The Journey: Head's Day Rigor and Relief

Posted by Brian Thomas


Yesterday was the second Head’s Day that I have been a part of at Proctor. Our students were informed the night before by an email and video that told them that they would be getting a much needed day to rest and kick back a little. At Proctor, and other schools like ours, we do get to breathe every now and then to unwind a little bit from the rigors of school.


Don’t be fooled by our seemingly relaxed nature. Our Proctor model is a different kind of rigor, which in our parlance means increasing complexity of thought, work, and engagement. You can see it in our model when kids are in their classes trying to explain an equation to their teachers and guides or when students formulate a question in a humanities class that has no easy answer to a guest speaker. Complexity of thought – and purpose – are things that we aspire to be and at which we do exceedingly well.


That’s why a day like Head’s Day is important to be able to “shake it off, shake off” – as our friend Taylor Swift might say. After the students and the adults were informed about Heads Day, many immediately left and went back to their dorms to feel the gratitude in their bones that, and maybe for once in a long while, they were caught up in a class. Or, they joined Ryan Graumann, Cheka Venture, Josie Sanchez, and me inside the gym at the Farrell Field House to play basketball, throw a football or lacrosse ball around, or just sit on the sidelines to bask in the warm glow of an impending day away. From a letting one’s hair down perspective, Head’s Day fits the bill. 

Some of the things we got to do today on Head’s day: Polar Swim, a Dunkin's Run, smoothie bar at brunch, Tuckers breakfast in New London, Ragged Mountain ski trip, sledding, hot cocoa/tea & cookies, music at the Coffee House, a Blood Drive for the American Red Cross, Walk around Kezar Lake/ Hannaford’s run, open gym, open Slocumb, Open Skate at the Teddy Maloney Ice Rink, Owl Prowl night hike, a tea party, trip to Tilton Outlet Mall, and finally eating pizzas and playing board games at the Head’s House. We do know how to pull back and have fun at Proctor.


That is part of the magic - which underscores Proctor is high school and not college - that students take their work and the use of their time seriously, and the way to promote a healthier community is to schedule in time to enjoy the fruits of their labor and the beauty of our 2500 acre woods–and beyond.

All around the campus on Head’s Day, people enjoyed what we do best, our super power: they reveled in each other’s company. They had a late brunch. They slept until 11:00 AM. They cleaned their room. They went shopping and to breakfast with friends. They maneuvered in the embrace of a campfire moment.

You know the moment I’m talking about where if someone leaves around the circle and comforts a cozy campfire, you miss their presence. You physically feel their absence. That’s, again, from Charles Vogel. Well, we very much enjoyed the crackle of each other’s lights today.

The power and purpose of relationships are centering moments. It’s the wonder in the work of many indigenous tribes that I have studied and known, where the natural world and that of humans intersect harmoniously. 

Throughout this time with each other, Proctor people were grateful for being given the day. The hugeness of their task lifted for just a little bit. Like Albert Camus’ Sisyphus, looking up the mountain before beginning again. In our world, you either feel the hugeness of the work you do and it impacts/derails other parts of your life, or you learn how to downshift and don’t feel that pressure so much. We are learning and teaching how to go hard and to think hard as well as how to kick back and relax. There is increasing complexity involved in this active stand. It’s planning to shift gears with the dedication of enlivening and enriching one’s own experience at Proctor. 


I love what we do and who we are at Proctor. We are grateful to be given the time and allowed to take time away from our achingly busy lives. We certainly know how to do increasingly harder things, complex things. May we keep learning the art of “relax” and the power of “us,” every day, all day. 


Brian W. Thomas, Proctor Academy Head of School 

Curated Listening:

Traditions and rituals are vital to consistency, knitting together the disconnected yarn into something more cohesive. The song that my family and I listened to every single night, signaling with purpose, so that we would downshift to our bedtime routine is Kenny Loggins and Jim Messina’s “House at Pooh Corner '': HERE.


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