5 Ideas for Making Administrative Retreats Meaningful!

IMG_6417What was the best retreat you have ever attended?  What was the worst?  What made one better than the other?

As an administrator I have participated in multiple retreats, but this is the first year I was engaged in the planning process. My Superintendent (Randy Ziegenfuss) and I co-planned our first retreat for our administrative team. Our administrative team is small with 11 instructional administrators and 7 operational administrators.

Of course, you need to figure out the logistics such as time and venue, whether you will use in-house or external “presenters”, who you will include, who will facilitate, etc.  Once you determine those ideas, you can plan the heavy lifting of planning your day. Here are a few thoughts!

1. Determine your purpose(s). What are your objectives for the day(s)? What do you want to have accomplished by the end of the day? Are you setting a vision or goals for the next year? Are you building culture? Do you need a balance of information sharing and team building?

The purpose of our retreat was to build culture, develop a shared definition of visionary leadership, and begin our goal-setting process.  We started the day by inviting all of our summer staff to a breakfast which was planned and provided by the full administrative team.

2. Do your homework. Think critically about how to best use your time. Share your agenda ahead of time so participants can come prepared. (We failed to do this soon enough, and one of our administrators pointed out she could have come to the table better prepared to write goals if we had given her a “heads up.” Because we were conducting a guided goal-writing session as part of the day, we each developed sample goals (as well as a goal template.)  Being willing to put our work out their shows empathy and builds trust.  (It also serves as a practical sample!)

3. Model best practices. Consider the activities to engage participants. Participants do not want to “sit and get” for hours on end. Busy leaders rarely spend time in one place.  Instead, chunk your day and determine how to best connect independent activities to vary instruction while meeting your objectives.

For us, we weaved a few activities together throughout the day. We started with reviewing a few operational items (largely because it is difficult to get together in the summer as a full team).

Then, participants read and reflected on an innovative leadership blog post. The blog post discussed 8 Characteristics of Innovative Leaders by George Couros.  Participants completed a self-assessment of their own innovative leadership. After 15-20 minutes of quiet time, we moved into the hallway. We conducted a value line activity to discuss each characteristic. Most participants shared a few ideas throughout the activity, and we learned a lot about each other.

After this activity, we went out for lunch. Getting off campus created a social environment in which we could connect and further develop our relationships.

After lunch we returned to our building for a goal writing activity. Through the use of a GoogleDocs template, the activity was structured and transparent.  Participants worked independently or collaboratively.  Randy and I moved  moved around the room and checked in as needed.  Many staff members asked us to take a look at their work.

Just like teachers designing good instruction,  we needed to build in opportunities for individual, small group and whole group interactions. Doing so modeled best practice, provided time for group think, and encouraged collaboration among stakeholders.  We all benefited from each other’s ideas throughout the process.

4. Conduct formative assessment. Throughout the day, monitor pace and progress. Adjust as needed. No one wants to feel like his/her time was wasted!  For example, as we were doing the line activity, conversation was dwindling. As a result, I moved through the last two characteristics quickly. During the goal writing session,  we “checked in” and supported as needed.  We kept an eye on time and made sure to wrap up by the scheduled end time.  Doing so builds trust and credibility.

5. Reflect and Follow up!  At the end of the day, participants completed a brief survey.  We asked a few basic questions to guide our “instruction” for the next retreat day.  This data will also help us determine if we met our objectives. As a partner team, my superintendent and I will review the data to determine our next steps.

In this blog, which I entitled “Share to Learn,” I am hoping to learn from my readers too! Each post will have a couple questions to consider in the hopes of engaging you in the conversation.

Questions to Consider:

  • What advice do you have for creating meaningful retreats?
  • What ideas can you share as “lessons learned” (either positive or critical) from previous retreats in which you planned or participated?
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