“My parents always told me to show up and then go from there. For me, Park has been and continues to be a culture of curiosity, one where I’m pleased to show up everyday.”
Meet Matt Doyle: Brené Brown fan, change agent, and Assistant Lower School Principal at Park School. He sat down with us to talk about his journey at the school and why he loves showing up for Park students every day.
Meet Matt Doyle, Assistant Lower School Principal at Park School
Can you share a little bit about how you came to Park and your current position as Lower School Assistant Principal?
I owe my introduction to Park in a large way to a former Park educator. Her son ran cross country with me in high school, and when I graduated from college, she reached out about an open position and thought that Park’s philosophy would resonate with my own. I will never be able to thank her enough for launching a career that was beyond my imagination at the time, and bringing me to a community that has become my second home.
I began working at Park in 2005 as the Lower School Technology Coordinator. At the time, the technology coordinator role was being re-defined and I was given the opportunity and charge to plan, critique, and create curriculum while expanding the academic technology program as a whole. During my first few years, I was fortunate to form and strengthen connections with many members of the community, from students and teachers, to the administration and parents, to ensure that our technology philosophy and program was aligned with the mission of the school.
After several years, I decided to go back to school for a graduate program in school counseling. I was also fortunate to work on several committees at Park, from crafting the school’s mission statement and working on hiring a Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, to critiquing proposals for summer professional development and reviewing admissions files, these experiences opened my lens to the wide sphere of influence one can have in a school, particularly when working on dedicated teams with shared vision.
In thinking about the next steps in my career, I found that my favorite days at Park were when I could see progress and change in action, when difficult conversations led to new insights, and when purposeful efforts and thoughtful perspectives yielded more efficient or productive systems. On most days, the assistant principal position at Park includes all of these elements and more — with the student experience at the center.
With an enthusiastic new Lower School principal and many large initiatives already underway, an opening occurred in 2019 for a Lower School assistant principal. I was eager to apply and jumped on the chance at a new adventure.
How would you describe your educational philosophy? How does that fit with Park’s overall educational environment?
My philosophy has been largely shaped by my upbringing in Jesuit schools and my career at Park. This combination centers around curiosity, collaboration, optimism, and service. I believe that our potential to do good and make a positive difference for ourselves and others is likely always greater than we realize, and that our belief in one another creates the confidence that enables us to achieve our collective and often unimagined dreams. I also believe that this is not easy — nor is it meant to be. As a seeker of change, I hold tightly to the notion that there are many solutions to most problems and, on occasion, no obvious solutions at all, but the pursuit is always revealing and worthwhile if we put in the required effort.
I was raised in homes and classrooms that valued discourse and dialogue. Later in life, I began to consider what kept some quiet or unable to join conversations altogether. I wondered about the reasons that a narrative could be dominated by one perspective versus many, and began to unpack bias and how history has impacted human development. In order for diverse perspectives to be represented, I believe that great value should be placed on listening in addition to speaking up.
I also believe that our best learning occurs when we are able to share our authentic selves with one another, which requires a great deal of risk-taking and, subsequently, trust. Creating opportunities for failure in a nurturing environment helps us connect with and support one another. It also helps learners understand their own strengths and areas for growth so that they can take charge of their own education.
What surprises prospective parents about Park School?
I love this question. Prospective families are often surprised when they become aware of the underlying, intentional structures that exists in all of our settings — creating an environment where everyone feels safe and able to do their best learning; they are surprised by the sense of responsibility and care for one another that students exhibit as a result of being part of a community built on positive expectations; and they are surprised when they see what students are capable of when supported and encouraged to take initiative and challenge themselves by a faculty that truly knows each child.
Perhaps what surprises people the most, though, is the level of kindness and the strength of the community at Park. The openness to diversity in all of its forms is difficult to describe, but it can be felt throughout the hallways. Students at Park feel free and are encouraged to be and share their authentic selves. For some families, this is a striking difference from other school environments.
You’ve been at Park for the last 15 years, What are some of your favorite school traditions?
My favorite school traditions are those that involve the entire school. I also love any events that take full advantage of our gorgeous campus. It is amazing to see the enthusiasm that pours out when students from different divisions are able to support one another. At our Halloween parade, there will often be so many Middle and Upper School students cheering on the Lower School that we can barely get back into the building. My favorite tradition, though, has to be the Winter All-School Holiday Assembly when the entire school gathers together in the athletic center. Student speakers and musical groups perform from each division and it is a literal experience of the diversity, growth, and development that is happening all around us from Pre-K-12th Grade and makes us who we are.
If you could assign one book to every Lower School family to read, what book would it be? Why?
Like many, I’m a big fan of Brené Brown. While many of her books are high on my list, “The Gifts of Imperfection” is one that I find myself returning to most frequently. In March, I became a new dad, and discovered the audio-book complement, “The Gift of Imperfect Parenting: Raising Children with Courage, Compassion and Connection.” I definitely recommend it. Parents today are busy! Not only is this a quick listen and relevant to parents with children of any ages, but Dr. Brown also does a fantastic job of sharing many messages that I think parents need more than ever. After years with virtual or hybrid learning and the tremendous toll that the pandemic continues to take on our children’s and our own health and wellness, her notion that the home should be a sacred place is one that we can likely all appreciate. I frequently talk with parents about the difficulty of setting limits at home or finding common ground with other families. In this audiobook, Dr. Brown underlines the importance of limit-setting and how that sets children up for success by modeling how to set their own boundaries down the line. For me, her messages underline the tremendous challenge and fortunate opportunity we have to not only teach and show children the way, but to actually model and live the life that we want to share.
Park’s task is to engage children in experiences that will encourage and sustain their innate curiosity and joy in learning. What does that look like?
Park has an energy that can be felt and typically seen from the time you walk onto campus. The environment is teeming with excitement and enthusiasm about ideas and what could be.
Part of this comes from purposeful time dedicated to creating a community that feels safe and inclusive. The other part comes from children being able to see themselves in the curriculum and have a voice in their own education.
Learning at Park is often experiential, integrated, and hands-on. A child studying West Africa will plant native foods in the school garden, learn West African drumming in music class, and read West African stories in the library. Students studying Native American structures will build their own structures in the woods to practice Indigenous techniques and directly understand the challenges with living outdoors and having limited resources. Students studying the Middle Ages will cut their own wood to create angles in math, then use the angles to construct catapults and conduct experiments, launching ping pong balls up and down the hallways while their partners measure and track the data.
Teachers are often informed guides in the classroom. Modeling the ways to interact with information and with one another is a daily practice for Park faculty. You will often see teachers asking students to present their understandings at the front of the room and teach the class about their discoveries or strategies while the classroom teacher takes a back seat and guides the discussion that follows.
Learning at Park also means that there is a place for everyone to express themselves and find the arenas for learning that they love the most. On the playground, one might see an organized sport happening at the same time that other students are in the garden, and some are on the swings and sliding board. As students grow, the options increase with various choices for music and choral ensembles, after school clubs, sports, and electives.
How do you, personally, stay curious?
My parents always told me to show up and then go from there. For me, Park has been and continues to be a culture of curiosity, one where I’m pleased to show up everyday. Opportunities for thought, research, discussion and work are literally everywhere — and someone else is almost always ready and willing to dive in with me or pass on an amazing resource. I frequently review resources shared by others in the school community (recent examples include an article on strategies for constructive dialogue across ideological differences and a film about anti-bias early childhood education), and saying yes to these opportunities to learn and grow, particularly if I sense any of my own hesitation, has proven time and time again to keep me engaged. Questions bring more questions and fortunately, at Park, we’re comfortable with that. I also love to learn about and visit other schools. We are extremely lucky to have so many wonderful independent schools in and around Baltimore and everyone has amazing innovative programs and initiatives underway.
When I am not engaging in professional development at Park or networking with other schools, I tend to spend a lot of time outdoors. And each year, I also travel to Canada for a week with no cell service. Taking time to wander, wonder, and write has helped me find the space necessary for new pursuits. Finding the time to clear my thoughts and play in the dirt, literally, keeps me going.
Perhaps most of all though, I am incredibly fortunate to work with children. Anyone who works with young children and enjoys it will tell you that they have a way of humbling the human experience. We currently have a new baby at home and there are days when I marvel at her sense of wonder. A question about the bark on a tree, a caterpillar, or a silly joke from a child can put everything into a renewed perspective at just the right time. For the curiosity and, perhaps, the kindness of us all, I encourage everyone to spend time with children.
Editor’s Note: This article is sponsored by The Park School of Baltimore. To learn more about the school, visit their website at parkschool.net. Images were provided by the school.