Natural learning requires the transfer and construction of knowledge. Spend time with toddlers as they explore the world around them. They touch, feel, taste, form a hypothesis, test the hypothesis, evaluate their findings, and then explore again. Over the last two days, faculty have engaged in professional development conversations exploring the learning cycle and how we can deepen our own understanding of how to create classroom experiences that encourage students to ask questions and pursue understanding. How do we give our students the autonomy to act, to actively question the world around them? How do we pursue our best selves?
The power of Proctor’s academic model lies in both the breadth and depth of academic pursuits. A single student’s path through Proctor may take them on multiple off-campus programs, summer internships, AP courses, Project Periods, and a summer service trip. They will customize their journey by taking a minimum of three art courses and three technology courses in addition to English, Social Science, Science, Math, and World Language classes, all while benefiting from the nation’s leading integrated academic support program - Learning Skills. Despite over 135 course offerings, individual classes do not differentiate Proctor from other independent schools. Instead, the entirety of the Proctor experience, and the collective opportunities available to students, set us apart.
At the heart of Proctor’s educational model is the belief adolescents learn most deeply when they engage hands-on with their learning. Five years ago, Proctor launched a biannual Innovation Night to elevate the great work happening in our classrooms. Each fall and spring, we gather as a community to not only celebrate the work of our students, but to learn about the important issues they are wrestling with in their classes.
I am traveling this week, criss-crossing the country from Atlanta to San Francisco, which is where I am today near Union Square. I can’t help but wander over to the Apple Store at times, venturing in to ogle the newest products. How could I not? There, on the front of the store, a huge photograph advertises the AirPod noise cancelling headphones, the newest iteration of a wildly popular little knobby white knuckles people are popping in their ears all over the world to listen to music and podcasts and to talk on the phone. I had to try them out, and I have to admit to being impressed. But this got me thinking about whether education is simply a product that goes through iterative phases. It made me a little uneasy.
“Voice can take a long time to come all the way out, brother.” Bobby said. “Be patient.” These words jumped off the page of Tommy Orange’s There There as John Around Him discussed the book with Proctor’s American Literature students. This notion of voice, of who has the courage (and privilege) to share their voice, and who will listen when they finally do, cuts through an American Literature curriculum to the core of how we empower students to live lives that matter.
The steady stream of prospective families through our Admissions Office over the past month resulted in a 20% increase in October tours over our five year average. While a far-too-early indicator of enrollment numbers for the 2020-2021 school year, it is a data point. There’s something intriguing about this random school plopped on 2,500 acres in the Blackwater River valley between Ragged Mountain and Mount Kearsarge. So what is it? Why are families interested in Proctor when all of the data shared by the Enrollment Management Association (EMA) and TABS on independent boarding school enrollment trend the opposite direction?
Crafting a mission statement is an impossible task. How, in a paragraph or two, can you capture the entirety of a complex learning community like Proctor? How can you concisely provide the north star toward which your school constantly works? We talk about our core values and key programs, but one short phrase in the middle of our mission statement cuts to the very heart of our beliefs about education: We recognize the potential of each member of the community to stretch beyond what had been thought possible.
I think back on my middle-school days as the worst part of my youth. My school (like most middle-schools I’m sure) was a sea of insecurity. Kids combatted their fears of exclusion by labeling and othering. These categories created a sense of security and belonging for some, and a sense of loneliness and longing for others. I became more concerned with how I was being seen by others than figuring out my own interests and passions. I thought one day, after observing a popular eighth-grade boy named John strut through the halls with a confident swagger, this kid knows who he is, he has it all figured out. I later mimicked his mannerisms, constructing my identity around what appeared to be the culturally accepted and lauded one.