A Garden Metaphor

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What is the goal of education? Some would say it is to prepare students for their futures- for college and career.  Some would say it is to create good citizens.  Some would say it is to provide a broad foundation that may be built upon with more education.  But what would we say it is at Arborbrook?

I found myself asking that question this summer as I looked carefully at our mission statements and at the decisions that needed to be made this year, as they do every year, regarding priorities, curriculum, and hiring.  We have two strong mission statements- one for the lower school and one for the upper school.  But they are long, a little hard to remember, and they are also different from each other.  I think the high school mission certainly builds upon the lower school one and it is good for the high school to have a distinct mission as our goals for students change and become more focused on certain things as they get nearer the age when they are to “leave the nest.”

But I felt very strongly that we need a vision statement, something that would be shorter and easier to remember and that captured who we are as a whole school, from K-12.  I asked myself this question: What is God calling Arborbrook to be?

I prayed about this for several weeks and months and then began getting input from the teachers and staff and board.  The first thing to jump out from amongst all of the various things we are trying to accomplish is to encourage a love of learning.  That is unique to our school in many ways.  It informs both what we choose for the books we read and the curriculum we adopt and also how we teach it, our pedagogy.  We don’t believe that children are empty containers waiting to be filled with knowledge.  We believe they are unique persons made in the image of God and ready to engage with living ideas from an early age.  We respect them as persons and engage them with “an abundant feast of living ideas.”  We invite students to come to the table and eat.  And our educational table is filled with good things- it is filled with Biblical wisdom and it is filled with that which is true (science), beautiful (arts), and good (ethics).

Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?
 Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.  Isaiah 55:32

It would be unrealistic to expect every child to smile through every lesson, so that is not what we mean by the love of learning.  Sometimes learning is difficult and challenging and not always “fun” at the outset.  But when you have truly engaged with something (such as reading a book that really captured your imagination) or when you have really fought hard to learn something challenging (such as figuring out a difficult math problem), then you experience enjoyment.  You enjoy the mental exercise and the emotional connections you are making.  And as a result, you remember and retain so much more of what you are learning.

So we knew that we wanted “the love of learning” to be present in our vision statement.  But we also wanted it to celebrate our love for Jesus, our distinctly spiritual environment.  Many visitors come to our campus and say that they “sense the Holy Spirit’s presence” and there is truly no greater compliment than that.  We never want to be Christian in name only.  Because of this, we hire godly teachers, and we prioritize Alpha and Omega time (worship and Bible study).  And we also encourage our teachers to help students think Christianly throughout their day.  When we pause to examine flowers in the garden, we marvel at the creativity of God.  When we discuss a scientific principle in class, we ask students what this principle says to us about the order in the Universe that He made.  So we knew the other “must have” in our vision statement would point to Christ.

But how to word it to make it memorable and have it truly fit who we are?  The list of possible verbs seemed endless: equip, encourage, invest, impact…  But all of these were insufficient.  We needed an implied metaphor to make the most of having so few words to draw upon.  That led me to thinking about our garden and a word I fell in love with almost immediately:  NOURISH.  I thought about Charlotte Mason’s concept of the abundant feast.

“We spread an abundant and delicate feast in the programmes and each small guest assimilates what he can” (Vol. 6, p. 183). – Charlotte Mason

Think about our schoolyard edible garden and how refreshing and delightful that has been for our students, and what a beautiful picture that is of education in general.  We are tilling the soil, but it is God who makes something grow.  We are providing nourishment that helps the growth occur.  But we truly cannot take responsibility for the growth nor force it to happen.  We nourish a child’s soul as well as his or her mind.  We want them to be inspired by great art, to have their hearts quickened by the characters in living books, to develop character as they play with one another on the playground and forgive one another and ask for forgiveness when they wrong another.  We want to nourish the whole child- their physical being as they take in Vitamin D from being outdoors and learn to eat veggies from the school garden, but also their spiritual being, as they draw close to Christ and enjoy the world (both creation and knowledge) that He has created.

To nourish something means “to sustain with food or nutriment; supply what is necessary for life, health and growth” and it also means “to cherish, foster, keep alive” and “to strengthen, build up, promote.”  The root of the word nourish comes from Latin and means “to feed.”  How appropriate that as a school part of our vision statement would include feeding!

The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me? “Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.  John 21:17

It was Mrs. Medlin who came up with our second verb, one that rhymes with “nourishing” and that is the word “flourishing.”  Flourishing means “to be in a vigorous state; thrive” and also “to be successful; prosper” and “to grow luxuriantly, or thrive in growth, as a plant.”  The root of the word flourish comes from the Latin and means “to bloom.”  Thus, when we are saying our students are flourishing, we are saying not merely that we are preparing them for some future job or for some future time when they will be fully grown and matured, but also that they are flourishing now.  A plant can be said to be flourishing when it is barely peeking out of the soil, a tender green shoot.  It is also flourishing when it grows to its full height and begins bearing fruit.  We want students to flourish in Christ now as they are growing in Him and being nourished in His word and in knowledge, and we want them to also flourish later as they become adults, holding fast to their faith and blossoming into the beings God created for them to be.

We have not had a vision statement as a school, though we are in our 9th year.  We have heretofore had a mission statement, which then a few years ago became two distinct mission statements.  But I am excited and humbled to present a vision that I feel is of the Lord’s leading and has been confirmed through many of us praying in unity about this:

Nourishing a love of learning, Flourishing in Christ

If you point these things out to the brothers and sisters, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the truths of the faith and of the good teaching that you have followed.   I Timothy 4:6

 The righteous will flourish like a palm tree,
    

they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;

planted in the house of the Lord,
    

they will flourish in the courts of our God.

Psalm 92:12-13

Through this process and with help from our teachers, we have also re-worded some of our distinctives.  They are all preceded by the third “garden themed” verb: cultivating.

We are cultivating:

1) Character (fruit of the spirit, wisdom, training in good habits)

2) Community (small classes, relational atmosphere)

3) Connections (making connections with what students learn- to history, living ideas, etc.)

4) Communication* (excelling in public speaking and writing)

5) Collaboration* (working together in groups for a common purpose)

6) Curiosity and Critical Thinking* (encouraging curiosity at all ages and critical thinking as students get older)

7) Creation Appreciation (gardening, nature study)

8) Creativity and Culture (inspirational studies, the Arts- band, drama, art)

9) Characteristics of a Healthy Lifestyle (time outdoors, exercise, eating well, sleeping well, and having balance/margin)

10) Calling (finding God’s calling on their lives: including college and career preparation).

*Note: The ability to communicate well, collaborate well, and think critically are all qualities employers consistently state they are seeking in the people they hire.

We are excited to have a unifying vision for both of our campuses as we continue into our ninth year and look forward to next year, when Arborbrook will be a decade old.  We want to remain focused on what the Lord is calling Arborbrook to be- a place where we are helping nourish children’s hearts and minds and seeing them flourish in Christ.  We want to cultivate men and women of character who love Jesus and want to glorify Him in every aspect of their lives, who take great delight in the world God has made and in all that He has given us to learn.

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