I have had the opportunity to talk to 6th-grade social studies teacher and school garden coordinator, William "Billy" Giblin, about his experience with school gardening. Giblin has been teaching for 20 years now, and his passion for school gardening began around seven years ago when he needed a change in his teaching. He noticed that his students were frustrated with school and conventional teaching methods, and it was hard to motivate them. Searching for options, Giblin found school gardens. The idea of having a school garden seemed new and exciting, so Giblin took a leap of faith and started the project.
I asked Giblin what guidance he would give to other in-service or preservice teachers thinking about incorporating gardens into their schools. He said that while you have to be willing to jump into the project and the unknown, baby steps are necessary to test your limits and gauge the community’s response to the incorporation of a school garden. Giblin told me in our interview that he “took a chance,” and it is important to be flexible with your initial plans. He started with only a greenhouse and lots of grant writing. As I am learning more about school gardens myself, I have found that one of the main barriers for many schools is access to funding and resources, and grants are one option.
The Joy of Learning Alongside Students.
In the garden, learning is constant for both Giblin and his students. Giblin assured me that he did not know much about gardens or gardening going into this project; however, it created a setting of trust and community to learn alongside his students. There is curriculum everywhere, which can be seen through the activities Giblin’s students complete.
They usually gather in a circle before entering the garden, which serves as a space where students can ground themselves and prepare for working in the garden by establishing goals. From there, they have several options: nature sensory walks, garden work, or outdoor stations. Giblin believes in student choice. He allows students to stay away from the garden and work elsewhere because most times they will decide to join in when they are ready.
Giblin aims to facilitate learning with a project-based approach in which students can actively engage with the materials and tools that are provided to them. Ultimately, Giblin wants the garden to be an inclusive space where all students can learn and thrive.
Giblin Working with Students in the Garden
There are always setbacks, Giblin explained. There are some factors that you cannot change, such as weather and climate change. It is easy to get into the trap of “feeling behind” because there is always work to be done with the garden. It is hard to manage uncontrollable factors with getting the work done all while managing your own time as a teacher and managing your students’ time. However, the positives outweigh the negatives for Giblin. These factors are simply part of the work, and it pays off to be able to see students in a different light when they work in the garden.
Giblin’s ultimate goal is for the garden to become a farm, looking to places like Durham’s Hub Farm for inspiration. He would love to see more public school access to gardens and more use of outdoor classes overall. Since our meeting, Giblin has graduated from Elon with a Master of Education Degree. We look forward to seeing what he accomplishes in the future, and we wish him all the best in this work.
For More Information:
Giblin’s Instagram: @wgiblin5
NCSGN Instagram: @ncschoolgardennetwork
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