Reflections: Past Events

Reflecting on 2015 Spring Institute

Glynis Wilson Boultbee

2015 – Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia

Long-time ISW community member, Glynis Wilson Boultbee, reflects on her history with Spring Institutes and shares some of the highlights of the Tatamagouche Centre experience this spring.

Can you talk a little bit about your history with ISW Spring Institutes?

“My first Institute was, I believe, in 1991 – and I’ve been to every single one that’s been offered since. For years and years, the Spring Institutes were held at Naramata Centre in British Columbia. Then we decided to alternate with other geographic locations. We’ve held three institutes at the Five Oaks Centre in Ontario and the most recent one was at Tatamagouche Centre in Nova Scotia. I’ve really appreciated the opportunity to meet people in these new settings.

Every Institute is different, but all of them have been in beautiful locations, staffed by people who were helpful and wanted to ensure that we had a wonderful experience.”

So what keeps you coming back?

“Obviously there’s something that calls me back. I think it’s a combination of two things.

First, you get to connect to the larger community; knowing people from a variety of places who do the work in different ways means that you get this wonderful experience of both “Oh yes, that’s what I do!” and “Oh, how interesting. I hadn’t thought of doing it that way!” It’s lovely to have that connection to the community. And people who are attracted to ISW work tend to share a passion for teaching and learning, so it’s a pleasure to spend time with them.

Secondly, I go because we’re always on the lookout for ‘next new things’, things that are ‘coming down the tube’. Many of the big professional development adventures I’ve taken have been prompted by sessions in an Institute, including the early Appreciative Inquiry conversations, chaos theory, Strength Deployment Inventory… I wrote a whole manuscript inspired by a 10-minute exercise in a one-hour session that was offered at a Spring Institute many years ago!

Those would be the two primary reasons why I go back. But I also return because the Institute is where I get to try out my own ‘new things’. I like to experiment with new ideas with people who are great at giving feedback. Then, after I’ve learned more and I’ve had time to think about the feedback and things are clearer in my mind, I can bring these ideas forward to others with greater confidence.

For instance, I remember, we brought a professional storyteller in for a session at Naramata one year and it prompted me to think more about the role of story in teaching and learning. The next year, I brought some narrative and teaching material to the Institute in somewhat embryonic form. Cheryl King (another long-time ISW member) got excited about the material and so we moved forward together into that adventure. (They developed the Narrative Skills Workshop.)

planning the daysAnother reason I believe people come to Spring Institutes, is that they appreciate (and I do as well) the experience of working with an emerging design model. A survey is sent out before each Spring Institute to gather suggestions. We shape some of the Institute ahead of time, but the agenda is fully developed with the participants at the Institute itself.

I like that the Institute content is mostly offered by the participants. It’s a good practice that can then be taken back into the ISW because what we’re doing is similar – harvesting the strengths, passions and interests of the people in the group.

Overall, I feel very fortunate to have been part of the ISW community because people are so incredibly generous.”

Can you share a couple of highlights from the recent Institute in Tatamagouche?

“One of the things I really appreciated was the integration of Appreciative Inquiry (AI). Jeanie (Cockell) and Joan (McArthur-Blair) were “wearing their Appreciative Inquiry hats” and we tried to use the AI lens as we were planning and working through the agenda, and when we had our conversations about various topics. It was really satisfying to see how Appreciative Inquiry informed and was congruent with what we do in our ISW work.

A personal pleasure was taking some time out to focus on creativity. We had several opportunities to do that. For example, I brought some materials and worked with one of the other participants to offer a visual art activity. It allowed us to review the group’s aspirations (that they had expressed in the pre-Institute surveys), while reflecting on the learning that was actually happening on site. The creative activities that people bring to the Institute are amazing, both professionally and personally. A bonus is that I plan to incorporate some of what I brought to this Institute into what I do as a student in the Visual Arts.

I believe that would be why I come back again and again!”

Lianne Fisher

Recently returned from the 2015 ISW Spring Institute at Tatamagouche Centre, Nova Scotia, Lianne Fisher spoke to me via Skype to share her highlights and thoughts about the experience.

N.B. Lianne Fisher is an Educational Developer at the Centre for Pedagogical Innovation, Brock University

Lianne (reflecting on some of the sessions that took place):
“I really enjoyed the Appreciate Inquiry focus. I already use strength-based approaches when I teach but the Appreciative Inquiry helped me to think about switching that up. When you’re talking about an ISW workshop, to try saying ‘when did it really go well’ and ‘what really worked’ – that was a highlight for me.”

“Glynis did a session about narratives and storytelling and got us to do ‘Stories of Origin’ on how we came to be involved in ISW. We got to honour the history of the ISW and all the work that’s been done before and, it also allowed new people to become part of that history. It also felt like we were stretching out into the future as well. It was fun to hear how people came to the ISW and there were some fantastic “six degrees of separation” that happened in the room.”

“Cheryl led a session on quick ways to do visual notes. We learned how to draw banners, characters, etc. It was nice to have these really quick methods to use when writing flipcharts.”

“We did a “rapid rounds” talk where we shared questions that we use in ISWs (either in the feedback circle or in the hallway). I found that really useful. It’s not that I have ‘bad’ questions or ones that don’t work but I think it was nice to get some new ones.”

“A lot of the learning was facilitated by creative and expressive methods. For example, Glynis had made everyone these little blocks of wood, about the size of a Scrabble tile. The fact that she’d taken the time to do that made the learning more important. It made me think of the power of relationships in teaching and learning.”

“We got to do lots of creative work. I found that people were very intent and focused during the creative activities and it provided quiet time to think.”

Do you think you’ll be able to use some of these methods in your own teaching?

“Some will take some modification and a little bit of courage.”

“I was reminded of the importance of being creative and expressive in my own learning and in supporting other ways of learning. That’s something I’ll remember and think about the next time I teach.”

“I often use ‘Think-Pair-Share’ in my work, and encourage people to do so, but the ‘thinking quietly’ often gets lost. The creative aspect allows people to have that quiet time.”

You had never visited Tatamagouche before. Did you take some time to explore the Tatamagouche Centre trails and the local area?

“At first I was hesitant about the time it would take me to get to Tatamagouche, but the drive was beautiful and allowed me to take some time to reflect and relax. The Tatamagouche Centre is lovely and there’s a beautiful path that runs right past the Centre so you can go out into the countryside or you can go into town and enjoy the farmers’ market, there’s pottery and a micro-brewery. You can walk there, you can run there, and you can canoe as well.”

Any final thoughts / highlight to share?

“One phrase that really resonated with me (Jeannie or Joan said it) was that ‘human beings are not a problem to be solved.’ When you work in higher education, you often hear that it’s the professors’ fault or it’s the students’ fault. By changing the way we frame our discussions, we can use different strategies to support people to be who they are.”

“I got to catch up with some people I knew, get to know some people better, and made some new friends. It was a wonderful mix of lovely learning and creative work.”

This is one in a series of brief interviews with participants who attended the 2015 Spring Institute. The purpose of these articles is to share what people value about ISW Institutes. If you have stories about your participation in an Institute that you’d like to share, please contact Sylvia Riessner at sylviar at northwestel dot net)

Reflecting on 2014 Fall Institute

A Fall Institute AND a 35th anniversary celebration – what a great event! I was thrilled that the celebration of the 35th anniversary of the ISW was rescheduled to coincide with the Fall Institute at Edenvale in B.C. Due to unfortunate circumstances earlier in the year, the celebrations planned for Naramatta had to be cancelled; the Edenvale retreat provided a 2nd chance for us to gather, reminisce, reflect, learn and share.

As part of the online planning committee facilitated by Glynis Wilson Boultbee, I had a sense of what was ahead but, as I often find with ISW gatherings, events took on a life of their own.

Some of the highlights of the weekend for me were:

  • the Saturday Timeline activity facilitated by founding members, Diane Morrison and Doug Kerr;
  • the Saturday evening “maker” activity facilitated by Glynis;
  • the round-the-room “institutional ISW” reports; and,
  • having a chance to explore the beautiful surroundings at Edenvale without gumboots and umbrellas!

The Timeline activity was a challenge, from Doug and Diane to all of us, to remember when we first took part in an ISW, when we trained as facilitators or trainers, how ISW was embraced in different educational institutions or countries. It was fascinating to move around and listen to the great debates about when, who, where, what, how. Some people gathered together to reminisce while others stood with Post-it notes in hand in front of the Timeline wall, pondering where to place their memories. The hope is that we will eventually distill the dates, notes, and photos to post on the interactive timeline available on the website.

The Saturday evening “maker” activity was introduced with a brief overview of the growth of this DIY movement and its impact on education, through “makerspaces” in universities (like University of Victoria’s and in communities, through library makerspaces like Glynis described “Rube Goldberg machines” and challenged us to break into small groups, select from the table loaded with “Dollar store” fixings, and create an object or Rube Goldberg machine (example shared by Glynis: ) that illustrated/conveyed our ideas about ISW. It was lots of fun, but also stimulated a lot of semi-serious reflections on what ISW means, what the core of ISW is and will be, what ethics should be considered as the ISW model is introduced to other countries and across disciplinary boundaries. Take a look at some of the photos of the objects, models, machines we created.

The “round-the-room” summaries are given by participants who report on how many ISWs their school has offered and will be offering, and are always a great way to gauge the impact of ISW. The stories of transformative experiences in international ISWs were heartening and it was interesting to note the expansion of ISWs offered by the different institutions and consultants beyond academia to municipal, health or emergency services settings.

And finally, Edenvale as a place of learning, reflection and exploration. It was so beautiful to experience it in sunshine and rain. The surrounding area is developing quickly but we still managed a wine tasting and a visit to a toy store so my weekend was complete. A lovely ferry ride each way (without too much hassle with getting lost driving around the ever-changing road system in the Lower Mainland). Edenvale 2014 was a big success from my perspective.

Hope you all make it to next year’s event on the east coast.

–Sylvia Riessner

Reflecting on 2013 Institute

This year the annual Fall Institute moved…from lovely Bowen Island to the more centrally located, but also beautiful location at Edenvale Retreat and Conference Centre in Abbotsford, B.C. The move was motivated by increasing costs at the old location but the participants at this year’s events would agree, I think, that Edenvale was good move for more than just cost savings.

The setting was beautiful – far enough away from Vancouver to feel like a retreat, but located in a place that made it much easier for participants from Vancouver Island to attend. And those that flew into Vancouver International Airport didn’t notice much of a time difference to get there compared to travelling to Bowen Island (although the ferry was fun last year). The facilities and the food were great.

This year saw an interesting mix of older and newer facilitators so we had some great discussions, debates and sharing of experiences and ideas. And, in a fitting run up to the 35th anniversary year, founding members David Tickner and Doug Kerr attended.

Camosun participants (Dianne Biin, Elizabeth West, Mavis Smith, Nancy Sly) shared some of their reflections on the Institute in their January issue of The Confluence.

“The Institute was a 2 day community-building forum where new and experienced facilitators shared ideas, experiences, philosophies, challenges, and innovations that inform their work as ISW practitioners and as post-secondary educators.

Highlights for the Camosun folks included meeting with facilitators from a variety of academic disciplines, sharing new facilitation ideas and challenges, sharing print and electronic resources, and seeing the variety of formats in which the ISW can be delivered.”