Proctor Faculty Experiences Learning Differences Through Simulations

Faculty gained new perspectives and empathy

By Scott Allenby
Proctor Academy faculty engaged in powerful professional development training at the end of August focused on better understanding learning differences. Activities included simulations of six different learning differences and were led by the SEAL Foundation. Caption and photo: Scott Allenby

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 a meaningful relationship with others. 

Recently, 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.

In Brene Brown’s most famous TED Talk on vulnerability, she cuts to the core of our work of community building, work that is rooted in belonging: “There was only one variable that separated the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging and the people who really struggle for it. And that was, the people who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they’re worthy of love and belonging. That’s it. They believe they’re worthy.”

The beauty of the Proctor community is that we do not claim to be a flawless educational institution where students arrive as uniform, pre-finished products. Instead, we are energized by their rough edges, uniqueness, and the beautiful mess of adolescence. 

We allow students to show up in their own brokenness, with their educational wounds poorly bandaged but ready for the healing balm of love and support found in a place like this. We celebrate neurodiversity because of the richness different learners bring to our classrooms, our dormitories, our teams, our studios, and our advisors. 

Similarly, we ask each member of our community to bring their own story to their Proctor experience – their own family, background, culture, and life experiences. When we see each other in this light, we unlock the potential for learning in a powerful way.

Led by our Office of Equity and Belonging, faculty spent three hours in small and large groups learning about, discussing, brainstorming, and exploring gender and sexual identity. They talked about the differences between engaging in conversations for comprehension versus compassion, recognizing our work with students who are exploring their own gender and sexual identity must always, always be rooted in compassion. 

The faculty asked themselves how, as adults, they can continue to explore the world of gender and sexuality to build awareness and literacy essential for a compassionate and inclusive community where everyone has a sense of belonging. Faculty do not claim to have answers, but are excited to engage in the journey alongside students. 

The following day, Proctor welcomed the SEAL Foundation, whose mission it is to create and fund educational and social opportunities in both non-public and public schools and camp settings for students who learn differently in order to ensure they maximize their potential. In small groups, faculty worked their way through six simulation activities to illustrate what it feels like to learn with different learning differences. 

While our faculty’s learning profiles are as diverse as our students, the simulations were an incredibly powerful way to empathize with our students who have a documented learning difference (roughly half of Proctor’s population).

Whether it was completing a writing exercise while only looking in a mirror (representing dysgraphia), attempting to complete a spelling test with muffled audio (representing an auditory processing disorder), decoding a complex scientific research paper with mixed up letters (representing dyslexia), or completing a math worksheet with inverse operations (representing dyscalculia), faculty experienced first hand the frustrations, challenges, and mental energy required to engage in the learning process if one has a learning difference.

Faculty head into the start of the school year with new perspectives, increased empathy, and tools to help those in the community whose brains, bodies, and souls feel different than society says is “normal” feel more at home. Our job, at its most fundamental level, is to help adolescents understand and feel confident in who they are and how they can contribute to society.