Teamwork and Relating with Others

Our Head of School, Matt Gossage, shares a monthly memo with the Cannon School community. This month’s “Matt’s Memo” is reprinted here in its entirety.


Sixth-Grade Math and Venn Diagrams

When I was in the sixth grade at Hikes Graded Elementary, our teacher, Mrs. Viola Waters, announced in early September that we were receiving new math books. She gave each of us a yellow paperback text with SMSG plastered across the front cover. We noted there were no pictures but just one typed page after another of explanations and problems. We learned the yellow on the cover would erase with one of those big, pink erasers stored in our desks. Within a week, we named our new math series: Some Math, Some Garbage.

I have a couple of specific math memories from our SMSG book. The series introduced binary operations. Pages were full of the perfect pair: 0, 1. I would be much further down the technology road today had I paid better attention to the 0 and the 1. SMSG also opened up the world of sets. I loved the grouping aspect of sets, and I remember spending time perfecting my version of the brackets [{ }] that enclosed the sets.

As part of the focus on sets, SMSG included a chapter on Venn Diagrams. Crossroad, intersection, junction: I enjoyed seeing what was captured in the shaded overlap of the two circles. I collected everything from baseball players playing in both leagues to furry animals walking on two legs.

Although I am partial to the diagram and the Cannon designer, Mr. Booker did us a favor in employing a Venn Diagram to present Cannon’s construct of adaptive expertise (see below). That football (complete with its own set of laces) centered and shaded in our diagram clearly portrays habits and characteristics within the spirit and mind of those striving to be adaptive experts.

What a powerful set of skills in the middle! Sitting atop that list and renewed by the constant deepening of a knowledge of self is the capacity to relate with others. Pat Moyer, Cannon parent and coach, uses a term to describe how a team, program, or an organization achieves coherency, coordination, and effectiveness. In Pat’s words, the skill of relating with others provides the “connective tissue” that literally keeps the Cannon community together and moving forward. Within the full set of members of the Cannon community, there exists a critical mass of individuals that relates well with others.

Please hold this assertion for a moment because I want to approach it also from one of our core values.

Teaching Grammar and Teamwork

I have confessed to teachers that I became a much better student of English grammar when I was confronted with the task of teaching the subject to eighth-, tenth-, and twelfth-grade students. As a high school and college student, I memorized the basic rules and stayed alert to each teacher’s hit list: those errors that when found in one’s composition could end any opportunity for a decent grade. Only when I became responsible for teaching the concepts of grammar to students under my care, did I begin to see the logic in the way words work together to enhance meaning.

In a similar vein (although not something I have confessed before), I did not fully understand the depth and expanse of team and teamwork until I was given the responsibility to coach. Although I never considered myself a selfish player nor was I ever labeled one, I never understood the maxim “It is all about the team.” until I coached. As a coach, I became aware of all of those things that could erode the concept of team, and I came to understand the constant cultivation needed to keep players (and parents) pulling in the same direction. My players knew I cared about them beyond their ability to perform, and they also knew that I valued their willingness to perform as one above all other considerations.

I continue to learn about the significance of team in my role at Cannon. The real work of the School is performed within the teams at Cannon. In fact, the scope and complexity of the work demand that a team be involved. Ideas originate, and strategies are formed within the grade level, departmental, and divisional teams. Certainly, individuals are responsible and are evaluated on performance, yet the most accurate measure of the health of our school is found in the cohesiveness of the respective teams and the willingness of each team to work with another team to produce results that advance our mission.

Teamwork, Relating with Others, and Our Students

Throughout all grade levels and subject areas, the Cannon teacher teaches content and skills. The co-curricular lesson that is taught each day in each class is the one on learning how to relate with others.

Each classroom is a little community. One of the most valuable things a teacher does is welcome each member of the community and do her best to understand who this young person is and how best to relate. Students learn to relate to different teachers. Daily, students are asked to recognize the communal aspect to learning. The classroom becomes a much richer experience for everyone when students move from being on parallel tracks to genuine interaction where there is sensing, anticipating, responding, listening, and relating.

The most productive teams are bound together by an invisible yet powerful yoke that harnesses and sustains efforts. I know endless volumes have been and will be written about the construct of a team, and the list of drivers and factors fills indexes in the backs of these books. From my own experience, I have found the prospects of a true team forming increase exponentially when the individuals involved bring the skill set of knowing how to relate well with others. What a difference it makes in a Middle School basketball team, chorale ensemble, study group, business team, or marriage when the individuals coming together have learned how to read others, listen well, communicate clearly, and see the good in others first.

The successes that we have enjoyed as a school community can all be traced back to selfless and cohesive teams that formed a plan and executed. At the heart of each of these efforts is an extremely high collective quotient in knowing how to relate with others.

The challenges our students will face as adults will demand that they know how to be a teammate. As the adults in their respective lives, we should do all we can to model teamwork in front of them and encourage them to become a part of some kind of team here to grow as an individual and make our community stronger.



Matt Gossage
Head of School