Teaching and Gardening: Providing Conditions for Growth

According to the calendar hanging on my refrigerator, spring has begun! (Although snow and ice still cover the ground here in Wisconsin, I have faith that I will be able to gather my gardening tools and start planting my favorite fruits, vegetables, and flowers soon.)

Just like teaching, gardening requires patience, problem-solving, and perseverance. Gardeners nurture their crops with proper soil, water, and sunlight. Teachers nurture their students with engaging and challenging lessons in supportive learning environments. Both teachers and gardeners have unwavering drive and dedication, living by the words of the famous quote - “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”

Well-known educator and author, Sir Ken Robinson was my inspiration behind this week’s blog post. In this 2-minute video clip, he brilliantly discusses the relationship between teachers and gardeners. He explains that gardeners cannot make plants grow, just as teachers cannot make students grow. The plants grow themselves when the gardener provides the appropriate conditions for growth. Robinson goes on to explain that like great gardeners, great teachers know what makes their individual students grow and flourish.

So how can we provide the conditions for growth in the classroom? This article provides several characteristics of an ideal learning environment for students. Here is a summary of what to keep in mind for your own classroom:

  • The students ask more questions than the teachers (Cultivate curiosity among your students – questioning leads to deeper understanding.)
  • Ideas come from divergent sources (Invite families and community members to speak in your classroom.)
  • A variety of learning models are used (Give project-based learning, peer instruction, and/or flipped classroom a try…there are so many learning models to choose from!)
  • Classroom learning ‘empties’ into a connected community (Help connect the content from your lessons lessons to the “real world” of your students.)
  • Learning is personalized by a variety of criteria (Focus on students’ interests and choices, their developmental and academic levels, as well as formative and summative assessment results.)
  • Assessment is persistent, authentic, transparent, and never punitive (Communicate with students about why they are being tested, what’s in it for them, and what they can do to improve.)
  • The criteria for success are diverse, transparent, and co-created with students and families (Be sure rubrics and other grading criteria make sense to the students.)
  • Learning habits are constantly modeled (Let students in on your own curious, collaborative, and creative sides that demonstrate your lifelong quest for learning.)
  • There are constant and creative opportunities for practice and growth (Provide your students with an environment where they feel safe and confident to take risks – where mistakes are used as opportunities for growth and learning.)


Most likely you already have many of these characteristics in place. But like gardeners, teachers have high standards and expectations. They reflect upon what’s going well, what needs further attention, and the progress of their efforts.

To further improve or enhance the conditions for optimal growth in your classroom, begin by focusing on one or two of the characteristics outlined above. Collaborate with a colleague to share methods, strategies, and tools. With permission, observe a well-respected teacher in action and take note of the conditions provided that enable student growth. Last, but not least, fulfill your professional development requirements by enrolling in one or more of our engaging, university-accredited courses designed to help you provide the classroom conditions which enable your students to  beautifully blossom and thrive in the classroom and beyond.


Jill Rockwell
Jill has over 13 years of experience as a licensed teacher in the areas of Special Education, Reading Education, and Health Education. She embraces diversity and has worked with students in grades K-12 in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and California. Jill completed her Master of Science degree at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls while teaching full time. She fully understands the soaring demands of today’s teachers. Her courses are designed to maximize the time of all educators by providing engaging, meaningful, and applicable activities which can be used to enhance teaching practices. She focuses on research-based best practices and technology integration throughout her own instructional practices. Together with her husband and two young boys, Jill enjoys traveling, biking and the changing seasons of the great outdoors in Wisconsin.