It’s not stealing!

I’m interested in teachers’ use of the word ‘steal’ when talking about using the resources and ideas offered by other teachers. It’s a phrase I’ve heard numerous times in professional discussions, both face-to face and online, and not just between those involved in language education but all disciplines.

‘Oh, that’s a great resource, can I steal that?’
‘I’ve got this great idea for you, I actually stole it from another colleague’
‘I need to ‘steal’ that one’

It’s often said in jest, and online I notice that ‘steal’ is sometimes written in quotation marks. I’m not a psychologist, but my interpretation of this word choice is such that we understand that we’re not committing any real crime, but that there is some apprehension about the ethics of our act, perhaps we are doing something wrong, because as teachers we should be doing everything for ourselves.

Using a resource or idea from another teacher is not stealing (unless of course you do so without permission, which is not what I’m talking about here). A lesson is no less yours because it involves an activity shared at a workshop. A unit of work is no less yours because it was first developed by a colleague. The learning your students engage in is no less valid because you have collected ideas from others along the way.

Part of the skill of being a teacher is collecting learning experiences and teaching resources, assessing them for appropriateness for your context, and adapting them to meet the needs of our particular cohort of students. This can come from commercial providers, but it also absolutely should come from our professional peers. Through collecting from other teachers, we can draw from the various perspectives and experiences of others, each with their own areas of interest and expertise. It can give students variety in their learning that may not be possible with a solo approach. It can save us time, which allows us to put more energy into the act of teaching, rather than planning. It can bring us closer to our teacher communities, with the potential to provide us not only with practical and material support, but also moral.

It might be just semantics, but when we use the word ‘steal’, the message it gives is that it is wrong. Research tells us that when teachers share, student learning outcomes are improved¹. So it is not something that we should be ashamed of. As teachers we should be learning from others, listening to advice, borrowing resources, and collecting ideas, and of course offering our own knowledge to the teaching community. This is not stealing, and  I think we need to find a more empowering way to talk about what is an essential part of our professional growth. What do you think?



*Have you ever used the word ‘steal’ when talking about using the ideas and resources of other teachers?
*Do you think the word ‘steal’ in this context is loaded, or just made in jest?
*How often do you seek or use the ideas of others?
*Have you ever offered your own resources to the wider teaching community?

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Image courtesy of Toa55 at

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