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Sowing Seeds to Grow Trees

By Alphonso Richard, Jr - Powdersville Elementary School/Anderson School District One


Summary: The author recounts their mentor's powerful statement about the role of educators in sowing seeds for future growth, a concept that has become a guiding principle. They encourage fellow educators to persevere in their efforts despite challenges, emphasizing the long-term impact of their work. They offer practical advice, including meeting students where they are, maintaining high standards, leading with love, trusting the process, and staying connected even after students move on. Overall, they stress the importance of educators in shaping lives and communities, urging them to continue sowing seeds of knowledge and support.

During my collegiate years of study at Clemson University, I had the opportunity to attend weekly meetings with my Call Me MiSTER Cohort. As if it was yesterday, I can visually remember one specific assignment where we were tasked with creating  our own personal philosophy of education statements. This task aimed to examine the principles that would be foundational in our roles as educators. As we completed the task and concluded the meeting, my mentor and program coordinator, Mr. Winston Holton, shared his own philosophy.  He spoke boldly, and with great authority, that his goal as an educator was "to sow seeds and grow trees from whose shade he may never sit under." Initially, I could not comprehend the gravity of what Mr. Holton had shared, but that statement has now taken root and serves as a guiding force in my role as an educator. 

As an educator, I understand the privilege I have been blessed with in sowing seeds in the fertile minds and hearts of my students. I have had the opportunity to sow seeds of knowledge, responsibility, and citizenship in my students with the ultimate prize of witnessing those seeds develop into a harvest of  remarkable scholar-athletes, community leaders, student council members, Robotics Club champions, advocates of change, and so much more. While I may not directly be impacted by the fruits of their endeavors, the genuine reward lies in witnessing them become blessings unto others, a testament to the enduring impact of education . Their expressions of gratitude, such as "you helped me get here," and “I didn’t understand then but I do now,” or "Mr. Richard, you believed in me," serve as a testament to the importance of being intentional in the seeds we sow, watering with positive affirmations and as a result, witnessing some of the greatest shade trees that have ever grown.

Amidst the challenges of our day to day demands, in both our personal and professional lives, we may feel led to question if we truly are sowing enough seeds, and, if so, why is the growth not visible and/or seems as if it is taking longer than expected.  My encouragement for each of you is to keep sowing.  In general, it can take several years or several decades for a seed to grow into a shade tree, but the result is still the same. At the appointed time,  someone will benefit greatly from the shade created  because of your willingness to sow into your students. 

So, how do we sow seeds and grow trees from whose shade we may never sit under? Here are some ideas that I have discovered over time through building relationships with my students and witnessing their growth into individuals who positively impact others:

Meet Them Where They Are: Our students come from diverse backgrounds, cultures, and experiences. To maximize our impact as educators, we must first seek to understand them as a person.  Take time to discover their likes, favorite foods, motivations, and passions. Actively learning about your students demonstrates genuine care and a commitment to growing alongside them.

Maintain High Standards: Upholding high standards and expectations is crucial. By maintaining a high level of rigor, we provide students with the necessary tools, resources and support to reach their goals. Lowering standards can send the message that we doubt their capabilities. While celebrating every step of growth, never let up on encouraging them to reach their full potential.

Lead with Love: Discipline can be a significant challenge in education. Despite having expectations and support in place, obstacles may still arise. It's crucial to lead with love in these situations. Engage in conversations with your students, allow them to ask questions and help them understand the "why" behind expectations. When they fall short, approach the situation with love and honesty. Though it may be frustrating, maintaining a compassionate approach builds a positive learning environment.

Trust  the Process: One of my favorite motivational speakers, Inky Johnson, once said          “Don't judge your days by the harvest you reap but rather judge the day by the seeds you sow.” Some days will bring incredible moments in witnessing the growth and positive actions of our students. On other days, you might find yourself questioning why you even walked in that morning. It's crucial to understand that this journey is not a one-size-fits-all process; it's a dynamic experience filled with peaks and valleys. It is in those valley experiences that the grit and growth necessary to appreciate those mountain top destinations are formed.   

Stay Connected: Even after my students transition to their next grade, they remain, and will forever be, my kiddos. Whether it is attending  their athletic events, offering words of encouragement, or consistently checking in on them beyond my physical classroom,  these actions not only show my  commitment as their teacher but also demonstrates my support for wherever they are.  By staying connected to your students, it allows you to keep the door open for opportunities to continue pouring into their lives and supporting them in their own unique journeys.

Shade trees have proven beneficial to individual homes, the people in them, and also the environment.  They can help reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the air and replace it with oxygen which is necessary for our survival. The role of educators in sowing seeds and planting trees for those whose shade you may never see is life changing, and life saving, and it is one that cannot be measured by what you can see initially. Your time, talent and treasure that you give so generously are not in vain, and, one day, you will reap the harvest of a beautiful shade tree.  In the process of sowing seeds each day, remember to sow back into yourself. You cannot pour from an empty vessel. We are all in this together, and, if just for today, I invite you to join me in sitting back and enjoying the shade!  You deserve it!


About the Author

Alphonso Richard, Jr. serves as a Fifth Grade Teacher and the Coordinator of the Leader In Me Program at Powdersville Elementary School in Anderson School District One. Dedicated to fostering the growth of both students and staff, his mission is to guide others towards realizing their full potential and becoming the best versions of themselves. As a genuine servant leader, he places emphasis on the core values of education, demonstrating unwavering commitment to continuous learning and personal development alongside the individuals he serves. If you would like to stay connected with him, reach out via email , through X: @ajrichard330, or Instagram @callmemisterrichard.



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