“Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil, and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.”President Dwight D. Eisenhower
The sun has begun to shine and the long days of darkness and bitter cold mornings are moving further and further away. The clocks have rolled forward in to the start of summer time and a sense of hope, yet again, is beginning to unfurl its leaves and face skyward as we approach the midway point of the summer term. A term of, what has been, the most interesting and challenging time in education we have known.
As the Earth warms steadily beneath our feet, farmers, gardeners and those whose daily toil is categorised by the turning of soil, slowly rotavating the damp colds of winter to the fine tilth of spring, have started their planning for the future; reviewing which seeds will grow and which will not.
These plans are, of course, never perfect. As they scan the horizon for the blight that may undo their work, the storm clouds that may wash away the seeds before they have even felt nourished and enveloped by the matter around them, to the weeks of blistering heat that may scorch the Earth to render the season utterly void, they continue focused and dedicated for the harvest ahead. After all, ‘he who hesitates is lost’ and now is not the season for uncertainty.
These seeds require planting, the ground awaits preparation and the harvest is needed. One week or month too late and a season of spoils is certain; the impact is monumental. Not solely on the day of harvest, as the shrivelled and pitiful crop is picked, but the inevitable knowing that the bleak, biting bitterness of another hungry winter awaits. Weeks of empty plates and just getting by is not the most appetising as you look upon the result of your delay. Hunger is avoidable if you think ahead.
The success of any seasonal crop is in the preparation. Plant the seeds too early and the ravages of frost and the remnants of the previous season takes its toll. Too late and the required outcome won’t be ready in time for picking. Like the overused maxim states ‘ failing to prepare is preparing to fail’ and, of course, as educators, we know this all to well.
The year, like no other we have seen, will, no doubt, require us to reflect on what really is needed for the next academic year. We all know too well that the cacophony of opinion and attitudes, theory and speculation circulating around the concept of catch-up and knowledge loss has been deafening of late. Perhaps to the point that our collective auditory response has been rendered defunct. As educators, more than most, we will be aware of the impact of the last eighteen months but, we also know, that repair is not always something that is grounded in the quickest and most immediate methodology. A plaster will stop a cut from bleeding but it alone won’t make it heal.
As educators, the few weeks and months that are left are those which will require us to make the most important plans. Possibly the most needed in a generation. The academic year of repair, sculpted and shaped in the routines of a new normal, will begin in earnest in September and the need to prepare the soil is now. Like those farmers who watch the weather, consider the historical impact of seasons past, we need to ensure we plan, not for the harvest we hope to reap but to ensure the seeds we planted, viewed on the first day back, were right, the weeds and dying matter from previous growth removed from the soil and the bed prepared for growing.
Whatever plants we offer to the ground now, we will nervously have to watch to see if they bare fruit, ripens to develop new growth or, unfortunately, like some decisions we make, never given the right conditions to germinate. Those seeds of strategy that we plant too soon, place in a pot which lacks nutrition and then fail to water either by neglecting the task of care ourselves or by never supplying the correct tools to those we have entrusted to maintain it. The garden is not an easy place to tend with just bare hands alone.
With each seed we select, we need to ensure that we have considered the fruit it will produce. Will the end result be worth the labour? Can we guarantee that the seed we are about to sow will have the right conditions in each phase of growth and, importantly, do we have the collective courage to watch it wilt away each day when we needed it desperately to flourish. These are always the gambles we choose to take when we make the plans for strategic change within our schools. Reflecting on the harvest we want, at the point of sowing, is this term’s most important task. Are we hoping for the exotic? The juice of fruits and berries we have never tasted or do we need to rely on the hardy staples that we may need to see us through another dark and isolating winter? I suppose this is where collaboration and conversation is needed.
Sharing techniques, plans, ideas and well-used methods are what makes the successes of some more evident than most. As each field or allotment ripens in the sun, the same seed may have resulted in rather different yields. No doubt, the field full of ripe fruit has been harnessed through discussion and significant consideration rather than those who had the willingness to go it alone and embrace the solitude of autonomy. After all, this year, whatever we choose to plant, we all want it to be plentiful and provide for all. The aim is the collective success for all our pupils.
So now is the time to look upon our hectares of lands, our rolling fields, small private gardens and, soon to be, vistas of lush green growth and consider what our next steps will be. With every member of staff within our schools, let us prepare the soil, remove the dying matter of yesterday, mark out the drills for sowing and be prepared to ensure, that when we return in late August, the seeds we have planted have taken root, deep enough to face the challenges of winter and give us hope of a wonderful harvest to come. For whatever we plant now, will be the seed we need to flourish and feed us in order to build the future.
”The farmer has to be an optimist or he wouldn’t still be a farmer.”