Core Practice #4: Nourishment

When a flower doesn’t bloom you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.

Alexander den Heijer

The fourth core practice of our school is that of nourishment. This has been the most difficult (so far) in that nourishment is often viewed as a one-way lens. From one perspective, nourishment is seen easily defined as what’s needed for someone or something to be healthy in order to grow and develop. Nourishment is derived from the Old French word norissement from the root word norrir (to nourish). In the figurative sense of the word, nourishment is that which promotes growth or development of any kind; it is the act of offering necessary sustenance for not just the body of the learner for their soul, mind, and heart, as well.

In education, I have recognized that the value of nourishment could also be thought of as one of reciprocity. In a relationship of mutual nourishment, both parties give and receive that which they lack. I often view my teaching practice as a reciprocal-nourishment of sort. Quite often a deep and healthy learning-based relationship can serve as the core from which a reciprocity of nourishment can flow. My daily interactions with students, parents, and colleagues often involves instances of nourishment; as a teacher it is understood that I operate from a place of nourishing learners, but my heart and soul often feel replenished and fortified through various ongoing relationships.

Perhaps before we can deeply explore how the act of nourishment affects the learner-curriculum-teacher relationship, one must first understand some fundamental truths that help bring about nourishment of the learning soul. I cite a current dilemma. Pressure continues to mount from school district leaders to remove the school’s long-standing face to face four day week. Favour for this adopted timetable is deeply rooted in school core value, and yet it remains highly controversial within school district circles (despite the fact that our school days are extended beyond those of a regular five day a week school timetable). As well, there is a substantial weekly home learning program that each family (and their student) is required to commit to fulfilling.

Ultimately nourishment is the responsibility of the family. School founder and its first teacher, Liz Tanner, always maintained that “the child belongs to the family and the teacher adjusts to the family.” The family is, in essences, the important teacher of its students. We also acknowledge that research continues to support our long held value that learning requires both time and space. As a result, each student and (by connection) each family has distinct and specific needs. Our job as teachers is to adjust to the family, not to make them fit into a program the teacher has created. We must add to the nourishment; we (teachers) along are not the primary source.

So, how do we attempt to adjust our environment so that we contribute to the overall nourishment of each learner?

Over fifteen years ago, Tanner shared her recipe for nourishment of learners in her care in a letter to the Board of Trustees:

I have the luxury of having very few interruptions to my day. Therefore, I can and do shape it in a way that I believe suits the children’s needs. Everyday we work on slow to build concepts and quick fun facts. The learning is sedentary and active. Things are presented to advantage the visual and the aural learner. There will be artistic and intuitive requirements and analytical and methodical ones. They will be asked to work alone, in small groups, and in the large group. I look for opportunities for each child to lead and to follow. There are noisy times and quiet ones.

Liz Tanner, Wildflower School

In Scott Peck’s The Road Less Travelled, he defines love as action. Love as the willingness to extend oneself in order to nurture another’s spiritual and psychological growth. Even one’s own. Peck highlights that “to love is to extend oneself toward another or toward oneself.” Our role, as educators, is to extend ourselves towards our students, and towards ourselves. Nourishment of self and of other are preconditions for healthy learning. In his book, Scattered Minds, Gabor Mate, argues that “extending oneself means to do precisely what we find difficult to do. Most parents do not need to be taught how to love their children in the feeling sense, but we can all use practice in how to be actively loving toward them in day-to-day experience.” Nourishment is simply part of the job.

As many an educator can attest, where the child ‘learns’ is often not as relevant as the ‘with’ whom. And ultimately, nourishment doesn’t really care how it gets shared only that those that need it, receive it. I plan, to further provide my students with opportunities to become nourished whether it be supporting through empathetic listening nourishment (heart), challenge to take risks and push comfort levels (mind), foster building of personal boundaries within friendships (social), and of course, provide academic (brain) nourishment.


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