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Blog: Thursday, October 5th, 2017

Building Resiliency & Growing Tomatoes

One of our school goals for our students this year was in the development of Citizenship & Social Responsibility, which just happens to be grounded from a foundation of  personal self regulation and social-emotional development. Kids (and adults, too) are more successful in achieving these goals in a collaborative atmosphere of students succeeding, failing and overcoming obstacles to reach a bigger target together than they could have individually.  Kids are really good at succeeding, more than ever before; they have medals on their wall to acknowledge daily, weekly, and monthly milestones.  But what happens when they fail?

Social  and emotional development, and building good self regulation are not based on the premise of winning or losing, especially if losing brings out undesirable emotions. Resiliency, one of the building blocks for self regulation and social emotional control, is built on empathy, compassion, and mercy.  You have to know how to give it, and how to get it.

Try Something New: I was picking the tomatoes at the back of the school garden yesterday. Yes, they were delicious, and there were lots of them.  I’ve been trying to share them with anyone who is interested. I’m pretty proud of our collective efforts, mostly because my thumb wasn’t always this GREEN.  My first attempt at gardening was almost 20 years ago.  I grew two tomato plants for four months, and watered them religiously every day, only to deliver a harvest total of TWO cherry tomatoes.  TWO. Even the squirrels felt sorry for me at harvest time, and left some acorns on my doorstep.

Find Success in Small Chunks: Rather than being angry, I was disappointed at my gardening experiment; quit or go on?  I thought I would try to grow something less edible and more colourful. I planted begonias and pansies in my garden. They all looked great for the first couple of weeks, and then I noticed they were starting to look half eaten. A little research, and I discovered the culprits – slugs.  I evolved from the happy gardener to the crazy garden guy fighting a defensive war, trying to protect my crops from the nocturnal hunters. I’m sorry, but slugs don’t show a lot of empathy for my efforts. The final result at the end of the summer was an unhappy truce and a demilitarized zone.

Go Big or Go Home: During one of my family adventures to Europe, we drove by fields of giant sunflowers in France, just outside of Vimy Ridge, site of Canada’s greatest battle of World War I. When we got back home, I tried planting 25 sunflowers in the back of the school, thinking “these would look great in front of the mural.”  By the end of the summer, they were so small that you couldn’t see them over the fence. The groundskeepers kept asking me if they were weeds. I could see there was a significant amount of compassion & empathy given to my worthy, but lost cause. In the words of Commander Taggart of Galaxy Quest (a Star Trek spoof movie), “Never give up, never surrender!”

Find an Expert: I needed a better foundation. Parents donated wood to build some garden boxes, and added freshly composted soil. I compared Sarah Shadbolt’s nine foot tall sunflowers, which won first prize at the Mt. Lehman Fall Fair, to my two footers and a participation ribbon.  Sarah must have felt great mercy toward me, as she allowed me to dry and harvest her prize sunflower. Next Spring, our students planted the seeds from the Greenhouse, and a month later they were transplanted to the new garden boxes in the back of the school. The flowers were staked once they reached two feet, then restaked again after 4 feet. At 6 feet  I had to build a scaffold to keep them from falling down. 

Forrest Gump, Shrimp Boat Captain: Two days after I secured the sunflowers to the new scaffold, a freak summer thunderstorm rolled through town, destroying many crops in the Fraser Valley. The sunflowers? Staked down, they were the size of corn stalks and weathered the storm quite well.  I entered them into the Fall Fair—and won first prize!  Well, it wasn’t too hard—turns out everyone else had lost their sunflowers to the storm, except me, so I won by default.  

So, as you can see, my journey into gardening has been more about failure than success. Resiliency is about bouncing back from the undesirable, about finding the positive out of the negative, about evoking empathy, compassion and mercy to bring understanding to your dilemma (even if it isn’t you showing the empathy, compassion or mercy), and learning to weather the storms until you are, sometimes, the only Shrimp boat captain left standing.