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Vulnerability in Education

While the origins of St. Valentine’s Day date back to the 5th century, the celebration in our society today focuses on our connection to others. As roses and candy-grams are distributed by student leadership during lunch, we are reminded of the excitement, and intense vulnerability, felt during this celebration of love and affection. I promise this blog will get back to our educational mission at Proctor, so bear with me. 

Brene`Brown gives a powerful Ted Talk below. Her thoughts evolve from years of research into the power of vulnerability in shaping humanity. Brown’s qualitative research provided her a deep understanding that connections give purpose to our lives. No matter what classes we take, or what team we play on, what field we choose to go into, if we do not feel connected to those around us, we will lack a clear sense of belonging. So naturally, when Brown asked people about love, they told her about heartbreak. When she asked them about belonging, they told her about exclusion.



Her research then led her on a mission to find out what causes this vulnerability. Surprisingly, she found vulnerability to be rooted in shame, or the fear of disconnection. This shame that we all feel at times is underpinned by the self-talk “I’m not good enough and because I’m not good enough, people won’t want to be connected to me".



When she dug deeper into her qualitative research, Brown found people’s shame boiled down to a sense of worthiness. In fact, only one variable separated those who had a strong sense of love and belonging and those who did not. That variable was profound: people who have a strong sense of belonging believe they are worthy of that love and belonging they receive from those around them.



We all fear disconnection, but the when done properly, the educational process is filled with opportunities to tear the walls of shame that enshroud our students. Conversely, when done incorrectly the learning process can be one shameful experience after another for students. Our mission at Proctor is to understand each individual and how they learn. Because we appreciate individual learners, those potential moments of shame that inevitably arise for every student are transformed into a sense of belonging; a sense of “I am enough just as I am". This is a powerful experience for each student, and one we embrace wholeheartedly as a school.  



Brown concludes her message in the Ted Talk referenced at the beginning of this blog with four traits found in each of the ‘wholehearted’ people she studied:
  1. They had a sense of courage to be imperfect.
  2. They had the compassion to be kind to themselves first, and then to others.
  3. They felt connected as a result of authenticity when they were willing to let go of who they thought they should be for who they were.
  4. They embraced vulnerability and understood that what made them vulnerable made them beautiful.



On this Valentine’s Day we remind ourselves of our own purpose as a school: to help students feel connected to this community and to have the most meaningful learning experience possible. As Brown notes, “Children are hardwired for struggle when they get here. We cannot tell them they are perfect. Our job is to say you are imperfect, but you are worthy of love and belonging.” When we work from this place with our students, we are able to unlock our students’ willingness to be authentic, vulnerable learners.
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Located in  Andover, NH,  Proctor Academy is a private coeducational day and boarding school for grades 912. Students benefit from a rigorous academic program, experiential off-campus programs, fine and performing arts, competitive athletics, and a wide selection of extracurricular activities.
204 Main Street  .  PO Box 500  .  Andover, NH 03216
p. (603) 735-6000   f. (603) 735-6300   webmaster@proctoracademy.org