Each week in our Parent Page newsletter, we profile a faculty or staff member in order to help our internal community get to know each other on a different level. This week's Parent Page will feature a profile on Brooks Bicknell '77 that we thought we would share on The Buzz as well! Check out other Faculty/Staff profiles on our past Parent Pages HERE!
1) How has Proctor evolved during your time here?
I first arrived at Proctor in 1975 as a student. The world was a different place then, as was Proctor. Even since my wife, Mindy, and I arrived at Proctor in 1989, our school has become far more complicated. There is now more parent involvement than before, more accountability, liability, and increased expectations from parents. At the same time, as a result of this evolution, our programs have become far stronger than they were when I was a student here; academically, artistically, athletically.
As this evolution has occurred (and it’s not just at Proctor, it’s within all schools), we have simultaneously shifted responsibility away from students to faculty/staff and parents. I worry that as we work to fill free time with new programs, more supervision, and better offerings, students lose out on tinkering with things, and generally figuring out how to DO things in their day to day life. When I was a student here, we were constantly tinkering with engines, going climbing and exploring in the woodlands, and learning to solve our problems on our own. I think there is real value in this approach to learning, and our challenge as a school is to continue to seek that balance of providing freedom within a framework of structure and accountability where we allow students to fall down and learn how to get up, while understanding the stakes can be high when a student ‘falls down’ at the wrong time.
2) Describe your children's experience here as faculty kids and then as students?
In a word, unbelievable. For my two boys, Jackson ‘11 and Thaddeus ‘15, Proctor has been their life. They were raised on campus with lots of eyes watching them, mentoring them and always having a ‘hero’ to look up to in the student body. There is no way to calculate the impact this type of upbringing has had on their lives. Similarly, it is impossible to separate ‘Proctor’ from my family. We are one in the same. The experiences of my children are centered around the camaraderie we have built with other families raising their children at the same time; the Allens, Southworths, Flemings, Viandiers, Ponds, and Youngs.
However, it was not just the people at Proctor who shaped Jackson and Thaddeus, but the programs as well. Both boys took advantage of Ocean Classroom and Mountain Classroom, and just a few weeks ago Jackson mentioned a day doesn’t go by that he doesn’t think about his Ocean Classroom experience. Last summer he did an internship with immigrant families in Brooklyn, and is planning to study immigration law in law school all because of his experience at Annunciation House on Mountain Classroom. Both Jackson and Thaddeus learned so much about themselves as learners through the work of Kristen Nesbitt and Lori Patriacca in Learning Skills, and both Mindy and I are so thankful for our children’s experience at Proctor.
3) What keeps you energized to teach after 25+ years here?
My job is pretty amazing. I do everything I love to do in my daily life. I teach surveying, architectural design, and history. I get to play music with kids from time to time, and I get to travel the world through my work directing our Spain and Costa Rica programs. On top of that, I work alongside my best friends. Not many people get to have three meals a day (at work) alongside the same friends they choose to vacation with during the summer. That’s the beauty of working at Proctor. So many people in this world go to work and long for the time to come when they can clock out so they can go do what they love to do. Here, we are able to do what we love all day, everyday. Work is simply an extension of what I love to do, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have had this arrangement for my entire career at Proctor.
4) Who are your mentors that you continue to look to for inspiration?
While my folks have always been important in my life, the older I get, the more I appreciate my parents' boundless energy and enthusiasm to evolve and grow as lifelong learners. My dad, who is going to be 90 years old this summer, is a voracious reader and is always challenging people with hard questions. He still flies his own plane to this day, and remains active and engaged in his world. My mom is the same way, she reads the New York Times cover to cover every day, and one better be on their game when they spend time with her because she, too, is always anxious to engage in relevant conversations.
My mentors are people who are both innovators and those who are always willing to question the status quo. At Proctor, David Fowler was this person for me. He encouraged us to ask the hard questions, and then empowered faculty and staff to pursue solutions. The Norris’ (Chris, Kit, Tim, and Susie), the Carvalhos (Bert and Lee), and Wills (Chuck and Sarah) were impactful as honest, great, engaging people to work alongside.
5) How have you grown as a teacher during your time at Proctor?
Over time through studying, reading, thousands of hours in the classroom, in the mountains, and traveling around the world with students, one gains confidence in working with students. As one grows as a teacher, life experiences spill into the classroom, and with age, life becomes the history you are teaching. The experiences Proctor has provided me have led me to become a more effective teacher - being in Morocco during Arab Spring, spending time with Bedouins in the Sahara on camelback, living in Segovia, Spain, mountaineering, hiking on orientation each year. The list goes on and on, but the common thread to all of these experiences is they serve as built-in professional development.
Also, having the opportunity to work during the summer months building and running my own business has given me tremendous perspective on the challenges of running this large, complex organization (Proctor). Simultaneously, it provides me a creative outlet that recharges me for the next school year.
6) What is one piece of advice you would offer to younger faculty members at Proctor?
Do what we ask of our students as faculty members. Don’t just hunker down into what is comfortable in your job description, challenge yourself. Do something different for Project Period, volunteer to coach a new sport, propose a new class. This is the mindset we ask of our students, and we have to live this mindset ourselves if we expect it of our students.