From Matt: A Few of My Favorite (MB) Things

Dear Moses Brown Community,

This is my last Head’s letter of the year and the last of my tenure at Moses Brown. I’m in the midst of a series of “lasts,” in fact – last Board meeting, last concerts, last visit to classrooms – which has put me in a somewhat reflective mood, as you can probably imagine. The joy that I typically experience at the end of each academic year is certainly there, but tinged with bittersweet feelings about leaving this great place. Serving as Moses Brown’s Head of School for 13 years has been the highest honor of my career. I am incredibly proud of what this community stands for and what it has accomplished in recent years.

Although I am leaving at the end of this month, I remain incredibly invested in the health and longevity of this community, so for this, my final comments to the MB community, I thought I’d share some of my favorite things from my time here — and some lessons I’ve learned that might help guide the school forward.

1. Opening of the Woodman Center
Creation of the Woodman Center was the biggest facilities project at MB in several generations. Of course, the physical building is far less important than the activities it holds and the human relationships it fosters; the whole complex really has become the heart of the school, just as we had hoped. Especially as MB continues to emerge from the pandemic, it’ll be critical to focus on reestablishing relationships, which is partly why the recent MB Back Together event was so thrilling and so successful. Looking ahead, I hope that the school will continue exploring ways to build and sustain a strong sense of community at MB. 

2. Guest teaching in Lenke Wood’s AP English class
Each fall, as her AP English students begin reading Homer’s Odyssey, Lenke Wood has invited me to do some guest teaching focused on the historical and literary context of ancient Greek epic poetry. This collaboration became a little tradition of ours. Not only did it keep me connected to my own roots as a Classicist, it gave me insight into the intellectual curiosity of our students and the special relationship they develop with our teachers. That’s what a great school is all about, after all, and I am thankful to Lenke and her students for allowing me to experience it firsthand. Great teaching and profound learning have always been hallmarks of Moses Brown, and I hope that the school will find ongoing ways to foster deep connections between students and teachers.

3. Lower School Pumpkin Fest
Anyone who knows me knows that I love Halloween, and one of my favorite events of the year – a tradition we started back in 2012, I think — is carving pumpkins with our Lower School students and parents. We decorate campus with faux cobwebs, put on spooky music, and provide all the tools needed for designing and carving jack o’ lanterns, including drywall saws (incredibly effective on pumpkins!). I smile every year as our young students quickly flock to the cookie table, leaving their parents up to their elbows cleaning out pumpkin guts and doing most of the actual carving. This event is pure joy and to me it’s a reminder that school should be fun and social as well as academic. I hope that MB will remind itself from time to time not to take things too seriously, remembering that everything we do should be joyful and human.  

4. Snow Day Video
One of the strangest – but also most marvelous – experiences of my tenure was the snow day video that went viral in 2015. More than four million people viewed our spoof of the hit song Let It Go, including people in the MB community, alumni living around the world, and even my high school prom date from 32 years earlier! Moses Brown ended up being featured on Good Morning, America and The View, and I was asked to do radio/TV interviews for stations in the UK, Germany, South Korea, and Japan. What I especially loved about the experience was working with our then Communications Director Adam Olenn, our videographer and editor Ryan Vemmer, and our Choral Director Justin Peters. We laughed so hard in making that video and were gratified to have brought a delightful and memorable moment to the community. The lesson for me was that real collaboration is key to the success of almost any endeavor. And, while strategic planning and serious thinking are important in schools, there also needs to be room for spontaneity, silliness, and taking a risk from time to time.

5. 8th grade Rube Goldberg Machine Project
A consistent area of focus at MB over the past decade has been an intentional shift toward experiential forms of learning as a way of fostering key 21st century skills such as creative problem solving and global awareness. This was the impetus behind creation of the MB TRIPs program, the Y-Lab, and our adoption of Project-Based Learning (PBL) across the school. One of my favorite examples of PBL is happening in 8th grade science right now, where students are building Rube Goldberg Machines – intentionally complex marble runs that do one simple thing at the end, such as water a plant. Using the basic kinds of “machine” (e.g., screw, wheel, pulley) as their building blocks, students are essentially forced to be collaborative, creative and adaptive. And one of the perennial highlights of the late spring is the fair where students exhibit their creations – and where I’ve enjoyed getting a pie in the face or a water balloon on my head! Abundant research reveals that learning is encoded most deeply when it is associated with strong emotions, and I suspect that our students’ joy and enthusiasm in this project and others like it translates to lasting understanding. I fervently hope that MB will continue to deepen its commitment to experiential learning moving ahead. 

6. Meeting for Worship
Having worked at three Friends schools over the past 26 years, I have probably attended around 1,000 Quaker meetings. While gathering in silence with children can be a bit unpredictable, let’s say, I have found something profoundly healthy about the regular practice of inward reflection and the sharing of messages that come from one’s heart. Alumni share with me regularly that, while some didn’t appreciate meeting when they were at MB, in hindsight they miss having time set aside each week for silence and reflection, things that are all too scarce in our busy daily lives. My hope is that MB will continue to make space for silence and reflection, embedding more deeply into our culture the humility and curiosity that are at the heart of good listening.

7. The People
And lastly, the best part of Moses Brown – and the most varied, interesting and complicated – are its people. Working and learning in a community of about 1,000 people, all of whom have different backgrounds, interests, and perspectives, is incredibly invigorating, and at MB I have found some of the most talented students, expert teachers, caring parents, and generous alumni I have ever known. I will miss all of them. If I could offer any advice for the future, it would be for this community to continue leaning into the work of building empathy for others and a sense of belonging for all. Doing so will require open and at times challenging conversation, being more curious than certain, and guarding against the dismissing of others based on difference of viewpoint or belief. An educational institution should be strong enough to embrace an open exchange of ideas, so I encourage MB to continue welcoming diversity of thought and perspective, even as it upholds and honors those voices and populations that have not always been heard or valued. 

I’m excited to bring these many experiences and timeless recommendations to my new role at Hopkins School next year. Moses Brown is a school with an incredible mission, full of incredible people and I know that, under the leadership of Ron, Debbie, and others, next year will be a remarkable one.

Thank you to the entire MB community for the care and support you have shown to me and Katherine personally and to the school as a whole over the past 13 years. I very much look forward to staying connected to this extended family and witnessing the next chapter in MB’s long history.

In friendship,