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Beg, Borrow, Steal: Secrets to Getting Teaching Strategies

Jordan Catapano

One popular expression in our profession is that you need to “beg, borrow and steal” to acquire the best teaching strategies from colleagues. And it’s true.

So how are your begging, borrowing, and stealing teaching strategies? Have you been interacting with your colleagues enough to obtain some of their best tried-and-true materials you can adapt for your students?

There is a certain virtue in mastering these skills. You are a great teacher, but you’re not a master until you open yourself up to the skills and experiences of others. So make sure that you pay careful attention to the following advice and techniques, so you can become even more effective by leveraging the power of others’ teaching strategies.

Beg

Begging colleagues for their materials and ideas isn’t quite as desperate as it sounds. Perhaps “asking” is a better term, since what you’re doing is simply requesting that a colleague share certain content with you.

If you’re unsure of how exactly to go about begging/asking for materials, try some of this advice:

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  • Have something specific in mind you want. Ask specific questions.
  • If you’ve seen a particular lesson or idea, ask directly about it.
  • Identify a problem you have and ask for some advice about it.
  • Identify the specific lesson or skill goal you desire for your students and ask for direction.

Or consider a few of these conversation starters:

  • “I heard your students laughing yesterday. Could I see what you were doing with them?”
  • “I’m having trouble coming up with a lesson on ___________. What do you do for that?”
  • “Do you having anything that could help me get students to ________________?”
  • “I happened to see your students working on ____________. Could I have a copy of that too?”
  • “Would it be alright if I took your idea on _____________ and used it in my classroom?”
  • “What approach do you take toward your curriculum for the ____________ unit?”
  • “What’s your favorite activity you do in class for teaching ______________?”

See how all of these are polite, professional questions? That’s all you have to do is ask! Once you do, you’ll see that your colleagues are full of enriching, resourceful ideas that can be equally powerful for your students, too.

Don’t feel bad about asking, either. In fact, teachers generally enjoy sharing their materials with others. It’s a sign that what they’re doing is right and an encouragement to them to keep producing their great work. So compliment a fellow teacher by asking for their stuff.

Borrow

Borrowing materials is much like begging … but with a twist. “Borrowing” is a misleading term anyhow, since you can’t really return the other teacher’s lesson back to them in the same condition you took it with. Instead of simply taking, you’re also giving back. There’s two main ways to give back to another teacher:

  1. When you borrow from another teacher, offer them helpful materials of your own.
  2. Adapt the other teacher’s lesson with your own modifications, and show these upgrades to the teacher.

Think of borrowing as a chance to both give and take. While you’re receiving some fantastic ideas and materials from another teacher, you’re also sharing some of your own insights. This is a great way to facilitate a relationship founded on exchanging ideas, rather than just taking.

Steal

You should never steal. It’s wrong. However, there are times when you may come across others’ materials. When you do, it’s OK to take a glance. No snooping through others’ belongings, mind you. But if you do happen to have an opportunity to see what someone else may be doing, don’t pass up the chance to get a quick insight into others’ ideas. When you see something you like, follow these tips:

  • Ask the teacher more about it. Then follow tips from the “Beg” section above.
  • Give credit to the teacher, by either telling your students where it came from or putting the teachers’ name on the materials.
  • Take their original idea, modify it for your purposes, and then share your modification with the teacher.
  • Tell the other teacher, “I like this. I’m stealing it.” As long as you get the nod of approval, you’re good to go.

Remember that it’s rare when you’ll come across materials or ideas that are 100 percent perfectly suited for your needs. Whether you beg, borrow or steal, make sure that you are taking the time to adapt everything to meet the specific essentials of your students. Also remember that being able to beg, borrow and steal effectively is a professional virtue, allowing you access to colleagues’ best works. So freely receive from others, and freely be on the sharing end as well!

Do you enjoy begging, borrowing, and stealing from others? What are the biggest benefits you get out of it? Tell us about your experiences in the comments below!

Jordan Catapano is an English teacher at Conant High School in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and currently serves as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website ACTWritingTips.com