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Confusing How with What

By Craig Gemmell, Head of School

When I look back on this amazing, wonder-filled time in Madrid leading us to our first day of school on September 7, 2023, I’m quite sure I’ll forget at least some of the inevitable grind of it all. When I look back, I’ll forget that my voice grew raspy from endless talking by the end of Friday only to regain its vigor by Monday morning; and the unabating feeling of needing more time than can be squeezed out of a day; and the newness of working for the first time in my life outside of a school community and the web of relationships that emerge among teachers and students, finding myself instead in a fishtank of a co-working space (re)creating something in a new context. 

Fond memories of meetings I’ve had with students and parents will surely crowd out the arduous weeks, months and years leading to September 7, 2023, when I will be among the first faces our new students and parents see at the first momentous drop off on opening day. At our current rate, I will have had several hundred of these meetings with kids and parents by September, and regardless of their age, prospective students hum with possibility once they start talking. As each talks, he or she presents as unique, interested, and interesting. Every single one. They are all different. They all have different hopes and dreams and talents. And regardless of the age of their children, all parents want their children to flourish and are curious about what makes Brewster Madrid different. 

This question of what makes us different is asked often. When asked this question by prospective parents or prospective faculty members or the media my answers were, for a time, long and mechanical. I discussed modes of instruction and teacher-to-student ratios and meeting structures and co-curricular programming. I realize now that in describing the particular mechanisms we employ to support optimal learning for each student I was talking about the mechanics. I was stuck in the how. Now let me explain the abstract what.

What really makes us different?

  1. We honor all students’ native joy of learning, their curiosity, their ability to be present and seek to uncover and preserve these qualities in our every interaction with every student because we recognize that doing so supports intrinsic motivation. 

  2. We seek to understand deeply the uniqueness of each child as a learner and act on that understanding by optimizing how we work with each child because we recognize that doing so supports strong learning outcomes. 

  3. We build a culture of nurturing and kindness and consequently teach our students to interact thoughtfully one with another because we recognize that doing so will prepare our students for a lifetime of acting upon that which is larger than the self. 

  4. We help each student to recognize and act on his or her unique gifts because doing so positions our students to enter adulthood with strong senses of self and agency. 

The upshot of what we do is quite simple: our students are robustly prepared for their next steps in life. They are fully ready to act powerfully and purposefully as they enter university and life beyond. 


"No restriction shall be placed upon any person desiring to attend and receive instruction from said school or academy on account of his or her age, sex, or color, provided only he or she is of good moral character."

John Brewster.