I look out at the garden and inspect the plants. I’m not looking to judge so much as observe. The peppers are beginning to sprout – a little later than the experts predict but perfect timing for salsa. The eggplant is growing larger and the tomato plant is producing more than I ever could have predicted. The herbs are exploding with scent after a desert monsoon.
All too often when I’m on Twitter, I’m thinking of something clever to write. I’m analyzing tweets. I’m speaking my digital voice because I want to sound like I matter. When I’m in our garden, though, I’m thinking of my students. I need this time as a reminder that the growth is more important than achievement and that sustainability is more important than innovation.
It humbles me to think that I can barely keep a plant alive. I need to remember as I interact with the students. Perhaps the greatest gift I can give them would be an attitude of humility and the sense that I don’t have it all figured out.
The garden reminds me that it’s not a competition. The plants remind me that there is nothing new under the sun and that life is ultimately unpredictable. I can’t stay there too long before I think about life and about death. Perhaps I’m too morbid. But I ask myself the question, “If I die today will this matter?” and the questions like “Do I look fat?” or “Will I ever have a book published?” begin to feel a little more comical. When I feel the cool earth slide between my fingers, I am reminded about what really matters is life.
I’m humbled at this point, remembering that I’ll grow in wisdom if I don’t pretend to be the expert.
It has me thinking about collaboration at my school. If I had it my way, we would do our curriculum planning in a garden. We would have to grow food together and share at least one meal before we ever made bold pronouncements about what the students need. We would approach our subject with the same sense of mystery that I feel when the cool earth slides between my hands – the sense of urgency in the only essential questions we can ever conjure up, “Does this matter in light of death? Does this matter in light of life?”
After washing my hands, I discipline my meandering mind by making a list of what the garden has taught me. I don’t want to forget these things during the school year:
- Growth is different for all students
- If the goal is always growth, it will get out of control and unrealistic. If the goal is achievement alone, we’ll miss the growth. If the goal is a healthy sustainability, the education will last.
- Context matters. My desert garden gets less water and requires more time and attention. It’s not equal, but it equitable
- The garden is full of paradox and mystery. There’s the notion of direct and indirect input. There’s the mystery of growth that is outside of my control. This helps prevent me from a superhero syndrome or a sense of defeat when I can’t see change.
- Most of what happens is under the surface. It takes a long time to see growth. So, if kids fail a bench mark, it doesn’t mean they are screwed for life.
- Different crops grow at different times in different ways. If I try and treat the entire garden as if it is a tomato plant, I’ll kill the peppers. I’m sure this connects to differentiated instruction somehow.
- Every lesson plan should begin with “Is this a matter of life and death?” If it’s not, I’m wasting my students’ time.
- The plants aren’t always pretty. At least not like the supermarket ones. But they are real and ultimately that’s what I’m after.