As a school, we can become so focused on “doing” that we do not take the necessary time to listen to our parents, to our students, to our colleagues, and to those who share in this grand experiment in building an intentional community at Proctor.
Over the course of this week we have been hosting focus groups with parents as part of Proctor’s Strategic Visioning process (there are still opportunities for parents to sign-up - check your email!). These small group conversations with a handful of parents allow us to hear the perspectives of different parents, and to dig deeply into their experiences with Proctor. Each conversation with parents has begun with one simple question: What is your hope for your child as they become an adult?
At times, we, like every school I imagine, can feel like our goals as an educational institution are misaligned with those of our families. Throughout the enrollment and reenrollment process, we feel the pressures to compete at a high level with other schools, to offer the very best of the best across all academic departments, athletic teams, and art programs, to sprint blindly along other independent schools into the arms race of better facilities and “elite” offerings. We do our best to balance what we think is best for our students with that which we perceive our families want out of a Proctor experience, but often feel as though we are falling short in both endeavors.
As we listen to parents share their experiences during our focus groups, we think twice about our narrowly defined “expectations” of boarding school families. The responses by parents have been remarkably consistent among individuals and across focus groups. They hope their children develop into thoughtful, curious, competent, kind, compassionate, empathetic, creative adults who have the ability to develop lifelong relationships, possess a sense of justice, and the tools necessary to affect change in this world. The hopes are not directly related to achieving, or being first, or being best, or getting into a specific college. They are about being good people, about developing a moral compass, a support network, about finding a passion and pursuing it. They are about giving young people the tools they need to make the world a better place.
One parent noted, “Sixteen year olds have so many opinions, so many opportunities to become disenchanted and disengaged, to become numb to the atrocities of the world. We cannot allow our students to accept what is wrong in the world, and if Proctor can bring kids in and have them, in their own small ways, make a difference, share their voice, and understand that making a difference in the little things will make a difference in the bigger things, then the school is doing its job.”
Another shared, “Providing students a voice and listening to what they see and hear and experience in this world is so important. If we are looking to teach values, we must clearly define those values, and at the same time be open to listening to all perspectives…to have those hard conversations with people with whom we do not agree.”
Yes, our parents expect much from a Proctor experience, and it is our job to meet those expectations, but when we zoom out just a bit from the in-the-weeds details of our work running of the school, we are able to see our bigger picture role, and only real job, in shaping this next generation of adults: to partner with our parents to raise good humans.