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The Journey: Belonging and Acceptance at Proctor

Brian Thomas

What does it mean to belong? Belong to what? Belong to whom? Over the last few years these have been a few of the questions that we have been asking ourselves on our 2500 acres about the nature of belonging, particularly around Proctor’s work in DEI-B (Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging). Yet there is even a deeper rung that we reach for or even deeper in its commitment, which is to accept each other as we are. Perhaps that is the “Platinum Standard” we all seek, the act of accepting another human being as THEY want to be accepted for who they are. 

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Proctor Academy Head of School

Because we hail from so many different places at Proctor, both our adults and our students, the fact that we all coexist at all is more than an act of courage. We are intentional in our efforts to make sure that students and adults who live in and tend to this place we love feel as if they belong and that they matter. That means opening up a seat next to someone in the Dining Commons or making sure that we have, when we can, a no cut policy on the lower levels of our teams. It’s a hard commitment to make because it means our programs are voluminous.

Yet, even in the best of circumstances, we sometimes fall short. We are quick to point to the slight and even the pain caused because that is where our emotional connection resides. Indeed, belonging is so difficult because it is a standard that we each set for ourselves. Perhaps a better standard would be to ask what act or acts would make us feel like we are accepted, which may be something that we can practice and do. I think of many aspects of our school when I think of belonging and acceptance. Let me name just a few. 

Proctor Academy Head of School

Every day at lunch during the work week, the housekeeping, dining, and facilities staff gather together to eat and talk about their day, which is in progress. In the restaurant business they would be called “family meals.” At these gatherings, usually just a break in a long day that begins before most of us are even awake, each group will get together at lunch to catch up, talk about their work or their own families, perhaps they will discuss the challenges they face, and even talk about about each other, in a gentle ribbing kind of way. From a distance that gentle teasing can be heard. Or, even a slight disagreement that might lead to silence for a while. But the silence is usually broken by a smile or a laugh or a joke told to cut the tension. What people who are casual observers might see are workers letting their hair down. However, what our students see are models of living and being in community that they soak up like dry earth after a rain. Our students see the adults in the community who like and accept each other in ways that feel familiar and familial. 

Proctor Academy Head of School

So, too are the ways in which students gather for a short time to be on a team or a part of a play. Their working together can be influenced by each other’s personalities. Sometimes the mix of personalities can be off, or places in which the students have a hard time getting along. For instance, in a play where a performance can feel like walking out on a tightrope without a net, a student or adult actor literally simulates trust falls where someone throws a line, hoping that the person on the other side will remember to catch it, and then throw it back. As a young actor, or even a veteran teacher in the school play, can “go up” on a line, which means to forget a line or two entirely during the course of the running of a show with a “real” audience. The hope and expectation is that the other actor will remember, or at least ad-lib so that the actors can continue with the stream of a performance. These actors have to feel a sense of vulnerability, trust, belonging, and acceptance so that they can do their roles with some ease and effort. 

Similarly, being on a line on a hockey team, or on any sports team for that matter, is about garnering trust that must be had where you expect the other person to pick you up when you make a mistake, like losing the puck in the closing minutes of a game with the other team on a breakaway to a finish that ends in heartbreak. In any effort at the school, we show each other that we belong and are accepted by picking each other up after such a devastating loss. We console in the moment, but perhaps later we have the hard conversation about doing better or being better, or knowing when a hug around the shoulder of a crying teammate or castmate might be a better response. 

Proctor Academy Head of School

In every instance, what lies at the core of our time together is the belief that we belong to each other, that we will be accepted no matter what, and that we can return each time to be with each other to “pick each other up.” In the end, it’s about having the power to witness the connections being made by students, faculty, and staff as they each, as individuals and in community, try to navigate a world that can feel like Theseus’s labyrinth. They wander around thinking to themselves, “Where do I belong?” And, “Will I ultimately be accepted by these people?” Yet, community and true belonging and acceptance begins with a feeling in each person of what that means to them. For the adults, it is about modeling at a meal, each and every one of us. It means picking each other up when we falter and forget our lines, because we know the hurt when we forget them. It also means welcoming new people into our world because we understand that the work that we do with kids each day is not only important, but it is also sometimes the most sacred thing that we do each day. 


Brian W. Thomas, Proctor Academy Head of School 

Curated Listening:

Belonging and acceptance makes me think of one song from the past, which is also in the form of a question; that’s Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?” Listen to it HERE.

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  • Equity and Belonging
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