Linda Johnson, Baylor University
In recent years, there have been many references to “Advising as Teaching” in the academic advising professional literature. I am certainly in agreement that teaching is a very important part of what we academic advisors do. A NACADA bumper sticker proclaiming “Advising is Teaching!” is firmly affixed to my office bulletin board and an advising syllabus appears on my campus’ academic advising Web site. However, from my perspective as one who has spent almost 23 years plowing the fields as an academic advisor, and almost that much time growing roses as a hobby, I believe that a strong argument also can be made for using another metaphor, that of “Advising as Gardening!”
In the garden of a student’s life, advisors are NOT the sun, or the rain, or even the manure. I believe that faculty in the classroom would happily claim those roles for themselves, and we will gladly let them! I believe that advisors do, however, play a part in the lives of students that is not unlike the function of a gardener. And, since many commonalities exist between advising and gardening, advisors can learn many wonderful lessons about advising students by looking no farther than their own gardens.
I have developed a series of “Advising Lessons from My Garden” on a variety of topics. Space constraints, however, only allow for the inclusion here of one example of these lessons, “To Everything There is a Season,” which follows:
“To everything there is a season…a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted” (Proverbs 3).
In nature, the best time to plant seeds is usually in the springtime after the danger of frost has passed. After several months of growing, harvest time follows, and then plants often go dormant during the winter…only to awaken again the following spring and start growing again. Hal Borland once explained the constancy of the recurring seasons in these words: “No winter lasts forever. No spring skips its turn. April is a promise that May is bound to come…and we know it.” Barbara Winkler once described this phenomenon as: “Every gardener knows that under the cloak of winter lies a miracle.”
Just as the seasons in a garden are predictable, so, too, are most schools’ calendars for advising activities. On most campuses, about the same time each spring, advisors are busy in their respective fields preparing the ground for the incoming shipment of new seedlings (also known as new freshmen and transfer students). When they arrive in June for summer orientation, advisors are ready for them and their task is to help “plant” them in just the right spot so they will thrive and, ultimately, “bloom.”
During the course of the year, both gardeners and advisors alike nurture their young charges; providing support when needed; and using their tools, resources, and knowledge of solutions to common problems to help them deal with issues that might impede their growth. In the case of the gardener, their plants’ problems show up in the form of diseases, insects, and weeds, or maybe a lack of enough sun or water to suit their needs.
In the case of the advisor, their students’ problems come in a variety of forms, too. Homesickness is one example of new student problems. More commonly, these problems result from a student’s LACK of things, i.e., the lack of a sense of direction, motivation to study, academic preparation, good study skills, knowledge of academic programs, or policies and requirements. Many times, the problem involves a combination of several of these issues. The gardener and advisor alike stand ready to help remedy these situations with the appropriate treatment. They both draw upon a wealth of knowledge, useful tools, and access to a wide array of resources.
At the end of the year, if they have done their jobs well, the gardener and the advisor both are rewarded with the harvest of the fruits of their labor. The gardener, depending upon the kind of seedlings planted, may be the recipient of a bounty of beautiful and fragrant flowers or luscious tomatoes or green beans. In the case of advisors, their reward at the end of the year is seeing students who have grown in a variety of ways; they have learned their way around campus, explored various academic options, learned much about themselves and their abilities, strengths, and weaknesses. “Flowering” students have gained some ideas about where they might best use their unique gifts, and have learned to use campus resources to help them succeed in reaching the goals they set for themselves. In essence, the advisor sees the student begin to “blossom.” Thus, successful gardeners and advisors see both flowers and students, respectively, eventually bloom. As Margaret Elizabeth Sanger puts it, “Never yet was a springtime, when the buds forgot to bloom.”
After enjoying flowers for awhile, advisors and gardeners begin to plow the field again in preparation for the next year’s crop and another season. As this process is repeated year after year, an AMAZING thing happens with each passing year: both the gardener and the advisor gain increasing knowledge about the needs of their charges; they acquire more experience in dealing with the kind of problems which are likely to hamper the growth of their young seedlings. As the garden grows, so too grows the gardener ! Such are the seasons in the worlds of both gardening and advising.
Best wishes for a fruitful upcoming advising season filled with beautiful bouquets and much growth!
Associate Director, Academic Advisement
Cite this article using APA style as: Johnson, L. (2009, March). Advising lessons from my garden. Academic Advising Today, 32(1). Retrieved from [insert url here]