Needed: Intellectual prowess tethered to ethical resolve

Each month, Head of School Matt Gossage addresses the Cannon School community in “Matt’s Memo.”

This month, Matt continues his exploration of Adaptive Expertise — emphasizing that our world can surely benefit when good people connect what they know to how they live.


The Collective Whole

Most of the memos this year explored the relationship between the Habits of Mind and Spirit that build an adaptive expert and the six core values that guide our interactions on a daily basis. During the course of this school year, I saw in the challenges I had to confront, in many of the situations students found themselves, and in the events that have occupied the headlines the need to keep intellectual prowess tethered to ethical resolve. It is not enough to be bright, nor does goodness without a plan and a focus prevail. Problems are solved, and things stay on the right track when people strive to connect what they know with how they live. It is most important for the students at Cannon to see how much our country needs engaged and intelligent people with a moral compass.
This exploration into the adaptive-expertise habits and our core values has caused me to think about a set of things that we will integrate into our planning as we work to build a stronger school. Ten considerations from this year’s exploration follow:

  • The habit “seek truth” found in the middle column of intersection has seemingly flown under the radar. I hope the subjects we teach and our curriculum can introduce and return over and over to life’s bigger questions dealing with purpose, the human condition, and finding meaning.
  • The seeking in “seek truth” is so important. I hope we can teach in ways where students develop a hunger for understanding and a desire to pursue understanding until they fully own it.
  • Learning for understanding comes with really hard work. Such learning requires more effort than memorizing material for the grade, but learning for understanding brings so much more fulfillment. I always found memorizing to be temporal, while understanding becomes permanent.
  • I continue to wonder if the presence of grades becomes the “wet blanket” that smothers the learning life out of students. It is challenging to be flexible, curious, creative, and ultimately a risk taker when the grade becomes the end game.
  • Assessment in the real world comes in the form of daily feedback. I am grateful that colleagues offer suggestions and recommendations daily and do not wait until I have turned the project in to tell me what I need to re-direct or re-focus.
  • I love when life affords me (or I just grab) the time to think about how I handled a situation, how an initiative has changed things, and how a decision has helped or hurt. The learning that can take place when students have the opportunity to reflect on what they have just accomplished is the kind of learning that can lead to major breakthroughs.
  • Assessment actually can begin when the teacher takes the time to discover what the student knows about a topic, concept, or idea as it is introduced. Teaching on top of a student’s misconception or an undetected preconception can result in weeks of frustration and little learning.
  • The best support from parents and teachers focuses on the student’s effort and her willingness to tackle the new and the unexplored.
  • The capacity to relate with others serves as a gateway to learning in every key stage in life. The classroom offers life’s first opportunities outside of family to share, listen, forgive, and communicate. Cannon must continue to be a place where we think relationally and acknowledge each day there is something each of us can learn.
  • Even though we call out and recognize the individual habits associated with adaptive expertise, I hope we can focus on the collective whole of an adaptive expert and the mindset and inner drive that bring these habits together.
Matt Gossage
Head of School

Read Matt’s Memo online