July 3, 2020
Sean James
Sean James
This month, Landscape Ontario magazine introduces a new feature to shine a spotlight on educators in the landscape trades. Whether they teach via a formal institution, an event stage, or a Landscape Ontario classroom, these great mentors share a passion for passing on their knowledge, experience and expertise for the betterment of others and the profession.

Sean James, owner of Sean James Consulting and Design in Milton, Ont., is a Master Gardener, writer, public speaker and teaches in the Apprenticeship program at Mohawk College. James is well-known for sharing his passion for eco-friendly gardening.

What experience and education do you have that qualifies you to be a teacher?

I was one of 12 people fortunate enough to graduate from the Niagara Parks School of Horticulture back in 1991. Also, I’ve been interested in horticulture since I was four, and started landscaping when I was 14. I have many years of experience (successes AND failures) to pass on.

Why did you start teaching?

When I first started teaching about 14 years ago, it was about legacy; leaving a mark by passing on what I knew. It’s become much more than that, guiding the next generation of horticulturists to repair our world and run businesses better, improving how we treat our teammates and finding a better life balance.

What qualities make you a successful teacher?

I found a hobby that became a career, so I’ve got a boatload of enthusiasm and experience, hopefully in the right proportions. I also don’t like not knowing things, which makes me a constant learner. I think that is a must for any good teacher.

How would you describe your teaching style?

I aim for ‘easy going and folksy.’ I bounce around enough to be interesting, sharing stories beyond the basic curriculum that the students can learn from, but also getting into the deep end of the pool, horticulturally and environmentally.

What advice do you have for others who may want to teach?

If you don’t LOVE it and if you don’t LOVE people, then don’t do it. You also have to know how to present — it’s not just droning out facts. A good teacher makes lives better, but a bad teacher can ruin people.

What is it about the landscape and horticulture profession that inspires you?

Gardening, more than any other profession, can change the world! WE know about stewarding soil, and how to grow plants to save the bees and monarchs. WE know how to improve food security and sequester carbon. Gardening improves health (mental and physical), improves productivity and adds beauty to the world. We deserve capes, and seeing students get that – really absorb it – is wonderful.

What is one life lesson or mistake you made that you try to teach others, so they can avoid making the same mistake?

I teach many things about plants and design, but the safety stories I tell, based on events in my life, have huge impacts and a great trickle-down. Also, there’s the bigger picture that ‘todays’ lesson is not what it’s about, but rather a tiny taste of all that there is to learn.

What is the hardest part about teaching?

The hardest part about teaching is also one of the best. Horticulture is replete with different types of learners and trying to figure out how to help as many of those different types of brains is the toughest, yet most rewarding, part.

What is the best class or lesson you’ve ever taught?

I think my new two-part lesson on soils and the things living in it for the City School program is the most important, generating even more energy from me than usual, and is therefore the best.

Do you have any students that have gone on to be very successful?

I love watching my students move through the world, beyond what I’ve offered them. TWO of my former students have gone on to become teachers. Some of their students have become mine. Some of those who’ve graduated from my program have sent their employees through the apprenticeship program. Seeing the changes that they make, and how they take their lessons and pass them on, makes everything worthwhile!
Do you know an inspiring educator? Email your suggestion to robert@landscapeontario.com.