Why Teachers are now Gardeners not Carpenters

I’m a dad, and my eyes will sometimes be drawn towards elements within the vast universe that is the parenting advice industry. Another excuse for my occasional interest in this stuff is that it can have something to offer teachers in making the most of the time they have in the classroom. During one of these moments of distraction, two complementary discoveries in the same week both pointed me to a great analogy for helping teachers understand all this push for changes to education.

Discovery One – Alexander den Heijer

Alexander den Heijer is a speaker/trainer who calls himself a “Purposologist” and although the term sounds a bit pretentious (sorry Alex), it does spark my interest in making the school day feel to have more purpose for children than just jumping through teacher-devised hoops. But it is his most popular quote that really rings true to me in my aim to make teachers understand their role as one who curates an environment for learning rather than one who individually develops every student.

When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment not the flower.”
– Alexander den Heijer.

There are so many quote-graphics on Google for this but I decided to create my own (above) because the existing ones all visually focus on a single flower, where as I see the point is to steer the teacher towards a focus on the nurturing garden and not the flower.

Discovery Two

For a couple of years, I’ve been a podcast nut and enjoy having my mind stretched without the need to stare at yet another screen. I’ll do a post soon on my favourite non-education podcasts for teachers but this week, it was one of my favourites: The Hidden Brain that returned my educator mind back towards flowers.

NPR’s Shankar Vedantam interviews the author of The Gardener and the Carpenter, Alison Gopnik,  about the modern pressures of parenting and where they came from. In the interview and her book, she discusses the conflict the parents feel between wanting to let their children explore life and the feeling one needs to shape and pre-determine what’s best for the child. Any decent teacher will recognise the same conflict in education.

Being a Parent is something you are to your child, not something you do to your child and it’s the same for a teacher. – Richard Wells @Eduwells Tweet: Being a Parent is something you are to your child, not something you do to your child and it's the same for a teacher. - Richard Wells @Eduwells via https://ctt.ec/289ba+

Carpenters, Gardeners, & Educators

Carpenters have to work in a controlled environement. Their job is to use their tools to shape each product to a predetermined design and function. The pressure is all on the carpenter to get each product right, money is spent on purchasing quality tools, products are compared to gage quality, and when the wood is not pliable, it is often discarded. Mistakes are to be avoided and taking risks is dangerous to say the least. The finished products are perfected to fulfil a specific job/specialism for life making it obsolete once future requirements change.  The carpenter’s workshop is a perfect analogy for the needs of the 20th century and it’s classrooms.

The Gardener’s life is messier but just as fulfilling. Compared with other life on earth, humans have a very long childhood. This is because we expect children to learn about and prepare for the world through play and experience. This long childhood lends itself to the gardener’s approach and should lean both parents and teachers to a role of planning and nurturing a nourishing and dynamic space where any number of variables might impact on progress but children learn to adapt and find their space in a ever-changing ecosystem. The gardener is a great analogy for a 21st century teacher.

I agree with Den Heijer and Gopnik and recommend that educators in 2018 must realise that the 21st century world is constantly challenging everyone with new and unpredictable variables at an increasing rate. The pressure on parents and teachers to measure and shape each child actually causes more harm in not preparing those children for a dynamic world. Teachers, administrators and parents need to be concerned about the extent the school environment nurtures and not how successful teachers are at shaping individuals. Plants look after their own growth within a nurturing environment and it should be the same from school-goers.

Credit: Carpenter Image© Jorge Royan / http://www.royan.com.ar, via Wikimedia Commons