Northwest Vista Teacher Retreat

P16Plus Council and Northwest Vista College collaborate to host highly successful teacher development retreat conducted by Center for renewal and wholeness in higher education.
Initial work of the P16Plus Council’s Goal 2/Team 2 centered on learning about and supporting two math/science initiatives already under way: the UTSA National Science Foundation planning grant for math/science teacher development (Joe Lazor) and the Trinity University/SAISD site-based math/science teacher development grant (Patricia Norman). After helping to identify a focus for the UTSA planning grant and with math and science initiatives under way on various fronts, Team 2 began to look at broadening engagement beyond science and math to identify a teacher development program that would cross subject area and grade level lines and that would have the potential to affect all areas of education.

A sub-team was formed that included P16Plus Council staff, selected educators, and members from consulting and training fields. Subsequent meetings focused on identifying staff development programs that would serve the whole school community. The team learned about the Ford Foundation-funded project-based learning program, about JAMS-funded Conflict Resolution Education in Higher Education (CRETE), and about Region 20’s mentoring and coaching training. As the team identified training opportunities and gaps, the following themes emerged:
• Student engagement and retention
• Teacher renewal and retention
• Connections among teachers and school administrations
• Focusing the work of teachers and school administrations.
It was agreed that the teacher development program should be self-perpetuating…one that would create a group of facilitators who could then share their expertise with colleagues.

Jackie Claunch, Chair of P16Plus Goal 2/Team 2 and President of Northwest Vista College, shared a report from NVC faculty who had attended a retreat conducted by Dallas-based Center for Renewal and Wholeness in Higher Education (CRWHE). They rated the experience as highly successful and valuable to them in their work as educators. Team 2 then reflected on how the CRWHE program, based upon the work of Parker Palmer, might be developed for San Antonio educators.  After thoughtful deliberation, Team 2 decided to select CRWHE to conduct the first teacher retreat offered by P16Plus Council, in collaboration with Northwest Vista College.

The Center for Renewal and Wholeness in Higher Education (CRWHE) prepares facilitators to conduct renewal and wholeness experiences for their colleagues and students. In retreats and other settings, participants engage in contemplative practice within a safe and supportive community. These explorations occur in solitude, in small groups, and in the large group, and provide individuals the opportunity to look within to rediscover and affirm all of who they are. Participants emerge renewed in heart, mind, and spirit, more effective in their work and study, and more authentic in their relationships. Facilitator preparation begins with intensive retreats conducted by CRWHE. Ongoing preparation occurs through the relationship with a CRWHE-designated mentor and through participation in the annual Gathering of facilitators.
CRWHE’s The Formation of Teachers retreat is based on the philosophy and beliefs of author and practitioner, Parker J. Palmer, and the work that he began in late 1990’s. The aim of participation in teacher formation is “to connect who you are to what you do” – thus the connection to teacher renewal and development. While learning technique is important, good teaching also “comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.” The intent is to develop a team of facilitators with the expertise to conduct teacher formation workshops for K-16 faculty.

Finally, The Formation of Teachers retreat was scheduled in two parts… January 14-16 and June 10-12, 2011, at Haven River Inn in Comfort, Texas, and applications went out encouraging registration in this initial P16Plus Council’s teacher development effort. Fifteen educators responded to register for The Formation of Teachers representing the following institutions and firms:
• Connell Middle School
• Edison High School
• Folbre & Assoc. Consulting
• Hawthorne Academy
• Leeds’ Conflict Management
•  Northeast Lakeview College
• Northwest Vista College
• Palo Alto College
• St. Mary’s University

CRWHE encourages the development of facilitation teams—individuals with different talents and interests who work together to provide renewal and wholeness experiences. Champions in leadership positions provide crucial program support. The mentor works with all involved to design specific retreats and similar experiences as well as to grow the overall program. During 2011, Team 2 will begin both the training of facilitators for long-term work and will begin the formation work in at least one institution.

The following evaluations of the first retreat speak to the effectiveness of this teacher formation work:
• “It’s one of the most creative things I have ever been engaged in. It has given me more insight and has helped me as much as any program I have been a part of. It has to do with understanding yourself…your whole self…with being able to bring our your own gifts and to use those gifts to help others or just to make others more effective at what they do. It is extremely helpful to me both personally and in my professional life.”
• “The program is about reminding teachers that we teach from the inside…so anytime you develop the internal wisdom of a teacher you increase the effectiveness of anybody who is teaching at any level. The retreat was a time of sharing ideas, looking at why we do what we do, talking to each other about things that are important and creating a cohort on our campus to encourage good, thoughtful teaching and relating to students. I cannot tell you how valuable this program is going to be to our college.”
• “This has been an enormous gift to my heart and my soul…to be here this weekend with the people here. The setting is beautiful…the people in the group…you can feel the energy…the passion for what you do. People are excited now to get back to school so they can share this with the people in their building, their children, their students…everyone in their school.”
• “I am delighted to have been invited to be a part of this program. I can bring back exciting possibilities for young people in education as they learn and grow…building communities of comfortable, happy, confident young people. I am very excited to bring what we are learning here this weekend and in June back to my classroom.”
• “This experience has been excellent…has taught us how to build community by listening to our internal truth and voice. I am very excited about spreading these great gifts, these great lessons to other folks in the community.”
• “Thank you for allowing me a chance to start this journey. It has meant the world to me and I truly appreciate it.”
• “This experience has been life-changing for me already. I know deep in my heart and in my soul that I am meant to teach and I have many things to teach. I am a teacher and I have things to share. This has been a beautiful experience and I am very blessed to have been a part of it.”
• “I am leaving today with so many ideas on how I am going to help my students and myself and my family become “whole” people. The use of the art and poetry through this program has been life-changing for me as a writer and as a teacher.”

The location chosen for the retreat…Haven River Inn…added immensely to the overall experience. The inn is situated on a hill overlooking the Guadalupe River. The weather during the weekend of the retreat was rainy and cool, and a perpetual wood fire added physical and spiritual warmth in the gathering room. Participants enjoyed the panoramic view from the rocking chairs on the wide veranda during breaks. The staff of Haven River is friendly and attentive and helps to make guests feel very much at home. They prepared delicious meals that kept energy and spirits high throughout the weekend, with an added “plus”… they were happy to share the recipes for several dishes that were a big hit with the retreat group. Everyone expressed their eagerness to return to Haven River Inn for the second half of the retreat in June.

For further reading about the “Formation of Teachers” work, see an article by Parker Palmer at: The Website