As we approach the darkest days of the year, cold nights are countered by a stubborn midday sun that warms us while threatening to soften the frost hardened ground. The thin film of ice on the pond each morning reluctantly gives way as the sun comes up over Gannett House and the east end of campus.
An underlying theme of our work as teachers this year has been engagement. How can we best engage our students and engage ourselves in the Proctor community. This engagement comes in many forms - in classrooms, on teams, in dorms, and in advisories - but central to helping students feel connected and invested in community is our willingness as adults to meet our students where they are, understanding the stressors and motivators in their lives.
New students arrived on September 6 for Wilderness Orientation, their faces filled with uncertainty. How would they fit in socially? Academically? Athletically? Artistically? How would they find their friend group, who would sit with them at meals? Today, during a packed Brown Dining Commons lunch, we look around and see connected faces, smiles, seemingly endless Spirit Week energy. We see young people who are finding their way through their high school experience, with the support of an amazing, tireless group of adults who keep this community running.
When we peel back the layers of Proctor’s educational model - the programs, buildings, and people who make up our community - we find a shared understanding that, at its core, our work is to create, sustain, and teach young people how to live in meaningful relationship with others. The past two days of faculty professional development covered a wide range of issues, all centered on creating and sustaining an inclusive community that celebrates the remarkable diversity of learning styles, family histories, cultures, and backgrounds that exists within Proctor.
The intersection of big, tough issues facing society, perfectionism projected into the lives of adolescents through social media and parental expectations, and a desire to support students through the COVID-19 pandemic has created an environment in our schools where we must delicately balance student well-being and expectations. How do we authentically manufacture adversity for young people who live in a world that seeks to shelter them from it?
Each Proctor student graduates with a transcript filled with numbers and letters, a snapshot of their Proctor experience. While useful in some ways, this quick reference guide originally developed to standardize our assessment of a student’s “intelligence” for college admissions counselors insufficiently captures the entirety of a student’s growth journey through their high school years.
If your mind is in anything like mine, it has spent the past few weeks spinning: the final weeks of Winter Term, final exams, final arts performances and games last weekend, rational (and irrational) fears surrounding the spread of COVID-19 and its impact on Proctor, Super Tuesday primaries, and so much more.
Intuitively, I feel my students’ experiences, reflections, and actions influence who they are and what they do. However, the more I learn about neuroscience, the more research released on brain plasticity and metacognition, the more I realize these intuitions that have guided my work over the past twenty years as a Learning Specialist, and Proctor’s work over the past seventy, are based in scientific fact. Adolescent brain development is a biological process, but it is also a dynamic process that is enhanced through experiences. In other words, what teenagers learn, practice, and think develops neural pathways, which fundamentally restructures their brains over time.