No one who has ever observed my approach to gardening would mistake me for a gifted horticulturalist. For one thing, I have a tendency to plant bulbs according to no discernible pattern. I am also skilled at ensuring that, despite all good intentions, any plant ending up in my garden will fade, wilt or otherwise give up all hope within a matter of weeks or even days. The images below from my garden in Germany are among the more dramatic examples, but there are many more. In my own defense, I was completely unaware of the fact that these particular flowers are a favourite food of garden slugs (the otherwise very helpful person at the garden centre neglected to share this important detail). As so often happens in many areas of life, including education, we sometimes have to absorb life lessons the hard way, through trial and error. One of the criteria of learning is that we adapt our behaviour and avoid making the same mistake twice. On that note, I can confirm that this particular species of flower will not be appearing in my garden in the future, much as I believe in supporting the natural pecking order known as the food chain!
Despite all the challenges and disappointments that gardening can inflict, I have found that puttering around in the soil has offered tremendous benefits, especially once I came to realize that the process can give as much pleasure as the product. Over the years, gardening has taught me a number of valuable life lessons, among which is that growth takes time. This may seem self-evident, but we live in a time when delayed gratification is something that many people find difficult to get their heads around. And that is surely the whole point of gardening. The actress Audrey Hepburn once said that “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” It is a reminder that all gardening is founded upon a slightly naïve faith that putting in hard work and labour today will pay dividends months later when the season changes, the warm sun returns and the transformation from bulb to bloom works its magic.
As any gardener will be aware, plant species do not all thrive in the same soil. Fruit trees, like those my paternal grandfather tended in the Niagara Peninsula for over 50 years, are perfectly suited to the terra cotta clay found in the strip of land between the Niagara Escarpment and Lake Ontario. Onions, leeks and other vegetables grow extremely well in the moist black earth of the Holland Marsh. And so it is with children: the genius of the educator is to sense which approach will work best with the child in front of them. All parents know that some children will thrive in a highly structured environment, others need to be on their feet and moving around frequently, and some may need to be nurtured and given a bit of extra care and attention in order for them to flourish.
Maria Montessori, in her wisdom, knew that giving children the opportunity to spend time gardening and planting would reap a life-long harvest of caring for nature and the environment and an appreciation of the beauty of the world around us. She insisted that:
“There must be provision for the child to have contact with nature, to understand the order, the harmony and the beauty in nature.”
Gardening and the outdoors play a huge role at TMS within our Lower School Montessori program with precisely this in mind. Our Toddler and Children’s House students can be found interacting with their own dedicated garden in the warmer months, and just this week, I had the opportunity to learn about a new Elementary Hydroponic Garden Tower initiative from a group of Grade 5 students. Watch the video below of these burgeoning gardeners explaining the new tower to me. I couldn’t help but appreciate the merging of technology, sustainability, and horticulture and what this new generation of potential garden enthusiasts is learning through their careful study of the vegetables growing right in our own stairwell! It is the perfect metaphor for the TMS Journey – foundational experiences (like gardening) that have continued to evolve into innovative and future-looking learning opportunities for our students.
And so, as the winter snow recedes, I encourage you to survey your balcony, terrace or yard, pull out your gardening gloves with your family, and start your own journey of growth, learning and optimism this Spring.
Watch the Head of School join Elementary students to learn about the Tower Gardens: https://youtu.be/tLR7diIEgIs
- Friendship in Action: Take Aways from Pink Shirt Day - February 25, 2022
- Learning by Doing: the Value of Experience in our Growth Journey - February 11, 2022
Training and experience are two of the most obvious qualities that employers seek in new employees. However, it is fairly self-evident that even when equipped with these attributes, few individuals ever step into a new role in an organization fully formed, with all the tools they will need to tackle whatever future situation that might arise. If that were indeed the case, no one would ever experience the thrill of growing and developing, and thousands of consultants and mentors all over the world would have no one to coach. Maria Montessori once wrote, in the context of the learning stages that children pass through, that “development is a series of rebirths”. Depending on the particular circumstances, a new job can feel very much like a rebirth, especially if it includes a move to a completely new part of the world or the opportunity to utilize a set of skills that may not have been called upon in the previous employment.
This brings me to my own experience of transitioning to a new school in a leadership role, and the growth journey I am currently travelling along. Not many incoming Heads of Schools are handed the opportunity to participate actively in the design and implementation of not one but two brand new dining halls and the building of other exciting spaces, all to be completed within a short few years! At TMS, that is precisely what awaited me in the summer of 2021, and it is one of the many aspects of my new role which has stretched me in challenging but also rewarding ways.
As an English teacher, I was always accustomed to helping my students work through multiple drafts of an essay or an original poem. There was plenty of opportunity to revise, improve, add or delete before the final product emerged. If something didn’t quite work, it could be erased with a couple of keyboard strokes and the sentence could be started all over again. It is safe to say that construction work doesn’t operate like that: a carpenter cannot easily go back to a door frame once it is embedded in a wall and correct a slight lean on one of the sides. It is one of those industries where just about everything needs to be done as closely to perfection as possible the first time. Observing the skill of all the tradespeople as they go about their work building our beautiful new Upper School dining hall helps me to appreciate the value in any workplace of creating strong conditions for success the first time something is tried.
Several years ago, while I was serving as a Middle School principal at an international school in Japan, we engaged in a major building project. We built an entirely new school campus across the road from the original one. Once the new one was completed, we demolished the old one and built a full-size soccer pitch on the footprint.
I had the opportunity to participate in the design of the new campus, including classrooms, offices and outdoor spaces. Watching the campus grow upwards and seeing empty concrete shells turn into beautiful learning spaces was energizing. Whereas previously I had simply moved through various spaces with no thought to all their invisible components, I now had a much greater appreciation of the complex infrastructure of wiring, plumbing, heating, copper pipes and fibre optic cables within the walls and ceilings, and under the floorboards. You will have your own examples of times when you learned something new which stretched you outside of your comfort zone but which paid dividends in the future. Being able to apply new knowledge in practical ways is one of the things that motivates us to keep learning.
What the campus development projects in two schools have taught me is that we can never know, as we go through our schooling years or step into our careers, when something we have learned will become useful in the future.
As we go through life, we all develop skills that help to define how we interact with the world. The power of the skills we teach at TMS is that they can be utilized in any professional path or sector that our students might choose for their futures. These skills also help to create a community that provides deep experiences for students coupled with the safety net of being able to experiment, fail, and then to try again. Resilience, entrepreneurial thinking, and a positive mindset are not just traits that are useful in school: soft skills like these appear at or near the top of the list of qualities that employers across a broad range of companies seek in their new recruits.
Entering into new roles teaches us the value of asking questions, seeking clarity on processes and expectations, and being comfortable making mistakes and learning from them. There is a certain vulnerability that comes with stepping into new situations. But the value of that experience is enriched when we fully embrace the opportunity for growth and development that these new contexts provide.
Whatever your role or your career stage, I hope you will have many opportunities to apply your learnings to new situations and to grow in exciting new directions – many of which may not have been anticipated but will stretch your thinking and capabilities.