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What an Azalea Taught Me About Teachers and Change

By Shane Peek - Greenville County Schools


See that plant to the left in the image (below)? Take a glance and you'll spot a magnificent Azalea thriving in my backyard. But here's the twist: three years back, I nearly gave up on it. Despite its potential, it constantly wilted and hardly ever bloomed. Multiple branches were infected, rendering it lopsided and awkward. In short, it wasn't like the picture of vitality you see below - it was not thriving, green, or healthy. After nearly tossing in the towel, I decided to try and relocate it to a new location - I wanted to give it one more chance.  Surprisingly, this journey with an Azalea taught me more about teachers than horticulture.

The Azalea Connection

Let's dig into the Azalea first. After carefully unearthing the plant from its previous spot, I transplanted it to a new location in my backyard.  There was a gentle slope, offering improved drainage with the new soil I mixed in.  While it received enough light, it wasn’t subjected to the scorching South Carolina sun for prolonged periods.  I also provided some breathing room - it was no longer suffocated by neighboring shrubs.

In its new home, it's close to some Bearded Irises my Grandma gave me.  Their chilled lavender hue blooms simultaneously yet in stark contrast to the vibrant fuschia on the Azalea.  Irises bloom and grow big in mid spring, but then wilt back as the heat becomes intense, before dying down with the first frost.  Meanwhile, Azaleas hold onto their green foliage year-round. While my plant was crowded by other evergreens in its original spot, it slowly but surely thrived with its new, complementary neighbors. 

Another tough decision I made was to engage in some strategic pruning. I carefully selected and delicately trimmed away unhealthy portions, aiming to restore balance and vitality. Admittedly, the immediate aftermath wasn't pretty. The Azalea bore the scars of its pruning session - it looked like it had a bad experience with a beautician. However, it was worth it - the results speak for themselves.  It’s healthy, flourishing with fuchsia blossoms and green foliage, and noticeably larger and balanced.

The Azalea to Teacher Connection

Let me shift focus for a moment and make a teacher connection.  Hang with me, please.  When I look at this plant, I cannot help but think about the teachers I’ve worked beside and even my own journey.  Like the Azalea, some teachers find themselves wilted like the Azalea.  Perhaps they’re rooted in soil that is not bringing nourishment.  For some reason or another, growth is not occurring and they’re being crushed by the weight of negativity that may have taken root.  In other cases, some educators are planted by colleagues who are preventing their growth - honestly, some will not thrive near others.  Negative attitudes are infectious, and sometimes we need to be placed with diverse, yet complementary colleagues who help bring out the best in us.  For other teachers, perhaps they’ve been subjected to loads of stress, leaving them scorched by the heat and demands of the profession.  Still, others may feel suffocated because they’ve been unable to spread out and showcase their unique talents and teaching abilities.  All this leaves that teacher feeling trapped, believing their best days and boldest blooms are in the rear-view mirror or in a new career.

But amidst this hard time, there’s hope.  I’ve witnessed it firsthand.  Teachers, like my Azalea, have willingly or reluctantly been relocated.  Some knew the change was needed, while others were less than receptive about restarting in a new classroom, school, grade level, or team.  Admittedly, the transition wasn’t always smooth sailing - there were awkward adjustment periods - and immediate success wasn’t guaranteed, just like the initial shock of transplanting my plant.  However, by shedding old habits or influences, and pruning away responsibilities and patterns, so many teachers found themselves flourishing in their new habitat.  In that new hallway or grade level, they found rejuvenation and began to blossom and grow again.  Perhaps a neighbor down the hall exuded positivity and fresh ideas, pushed them out of their comfort zone, or helped carry the load creating a healthy work environment for all.  Maybe in this new classroom, the soil (or students) provides fresh nourishment and the teacher is willing to embrace innovative ideas with unwavering, fresh support not previously experienced.

Honestly, I may not have had the chance to meet you - there’s only a slim chance our paths have crossed.  But perhaps in reading this, you’ve found something relatable.  Perhaps you’ve found echoes of your own experience - maybe you’re the Azalea. Perhaps you’ve witnessed a teacher bloom magnificently after a change in habitat. You may be an educational leader, with an Azalea in your midst that needs a fresh start.  I don’t envy the conversation you may need to have.  Either way, whether you’re the Azalea or you are the teacher’s mentor, remember this: change can be a catalyst.  While it may include discomfort and even heartache, the potential for growth and rejuvenation far outweigh the temporary pains of change.


About the Author

Shane serves as an Instructional Technology Facilitator with Greenville County Schools where he irons the capes of the true superheroes (teachers). As just one member of a dynamic team, his mission is to grow and equip teachers through professional development, co-teaching, model lessons, growth cycles, and one-on-one brainstorming sessions. To learn more, reach out to Shane by email at or follow him on LinkedIn or X (Twitter) @ShaneRPeek.



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