Mr. Gould Highlights Creativity & Resiliency in Back-to-School Remarks

During this year's Back-to-School Nights for Middle School and Lower School, Matthew Gould, head of school, highlighted "creativity" and "resiliency" as crucial "soft skills" to develop in children.
Click here to view a video of Mr. Gould's remarks, which are also transcribed below:

Welcome and good evening!

It is such a pleasure to see everyone back and to officially kick off another school year. I, personally, am looking forward to a wonderfully exciting 2018-2019 school year. As always, it is my job tonight to provide a brief overview of Norwood School’s philosophy of education and how that philosophy comes to life in our classrooms and for our children.

After my talk, we will hear from our Annual Fund Chairs—Mary Peters and Patrick McManaman—before Michele Claeys/Mike Risen will set us on our way to the classrooms where you will hear more specifically how the Norwood School philosophy is put into place by our wonderful teachers.

I have to tell you that the faculty and I are feeling so much excitement at the start of the school year. Throughout our faculty meetings prior to the start of school, you could just feel the energy, passion, and sense of purpose these educators have. This is energy that you simply can’t fake—we were all so excited for the children to come back and to begin our work with them.

And, I have to tell you from a personal standpoint—as I embark on my fifth year as head of Norwood School—I remain so inspired to lead this school. Rarely a day goes by that when I walk through our corridors or observe our students at work and at play, that I don’t think, “Wow! What an outstanding institution for children! What a truly remarkable elementary and middle school!”

I really do think Norwood is a special place and uniquely distinctive from other schools. There are many reasons why I think this, but let me highlight four reasons that I find particularly true:

The People
We have the most amazing faculty and staff anywhere. They are dedicated, hardworking, loving, intelligent, and are always striving to do what’s right by kids.

The Philosophy
We have a “whole child” philosophy that truly honors children as human beings. Of course, we believe our mission is to impart academic skills so that our students can be successful in high school and beyond; but, beyond that, we see the social, emotional, physical, and ethical development of children as critical as we prepare our students for life beyond Norwood.

The Campus
We are so lucky to have this campus that we use whether it’s the garden or the running trails, the low-ropes course, or the playing fields—our students are experiencing nature on a daily basis.

Preparation for the Future
The fourth thing that is great about Norwood is the way we prepare our students for the future.

Last year at Back-to-School Night, you heard me talk about the future and the changing nature of education in the “world of tomorrow.” I talked about the changing nature of jobs and the workforce. I talked about the impact that Asia’s population growth and economy will have here in the United States. I talked about the explosion of technology and how it has invaded every aspect of modern life. And the truth is, as educators, the decisions that we make today are framed by the tomorrows we envision.

When we determine what kinds of preparation our students need, we do so based on our assumptions about the future. But peering around the corner and predicting what will happen tomorrow, next year, or in a decade is anything but certain. Listen to these bad predictions:
  • In 1957, the business editor for Prentice Hall said, “I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and have talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing is a fad and won’t last out the year.”
  • The Decca Recording Company rejected the Beatles in 1962 by asserting, “We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out.”
  • A 1968 edition of Business Week declared, “With over 50 foreign cars on sale here, the Japanese auto industry isn’t likely to carve out a big slice of the U.S. market.”
  • And just 12 years ago, an editor for Wired magazine said, “Twitter is a joke. It will never take hold.”
These are bad predictions! So the truth is that we don’t know exactly what the future will bring or what society will look like when our students enter the workforce in the next decade or two.

That said, there are two ideas that I want to touch on tonight that I think will be extremely important for our children in “the world of tomorrow.” And these are two areas where I think Norwood School excels: One is creativity and the other is an emphasis on resiliency. Let me delve into these thoughts just for a minute, starting with CREATIVITY.

I want to be clear, by talking about creativity, I don’t necessarily mean art. Don’t get me wrong—art is important; perhaps very important and a huge emphasis here at Norwood. But our goal at Norwood is not to ensure that everyone can draw well or paint well. Rather, we want children to be able to think critically and creatively about challenging problems.

And, the truth is, children are naturally creative. Children are good divergent thinkers. They can see multiple and alternative solutions to problems more naturally than many adults can. I recently read an interesting study out of the University of Southern California in which a group of researchers developed a test of creativity and divergent thinking. The results are interesting:
  • 98% of children ages 3-5 scored in the highly proficient range
  • 32% of children ages 8-10 scored in the highly proficient range
  • 10% of teenagers aged 13-15 scored in the highly proficient range, and
  • 2% of adults 10 scored in the highly proficient range
I find these results to be interesting and somewhat disheartening. The results suggest that as people grow older they become less creative.

To me, it seems like we should be striving to foster an educational environment with exactly the opposite results—as students grow older, we want their capacity to think divergently and critically to increase. Because, if it’s true that we really have no idea what the future will look like, we want to enhance our children’s ability to imagine the unseen. And while this power and imagination sets humans apart from all other species, it is almost completely ignored in most schools. I believe that schools should make creativity a strategic priority, which is essentially what we’ve done at Norwood.

One of the things I love about Norwood School is that when you walk through our hallways, you can hear the audible buzz of students’ creativity:
  • Our children are working in groups and working together to solve complex problems.
  • Our students are making connections within and across academic disciplines.
  • Our children are engaged in hands-on learning activities, and
  • Our students are asked “Why?” and encouraged to think “outside of the box” to find alternative solutions to problems.
And, again, I think these skills are so crucial because we want to be preparing children for their future and not our past.The workforce is and will be qualitatively different than the one we inhabit. “Soft skills” already rule the day.

In 2013, Google, a world tech giant, decided to test its hiring hypothesis that their top employees were computer science students with top grade from elite universities. They tested their entire workforce. And, alas, they discovered that the top characteristics of top employees at Google are those that excel at soft skills: being a good coach, communicating, and listening well; having empathy and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.

Similarly, a 2016 study from the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that the top two attributes that employers seek in job candidates are: 1. Leadership, and 2. Ability to work in a team. That’s why we want to rebalance our children’s learning portfolio and place a heavy emphasis on right-brain (empathetic, creative, divergent, contextual, synthesis-type) thinking. In short, at Norwood we really want students to use their brains, not just regurgitate material.

Now let me turn for a moment to a second idea: this idea of RESILIENCY.

I always have the great pleasure to read a lot during the summer, and this summer I happened upon a fair amount of research on the topic of resiliency. One of the things I was struck by was how often resiliency came up as a strong predictor of academic success as well as a predictor for fulfillment and overall life happiness.

What is resiliency? Essentially, it is our ability to manage setbacks, to persevere, and demonstrate determination in the face of a challenge. But how do you teach or instill this in children and internalize this quality? Of course, students need practice daily with small setbacks and mistakes, but it is interesting what the research tells us about creating resilient children. I’ve boiled the research down to what I will call the “Seven Ingredients for Creating Resilient Kids.”

Ingredient 1: Support and Connection
Interestingly, and in some way counterintuitively, the single most important factor in cultivating resilient children is creating a loving environment. Resilient kids are supported by people who encourage them and support them, and who believe in their ability to succeed. I want to re-emphasize this because I think it’s so important. The key factor in creating resilient kids is that firm connection with caring adults and the knowledge that parents and other significant adults are in their corner supporting them. This, I believe, is the hallmark of a Norwood School education and, perhaps, the greatest gift that we can give our students. Our students are known; they are supported; they are nurtured; and they are cared for.

Ingredient 2: High Expectations
This, again, I believe is a gift of a Norwood School education. Resilient kids have parents, teachers, and other adults who believe in their ability to succeed, who encourage and support them to do so, and who have reasonable but high expectations. We have a challenging curriculum at Norwood School, and we have high expectations for student leadership, conduct, and scholarship. And the truth is that our students appreciate it because they can do it. When kids meet tough challenges, they feel good about themselves.

Ingredient 3: Compassion
Resilient kids are not all wrapped up in themselves. They are interested din and look out for others. At Norwood School, we want our students to be compassionate, to be willing to help out, to know that other people are important too. We accomplish this, in part, by the outreach projects that all students take part in, but more importantly, we accomplish this in our daily interactions with each other and our daily displays of respect, kindness, and appreciation for difference.

Ingredient 4: Autonomy and Resourcefulness
Resilient kids are able to act independently and don’t rely on others to do what they can do for themselves. At Norwood, we try to help students to become aware of their strengths through experience. Success starts small, starts early, and grows.

Ingredient 5: Optimism
Resilient kids see the glass half full rather than half empty and focus on strengths rather than weaknesses. At Norwood, we constantly strive to use student strengths to address those weaknesses or challenging areas.

Ingredient 6: Determination
Kids don’t have to go to the Arctic to discover that problems are nothing more than solutions waiting to be found. At Norwood, we work to cultivate determination by helping kids find answer for themselves. For example, instead of saying, “This is how you do it,” a teacher might say, “Well, that didn’t work. Can you think of some other way that might?”

Ingredient 7: Flexibility and Patience
At Norwood, we know that we have different learning and emotional needs in our classrooms. We recognize and embrace that reality as we constantly strive to meet our students’ needs.

So, as you can tell, I think this idea of resiliency is an important one, and I am particularly interested in how it manifests itself here at Norwood.

I wanted to share something one of our teachers recently wrote because I really think that it epitomizes what we stand for at Norwood School. Let me set the stage: This teacher wrote what she called her “Final Talk.” This “Final Talk” is essentially the ultimate message that she wants to leave her students—the legacy she wants to leave. She writes:
“I want my students to know that it is okay not to know something or get a question wrong. I want them to be able to search for an answer. I also want them always to be willing to learn and never give up on themselves, even if something is incredibly difficult. If my students leave me knowing this and believing that they can learn anything that they put their heart and mind to, then I feel that I have done my job.”

That’s the spirit that exists within this school. And it’s spirit like that which makes us excellent.

I’m enormously excited about this year. On the faculty level, we are going to continue to focus on our curriculum—math in particular—and its delivery to students. On the community level, we are going to continue to work to enhance our diversity and feelings of inclusiveness in the School. On the parent level, we will continue to strive to forge a warm and positive home-school partnership and involve parents in meaningful ways in the life of the School.

And, most importantly, at the student level, we are going to work diligently to ensure that each and every child feels safe and loved and finds a place to shine at this remarkable school.

Thank you so much. Enjoy the classrooms!
Matthew A. Gould, Ph.D.
Head of School
Back-to-School Remarks
Middle School: September 13, 2018
Lower School: September 20, 2018
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.