Tending to Your Classroom Garden

With springtime well underway, many of us have had plenty of opportunity to reunite with our gardens. If you enjoy working in the outdoors as much as I do, you will likely spend much amount of time around your home doing everything from planting blooms to weeding and maintaining your lawn.

As an educator, my outdoor experience gives me much time to reflect about our true passion, engaging and inspiring children. To that end, different aspects of the gardening experience conjure up key aspects of child growth and development.

  1. Not every bulb shines immediately -- There is little that excites the home gardener more than watching daffodils, tulips and other Spring flowers emerge from the ground following a long, cold Winter. Of course, in order for bulbs to bloom in April they must be planted properly the previous Fall (at least for year one). Bulbs teach us the benefit of an early sow and of abundant patience. For a child to emerge as an accomplished learner, we must take the necessary steps to help her achieve success. We must lay the foundation and plant early. We have to know that we will not always see the results of our efforts right away; oftentimes, the fruits of our labor will not be discernible for many months (if not years). Still, in order to reap the beauty of a Spring bloom, we must be willing to make the initial effort and then stand back and watch the children blossom.
  2. Weed out the roots -- Perhaps the least enjoyable part of gardening is weeding. Weeds are unpleasant to look out and crash our "garden party" by showing up without invitation and spreading their unsightly wings wherever they can. The only way to rid your garden of weeds (chemicals notwithstanding) is to rip them out from the root up. A surface cut may help for the short term, but the weeds will return so long as their root structure remains intact. As teachers, we oftentimes experience something similar. Poor student performance or disruptive conduct may take the form of an external issue, such as meanness, lack of discipline, and poor concentration. Most often, there is something deeper that is affecting student achievement and conduct, including unengaging instruction, trouble at home, or low emotional intelligence. In order for us to be successful with our struggling students, we need to be able to "root out" the source of the problem, either on our own or with the help of our colleagues and educational partners
  3. Garden early and often -- Gardening is not a one-and-done exercise. It requires continued oversight and care. Without such regular efforts, the wild nature of grass, shrubs and the like will quickly lead to your garden to take on the appearance of an unkempt, unsightly prairie. The connection to child raising should be plain enough. Our children require continued love, care and oversight. While they need to be given space to grow, they must also be kept from growing wild. Sometimes, this oversight feels unpleasant. Yet, we know that for children to achieve their growth potential they must be given guidelines and boundaries that will offer them the directed focus and discipline.
  4. Expose to sunlight -- Sunlight is a necessary component for all vegetation, even for species that thrive in shade. Without ample exposure to the sun, plants cannot access the nourishment that they need to grow and thrive. Metaphorically, sunlight symbolized attention and love. Students need these ingredients in abundance if they are to reach their potential. Even students who seem to prefer the shade and keep themselves distant still want to know that someone cares about them and is available when needed.

While there are certainly many other connections that link garden and classroom, I believe that this list, coupled with a new-found desire to meet the needs of our naturalist learners, can help us achieve maximal results for the balance of the school year and beyond. Happy gardening!

Naphtali Hoff (@impactfulcoach) served as an educator and school administrator for over 15 years before becoming an executive coach and consultant. Read his blog at impactfulcoaching.com/blog.