Embrace Your Uniqueness:
By NAfME Member Lori Schwartz Reichl
This article was originally published in the April 2017 teacher edition of In Tune Magazine.
“Originality is undetected plagiarism.”
– William Ralph Ingre
When I was a little girl, my mom bought a poster for me to hang on my bedroom wall filled with several cats and one Dalmatian. The poster read, “In a world full of copy cats . . . be an original!” Achieving this goal was a difficult challenge in my youth, as I often longed for many of my friends’ traits. When the time came for me to select a collegiate major, it was assumed that I would become a band director like my father. I had musical talent and an interest in education, but I also still had that stubborn desire to not be a “copy cat.” And so I chose to study business and play field hockey in college. An early athletic injury and a strong dislike for microeconomics forced me to quickly reconsider that path. By sophomore year I had transferred universities, enrolled in music education, and begun exercising on my own time. Eventually I was inspired to follow in my father’s footsteps, but I did so in my own way.
Throughout my career, I’ve helped to build music programs. In doing so, I’ve learned a great deal about honoring tradition, while also embracing uniqueness and igniting innovation. Although I was greatly inspired by my father and built my band programs with a similar vision as his, I’ve learned that I am not him, nor will I teach exactly like him. (However, he will tell you that my conducting nuances are quite similar to his!) I’ve also discovered that it’s simply not possible to teach the same way as another educator. We don’t use the same care, effort, energy, facial expressions, humor, or verbiage. We won’t reference an activity, prioritize fundamentals, or enforce expectations in the same manner. We all have our own strengths and limitations. It’s rare for any teacher to do the same thing, even execute a lesson, rehearsal, performance, document, presentation, fundraiser, or field trip, as another and elicit absolutely identical results or responses from different groups of students; there are simply too many variables.
Throughout my career, I’ve helped to build music programs. In doing so, I’ve learned a great deal about honoring tradition, while also embracing uniqueness and igniting innovation.
While my father was a band director, my mother was an English teacher. She made me aware of plagiarism. She taught me to give credit where due, to be thankful, and to appreciate originality. As a student, I required a reminder about this from time to time. As an adult, I recognize educators who require such reminders.
More than once, I’ve heard teachers and administrators use the phrase, “If you like it, then steal it.” In my husband’s profession (electrical engineering), someone who engaged in such intellectual property theft would be reprimanded and most likely terminated. Yet in education, it seems to be accepted, even encouraged. Professional learning communities and social media exist for educators to share ideas and successes. We often experience joy by motivating the novice teacher, helping a struggling colleague, serving as a resource, and inspiring student achievement. Although we are often freely giving of our time, effort, and ideas, we don’t expect colleagues to take without asking, use without alteration, or to not show gratitude. Don’t we teach such manners to our students?
When another educator asks if I can email him/her a document that I created, I’m often hesitant to do so. I’m flattered to serve as a resource by providing an inspirational idea or creation to be perused, but I do not want these ideas copied word for word. It’s unlikely that anyone, no matter how positive the intent, will be able to implement them in the exact manner I intended, or alter them when growth is needed. The reverse is true as well; I’d be foolish to take an idea or document from a cherished colleague and copy portions of it. I would never be as invested in it or knowledgeable of the actual words if they weren’t my own. When you are the creator of an idea or document, you’ll invest in its power more. You’ll support its value based on your own beliefs and experiences.
Although we are often freely giving of our time, effort, and ideas, we don’t expect colleagues to take without asking, use without alteration, or to not show gratitude. Don’t we teach such manners to our students?
I’m often surprised when I respond in length to a request for recommendations, forward a document to be perused, visit a teacher to offer suggestions and never receive a kind reply in return. I’m taken aback, when I see my words copied into someone else’s handbook, posted on his/her website, used in a presentation, or distributed in a document as if they were the other person’s own. One may say that this is a great way to continue a tradition of excellence within programs, or that there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. Others may ask, where is the originality and growth in this experience for the educator either new to the profession or to a different position.
As educators, we want teachers to succeed, and more importantly, we want students to achieve. Our goal is to motivate students, but at the same time, we often influence, or are influenced by, our colleagues. Knowing that you’ve inspired someone is a remarkable feeling. However, seeing your work passed off as someone else’s is upsetting. If that person didn’t ask for your permission first, it’s discourteous. And if that person doesn’t credit you, it’s unacceptable. As a published writer, I’ve become even more aware of this professional practice, its legalities, and the possible repercussions. Although, this practice seems to be slightly blurred in education. One can ask if the original work truly belongs to you, the program, the school, or the district. Regardless, courtesy is common practice.
How can you courteously turn to others as inspiration or a resource, but uniquely apply such proven quality ideas to fit your personality, your program, or the needs of your students?
As we become mastered teachers, we are often drawn upon for ideas, recommendations, or suggestions. We don’t require an elaborate reward for any of these responses, but a simple “may I?”, “thank you,” or “special thanks given to so-and-so for sharing this idea for our use” is always appreciated.
How can you courteously turn to others as inspiration or a resource, but uniquely apply such proven quality ideas to fit your personality, your program, or the needs of your students? If a colleague hasn’t freely offered something to you, kindly ask if you can review it or implement a portion of it. Credit that person, program, or school if you plan to use the exact words, regardless of the quantity. Honor tradition while also igniting your own innovation. Don’t be a copy cat. Embrace your uniqueness!
Lori is the author of the series “Key Changes: Refreshing Your Music Program” published monthly in the teacher edition of In Tune Magazine where she provides resources to enhance the music classroom. As a writer for Teaching Music Magazine, she interviews master educators. Lori is an active adjudicator, clinician, and conductor. As an avid presenter at conferences, professional development sessions, and universities nationwide, she serves as a resource for building inspiring music programs, developing effective classroom management techniques and rehearsal routines, motivating diverse learners, and achieving unity in ensembles. Within Maryland, Lori serves as Music Education Intern Supervisor at Towson University and as Coordinator of Howard County Public School System’s Secondary Solo and Ensemble Festival. As Director of the Regional Repertory Wind Ensemble, she has collaborated with composers Brian Balmages, Tyler S. Grant, Samuel Hazo, Richard Saucedo, Robert Sheldon, and Frank Ticheli. Learn more about Lori here.
The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides a number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.
Elizabeth Baker, Social Media Coordinator and Copywriter. April 2, 2018. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)