In the last two years, our country and our culture has been put to the test. Pushed to our limits, at least for some of us, it sometimes feels like “the center cannot hold.” Working with and holding hope for adults and teenagers through one of the rockiest periods in recent memory definitely has had its challenges. Even the most stalwart of folks strain to stay healthy while empathy, patience, and the ability to self-regulate too often feel in short supply.
Ostensibly, this piece is about self-regulation and healthy decision-making as a school community. How can students, all of our children, make good choices when they sometimes see the adults around them who are not prioritizing the same thing? Collectively, we have been in the business of educating children for decades and have seen it all. According to some, this pandemic period was supposed to be a very temporary layover–perhaps a month or two. As you know, we are now starting year three of what appears to be a real-life test of determination and will. In the end, our children, and we, will be fine.
I believe we must do the following to feel like we can maintain our collective equilibrium:
1. NORMALIZING A HEALTHY COMMUNITY:
Since Proctor strives to be a community that normalizes and prioritizes its health, we have seen our students doing the same. We are not perfect, but we do our best–everyday. We wear our masks and our walking casts. We make sure that we don’t go long periods of time without getting outdoors or into the gym. We thank people when they do nice things for us. We feel gratitude when we see how much we have been given and how much we have.
2. TAKING GOOD CARE:
We also hold space in classrooms to discuss behaviors and actions where we might fall short. For instance, the students in freshman and sophomore seminar classes understand when they and their teachers need a bit more time and attention to take care of themselves. Many of them say so to each other and to their seminar teachers. They note when classmates or teachers tend to be on edge. They tell a trusted adult that they are worried about someone. They often speak about what they are worrying about in class with their teachers, and also check in with them. Being vulnerable enough to call out where we fall short is the mark of growing maturity.
3. TALK IS NOT CHEAP:
The Wellness Team meets regularly to discuss individual students who may be struggling. They prioritize the health and safety of the community in small and large ways. We all care whether or not someone is struggling, and we all want to know what we can do to make things better. We also will intervene with students when we feel they can make better and more reasoned choices to take care of themselves and the community.
4. MAKING TOUGH DECISIONS:
When it seems that people within the community cannot make good choices or if they repeatedly exhibit patterns of behavior that go against norms, we as a school community can, and have, made the decision to send that person home. For students, the infractions noted in our handbooks are clear, but when someone is struggling to connect with other peers or trusted adults, and all of our efforts seem not to work, we pull parents in to let them know what we are seeing. If our interventions continue to fail, we then have and will make the tough call to send someone home.
5. PRIORITIZING BELOVED COMMUNITY:
We have to continue to double down on defining Proctor “to be the healthiest school possible understanding, valuing, and connecting individuals to community with compassion, integrity and growth.” Without a guiding ethos, we allow students and adults to drift into a relativistic “do what you want” or “do what makes you feel good” territory. We resist that way of thinking and being. We make and take time to think and reflect during the school day or at assembly to build an awareness that what we put into our minds and bodies impacts all of us. Our community reinforces who we are.
We become the healthiest school possible by constantly defining what that looks like to us. We must resist the urge to be pulled into negative patterns that make up other communities or that we see in the national spotlight.
As we work to help raise healthy children and productive young people, may we remember to stay in conversation and partnership with each other. Let us imagine an even brighter future together because we believe and know we can.
Brian W. Thomas, Proctor Academy Head of School