Thursday, August 30, 2012

Gardening Steps or Teaching Steps?

What is most effective at helping folks grow?

Not your regular garden?  Anyone know where this picture was taken?
(Answer to the City Scape of the last post:  North from the Coit Tower of San Francisco)


Think about a garden.  How do we know if it is a good garden?  What do we do to make it better?  How do we tend to its needs? 

Ask these questions of a classroom and our answers are defined by those struggling the most, by those who are insecure in their efforts or by those afraid to take a risk.

In a middle school, this seems exaggerated, almost enlarged.  Those that struggle a little, seem to fall farther behind.  Those with insecurities naturally, still look for positive and healthy relationships.  Those least likely to take a risk, resort to avoidance behavior and often become paralyzed with a fear of failure and won’t even try at all.

As educators, we are fortunate enough to be right in the middle of student growth.  We get to see folks try, make mistakes, accept encouragement and then finally reach their goals.  We also see them struggle, quit and resort to unhealthy coping mechanisms because they know no other technique for managing stress in their lives besides self-mediating.  But like a gardener, we are also there to prepare the soil, prune, fertilize and wait for the fruit to ripen.  Let’s connect gardening with the classroom.

Relating this metaphor to education, we see soil preparation as forming relationships with our students.  They really don’t care how much we know till they know how much we care.  This care must be expressed in terms our pupils can comprehend, in their language and at their level.  Often times this is uncomfortable for us as adults, to step into their world and make that connection but frequently, this act demonstrates care better than any other.

Pruning, like in gardening removes the weeds, distractions and competition.  A thistle in one garden becomes a centerpiece in another.  Similarly, behavior in one setting is welcome in another since it prevents students from paying attention.  Consistency, fair and just discipline and classroom management are the educators pruning shears.  These skills take practice, just like a gardener learns which bugs are healthy (ladybug) and which bugs eat leaves (Colorado Beetle) and how to foster one and discourage the other!

Fertilizer comes in a few forms for the garden as well as the classroom.   Fertilizer is the additive that gives the plant the boost to flower and fruit, but ensures our students outperform others in the similar circumstances. This looks like the actual praise for hard work, support for the insecure, attention given to the needy, endorsement for right answers, encouragement to persist while making mistakes and cheering supplied to the showman.  Thus part of our responsibility is to understand the flower and supply the nourishment appropriate for that type of flower to flourish.

Finally, we water while we wait for the maturity to happen.  We can’t force it, hurry it along or rush things.  But we can water, and tend to our garden while waiting for the fruit to ripen.  Picking apples is a wonderful example.  The color might be there but if it is too hard to remove from the tree, the fruit will not be ready.  Maybe sour or maybe tart but definitely not sweet.  Pre-tests, post-tests, formative and summative assessments are all monitors of progress, tugs to see if the fruit is ripe and the students are ready.

I have often thought that if heaven had given me choice of my position, it should have been on a rich spot on earth, well watered, and near a good market for the productions of a garden. No occupation is so delightful to me as the culture of the earth, and no culture comparable to that of a garden.”
-Thomas Jefferson

 thanks @sagittariusA1 
A person who won't read has no advantage over one who can't read. -Mark Twain

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