‘Teachers need inspiration now’
Alandra Swan's idea was simple: a wellness retreat aimed at encouraging teachers in and out of the classroom.
The problem was how to make it a reality.
A conversation with Becky Ausenda brought the support she desired, albeit with a caveat, Ms Swan, Bermuda Education Network's Teacher of the Year, had to lead.
“I want to give her as many platforms as possible,” said Ms Ausenda, the executive director of BEN. “She is inspirational and teachers need inspiration right now.
“As our mission is to support public schoolteachers it's important we give a little shove to a potential leader, that we let them know we can do the heavy lifting that gives you the space to encourage people.”
Impressed by Ms Swan's off-the-cuff speech when she received her award at a ceremony BEN held to honour teachers in February, Ms Ausenda peppered her with questions.
“I wanted to know if there was a passion project she was interested in,” the charity head said. “She came up with the retreat because she thought teachers were not getting encouragement and acknowledgement and part of the sense of wellness is feeling that the work [that you're] doing is important.
“It ties into the core system. It's not just a sense of the gratification but a shared understanding of how important it is that we get this right, that we find excellent teachers and give them all the support we can.”
Ms Swan's Teacher Wellness Retreat takes place next month.
Billed as Bermuda's “first ever”, it's open to all of the island's public school educators and will involve a range of skill-building activities to help them “live their healthiest and most fulfilling lives both personally and professionally”.
BEN will provide financial support, drawing on a grant it receives from the Bermuda Community Foundation for the professional development of public schoolteachers.
The idea for the retreat came during a conversation with a colleague this spring, said Ms Swan, a primary one teacher at Francis Patton Primary School.
“We started talking about how a lot of times we talk about the beginning of the school year and how teachers are refreshed, they're relaxed and she said it was almost like we needed some extra energy to finish out the year with the same vibrancy and consistency.
“Teachers always talk about work and it was the type of conversation that we would have loved if we were sitting by the pool.
“I started thinking how we would have so much more to say if we'd just come from a spa treatment.
“Wouldn't it be great if we had a retreat to refresh us, relax us, put fire under us as we prepare to go back in the classroom.”
Grotto Bay Beach Resort has offered “an enormous discount” for the two-day retreat.
Coaches with educational experience will be on hand to offer guidance.
Additional events are being planned to give educators “that little bit of encouragement” throughout the school calendar.
“The retreat will include a relaxing one-night stay at Grotto Bay Beach Resort where participants will enjoy superior amenities and exclusive activities such as our sunset cruise on board Ana Luna and evening beachside dinner to grow, connect and escape.
“As part of the retreat there will be speakers and chats with leading educators, wellness leaders and special guests who will bring compelling talks on health, wellness and classroom practices and tools for a better work life. There will also be restorative workshops and classes to enrich the mind, body and spirit.”
Ms Swan's plan was to wait a year but Ms Ausenda encouraged her to press forward.
“I didn't know anything about putting on a retreat but Becky said, ‘If you're serious we can make this happen. We should do it now. The timing is right, I will support you.'
“That was so valuable and helpful for me. Sometimes I have a level of uncertainty but I am willing to work and see through as much as I can.”
Grateful for the help she received from her parent and teaching communities, she was convinced others who might not have had that support could benefit from the type of retreat she was proposing.
“So many teachers are thinking about how this next year is going to go. I know lots of people are saying this was the toughest year for them due to the many challenges they have had to face in and out of the classroom.
“Imagine if there was a programme where teachers could refresh and relax and have help from their colleagues and wellness experts in a relaxed setting. We would see a difference, a change in that teacher's language.
“It's not for everyone but some could benefit from it. It's not just about relaxation but what we want to pour into teachers.
“I am the product of being poured in, being supported by colleagues, principals, mentors and co-workers who, in their own way, said this is what it takes to [teach] and do it with excellence.
“The retreat is just taking what I love and marrying it with the excitement of teachers.
“If it transforms them, I've done what I needed to do. That's super important.”
• Teacher Wellness Retreat takes place August 26 and 27 at Grotto Bay Beach Resort. Register at www.ben.bm