Academic Lens: Becoming Students

Posted by Scott Allenby


The notion of project based learning was the catalyst for Proctor’s revitalization in the early 1970's when newly appointed Head of School David Fowler, Assistant Head of School Chris Norris, and many others drove the school in a new and exciting direction. For the past forty years, Proctor has led the educational world in experimenting with student-centered, project-based learning, and has developed rich school culture that intuitively embraces the core principals of student-centered learning. We understand, however, that we must never become complacent with our teaching practices, and must continue to identify new and exciting ways to bring real world problem solving into the daily life of of our students. In order to do this, we must spend intentional time BEING students. 

Proctor Academy Boarding School Academics Experiential Learning

Monday’s professional development day was dedicated to small teacher groups working together to develop student-centered academic projects to be utilized during the Winter Term. The interdisciplinary collaboration began at the end of the Fall Term as groups identified potential content areas and discussed the driving questions that would serve as the cornerstone of the student centered projects.

Proctor Academy Boarding School Academics Experiential Learning

Most small groups had a shared focus, whether by academic discipline or through intentional interdepartmental collaboration, with Proctor’s seventeen Learning Specialists each joining a group to ensure the Learning Skills perspective remain core to curriculum development. The structure of today’s workshop mirrored the steps a class would take as it developed and implemented a student-centered project. As faculty developed their driving questions (just as students would do in a class), and outlined the essential elements of student-centered, project-based learning, they discussed opportunities for sustained inquiry, authenticity, student choice/voice, reflection, critique/revision, and eventually a final, public product.

Proctor Academy Boarding School Academics Experiential Learning

Social Science teacher Fiona Mills (who helped orchestrate the workshop alongside Learning Specialist Linda Sargent and Technology Integrator Adam Jones) reflected on the morning’s work, “I was totally energized as I walked around the room and heard groups engaging in thoughtful discussions about the best ways to implement student-centered project-based learning in their classrooms. I left today's session feeling grateful to work in a community that challenges teachers to think differently about teaching best practices and supports this type of pedagogical inquiry."

Proctor Academy Boarding School Academics Experiential Learning

During the reflection phase of the workshop, faculty offered anonymous feedback about their own learning process. One faculty member wrote, “It was fun to work with colleagues from different departments. We all have unique perspectives and talents to share.” Another reflected, “Working with a group of colleagues makes the task seem so much more doable.” And yet another, "Collaborating/working together and saying our ideas out loud generates more ideas and makes me even more excited to teach." 

Proctor Academy Boarding School Academics Experiential Learning

As classes begin Tuesday morning, and we welcome back the thirty-one students who studied off-campus during the Fall Term, we are excited about the journey that lies ahead in each of our academic classes. While some courses naturally lend themselves to a hands-on approach (try studying surveying, acting, or forestry without tackling student-centered projects!), the educational philosophy undergirding every class, advisory group, dorm community, and athletic team at Proctor is student-centered. Many thanks to all those who helped kick-off the Winter Term with a powerful day of professional development!

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