As we walk through our daily life, a silent voice speaks over our shoulder with every decision we make, “Don’t mess up. People are watching. Don’t mess up.” In a world where our work, and consequently our learning, takes place in more of a public forum than ever before, we wrestle with the dichotomy of perfection and learning, a fear of failure and need for experimentation. How do we fight back against this fear of failure? At Proctor, we believe it’s a fight worth fighting.
Our students arrive on campus each fall from more than 25 states and 13 countries. Regardless of cultural norms, prior educational experiences, or family dynamics, one constant exists: a deep understanding of the fear of failure in their own lives.
Research tells us some kids can handle pressure more effectively than others. We know there are benefits to holding adolescents to high expectations. At the same time, the pressures our students feel around college admission and performance in all areas of their lives continue to mount.
As a school, we experience this pressure as well. We feel the need to ‘be’ more to our students and their families as we offer more athletic programs, more arts, more extracurriculars, more externally apparent academic rigor, nicer facilities, customized programs. We operate our school knowing we must offer more to attract students (plus we believe there are real benefits to our students customizing their educational experience), but in the back of our minds we know offering more is not always best for our students.
How do we carve out the necessary time to self-reflect, recharge, and shift our focus beyond the weeds of our daily life to long-term strategic goals that are far grander than simply making it through the day? If we are having a hard time answering this question as an institution, how do our students feel?
How does a school of 370 students in rural New Hampshire fight a global trend of increased expectations and a ubiquitous culture of ‘more’? We know we will not be able to shift an entire culture, but we do believe Proctor can serve as a powerful example of how intentional educational curriculum rooted in experiential learning, personalized academics, and a supportive community can reduce a fear of failure in adolescents.
When we listen to the voices of our students in the video above, we hear an uncharacteristic self-awareness. It’s a self-awareness that translates into powerful self-advocacy skills in college (and beyond) and empowers students to take risks during high school. We cannot teach our students to overcome a fear of failure, but through exposing students to Proctor's educational model, that fear of failure will eventually erode as students take academic and social risks and experience deep learning along the way. We believe sharing Proctor's model far and wide can begin to shift the educational landscape and affect societal change. Who's in?