Unshouldering the burden

Flavio Canto wins by Getty Images

Still wrapping up my thoughts from EdCamp Philly, I wanted to make sure that I put down a few thoughts that sprung to mind while in a session with Kevin Jarrett, Mary Beth Hertz, and Rob Rowe.

Flavio Canto, Judoka and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belt was speaking about his techniques, teaching, competing, and his drive to compete. The magazine interview has been long lost and the exact quote has long left my mind but the essence of his remarks were something like this:

I give away my techniques to my enemies in order to force myself to become better. I want to know that I am the best with no secrets and no excuses.

When I read that interview, I remembered something that had happened to me years earlier. I was recently out of undergrad and working in a bookstore’s database department on South Street. One of my coworkers was a writer and invited me to a writers’ get together in South Philly. Being a composer and fan of creative speak, I went along to this open house.

The small home was abuzz with talk of ideas, character discussion, critiques of plots and dialogue, and in a small crowd in the middle of the living room attention turned to me. “So what do you do?” I told them that I’m a composer and started telling the group about a piano piece that I was writing. Thinking that this would be a sympathetic crowd, I shared my current problems regarding the piece. I told them that I was “writing this piece for piano and I am in love with the thematic material.” They leaned in, eager to hear about my process and I was encouraged to continue. Sure that they would understand, I confessed “I like the material so much that I haven’t finished it for fear of ruining it in my mind. It’s really great and I don’t want to destroy the purity of the theme while exploring the development.”

They looked at me like I had three heads. Three ugly heads. With “I hate writers” tattooed on my eyelids. One of them spoke, “Who do you think you are?” I stared back at him. “It’s not yours. I might need that piece and you do not have the right to keep it.” The growing crowd (really, it grew and I think that someone turned the heat on) nodded in agreement. “You need to go finish that piece,” someone said. “I can’t believe you haven’t finished it yet,” said one of the throng. A few people walked away. “How long have you been letting it sit?” someone asked. I didn’t have an answer.

This experience is fresh in my mind. I can still feel the tension. It drives me, though. I think of Flavio Canto. I think of that weird Woody Allen-esque dude in South Philly. I think about how silly I am thinking that I own any of the ideas that come out of my head.

I become protective of my research, of my classroom management strategies, my course design, and my methods of increasing achievement. We all do. We have our pets. We have things that we share when asked. We plan those moments carefully so we do not give away all of our secrets. Why?

Feeling plugged up in your classroom approach? Could it be that you are shouldering a burden that is too great to bear? Education, I am finding, is something that demands to be given away. The same way that a quality story must be read and good music demands participatory listening, education requires action–and not simply the execution of the lesson. It requires sharing, grooming, perfecting, adapting, and giving away of all that you have so that it may reach its potential–without you. Your brilliant ideas will develop and become epic without you…yes, it’s true. Someone will do it better. Be proud. Now do it again. And again.

We think that we own it. Foolish, isn’t it? We protect it like a jealous love or a protective parent. Worse is when we think that it’s not that big a deal, that’s it’s not worth sharing. Also foolish. What are your confessions?

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  • When I was talking to teachers in my building this year about why I built up my PLN, I compared the way I try to live with the way people are used to in education.

    In the old days, every teacher would have their thing…that special lesson or strategy that was all theirs. The thing that kids would talk about for years afterwards if they were lucky enough to have that teacher for a student in the one year they went behind that teacher’s closed door and into their classroom.

    In the new, wide-open era of the internet, I tried to impress upon them, this is foolish at best. Why should you want to be sharing with others on the internet? Because they will give you lots of awesome ideas. Even more importantly, when you have a good idea, I guarantee you that there is someone, somewhere, that can make your idea EVEN BETTER.

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Dr. David D. Timony and Mike Ritzius, Dr. David D. Timony. Dr. David D. Timony said: Unshouldering the burden http://ow.ly/1QV24 True confession time. Are you keeping your prized possessions hidden away? #edcamp #artsed […]

  • Hey David,

    I loved when you shared Flavio Canto’s message in our #edcamp session, it’s so appropriate … for those of us at least who view sharing among peers as a fundamental part of teaching. So powerful, so right on. Thanks for that!

    Dan also makes several excellent points. The bottom line is that people are not going to open up and start sharing until they understand they get more by giving more and that sharing/asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness. That, and when it’s expected by the instructional leader and/or culture at their school…


  • David,

    I too, remember that quote well. What a great perspective to think that by sharing all of your secrets you only make yourself better.

    Maybe it’s the fact that I lived and ate in a student co-operative for 4 years or maybe it’s the fact that I don’t think I do anything so special that it needs to be uniquely MINE, but I have always been a sharer, not a hoarder of ideas.

    My only confession would be that I am a sponge when it comes to what other people give away. My colleagues here in Philly think I’m really amazingly smart, but really, I’m only as smart as the people I surround myself with. At least that’s what I tell them!

  • […] and how and what you do and believe? What are you waiting for? These thoughts and approaches are not your own. There are two ways to view arrogance, both of which center on the self. One is explained in overt […]

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