After having the opportunity to take several weeks of vacation this summer, it feels great to be getting back into the swing of things here in the garden at Green Chimneys. My first week back on campus was actually vacation for our students and professional development for our education staff. Not to sound jaded, but after almost ten years of trainings and workshops, I often feel like, “Tell me something new; give me something I can use!”
Our keynote speaker, Dr. Jane Bluestein, did just that. And while her approach may not be new it resounded deeply within me and my own philosophy of teaching. The suggestion that was a welcome reminder to me was this (and I’m paraphrasing): without a positive climate in your classroom you can’t expect a positive outcome.
Dr. Bluestein went on to challenge my colleagues and I to consider our intentions. Why did I become a teacher? What do I want to teach my students? We can’t lose sight of these big questions because there is value in reminding ourselves why we became teachers in the first place. Our individual answers help shape the kind of teacher we (hopefully) become. This type of reflection is invaluable to teaching, as is reflecting on smaller, more day to day situations. Was there a more powerful way to teach that lesson? Could I have handled that situation better with those students? How can I more effectively convey this content?
So, how do my intentions coincide with creating a positive climate in a classroom (or garden or gazebo)?
- Creating a safe environment for students to learn that will also support safe behaviors.
- I will trust my students and will gain their trust in return.
- We will respect each other.
Taking these thoughts into consideration, the theme for our first week of garden class is “taking it easy.” Let’s face it, all students feel some stress about the start of a new school year, but many of our students feel it even more keenly. And trust me, most of our gardening classes are fast-paced, often coupled with sweat inducing activities. This easing-into-it approach meant that each class was invited into the gazebo where we used ice breakers (name games, share your favorite garden task) to ease any anxiety that might have been naturally brewing. These games also helped Mr. Kevin, the newest addition to our garden team, to learn the student’s names. It provided some levity with a bit of structure.
We followed the game up with a 10-minute task (harvesting, thinning seedlings, watering) just so students could get some movement in and enjoy the garden in its late season splendor. Many of the younger classes went on short scavenger hunts, aimed at getting the students to consciously absorb all the wonderful things going on around them. And last on the agenda, the pièce de résistance, was the cantaloupe. We grew a variety called “Sarah’s Choice” which has been sweet and prolific. Enough, at least, that my 200+ students can all say they have partaken in some super-awesome melon madness!
The end result was this: all twenty classes went very smoothly and without issue. I learned some things about my students that I didn’t know and I honestly believe that we laid a first, solid brick for our 2014-2015 foundation.