Each year, Brewster honors two faculty members with The Arthur Morris Kenison Faculty Award for Career Growth and The Arthur Morris Kenison Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching. Head of School Kristy Kerin revealed the 2023 recipients of these awards—Brewster’s highest honor for faculty—during her welcome remarks at Brewster’s All-School Meeting on September 4. Those top-notch teachers are Tom Hill and Michelle Dodge.
“It is always an honor to announce the Kenison Awards, because it’s a special moment when the entire school pauses to recognize two people devoted to their profession and their students’ success,” Mrs. Kerin said after the big reveal.
PURPOSE AND PASSION
Mathematics faculty member Tom Hill received the Arthur Morris Kenison Faculty Award for Career Growth, given in recognition of the faculty member who, over the course of the year, has demonstrated the most accelerated professional growth within the Brewster Academy program.
A graduate of Colorado University in Boulder with a BA in Mathematics, Hill joined the Brewster faculty eight years ago. In a 2021 interview for a “get to know the faculty” story, Mr. Hill explained why he chose his professional path early on: “In high school my math teachers were boring and not engaging. I heard the saying ‘Be the change you want to see in the world,’ thus I became a math teacher I hope my younger self would have enjoyed and been challenged by.”
It seems he has achieved his goal: One of his nominators wrote, “Tom’s classroom is run with purpose and passion. He is a model teacher for everyone here at Brewster.”
In her announcement of the award, Ms. Kerin mentioned some of the adjectives used by fellow faculty to describe Mr. Hill: “creative, dynamic, hardworking, encouraging, experienced, helpful, engaging, purposeful, and passionate.” She also noted that Mr. Hill strives to motivate his students using creative and dynamic methods, pushing them to develop critical thinking skills and guide their own learning. He was lauded for incorporating new and diverse ideas into his curriculum, combining social justice and math, as well as his work rebuilding the Algebra 2 curriculum over the summer.
While teaching full time, Mr. Hill also serves as a coach for Brewster’s First Robotics Team, and on top of all that, is also a new father. He welcomed baby Ira with wife Amy Hill, a member of the arts faculty, this summer.
“It was truly touching hearing all of the kind words my colleagues said,” Mr. Hill shared after hearing his name read as this year’s recipient. “It was heartfelt that they felt the effort and passion I put into my work. I enjoy working to improve mathematics education in our little slice of the world. Many previous students came up to me and congratulated me saying that I was deserving and they enjoyed my class greatly.
Newly appointed Science Department Chair Michelle Dodge received the Arthur Morris Kenison Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching, given in recognition of demonstrated excellence in teaching practices and overall contributions within the Brewster Academy program. Ms. Dodge holds her BS in Environmental Science and English Literature from Hobart and William Smith Colleges and her MS in Science Education from Montana State University. She joined the Brewster faculty in 2008, and has served in many roles, including rowing coach, CLP, and assistant director of residence life. Receiving this award represents a full-circle moment: She was the recipient of the Kenison Career Growth Award in 2013!
Ms. Kerin began her presentation of the Excellence in Teaching award by saying, “This year's recipient is lauded by her colleagues for her careful attention to detail in each of the subjects she teaches.…citing the endless hours she spends working to evolve her courses and rework class activities to continue to improve the learning experience for her students.” She also noted that last year, Ms. Dodge took a leading role in revising and rewriting the SEL curriculum based on student feedback and faculty observations.
Ms. Kerin continued: “One of her colleagues shared, ‘The time and care she puts into each lesson, no matter the subject, is clear and something I admire greatly…She is always thoughtful about what content she is teaching and works each day to make changes based on a specific student, her classes, and the world around us. She is truly deserving of this award!’”
One colleague shared this observation with the award committee: “Michelle encourages her students to work collaboratively. She strives to get them to see that they not only learn from her but learn from one another. Students feel both respected and challenged in a positive way.”
The words that nominators used to describe Ms. Dodge serve as a list of what every student hopes their teacher will be: patient, collaborative, encouraging, understanding, eager to grow and learn, respectful, deeply caring, and unfailingly positive.
Ms. Kerin noted, “She does all of this while being an active dorm parent of 9th grade girls and volunteering for additional projects. As one of her colleagues said, ‘I am consistently inspired by her.’ I have to agree.”
Ms. Dodge admitted she had no clue that she was the Excellence in Teaching awardee until her name was read at the ceremony. Her first thought? “I was just so touched that somebody thought those wonderful things about me,” she shared a few days after the announcement.
Her next thoughts were of those who had helped guide her career. “What made my heart full is that I’ve had so many mentors here who have been incredibly generous with their time, honesty, and caring,” she said, adding that Laura Cooper and Emily James immediately popped to mind. “I’m grateful I’ve had so many incredible role models and colleagues who inspire me to be my best. And fantastic students who are curious learners and willing to try new things.”
“It makes me happy to be in a place where learning is valued and supported,” she said, but mentioned she did have a moment of tears. “I was so stunned when it happened that I went home and cried that night!”
With all of her experience, what is Ms. Dodge looking forward to this school year? “A lot of things,” she said with a smile. “I’m so thrilled I have an amazing renovated space! I can think about adding different activities that are possible now because of the new equipment in the lab. I’m even more excited to be able to explore some new ways of teaching and new challenges with my department and my team.”
Ms. Dodge lives on campus (serving as a CLP in Toad Hall), with her three kids, Langston, Tennyson, and Auden, and said Brewster’s top teacher honor gives her some reassurance. “It’s very reassuring to know I’m going in the right direction!” she said.
Katie Gardner, Dean of Faculty and Academic Support, explained why the announcement of the Kenison Award winners is a much-anticipated event at the start of each school year: “Teaching at a boarding school can be demanding, yet these teachers consistently demonstrate a high commitment to educating their students. As such, their colleagues have recognized them for their dedication and constant desire to evolve their teaching practices.”
Brewster’s Career Growth and Excellence in Teaching awards are named for the late Arthur M. Kenison, Ph.D, who served devotedly on Brewster’s Board of Trustees from 1979 to 1999 as the chair of the board finance committee. The Kenison family has strong and lasting ties to Brewster: Arthur’s grandfather, also Arthur, was Brewster Class of 1899. His uncles, Frank ’25 and Arthur ’30, were also Board members, and his father Samuel was Class of 1927. Brewster's library is dedicated to the Kenison Family legacy and the Keinson House dorm is named after Arthur ’30 and his wife Doris. It is an appropriate honor to name two of Brewster’s most prestigious awards after a man who devoted himself to ensuring a sound foundation for the school his family loved so dearly.