In case you missed it, giant pumpkins have been in the news. While we have
been attending to our teaching and various daily obligations, monitoring
presidential debates or developments in the Middle East, the world of giant
pumpkin growing was being rocked by the first one-ton world champion – 2009
pounds! – grown in Rhode Island and certified at the nearby Topsfield Fair.
It turns out that growing giant pumpkins has some interesting parallels to life
at Landmark School. The art of growing giant pumpkins, like the art and science of
teaching language remediation, is a relatively recent discipline. From the turn of
the century until the 1970s, prizewinners weighed a mere 400 pounds. The first
pumpkin to break the 1,000 pound barrier was grown in 1996. But the internet
and the fraternity of pumpkin growers proved to be a synergistic match.
If you google ‘giant pumpkin growing’ you now see over a million hits with
associations in most states and many countries, and genial mottoes like this
one from NH: “Dedicated to the sport of growing giant pumpkins in the spirit
of learning, teaching and cooperation.” Giant pumpkin growers are a very
competitive bunch, but the nature of that competition is clearly infused with a
cooperative passion to extend the limits of their unique horticultural pursuit.
Growers follow each other’s activities avidly. They trade stories, seeds, tips,
techniques, regimens, and recommendations. They visit each other’s patches,
try to outdo each other, but also celebrate mutual achievements fraternally and
gloriously. Watch the video taken at the Topsfield Fair if you need proof.
Both the field of dyslexia research and the quest to grow giant pumpkins
have exploded with information in recent decades. Pumpkin growers shared
information so rapidly and productively thanks to the internet that the prospect
of a 2000 pound pumpkin – regarded as an impossibility back in the 80s –
was projected in 2014 by some pumpkin pundits. As we now know, that was
a conservative prediction by two full years. Those of us who work in the field
of language-based learning disabilities look back to the 70s and 80s with
astonishment. Our field has evolved remarkably as well, with research and
biographies and awareness multiplying daily. Just as giant pumpkins tip the scale
at increasingly heavy weights, we may be experiencing a tipping point too: as
the concept of a dyslexic “advantage” in many fields gains traction and validation.
Landmark reminds me a bit of the pumpkin growers associations. At the
Elementary-Middle School (EMS), approximately 70 people are involved in direct
instruction for 150 students. EMS is a relatively small campus for a school this
size, and people do not have their own offices, classrooms, or even their own
tutorial cubbies because of the constant need to share space. One positive of
this is the collective wisdom that floats through the school in a variety of ways.
Because folks need to access information from a variety of locations, and as
paper files have given way inevitably to digital resources, everyone has everyone
else’s ideas available to them. Materials can be accessed on faculty servers,
added to, edited, and reconfigured for the benefit of all. Inservices are key
at Landmark, and the best inservices are generally those where colleagues
share their insights and experience with others. Even the inadequacy of the
physical layout on campus – in terms of personal space – means that colleagues
are “bumping into” each other all day. The faculty lounges are an appropriate
size for about 10 people and serve over 50. The Case Managers share two
spaces among 13 individuals. Because of this, ideas get shared everywhere and
anywhere, all day. It’s a very different model than some schools, where teachers
are isolated in their own classrooms and supervisors have their own offices. Yet
it has its benefits in terms of accelerated crowd-sourced wisdom.
Giant pumpkin growers and teachers at Landmark have a shared experience:
the personal commitment and competition to be the best you can be, combined
with a sense that everything you find out from or share with colleagues ultimately
benefits the whole community. They say pumpkin growers can actually see their
giants growing in the latter stages, as the pumpkins pack on 30-50 pounds a
day! Even though it’s only October, we can see our students growing too. It’s
a palpable feeling here at Landmark. The students who arrived just after Labor
Day are already more relaxed, more confident, and more trusting. Whether you
are a pumpkin, a teacher, or a student, under the right conditions it’s amazing the
potential that can be realized and the growth that can occur.
Submitted by Rob Kahn, Head of Landmark’s Elementary/Middle School