Friday, July 31, 2015

Teaching and Gardening

If you follow me on Twitter you'll know that I love gardening. I don't grow vegetables or anything useful--instead, I focus on native plants and flowers for pollinators. But my garden is a great metaphor for my classroom. In fact, here are some things my garden has taught me about teaching.

Leave some edges unkempt

     In the garden, messy is beautiful! Last week I was trimming along the edges of a raised bed. The tiny crickets started jumping out. When I looked more closely, I saw spiders, roly-polys, and a whole world of mini beasts. I decided to trim more carefully, leaving some of the taller vegetation. These messy spots are home to so much diversity!
     In the classroom, the messy edges are the places where innovation happens. Sometimes these are the places where students try out something new or practice a skill. Sometimes these are the messy edges of my own teaching where I question a traditional strategy and create a better way.

Change creeps up

     As I've taught about the importance of native plants, I've planted more and more bushes and trees around my yard. I only have four-tenths of an acre but I seem to be filling it well. Slowly, a yard that started out as bright and sunny has changed. The section that was once the brightest and sunniest is now densely shaded. This happened so slowly that I didn't realize that I had changed my yard so much. But I had to adapt, and move plants that were once doing so well.
    This happens in the classroom, too. Small changes lead to big ones, and a strategy that had worked well for a long time needs to be removed or replaced.

Not everyone will like your ideal classroom

    Some people look at my garden and do not see what I see. Where I see an amazing ironweed, a plant with flowers to fuel hummingbirds for their epic migration, they may see a weedy mess. Where I see Virginia creeper, a native groundcover that I am slowwly beginning to love, they see an annoying vine. I understand this and I can't take it personally. Instead, I can be completely explicit and explain what I am doing and what the benefits are.
   And this happens in the classroom, too. Some people will notice the mess and not see that I have set up a workspace for 30+ people and we don't always put things away. We're too excited to move on to the next thing! Some people will see a student reading what looks like a super-easy book and not realize that this reader, in this year, has made amazing progress. Some people will see a classroom routine created by kids that is still in the fine-tuning stage. Just like in the garden, I have to be explicit and explain what I am doing and why.

It doesn't belong to you

    Over the years I've created a garden with the thought that it isn't really "mine" but is shared by all of the other living things who share the space--the bumblebees, the cardinals, the catbirds, the gray tree frogs.
     This is true in the classroom, to a much stronger degree. The classroom needs to be a shared space, and decisions need to be made for the benefit of all of our members. I am not in charge of everything in the classroom. This is actually very freeing!

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