Continuous Formation

Continuous Formation
Kristy Kerin

Autumn at Brewster with the start of a new academic year is a season that confirms a simple truth about communal living: How we engage as community members is a reflection of what we value. I’ve watched it play out daily, as the countless interactions between people reveal our community core values in action. The choices we each make—holding open a door, showing appreciation for a point of view even while taking an alternate stance, keeping our personal and shared spaces clean, acting with integrity when no one is watching—are the essential elements and connections that make us stronger as a community. This year, my twelfth at Brewster, I’ve enjoyed watching these daily choices anew through the lens of our community core values: Respect, Responsibility, Independence, Interdependence. 

John Dewey, influential educational philosopher said, “The self is not something ready-made, but something in continuous formation through choice of action.” When Dewey speaks about our choice of action, implicit in that phrase are the values that influence our choices. What makes us act the way that we do? What motivates us? Why? I’m also struck by the phrase continuous formation and the idea that these daily, moment-by-moment choices shape our very way of being.

The choice to enroll in or work at a school like Brewster is in itself a commitment to shared growth. We are an “all-in” community. We eat, sleep, learn, and socialize together every day. No one person moves through their day without intersecting the path of many others. In our interconnectedness, we are all responsible for the growth of others as we each grow ourselves. Paradoxically, we learn to be independent while growing ever more interdependent.

Brewster students in math class

The interplay of these two values takes shape in many ways. As new roommates adjust to living together, they establish their individual routines while figuring out how to accommodate the needs of others. As students help friends work through early homesickness, they discover more about the source of their own strength. And as returning students explain and model Brewster expectations for new students, they reinforce the behaviors that create a safe, productive environment for themselves and those around them. 

Perhaps it is the unique vantage point I now have as both Head of School and new Brewster parent, but I’ve particularly enjoyed watching the impact of our upper school students as they have taken responsibility for younger students in clubs, on teams, and in dorms. They are showing through their actions what we mean by respect for others, themselves, and our facilities and programs. I’ve seen the impact first hand in my own son’s experience as he and his friends have learned foundational skills in robotics, kayaking, and rock climbing from older students who have been generous with their expertise. They’ve also learned personal qualities of curiosity, creativity, and kindness as the older students have led with humor and goodwill. Our student leaders (whether they are leaders by title or by deed) play such an active role in the learning process at Brewster. They are discovering a powerful life lesson: When we share our knowledge, time, and care with others, we ourselves change and grow, and everyone benefits.


Last Saturday morning, I joined the crew team for their morning practice. I was there with a group of parents who had also come out early to help celebrate the addition of two new boats gifted to the program by Brewster alum, David Carlson ’54 and his wife Roz, grandparents of Christopher Carlson ’15. (If you haven’t already done so, Chris’s story is worth reading as he is now competing at the highest levels of the sport, having never rowed before giving it a try one day while at Brewster!) 

The crew program, under the leadership of Coach Katy Varga-Wells, is currently experiencing its own growth, having ballooned to 35 students strong and making some noise at competitions throughout the region. From what I have seen, this sport is not for the faint of heart. Students are often up and on the water before their classmates have started to stir. They spend as much time preparing and breaking down their equipment as they do out on the water rowing. Workouts can be grueling, and even when athletes may be feeling tired, their teammates are counting on them to do their part. 

Watching the team from the deck of the Pinckney Boathouse, I thought a lot about Dewey’s idea of “continuous formation” and how the all-in nature of a life at Brewster accelerates that idea. In just one month, this team became a cohesive unit. Each member knew their job and how to perform it well. With elegant coordination they moved boats and packed up their trailer for Sunday’s regatta, executing their roles with respect for their equipment and teammates. They took responsibility for the part they play in the greater whole, completing their jobs with quiet confidence, working independently and interdependently to contribute to a program that is bursting with potential. I was proud to witness it all, especially the quick smiles of accomplishment and pride in a job well done.

It is remarkable how this happens in such a short span of time at the start of fall. Though spring is typically known as the season of growth and fall is considered the harvest season, it seems at Brewster we are both growing and harvesting each autumn—growing as individuals and harvesting as a community the rewards of one good, values-based decision after another.

Brewster’s Community Core Values
Brewster will be better because of me and I will be better because of Brewster.

We are RESPECTFUL. We strive to treat ourselves and others with unconditional positive regard, aiming to create an inclusive community of belonging in which all feel welcome, known, and valued. We believe in the limitless potential for positive growth in all people, and see mistakes as opportunities for learning.

We are RESPONSIBLE. We aspire to always do the hard, right thing. We act with integrity, in ways that earn and maintain trust, recognizing this as a foundation for the positive relationships that build a healthy community.

We are INDEPENDENT. We have the courage to bring our full selves to a community that believes great minds do not think alike. We stubbornly pursue growth as individuals, taking ownership and accountability for our actions, goals, and success. 

We are INTERDEPENDENT. We find joy through shared experiences and accomplishments. We seek to put our own interests and talents to use, not just for ourselves, but for the betterment of others. We believe that each individual shares responsibility for the success of others.

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