Academic Lens: How Being a Beginner Makes Us Better

Posted by Scott Allenby


Normally my winters are spent in the gym coaching one of Proctor’s basketball teams or one of my three kid’s local rec teams. But with youth basketball programs on hiatus until later this winter due to COVID-19 and Proctor on an extended break, I decided this winter would be a great time to dust off the Nordic skis that usually get one or two uses a year. 

Ski 3

Shortly after we received a record-breaking 40 inch snowfall in mid-December, I clipped into my twenty-year old skinny skis and hit the trails at the Proctor Ski Area. Even a basketball-guy like me knew how perfect the conditions were. I hacked my way around the freshly groomed loop, shuffled to navigate corners, elevated my heart rate on the hills (probably more because of improper form than actual work rate), and found glimpses of rhythm on the flats. Confidence cautiously brewing, I began the process of descending (always a harrowing experience) the largest decline of the course. Ahead, I saw Head of School Mike Henriques and his wife, Betsy, coming my direction. Both experienced Nordic skiers, they did a double take realizing who was careening their way, the wrong direction, on the trail and smiled at me. It was a smile that simultaneously said “Wow, I didn’t know you skied, you look like incredibly awkward and out of control” and “It’s so good to see you out here”. In my attempt to slow down to say hello, my tips crossed and I face planted at their feet. Skis askew, poles yard-saled around me, body twisted on the ground, all I could do was smile up at them, fully embracing my ineptness, and manage a comment about how nice it was to be out enjoying the trails. It was not one of my more graceful moments, but it was valuable nonetheless. 

Proctor Academy Remote Classroom Covid-19

You see, COVID-19 has turned each of us into beginners. Novice mask wearers, social distancers, quarantiners, and remote educators. We stumbled our way through the first few months (and in many ways continue to stumble today). But we also are learning at an incredible rate, and just as infants must take risks as they learn to walk, we have much to gain from being a beginner once again. It's so good for us. 

Proctor Academy Remote Classroom Covid-19

Academic Dean Derek Nussbaum Wagler shared this Wall Street Journal article with our faculty earlier this week, thanking our teachers for embracing the obstacles, challenges, and rapid evolution required of being thrust into a COVID-19 classroom. It is easy to get comfortable, to develop routines that work for you, to feel as though you are an expert. But one of COVID-19's greatest lessons may be in helping us recognize the value of disruption, the need to step back, try new things, fail, and look freshly at a long endured problem. It is this perspective we will take into today's first remote classes of 2021 and it is this mindset that has allowed for the successful launch of our winter off-campus programs over the past week. 

Proctor Academy Winter Ocean Classroom Program

Right now European Art Classroom (based in Arizona this winter), Mountain Classroom, and Winter Ocean Classroom are embarking on terms off campus. Each of these programs will look different than they did in the past, but they are happening because our program directors and educators embraced the beginner's mindset and evolved their programs. They relearned to walk, quickly, and the 25 students studying off-campus this winter on these programs will be the beneficiaries of this perseverance. 

This is simply what we do at Proctor. It is how we nurture our students when they encounter unforeseen challenges, personal struggles, or new opportunities, it is what our faculty and staff do when a global pandemic upends our normal operations, and it is what we work to do institutionally as a shifting landscape necessitates change. 

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