I recently visited Seattle.
On April 5th I was able to walk - in shorts no less (if you live in Michigan as I do you know what a pleasure it was for me to be able to walk in shorts) - and I stumbled up on this:
It had been so long since I had seen a radiant red flowering plant that I stopped to take a picture.
Yesterday - April 23rd, at my home in Michigan, I took this picture in our driveway:
If you look closely you might see a hint that this tree is getting ready to grow some leaves. Eighteen days after I took the picture of the beautiful red flowering plant in Seattle, the magnolia tree in my own yard has barely begun to think about spring.
Most of us understand. Plants flower and grow at different times. Seattle's weather, its latitude and longitude, its proximity to Puget Sound - all of that and more create conditions that encourage growth significantly before plants in Michigan are ready to grow.
While we understand that in plants and are willing to accept that in plants, it is much harder for some to grant the same degree of understanding to people. More to the point, it is hard for some to understand that just as plants grow at different speeds and at different times, so do our students.
As I looked - really looked - at the magnolia tree (I think it's a magnolia tree) I thought about the students in our classrooms.
I visit classrooms every week. Just this week I was in a first grade classroom and I saw a young man who was having trouble focusing in class. He was the same age as everyone else. He looked the same as everyone else. But he was not ready to flower just yet.
The "weather and conditions" in his life have not prepared him to grow at the same rate and the same time as the other students in his class.
Don't interpret what I am saying as suggesting that we should just give up on this student. That is not what I am implying.
The point I am trying to make is that our students, much like the plants in our world, will grow and flower when the conditions are right.
Our responsibililty is to create great conditions for growth for every child in our classroom. Our responsibility is to take every child where they are and move them forward. Our responsibility is to honor the life of every child every day.
But we also need to understand that just because we say "grow," just because we demand growth, the conditions in a child's life may not have prepared that child to grow right at that moment.
If that is the case we need to continue preparing that child to grow when the conditions turn more favorable. We cannot give up on a child. But we also cannot force growth.
I believe that our responsiblity is to help every child grow and mature. I believe that every year a child can make progress.
But I also believe that some children will grow more quickly. The conditions in the lives of our children are different. Some children have an environment that encourages growth. Some children do not.
Our responsibility is to focus on every child. Our responsibility is to care and nurture each child. Our responsibility is to make sure that we don't turn our backs and give up on a child.
Our passion and skill as teachers can create favorable conditions for growth. We can and do help children blossom - at times much before a person would think that a child would be ready to grow.
But we also need to remember that at times our job may be to prepare the soil and get the student ready for growth that we may not see.
It will happen if we tend to the garden. Just like it will happen for our magnolia tree in Michigan. Eventually, it will bloom - just like this!