First Literacy Sponsors Teacher Retreat

By Lenore Balliro, Director of Programs

On August 18, a group of Massachusetts adult basic education teachers gathered in Lanesville, MA, a small seaside community in North Gloucester, for a full day of creativity, restoration, and reflection. Adult basic education teachers work harder than ever in their attempts to meet the often cavernous needs of students and the increasing demands of funders. The retreat was intended to honor teachers by bringing them together in a supportive, fun environment and introducing some strategies for self-care and relaxation before starting a new academic year.

We started by relinquishing our cell phones and did not access any screens or technology for the entire day. That, in itself, freed us from the distraction of beeps and jingles and allowed us to pay full attention to each other. We did not tweet. We did not Facebook. We did not Instagram, email, or text. I can’t help but think how differently our day would have been if we had not taken this step.

After depositing any concerns into a water-filled “worry bowl,” we moved ahead.

Doing the hokey pokey made us laugh hard, remember the value of play, and display our willingness to act and look silly. Writing “Where I’m From” poems helped us build community and note commonalities among a diverse group. The rain did come, but it was a gentle rain, and we embarked on our silent walk through the woods anyway, embracing the principles of Japanese “shinrin–yoku,” or forest bathing. (Fully clothed.) At the trail’s end, we watched the rain fall lightly on the water lily covered quarry and shared our observations of the sights, sounds, and smells of the woods before our silent walk back.

Examples of watercolor grids created by retreat participants

The afternoon brought us together as we experimented with watercolor grids, a meditative process yielding a variety of visual surprises. Participants wrote responses to each person’s work, adding to our camaraderie. We finished the day with a session of restorative yoga and deep relaxation facilitated by Yogini Janet Green-Garrison. In a state of deepened relaxation and appreciation for one another, we created a web of connection before saying goodbye for the day.

Some of our activities and strategies are applicable to classroom practice: writing poems, field trips to a wooded sanctuary, setting intentions for each day as an enrichment to setting goals and objectives. Other parts of our experiences are more nuanced in relation to teaching. It is my hope that each participant will savor the day and reflect on how to bring parts of it into their daily lives—in and out of the classroom.

One participant reflected, “…each activity made me remember that my students are whole and creative people – not just recipients of grammar.”