
Here’s my basic beef: If you want to be treated like a professional then act like one. Professionals do not run around “stealing” ideas – hacks steal. Professionals, on the other hand, exchange ideas and share their creations in an effort to help and support others in their profession. Professional teachers have integrity and respect for one another and respect for one’s intellectual property. You might say it’s all just semantics, but I believe that the problem lies in the culture of the teaching profession. If teachers believe that it’s acceptable (even cute) to “steal” ideas, then what’s the harm in placing a book on the copy machine instead of buying an original copy or making multiple copies of an instructional video?
I can’t help but think that the speaker would have a problem with my school district if we distributed photocopies of his book or pirated copies of his new DVDs. Using stolen software must be acceptable and a little plagiarism (Ward Churchill) is probably okay, right? What about cheating on a test or worse yet, helping a student cheat on a standardized test? Am I off base on this one?
The solution is free, painless and the behavior is professional. Two words: Give credit. If I use an idea shared by another presenter like Bob Becker, Lee Marek or Don Herbert, I give that person credit. Does giving credit lessen the quality of the idea? Giving credit is a token of respect for colleagues in your profession. In the end, the keynote speaker delivered a great message about running an effective classroom as evidence by the standing ovation. The speaker on the platform has a great responsibility and tremendous influence. Just do the right thing… replace the word steal with the professional behavior of sharing.