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Career Advice

How to plan a retreat for mid-career faculty

A retreat is a great way to address the challenges faced by the unhappiest faculty in academe.

BY JUDY BORNAIS & DAVE ANDREWS | FEB 21 2020

Associate professors are some of the unhappiest people in academe. Part of the concern they express is that there is a great deal of time and resources invested in early-career faculty, and little invested post-tenure. To be proactive and address these growing concerns, we organized and facilitated a two-day mid-career teaching retreat off campus. The retreat – created by mid-career faculty, for mid-career faculty – provided them with time to reflect on and rejuvenate their teaching practices. We felt this would not only benefit faculty as educators, but may also help them improve the culture of teaching and learning on campus by enhancing the learning experiences they provide to students.

Included below are tips to consider if you are thinking of organizing a faculty retreat. Based on our experience, these will help facilitate a meaningful retreat that encompasses sound pedagogical principles, meaningful professional development and time for renewal. For more resources and references visit our website.

1. Create a conducive environment

  • Holding the retreat off-campus in a natural setting allows for a reconnection with nature and quiet time away from the distractions of the office to contemplate and reflect on teaching.
  • Building in sufficient time for developing interactions with colleagues in a social setting allows for knowledge exchange, sharing of experiences, and collective growth.
  • Incorporating scheduled time for health and wellness (e.g., yoga, walk outdoors) as well as free time (e.g., for resting or recreational activities) to encourage self-care, was appreciated by participants.
  • A requirement of our retreat was that participants had to commit to attend both days including the overnight stay. Participants were informed at the time of registration that guests were not permitted, which maintained the focus on the individuals and experiences at hand.

2. Nurture professional development

  • We recommend providing dedicated time for participants to develop professionally as teachers by incorporating experiential learning in all sessions.
  • Be mindful to resist the impulse to include too many sessions and overfill the sessions with content. Going at a slower pace and focusing more on engagement can lead to more meaningful experiences for everyone.
  • In terms of the activities selected to engage participants, consider having unique or novel activities that remind mid-career faculty what it is like to be a student in their classes and the importance of clear instructions, feeling vulnerable, and taking risks in groups.
  • Aligning content with participants’ motivations for attending the retreat can help ensure it will meet their needs and the challenges they face. Showing that their challenges are reflected in the literature can help them appreciate that they are not the only ones struggling. Having the group provide suggestions for addressing the challenges and tying in strategies from the literature is also effective.

3. Develop an organizational structure

  • When advertising and promoting the event, ensure faculty are aware that participation is voluntary and open to all disciplines on campus.
  • Set the tone from the outset that the intention is for the retreat to be supportive and collegial.
  • Remind participants of the need for confidentiality and respect to ensure participants feel safe to share their feelings, perceptions, and experiences openly.
  • Through interactions, sessions and social activities, focus on creating a feeling of community.
  • We recommend that the retreat be organized and facilitated by mid-career faculty for their colleagues. Draw on facilitators from within the institution, but also consider bringing in outside facilitators with expert knowledge to add credibility and enhance learning.

4. Ensure institutional support

  • Although there are similar retreats whose registration costs are borne solely by the participants, there is a significant benefit to attendees if the costs can be covered by the institution. The financial contribution to our retreat made by our institution showed that they were invested and supportive of this cohort, and it eliminated a potential barrier for not attending.
  • While institutional support is critical, having them at arms’ length from the planning and delivery is also important so that participants feel that they can speak honestly and openly during the retreat without concern of reprisal.
  • Giving administration the opportunity to listen to mid-career faculty concerns and ideas, in a closing session of the retreat, can help mid-career faculty feel that their voice has been heard and will contribute to positive change at the institutional level.

5. Follow up and maintain connections
Relationships require ongoing connection in order for them to thrive, so keep in touch after the retreat. Build in follow-up get-togethers to allow developed synergies to continue, and to provide mid-career faculty with further opportunities to collaborate and grow.

Judy Bornais is a faculty member in nursing and the executive director of the office of experiential learning; Dave Andrews is a professor in the department of kinesiology. Both work at the University of Windsor.

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  1. Helen / February 23, 2020 at 11:02

    In all the haste to address the mental health crisis of students on campus, it might be time to also consider the faculty. We work in an intense, unpredictable environment, funded primarily by soft money, managing the expectations (often realistic, at times unrealistic) of students. Given the unpredictability, competitiveness and constantly increasing expectations (most recently, the demand that professors accept accountability for identifying students at risk of mental illness) placed on us, it is no surprise that the mental health circumstances of faculty is also not ideal.