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  • Elizabeth Barrett-Zahn

Starting Seeds (S&C Editor's Note)

Updated: Aug 4, 2020

Teaching offers new beginnings. With each new year, we have the opportunity to rethink and prepare for our new learners. Whether it’s trying out an innovative, lofty approach to integrating science and math, consistently creating a science notebooking routine with all students or setting up protocols for deep levels of discussion within each unit of study; we all have that chance to start again.

Yes, I know many schools have been in session throughout the summer or maybe have had only a small break before the doors open to another year of exciting learning, but we all feel that sense of commencement, albeit for some at different times of the year.

When teaching is in your blood, you are living it every day and each experience, no matter how far-flung from school it may be, brings you back to thoughts of your students and best practices. I’m a gardener, and I love the process and daily chores of the garden. One of my favorite events in gardening is the initial set up of plants in the soil, placed carefully in small groups, some with supports, some with space to grow and then to step back to admire the subtle work, including background knowledge and research, that took place to arrange this. At this moment in time, everything is organized, healthy and the promise is tremendous. Best laid plans so to speak. Yet we all know life will find a way (paraphrased from Jeff Goldblum, Jurassic Park). In this case, life will, as well as for the movie, bring upon surprises and challenges. Here is where the gardener can truly shine as they use their depth of knowledge, crafty coaxing, and proactive preventative care to help the plants develop and produce. The gardener is always looking for handy tips, ideas for handling unsuspected calamities as they deal with the daily hubbub of interactions of competing entities in search of vital, yet limited resources.

Teaching, to me, is very similar as we are always on the lookout for that new idea, strategy or program that will offer guidance, provide structure or simply make life a bit easier in the classroom. With so much going on in the classroom, above and below the surface, a teacher needs to have a wheelbarrow full of strategies to help deal with the expected and not so expected events in this learning environment.

Each year, I like to try at least one new plant, something exotic or maybe more challenging to grow. One year it was okra, and another year it was kohlrabi. Kohlrabi has become a favorite and constant in my garden since then while the okra, although beautiful, wasn’t a big producer. Through practice with attention toward effectiveness, we make decisions.

Teaching strategies are the same; some will become part of your daily lexicon while others fade away as deemed not useful or too cumbersome. One thing is sure for gardeners and teachers alike, the search for that great new idea or strategy that leads to a bountiful harvest. Some strategies need to be dusted off and given a chance again, with the help of updated technology or learning supports. Others will appeal to the idea of novelty or to keeping things fresh. Whatever the initial motivation, the search for purposeful strategies will continue for teachers as well as gardeners.

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