Head of School Matthew Gould Addresses Today's Critical Capacities in Back-to-School Night Remarks

At this year's virtual Back-to-School Nights (September 17 for Middle School and September 24 for Lower School), Matthew Gould shared views on how to best prepare children for the world beyond Norwood.

Welcome to what is most certainly the most unusual Back-to-School-Night of all time. Like all of you, this is not the way I was anticipating starting the school year. However, I am filled with overflowing gratitude this year. While the start of school hasn’t been exactly what we wanted, it’s gone pretty well. Children are engaged, students are learning, and teachers are doing what they do best – connecting with kids in ways that are meaningful, teaching them new skills, and being an important presence in their lives. I am especially grateful for our teachers this year – the work they have put into their preparation this year has been nothing short of an awe-inspiring.

A few words about reopening – I know a topic very top-of-mind for all of us. On Thursday, August 27, the Maryland Department of Health finally handed down guidance for schools – both public and non-public – for reopening. Fortunately, in terms of health and safety protocols, we are doing everything right. The County has our Reopening Plan and they have been extremely complimentary. We are now looking at two metrics that the State is looking for us to meet before a full reopening.
  • Transmission rate under 5%. The transmission rate is currently 2.4.
  • New cases per 100,000. The County is currently at 7.3.
Because one of the two metrics is met, we can be in hybrid mode (less than full capacity). The guidance really affirms our approach to slowly phase our students back to campus. My hope is to get second grade back very soon and then initiate the phasing process for the other grades beginning in October. How aggressive we do that will depend on the metrics.

I want to pivot now from the technical to the philosophical. I see my role at Back-to-School-Night as painting the philosophical overview of Norwood School – THE BIG PICTURE! After I am done with my remarks, you will hear from our wonderful teachers about how they put the Norwood School mission and philosophy into practice every day with our students.

Preparation for the World Beyond
As I was preparing my remarks for this evening, I kept thinking how challenging virtual teaching and learning is for children and the teacher. Somehow, it’s more exhausting and less satisfying. However, the deeper I got into my thinking about it, the more I realized that the fundamentals are just the same. Teaching – whether virtual or in-person – is about connection and relationships. It’s about being child-centered and creative. Fundamentally it comes back to the Norwood tag line: Be Known – knowing our students deeply such that we can challenge them, support them, and help them reach their fill potential.

The other thing that struck me in thinking about virtual vs. in-person teaching and learning is that the goals are identical. We want children to have an outstanding experience in the here-and-now AND we want to prepare them for the future.
It is on this topic – preparation for the world beyond Norwood – that I’d like to linger just for a moment. When I say, “the world beyond Norwood,” I’m not just talking about high school. I am talking about the world of work and the society our students will eventually inhabit as young adults.

To me there are seven essential capacities that educators should be thinking about instilling in students and quite frankly, I think too many schools are missing the mark here. Here are the critical capacities as I see it:

  1. Creative Thinking and Problem Solving - We should be teaching our students to run toward problems! Every problem is an opportunity. No one will ever pay you to solve a non-problem. At Norwood School, rote drill and practice learning is simply de-emphasized. We are pushing kids to think “outside of the box” to identify, manage and address complex problems.
  2. Complex Communication (Oral and Written) - Communicating clearly to diverse audiences, listening attentively, and speaking effectively are all core competencies that are all extremely important for future success. Through Norwood’s public speaking and writing program, students leave here extremely competent in these arenas.
  3. Leadership - At Norwood we want children to initiate new ideas. We want them to take risks and feel safe doing so. Building trust, resolving conflicts, and providing support for others are further skills that we believe kids truly benefit from. And all of this culminates in our eighth grade program where our students have a plethora of leadership opportunities.
  4. Digital and Quantitative Literacy - Understanding, using, and applying digital technologies is certainly an important skill in the world of the future. The technology resources at Norwood are second to none. And the skills students are acquiring in this arena at Norwood are simply stellar. Of course, this is true now more than ever, but even in “normal” this is a strength of our school.
  5. Global Perspective - A fifth capacity that I believe is critical for our students is developing a global perspective. Through our social studies and history program, we are working with students to develop just that – an appreciation of the best diversity in the world in which we live. We want our students to develop open-mindedness, particularly regarding the values and traditions of others. Through our studying of world cultures, as well as our work in three areas of anti-bias we are developing ethical citizens and opening our children’s eyes to the world.
  6. Responsible Risk-Taking - At Norwood School, we want children to develop flexibility, agility, and adaptability, as well as to bring a sense of courage to unfamiliar situations. I think changing the world should be on every child’s “to do” list. The only way to do this is through responsible risk-taking. And finally…
  7. Integrity and Ethical Decision Making - Our world needs this now more than ever. These skills are developing through our formal character education program but more importantly, these skills are cultural at Norwood School. Part of the inherent culture at our school is to help our kids make reasoned and ethical decisions in response to complex problems.
These seven capacities have been on my mind lately, and I appreciate your indulgence as I meandered through it. Mostly what I want to say tonight is thank you. Thank you for your patience as we navigate these challenging times. Thank you for supporting Norwood School and in turn for supporting your children. I, of course, believe that students are very fortunate to receive a Norwood School education. However, I also believe that we are so lucky to have you – our parents – as part of our school community. You bring so much to us.

Now it is the time that I will turn the evening over to our wonderful teachers and let you hear from them. I am extremely excited about this year. I am looking forward to phasing students back to school. In the meantime, we will continue to refine what excellence in distance teaching and learning looks like at Norwood. We will step up our focus on race, racial education, anti-racism, and anti-bias. We will continue to differentiate curriculum to meet individual student needs. But, most importantly, we will continue to work diligently to ensure that each and every child feels safe and loved and finds a place to shine at this remarkable school.
Located in Bethesda, MD, Norwood School develops students in grades PK-8 into confident lifelong learners who have the academic, character, and leadership skills to succeed in high school and beyond. Recognizing that children are multi-faceted, Norwood provides many opportunities for safe risk-taking, exploration, discovery, and growth in a nurturing, supportive, and inclusive school community.