Intuitively, I feel my students’ experiences, reflections, and actions influence who they are and what they do. However, the more I learn about neuroscience, the more research released on brain plasticity and metacognition, the more I realize these intuitions that have guided my work over the past twenty years as a Learning Specialist, and Proctor’s work over the past seventy, are based in scientific fact. Adolescent brain development is a biological process, but it is also a dynamic process that is enhanced through experiences. In other words, what teenagers learn, practice, and think develops neural pathways, which fundamentally restructures their brains over time.
Last evening I watched the late innings of a baseball game against St. Paul’s School. It was a tight one, the score see-sawing back and forth. We’re up, they’re up, then we’re catching up. The sun cut shadow from trees to the west, the outfield was a deep green, the chatter of the benches (and some rowdy fans from Carr House) peppered the evening. I could lean against the white fence near the right field foul pole, my favorite spot on a perfect evening. I could lean against that fence on evenings like that - baseball, no bugs, no wind, warm enough for just a light fleece - for hours.
Little by little the days are getting longer. This week’s sun and warmer temperatures have buoyed our spirits and put a noticeable bounce in everyone’s step. Overnight rain and ice reminded us how closely tied our emotional state can be to the barometric pressure. As we look toward the final three and a half weeks of the Winter Term, we lean into the scaffolding of support that surrounds each of us at Proctor.
I cannot recall a moment over the past five years when there has not been the background noise of construction on Proctor’s campus. The beeping of excavators in reverse, air compressors turning on and off as nail guns adhere new siding to buildings, dump trucks driving in and out of campus. This constant state of construction, while inconvenient at times, illustrates our community’s deep belief in our mission and willingness to invest in Proctor’s future through The Campaign for Proctor. However, visits to classes this week reminded us it is not just our campus that is under constant construction, but our students brains are works in progress as well.
Early in his career former Proctor Academy Head of School Lyle Farrell (1952-1971) worked alongside Dr. Samuel T. Orton to pioneer the psychometrics and pedagogy of reading disabilities. Farrell would take what he learned from Orton and establish the nation's leading tutorial support system for college-bound, dyslexic students in the early 1950s at Proctor. Through intentional programming aimed at helping young dyslexic boys, the predecessor to Proctor’s Learning Skills program changed countless young people’s lives.
I’m a planner; always have been, and despite the constant encouragement of colleagues to embrace spontaneity, probably always will be. I like to know ahead of time what is on the day’s agenda (and may or may not have a compulsion to lay my clothes out for the following day each night before falling asleep). It’s, as chemistry teacher Ian Hamlet says, “Just how my operating system works.” As such, Sunday evenings are spent looking at the week ahead and planning what Proctor narratives will emerge given scheduled events. Off-campus program blogs, Mike’s Notes, Team Spotlights, guest posts by faculty or staff all laid out in a nice orderly fashion so our team can see what gaps may exist as we try to help share the Proctor story with others.
When I saw the image below (thanks Lindsey for another awesome set of photos this week!), I immediately shared on social media and fell in love with the visual of these pigeons carefully putting one foot in front of the other, hoping to not fall through the freshly formed ice on the Proctor Pond. After admiring the photo further, so much of the emotional journey we’ve been on over the past week came into focus.
As we approach the end of September, students have navigated their first major assessments in their classes and have settled into a rhythm at Proctor. This week and into next, parents, advisors, dorm parents, coaches, and students will begin to receive the first Official Notes from classroom teachers reflecting on these first few weeks of class. The short, informative comments included in these notes provide insights to each student’s recent performance in class, but more importantly, serve as the foundation of an on-going narrative we use to engage students in reflection upon their own growth.