Academic Lens: The Foundation for Learning

Posted by Scott Allenby


About a week from now, the 2017 Proctor Magazine will be arriving in mailboxes around the country. A theme woven throughout this year’s magazine centers on the necessity of building a strong foundation for each of our students. Understanding the complex lives of adolescents, the often conflicting priorities they feel (which is more important: sleep or studying?), and our role as adults helping them navigate the daily decisions they make are all critical to nurturing a vibrant learning community.


During our start of year faculty meetings, Academic Dean Derek Nussbaum Wagler shared his perspective on the Profile of a Proctor Graduate and how our work as educators strengthens each student’s root system as they attempt to grow. The brain must be ready and willing to welcome new information in order for deep learning to take place, just as plants require fertile soil to flourish. It is on this premise we seek to collectively prepare the foundation for learning for each of our students by focusing on their lives outside of the classroom as much as their life in the classroom.


While our work as advisors, dorm parents, and coaches are ‘non-academic’ in nature, it is through these roles we have an enormous impact on a student’s journey through Proctor. Below are a few reminders we are hammering home with our students during these first few weeks of classes in an effort to adequately prepare their minds and bodies for the learning that will take place in each of the 135 courses offered this year. 


Wellness Matters:

Whether it is talking about sleep hygiene in advisory, walking through healthy eating options in the dining hall with your team, making sure every student is getting outside to exercise in some form or another, or meeting the health center staff during dorm meetings, our focus on the importance wellness plays in our students’ learning has never been more clear. We know teenagers want to push boundaries, and we encourage our students to enjoy the independence that accompanies boarding school life. At the same time, we recognize 14-18 year olds need guidance as they make decisions. As students navigate these first weeks at Proctor, our goal is to continually remind them how important it is to fuel their body through sleep, healthy diet, and exercise. We take our motto (Live to Learn. Learn to Live.) seriously and we want to make sure our students are learning to lead healthy lives. 


Trust Matters

We often celebrate the wonderful accomplishments of our students. We highlight the engaging courses offered, off-campus programs, and unquestionable sense of community that is Proctor. We focus on the good because it is what attracts families to our school. While we will always celebrate the good, developing trusting relationships between faculty and students is often developed as we navigate the brokenness that is inevitably a part of a community.  Because we live in a world where there is hurt, our educational model rooted deeply in trusting relationships becomes even more important. We are there to listen to each other when we need to be heard.

David Augsburger writes, “Being heard is so close to being loved that for the average person, they are almost indistinguishable.” We must not underestimate the impact we have on our students by simply being there to listen. As we listen, trust develops. As we trust, we become comfortable with our strengths AND our weaknesses in the classroom. The stigma of a learning difference fades away, and in its place we find strategies to capitalize on strengths and overcome weaknesses. With trust there is no judgment, and this trust that permeates our classrooms unlocks learning for adolescents like nothing we've ever seen. It takes time to develop, but that is why these early weeks are so important as we lay the foundation for learning. 


Confidence Matters

A few years ago, Jacob ‘13 gave a Pete Talk in assembly that so eloquently encapsulated the importance of self-confidence to the learning process at Proctor:

I, too, once felt the fear of being different constituted a weakness. Now I understand that our differences are our greatest strengths. Only at a place like Proctor, where our differences are not only tolerated, but embraced, can we discover the ways we can best discover how to contribute to the world at large. At Proctor, students, faculty, staff, literally everyone who is touched by this community is one step closer to finding their place in the world. If there is one bit of advice I can offer you all before I end my time here it is this: don't be afraid of who you are. You'll never make a difference in the world until you find out what truly sets you apart.”

Four and a half years later, Jacob’s advice is what each of our students needs to hear during these first few weeks of the school year: Be confident in who you are while remaining open to who you could become. Like trust, self-confidence is a key ingredient in preparing a foundation for learning for our students.

Click here to see Proctor's academic model in action! 


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