The Unforeseen Beauty in Listening

Posted by Scott Allenby

04/03/2020

Two summers ago, my family had the opportunity to take advantage of Proctor’s Summer Enrichment Program (mini-sabbatical of sorts). We spent sixteen days driving over 5,000 miles around the American west in a campervan. I mapped the route meticulously months in advance. 

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Unplanned road-side bathroom breaks for the small-bladdered among us, requests to explore just a little further, buffalo jams en route to Jackson, torrential rains in Yellowstone, and miscalculated Google Map estimates quickly turned my itinerary into nothing more than optimism. The discomfort I felt as I saw my carefully mapped plan slowly unravel was real. My kids asked what was wrong, and I stumbled over my reply. I wanted to verbally express the detrimental, cascading impact that their needing to pee five times in a two hour chunk of driving had on MY plan, but the reality was that nothing was wrong. It was different than I had envisioned, but not wrong. 

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My messaging quickly had to shift from frustration to openness, from forging ahead to stopping and listening, from “what could have been” to “what is”. We found ourselves exploring roads too small to show up on our AAA map, no-GPS to guide us, just a general sense of where we needed to go and how long it might take to get us there. Our end goal did not change (we still made it to our destination each day), but our path did. We encountered untouched beauty by going off-script. We met strangers who made our world just a bit brighter that day than it otherwise would have been, by turning left when we should have turned right. We learned to listen to voices other than our own, to value the wisdom in other’s optimism, to understand that things "going according to plan" and being “right” are not synonymous. 

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As we wrap up week one of remote learning at Proctor, we are all feeling a flood of emotions: relief that we made it through a full week of online classes, frustration we cannot be on campus with our students, and hope that more went well with our remote classes than we anticipated. Earlier today we asked students, parents, and teaching faculty for their feedback on the first week of classes. The response in a few short hours has been overwhelming. Paragraph responses from students appreciating the efforts of their teachers and acknowledging how hard it must be to transition an entire course online in a week’s time. Parents sharing appreciation for advisors who are going above and beyond to connect with their children. Faculty reflecting how much they are learning about themselves. 

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There is critical feedback as well - our class blocks are too long, we are asking our students to spend too much time on screens, and, of course, the ever-present issues of connectivity foiling best laid class plans - but we are on our way. Through the feedback of our students, parents, and teachers we have been able to embrace a shift from “what could have been” to “what is”. We are not on our path of choice this spring, but we are forging ahead toward that familiar destination of student connection and growth and encountering unforeseen beauty along the way. 

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