Monday, 1 September 2014

The Illumination of the Gardens

“The illumination of the lower gardens will begin at sundown,” read the small signs all through the park.  How do you illuminate a garden?  My family pondered this question as we strolled through a British town on a hot July day almost 30 years ago. We weren't planning to stay in Bournemouth, but illuminated gardens?  That had to be good.  So we stayed.

The first day I stood in front of my first classroom, did I have an idea of who my students were or who they might become?  When I began my career as a teacher librarian in a small northern town, did I envision my current work writing online course materials on globalization? When I met and married my husband, did I imagine the richness of our experiences together? When I gave birth to each of my three children, did I see the entirely unique and surprising people they would become?  I pictured none of these, any more than I envisioned those illuminated gardens.

If I had begun with the end in mind, I would have forced myself down a far different path than the one I have trod.  I would have continued on my schedule, driven on to the next town, and missed the thousands of colored tea-lights on their metal frames.  I would have missed the glowing Union Jack, the sparkling roses, the brilliant Chinese pagoda and the sense of community created by hundreds of people lighting candles to create a magical night world.

If you have ever composed a song, or woven a tapestry or painted a picture, you know the creative process has a life of its own.  You don’t start knowing what the end product will be. If you have ever taken a trip to an unknown land, you will know that the true value of your journey lies not in seeing the sights you knew were there, but in following the little byways that lead to somewhere new and surprising.  It’s the unexpected experiences, like the illumination of the lower gardens, that enrich your understanding of the world and of yourself.
My most recent journey took me to Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen

Teaching is a creative journey.  Although we begin the school year hoping students will acquire attitudes, concepts and skills and spend the year concentrating on those outcomes, the path we take is shared.  Because we don’t travel it alone, we cannot predict exactly where it will lead. While we set up the framework, our students light up the path in their own unique ways, providing its color, warmth and community. 

With apologies to Dr. Covey and his disciples, “begin with the end in mind” is perhaps the most misguided of the secular commandments.  We living beings are our own most precious works of art. Like any work of art, we are the result of a magical evolutionary process of creation and discovery that includes all the forces that shape our becoming- good, bad and unpredictable.  In our lives and in our classrooms, we share a journey of discovery of what is, what could be and what is meant to be. We cannot know what that journey will hold until we walk it ourselves.