Home » Cover Story, September 2012

Retreat, review, recharge

3 September 2012 One Comment

Sheela Ramakrishnan

Every now and then, all of us need to pause in the journeys we undertake, take stock of the paths that we have travelled, and make any corrections that are necessary.

This exercise helps us to recharge our batteries, think fresh and explore new possibilities. The stories that our contributors have shared here on the paths they have travelled reveal a wealth of perspectives, each different from the other.

This Teachers’ Day, be a part of this journey.

One of the most inspiring retreats that I have seen in recent times, was at a small school in a town in Andhra Pradesh, which gave a holiday to all the kids in the school, so that the teachers could attend an in-service workshop! Obviously, they considered “time-out” for the teachers to be important enough to do that. Why exactly did the school consider this so important?

To figure that out – let us explore what retreats really are. Among all the dictionary meanings of the word, the ones that struck me as being important for our context were the following: “Pull back, move backward” and “to retire to a place of quiet”. An amalgam of these two meanings fits into what retreats mean for educators. I feel we need to pull back once in a while,, to make time to look into our inner zone, so that we can move forward more efficiently. Approached in that manner, retreats for educators would mean “moving away or pulling back from the kids who we are with every day to look into our inner zone to move forward, armed better to influence them positively.”

In the bustling day that all educators experience, where is the physical or mental space to “stand and stare” – there isn’t even time enough for personal stuff, so where from for professional development? But we all know that the educator’s role is undergoing dramatic shifts. The world out there is changing so fast, that education is no longer static – it has become a highly dynamic field. Hence professional development and keeping up to date have become necessities rather than luxuries.

Take the case of an educator who has been teaching for a significant number of years, teaching ‘geometry’ to many batches of eager students – who did quite well in the examination too. There is a comfort zone that he/she may have settled into, until a child comes up to say “But why do we need to learn geometry?” Yesterday’s child wouldn’t have dared to ask this but today’s child needs an answer to continue learning and makes no bones about it. And so, suddenly shaken out of the comfort zone, today’s educator not only needs to know What to teach, but also Why it is required and How to teach it and keep up with new methodology that is in tune with new pedagogy. A challenge indeed for both classroom educators and those who lead those institutions. All this requires some thinking. But to go back to the earlier observation, where is the time to think?

This is where retreats come in. They provide the much needed ‘lung space’ required for educators. This is the time one can pull back from those students – we all love them, but they can be overwhelming at times – to think calmly about where we are heading and which direction to take. It gives us time to brainstorm with our peers and others. To learn, to share, to reflect.

Hence the case for retreats for educators has been firmly rested.

Taking off from the understanding of retreats to mean pulling away from children to learn, reflect and share, retreats can actually take on different forms.

The learning retreats – In-service workshops, inbound and outbound trainings
Though all retreats are sources of learning, a learning retreat specially focuses on adding inputs to the educator. Hence these may take the form of training programmes (both outbound and inbound) and workshops, where typically there are experts addressing a group of educators on a topic of interest with a goal of adding to professional knowledge. Here, the expert takes on the directive role and educators go back feeling that they have a ‘knowledge take away’ from being at the retreat. These could be organized by individual schools for one’s own teachers or by any institution or agency engaged with education – usually a publisher of educational products or a body engaged in improving educational standards.

Outbound programmes are a great opportunity to learn from Nature about oneself and each other. Outbound activities push us to engage in activities that build trust and team spirit that ultimately, when transferred to school, make for more effective learning for the child. Learning retreats therefore need not be all about only pedagogy, but also provide great scope for self-development and building camaraderie amongst colleagues.

The sharing retreats – conferences, lectures, staff picnics and outings
The purpose of such retreats is implicit – it is meant to share ideas and opinion. This happens during conferences and organized lectures of stalwarts in education. Conferences provide a forum to share best practices and decide on new directions. Conferences on major trends in education are organized by bodies working in this field and conferences organized by School Boards are some examples of these. Since these are almost never only for in house educators, they become a perfect platform for networking with peers in the field. Meeting others in the same boat from other schools is not only rejuvenating, but also provides sharing opportunities in a focused manner. Many friendships are formed thus that go on to remain alive for a long time.

On another note, even when a school decides to take its teachers out either for pleasure or work – this happens regularly during Teachers’ Day – it provides an ideal sharing platform for perspectives within one’s school. An informal friendly atmosphere, away from home and work pressures bring out the best in each one. Conflicts that were simmering can suddenly disappear as you see one another in a new light. Something that was shared by a colleague about a child who you were on the verge of giving up on, gives you renewed hope – for you and the child. These informal and formal interactions are a much needed necessary break. Staff meetings too, most often looked upon to be a boring affair, can therefore be interesting if well planned and approached with positivity and enthusiasm.

The reflective retreats – referencing – reading, browsing and thinking
Reading on pedagogy, psychology, philosophy, gives us insight into various issues that may be troubling us or just enhance our inner and outer selves some more. It is during such quiet times that creativity can flow, new ideas emerge and we realize who we really are. Spending time in the library or building your own library of professional resources, gives food to make us a better professional.

Browsing – of educational sites – is another engaging activity. The internet is a treasure house of resources for educators – tips, ideas, worksheets, activity suggestions, lesson plans – it’s a colourful and informative world out there. One never feels alone. It reiterates that children all over the world are the same and educators all over the world, though belonging to different colours and races, speak the same language of the heart.

And finally the mother of all retreats – the one that takes us into our inner self – alone time or Me time. We all need time alone – not only to recharge ourselves for our families, but also to become a better professional. Reflection can happen at its most honest form, only when alone. The best feedback that one can get is one that is given by our self, provided we are true to ourselves.

This kind of retreat requires no planning or preparation, no packing of bags – just a quiet comfortable chair with a quiet moment to spare or even a yoga mat will do the job. And go on a voyage of self-discovery and personal growth.

Retreat and renew and watch yourself get recharged!

The author is a partner at Edcraft, Hyderabad, a firm engaged in making teaching-learning materials, conducting workshops and providing consultancy services. She can be reached at edcraft94@gmail.com.

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One Comment »

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