The month of July marked an important milestone in Brewster’s new international network of schools. On the evening of July 28, 2023, a group of 30 or so faculty and several administrators gathered at the Temple of Debod in the Cuartel de la Montaña Park in Madrid, Spain to celebrate the conclusion of the first Brewster Madrid Summer Institute, a three-week immersive onboarding experience modeled after Brewster Summer Institute (BSI) held each summer in Wolfeboro and the aimed at introducing all new faculty and staff to the school’s culture, structures, and approaches. The sense of excitement, camaraderie, and joy were palpable.
During the three-week-long onboarding meetings, Brewster Madrid faculty and staff attended daily workshops that helped them better understand Brewster Academy, its mission and vision, as well as its academic and co-curricular programs. When describing the first Brewster Madrid session, the school’s Founding Head of School and a former Head of School at Brewster Academy in Wolfeboro, Craig Gemmell, said, “Despite Madrid’s stifling July heat, BSI was so satisfying for me because I was able to watch a group come together and reflect the same inclinations I have abidingly appreciated about Brewster Academy’s faculty: connecting in deeply professional ways and working toward common goals together.”
In addition to learning about Brewster Wolfeboro, the sessions, led by the founding leadership team, were also designed to envision a Brewster school in a different cultural and linguistic context and consider structures and approaches that will shape the community culture, inside and outside of the classroom. During the multiple collaborative sessions, faculty discussed school-wide expectations (e.g., How will students address their teachers? What should the school’s cell phone policy be?), the opportunity to create shared traditions across the network (e.g., flag raising, Winter Carnival events), and also focused on division-wide expectations and approaches (e.g., What are the morning routines used in the Lower School? How can Water, IPad, and Notes—known as WIN—help middle schoolers develop a sense of responsibility and self-care? How can we thoughtfully integrate the city of Madrid into our learning architecture? How can we best support the socio-emotional needs of our students?).
The BSI discussions combined diverse collective knowledge and experience of the founding faculty with openness to consider new ideas, perspectives, and ways of thinking. Jonathan Fouser, one of the Deputy Heads of School at Brewster Madrid, remarked that they are individuals “who are comfortable looking into the unknown and figuring out how to move forward together.” The feelings of excitement that come with hope, creating something new, and the opportunity to reimagine learning were observable in all interactions, design sessions, and presentations to wider faculty. As one of the participants stated, “I feel that being part of how the school’s policies, routines, and idiosyncrasies are shaped makes Brewster feel a little more ours, and find it fantastic that there is this big openness to trust us as professionals.” Several others remarked on the fact that this was the very first time that the founding faculty were together: As one participant reflected, “seeing all the teachers for the first time all together in the same building was the most significant moment of BSI.”
Community-building opportunities and spaces to get to know each other were embedded into the program on a regular basis. In addition to day-time workshops and collaborative sessions, the Brewster Madrid team visited an art museum for an interactive tour led by two of its teachers and attended gatherings organized in other parts of the city. As one person admitted, the community building events were important because they allowed the team to “get to know each other as humans first to foster kindness and collaborative thinking.” Another added that the informal opportunities in addition to the day-time BSI were “helping to shape our vision for Brewster.” According to Bret Barnett, another Deputy Head of School at Brewster Madrid, “all participants not only took the opportunity to get to know one another but also all really invested in the opportunity to learn about Brewster.”
While the social at Temple of Debod concluded the first Madrid Brewster Summer Institute, July 31 marked the first day of BSI in Wolfeboro. Here, too, faculty and staff new to the school, and, in some instances, new to teaching, had an opportunity to explore Brewster, form new connections, and ease into their academic year. When looking back at the 2023 BSI, Katie Gardner, Brewster’s Dean of Faculty wrote that, “It is amazing to gather a group of strangers and watch them work together, share their experiences, and develop a strong working relationship.”
Aside from presentations from various faculty and administrators that informed participants about residential, academic, and co-curricular aspects of the school as well as future initiatives, faculty designed and taught lessons, received feedback, and engaged in discussions on teaching and learning at a residential school. But this three-week onboarding program also provided space for sharing one’s experiences and expertise, collaborating, and reflecting on one’s practice, all of which are hallmarks of effective professional development programs. In her comments about the value of BSI, Kristy Kerin, Brewster’s Head of School, added, “We hear time and time again that faculty are grateful to have such a thoughtful and thorough onboarding process.”
Faculty feedback responses suggest that they valued the opportunity to come together as a cohort, experience their new community, and interact with others in professional and more informal settings, including on-campus social gatherings. Many of the participants described the sessions as informative, enjoyable, and with enough interactive features that allowed them to ask questions to better understand the different aspects of the school. A number of faculty also commented that the opportunity to plan and teach a lesson to a group of colleagues was helpful. One participant, when reflecting on the activity, wrote that they were “very inspired.” Their thoughtful engagement throughout the sessions and embracing all that BSI entails, reflects deep care for students and their experience, but are also indicative of their own commitment to learning and collaborating with others. In fact, “the teachers at BSI 2023 were excellent students: They were eager to learn, to help each other, and to put their learning into practice,” said Matt Butcher, Brewster’s Academic Dean.
The teacher onboarding process that started with recruiting and continued with BSI is just the beginning of an exciting journey and professional collaboration between the two schools that are united in an effort to create joyful and purposeful learning opportunities for their students. Together, Brewster Madrid and Brewster Wolfeboro get to reimagine learning and develop cross-cultural experiences for students, teachers, and our programs as a whole.