My sister-in-law has an incredible green thumb. If she has a flowering plant given to her in April, it is twice as large in September. Her summer impatiens and geraniums are spilling out of their pots beyond Labor Day, and her bountiful houseplants are beautiful with soft leaves in all shades of green. I have one ivy plant in my kitchen that is hanging on for dear life.

A few nights ago, she told me her secret. “Just add 20-20-20 or 10-10-10,” she said. I thought I had been given the Holy Grail of horticulture. “Say that again,” I stammered. She explained that if you add a fertilizer that has the same three numbers, plants will do what they are meant to do. If they are supposed to have luscious blossoms, they will produce lovely flowers. If they are meant to have nice foliage, they will produce ample green leaves with plenty of new growth.

If only it were that easy with our children. What if we could just add three identical numbers of fertilizer and they would grow into the beautiful, curious, and wonderful young women and adults they are meant to be. As educators, that concoction would come in handy as we are discerning when to push them and when we should ease up a bit. Has a student’s schedule stretched her enough? Is it too much? Are we supporting her enough while letting go at the same time?

The beginning of the new school year, gives us a reset button. What was too much last year, may be just right this year. At our Grade Level Parent Meetings during the opening of school, we discuss trying to find that sweet spot for a particular grade in the upper school. In the 9th grade year we talk about backing off a little as parents. Let her try something new and falter or fail. We have to remind ourselves that if we smooth the road for our children, we are actually crippling them in the long run and not helping them. We are signaling that we don’t truly believe in them or their abilities. With the parents of 10th grade students, we talk about making sure we don’t make excuses for our children. By sophomore year, they are in the middle of the teen years, and are going to push against expectations and rules. In turn, we want them to take responsibility for their actions. The list continues for each year and each meeting as we try to anticipate the sharp turns in the road ahead.

Earlier today, I was watching a documentary about some progressive teaching methods at a school in California, and one of the educators said that as teachers, and I would add parents, we should be more like gardeners. He said we should concentrate on providing the right environment for our students – making sure they are able to thrive and learn and grow in that environment. Our students need to be able to advocate for themselves, work collaboratively, and communicate clearly all the while. All students do that best when we are not over protecting or spoon feeding them. I have killed many a plant by over watering. We also need to make sure we are not producing delicate hothouse flowers, but rather strong and hardy plants. Here’s to a year with a nice 20-20-20 balance.


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