The Journey: Holding Students and Each Other Accountable

Posted by Brian Thomas


This past weekend, members of Proctor’s Administrative Team spoke in front of the Board of Trustees at the regularly scheduled meeting in May. Led by Academic Dean Derek Nussbaum Wagler, with a major assist from the Teaching and Learning Team, along with Learning Specialist Lori Patriacca, Head Librarian Heidi Thoma, Mathematics Department Chair Bill O'Brien, and chemistry teacher Sue Houston, we heard how Proctor’s experiential approach to learning transcends off-campus programs to our on-campus classes and programs. 

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Lori, Bill, Heidi, and Sue gave vivid accounts of how math, chemistry, and the academic concentrations work to pull students out of their seats and into active and kinesthetic learning that they will remember long after students have left a unit or even a class. Each member of the faculty spoke to the galvanizing impact that adults have on students' learning and how students at Proctor get to see some of their highest aspirations start in our classrooms, resonating out towards off-campus programs.

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Before our colleagues spoke about what they do in their classes and in designing new curriculum, seniors Trey Chickering, Sasha Mackenzie, Katherine Flanagan, and Hank McCabe discussed their overall academic experiences and what we might do to improve upon Proctor's good work. Each had cogent stories to tell about their individual journeys at Proctor as well as advice to give. With permission, Trey is allowing me to share further reflections with you all on how Proctor might be even better at ensuring students have a much more even experience while at Proctor. He does what good Proctor students do; he analyzes the problem while offering solutions, particularly ways in which the adults in the community can ratchet up the accountability for students and our programs. Trey writes his reflections in the form of a letter to me, less than an hour after he presented to the Board of Trustees last Saturday, May 7, 2022. Here is that letter:

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Dear Brian,

I wanted to take the time to thank you for that opportunity to talk to the trustees this morning. It was a really awesome experience for me to walk into that room and share my thoughts and experiences with such a successful group of individuals who are the true backbone of what makes Proctor function. We were all sitting outside and joking about why we were nervous because our only job was to be open and honest about our thoughts. It hit me after walking out of that room because I realized that group of people were all so good at what they do and pursued goals that I hope to be able to complete in my future. And I walked away pondering one question further. What could be done to improve Proctor?

I almost felt a little bit frustrated because I am known by my friends to be pretty vocal about things that bother me and have no problem sharing those frustrations when I know my audience is truly interested and care or share those feelings of frustration. It was obvious in that room when this question was asked how everybody sat forward in their seats and opened their ears a little bit more, and I felt as though I had to choose the biggest thing I see to share with the board. So, I really wanted to share this email with you because I had more to say with that question but it wasn’t the right environment to do so. So, I hope by sharing these thoughts they are taken with the understanding that is coming from my love for Proctor and what it has done for me and is a small gesture that I can make to give back to this community before I leave. 

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I would start again by backing the statement I made in saying that Proctor could improve by truly raising the bar for their standards for our students. I think of a school like St. Pauls, and I wonder, Why is it that they are so renowned and everyone who goes there is granted a prestigiousness and social status, and why are so many of their students so successful down the road. I am by no means an expert in this, but I do see that the bar for St. Paul's students are much higher, their expectations are higher. For example, in my college decision I was choosing between WPI and Colorado School of Mines. What ultimately made the decision for me was that I got scared off from WPI because of their suicide rate. I felt that Mines had a more human balance and expectation. What I am trying to get at is I think Proctor could raise our bar a notch higher. We see the potential that arises from kids when they push themselves, and we see it in our community that everyone here is capable of that potential. But students need that extra nudge to know it is not acceptable to be late to things, it is not acceptable to consistently miss assignments, or give zero effort in athletics, or treat art as a free block. There is so much value to gain from each and every little experience and for the kids that do not see that value yet, they need that extra push so that they can see it for themselves. I don’t mean it in the sense that students need to study harder or stress more about grades or social status, because that is not what Proctor is about. I mean it more in the sense that some Proctor students are choosing not to put in the effort to see this value and could use more unconventional ways to realize this. Take woodworking, metal sculpture, forest science, do an off campus program, give it your absolute all for an athletic season or two, go for a hike, paint a mural, and do these things so that you can find what you love. This is coming from my perspective as a student, because I did as much of that as I could, and experienced indescribable and subtle changes in myself that have so far made major differences.

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 I came into Proctor as an average student who carried myself as an athlete and saw and wanted nothing more for myself, and am now leaving as a hopeful collegiate athlete and engineer. I found my love for art, nature and community. I have an understanding and care for my friends and my peers who I have never talked to but still care for and want to see succeed. Once I found this love I found my voice, I gained a deeper confidence and understanding in myself and I have tried in little moments to spread this path with my friends who I see that are lost, or do not understand what Proctor can do for them. Because I do not know of any other schools where you have this ultimate freedom to just truly be yourself and become the best version that you can be. And I will be forever grateful to Proctor for providing these opportunities for me.

As I am getting ready to leave Proctor I hope that the underclassmen at this school that are here now and will come in future years will have this understanding by the time they are ready to leave. And I think this is another point that can really be improved upon. That as students it can be hard in the day to day flurries to see past that and truly understand that Proctor is about becoming the best version of yourself. I think specifically that can be done by doing more panels like the one that we were just on, which obviously isn’t an option, but that idea of sitting kids down and saying what has Proctor done for you. How has it changed your life, what has stuck with you, where have you grown and where could you have used more support, questions like that. And truly listening because ultimately there is no point in speaking if there is nobody listening. 

That is what I think I will take away from my time here and I hope is a philosophy and assume Proctor will continue to carry out. 

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I just made you read through a page and a half with no suggestions for improvement so I will try to stay on task and do that now. I think one thing that could help is having more quiet places where students can go to be truly left alone and be productive by themselves. We have like two or three rooms in the library where you can get work done alone but beyond that there isn’t much. Personally I like having a quiet room where I can study or think or reflect by myself that isn’t in a dorm room where my friends come and easily distract me or background noise in the library. Proctor does an exceptional job at pulling this community together, but I think as individuals it can be hard sometimes to just reflect and be alone on this campus and come up with work or ideas that are solely yours. I also wish I had gotten to use the ski hill more. I do not know if that is reasonably an option because I do not know much about what the ski hill is used for. I remember one night when I was sleeping in Carr house during a covid lockdown last year where our dorm parent took us all on a walk up the ski hill as something to do and get outside. While we were hiking up someone had the idea to slide down the hill on our backs. And weirdly it is one of my favorite memories because it was one of those unplanned and unexpected moments that turned out to be so much fun. And since then I have wished I had gotten to use that hill more. I also think our athletics are struggling right now but I am not going to dive into that because I am a very biased voice in that department. At the same time, I would love the opportunity to share my student perspective on our athletics but this isn’t the place for that. Another big thing I think Proctor could improve upon is giving every student a voice on things like this. Proctor is a community where everyone is expected to respect each other and I think this could be improved in the sense that students here have great ideas but there isn’t really a place to share them. I have heard of companies that are very successful because they encourage suggestions from anybody including the janitorial branch to the cubicles all the way up to the executives. I think Proctor could adapt this a little bit more. I know student government is created to be the voice of the students but honestly it’s just not. So, I think Proctor could really benefit from creating some sort of system where students can share their thoughts like I am doing now, but with the expectation that they have evidence to back their thoughts and feasible solutions that can realistically be implemented.

In all honesty, I have drafted two letters already this year about things I wish could be improved at Proctor and never had the confidence to send them because I did not want to step on toes or seem ungrateful. It felt out of line for me as the student critiquing the teachers. From speaking to the board today, I gained confidence that my voice matters in topics like this and I hope that whomever takes the time to read this lengthy writing finds my perspective and thoughts valuable and interpret it in an appreciative and supportive manner.

Trey Chickering, Class of 2022

Thank you, Trey, for sharing your voice with us. 


Brian W. Thomas, Proctor Academy Head of School 

Curated Listening:

We are almost at the end of the school year and graduation is upon us. We often talk about what Proctor Academy is. But you won’t hear me discuss what we are not. In the immortal words of Cheryl Crow, “This [Proctor] ain’t no disco. It ain’t no country club either.” To that I say, Amen, Cheryl. With that in mind, the goofiest mash-up of music that I can think of is the 1990s pop-country sensation Cheryl Crow’s “All I Wanna Do” and the Stealers Wheel’s “Stuck in the Middle with You.” Stealers Wheel were a Scottish folk rock/rock band formed in 1972. Enjoy: HERE.

Read more of Brian's entries in his blog: The Journey


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