Monday, 9 April 2012

The rationale of a free sharing teachers symposium

I've been thinking about the 'teachers symposium' that I'm organizing for sometime in late April, May or June. The basic idea is spelled out here: but I've been wondering about which teachers might be attracted to it and the practicalities of attending, in the context of how being a professional tango teacher actually works.

Unsurprisingly, in fitting with most businesses in our society, it seems that tango teachers tend to organize their business on the principles of competition and guarding of knowledge (with exceptions of course). This isn't meant as a criticism, it is simply my impression. In contemplation it's easy to be idealistic, but when taking action to pay the bills it's wise to be pragmatic.

If you're trying to earn a living teaching tango, it's natural enough to want to protect your income source, your students, and also the knowledge you've spent lots of time and money building, which allows you to be competitive in offering students a good learning experience. If you go about openly sharing your deepest insights, teaching methods and signature techniques, maybe that will put you at a disadvantage, especially if what others share in a free exchange has less commercially transformable value for you?

The above is essentially what I've been pondering - how to make sense of participating in an event like this if you're a professional teacher?

I think whether it makes sense boils down to whether there is trust between attendees. If there is trust that people will be honest, with their sharing but also with giving credit and not plagiarizing others work then there is less at risk, and more up side.

The question of what idea is original anyway is interesting (see the video But if someone has put a lot of effort into developing some knowledge, for someone else to then take that knowledge and profit from it, by claiming it as their own, or not giving any credit for the inspiration, is clearly unfair.

However, if people do give credit for the source of their inspiration then that source benefits. This works in the same way word of mouth recommendations work. Obviously you can invite other teachers who inspire you to do guest sessions at your school, but you can also recommend to your students that they take a class with a particular teacher when they have the chance, and acknowledge that you've learnt something valuable from them yourself.

So let's say you come and what you share goes down very well with the other teachers and gets used a lot. Assuming honest participants, you will benefit from that materially through recommendations and improved reputation, and non-materially through your contribution to the improvement of other teachers and consequently their students. Also you have the chance to refine and evolve your ideas in a respectful, constructively critical and collaborative environment - an environment you may not normally have access to. Not to mention that you might pick up some inspiring ideas from the other teachers. Then there's the prospect that if there's a net improvement in teaching (and dancing) then class sizes increase, more classes are put on and the whole community grows and benefits.

On the subject of evolving ideas, it is perhaps more normal for teachers to have their own maestros who they visit when they can for inspiration and development. What this event is offering is hopefully a complementary and possibly more accessible way to evolve, refine and inspire your tango.

Perhaps you can see the potential benefit as a professional teacher in taking part, but you have the practical challenging of fitting it in with your regular teaching commitments? No problem, the form I set up on allows you to select days you can make. (Also if you're traveling far, I may be able to arrange accommodation for you. I will also offer to personally cover your share of the hall hire cost.) If you still can't make any of those dates but are interested in taking part, please do register your interest anyway. There will be other opportunities.

From the above discussion I don't want to suggest this is in any way an 'exclusive' event, only open to commercially successful professionals. Not at all! If you're just starting out with perhaps a little group once a week, or even if you're currently teaching for free, I'd be very happy for you to come and take part in this event. The only condition I would ask is that you're passionate about teaching and dancing tango, believe you have something valuable to share, but also wish to improve and refine your skills, and are open minded to different ideas (maybe harmonious ones, maybe not).

Aside from honesty, another important point of faith in making this event appealing to teachers I think is respect. I understand the idea of presenting their understanding to other (possibly much more experienced) teachers may be daunting to some, and no-one wants to be seen as a fool, or as labouring under gross misunderstandings. However, if everyone there is respectful of everyone else, and does their bit to create a supportive environment (while allowing for potential constructive criticism) for sharing and learning then I think this worry can be allayed.

Can we all be honest and respectful? I think that's very achievable, and that if everyone comes with that intention then we'll do just fine.

If you're a teacher reading this and you're curious about the event but have some concerns I've not addressed, please get in touch!

On a personal note, I've asked myself how I would define 'success' for this event. Clearly I'd be delighted if a dozen teachers were involved. I think that would create a fantastic and very productive atmosphere. However, even with 4 or 5 people there I still see it as very worthwhile. I feel strongly that however small the crowd if the people there are enthusiastic and keen to share and contribute it will be productive for everyone - which I would count as a definite success.

If you think you might like to take part, please visit and register your interest, thank you!

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