Plants, Kids and COVID
Updated: Oct 14
The COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuant lockdown implemented in Ontario has been, to put mildly, difficult. COVID-19 has impacted our economy, education, families, relationships, personal finances, and our mental and physical health to name a few.
A silver lining in all of this is that people have had a chance to slow down. Time spent commuting to work or chauffeuring kids to various activities and programs has become available to work on personal growth projects, spend valuable time with family, and as will become evident in this blog, pursue, and learn about new hobbies and interests.
In my case, it was plants. All kinds of plants. The story begins with two ferns acquired at a local Metro grocery store. Purchased on a bored whim after having spent a lifetime waiting in a socially-distanced queue, this pair of 6-inch plants made their way home with me and marked the beginning of a wonderful, yet sometimes turbulent and tragic, foray into the botanical world. The indoor version anyway.
From an initial commitment of a Korean Rock and Lemon Bottom Fern, the collection grew to include a variety of palms (Sago, Pigmy Date, and Majestic), ferns (Boston, Autumn, and Fluffy Ruffle) and Dragon, Pygmy Umbrella and Yucca Trees. I should probably mention here that although my plants are currently alive and thriving (most of them), initially things did not go smoothly. It took me some time and the martyrdom of an undisclosed number of faunae to realize that the general formula of sun exposure, soil, and water did not adequately meet the needs of all of my plants. A number of hardy species weathered my initial caretaker deficiencies and thrived. Others, well... they’re... no longer with us, but their “feedback” proved to be invaluable.
Along my greening journey the lessons were numerous. Some were acquired through dedicated research and discussions with experts. For instance, I learned that soil should not be purchased at Dollarama; that there are different types of soil; potting, outdoor, seedling, and fast-draining; and that certain palms and succulents (RIP) require the latter to survive. I discovered that watering schedules and the amount of water applied per feeding varied between species, as well as between plants of the same species. I learned to periodically add magnesium sulphate (Epsom salts) to my palms and to only add water to the cups formed by the leaves of Bromeliads and not the soil they rooted in.
Most lessons however were, shall we say, unexpected; the yellowed and dried remains of a Phoenix Roebellini taught me that not all plants like direct scorching sunlight for 10 hours per day when surrounded by the reflective and heat absorbing surfaces of tile and concrete. Who knew? The drooping carcass of a Cypress Tree provided irrefutable proof that pots that don’t have drainage collect water, bathe roots in soggy soil and eventually kill their owner.
You’re probably wondering where I am going with all of this, and if you’re not, you should be. Needless to say, I commend and appreciate your patience. At this point, given the setup and the title of this blog, you probably have a fairly good idea. Let me explain the correlation anyhow as not doing so would result in an odd piece about shrubs and trees and would likely make the reader think that the author has lost more than a few plants over the last few months.
The most valuable thing I realized was not so much a lesson in and of itself. It was more an observation of parallels between becoming a good teacher and a responsible plant owner.
When I first started teaching at WillowWood, I had little experience working with diverse learners or students with socio-emotional issues. My general attitude was that as long as my courses were well laid out and clear, things should go well. My lessons were organized, clear, and contained all relevant course subject matter. I presented the lecture notes on a SMART Board and expected students to copy them. Some pupils had note taking exemptions and they were provided with a copy. My thinking was that students would stay engaged because they were “busy” and they would learn the material by writing it! Since the notes contained all the important learning objectives, the textbook became less of a necessity. Additionally, note-taking is an important skill to have in post-secondary studies. I had it all figured out...I thought.
It turns out that students who are frantically writing notes down are not listening to a word their teacher is saying and those who are note-taking exempt are justifiably fighting to staying awake. My lessons were uninteresting, didactic, and met the needs of very few students, if any.
It took trial and errors, some maturing and numerous conversations with my mentor (who shall remain nameless, lest he remind me later in the hallways) to understand the differing needs of students and to create lessons that were more engaging and more accessible to all learners. PDFs gave way to PowerPoint presentations. Colours, fonts, and images exploded onto my overheads as I continually sought to make my lectures more interesting and entertaining. I started embedding videos, both to keep my audience connected and to provide visual learners and students with attention difficulties a more palatable means to digest information.
From here I started to get to know my customers better. By working through the stages of an assignment with them or helping them review for a test, I gained a better understanding of their learning needs and which approaches, and strategies worked best.
Much like the differing requirements of my various plant species at home, each student was a “species” of their own. Teaching methods and study strategies that have been developed for students with Attention Deficit Disorder are useful but are the equivalent of saying Cacti like sand and palms like direct light: it’s more complicated than that. Some species do, some species don’t.
Get to know your plants and students better and watch them thrive.
Acknowledgement: The author thanks the many plants that sacrificed themselves in the name of “learning”, his former students for their patience and his future students for the valuable lessons yet to come.