A Recipe for the Quintessential Summer Retreat

I’ve just returned from a slice of Professional Heaven, and can still feel the warm, aromatic breeze as it gently wafts up through the chaparral. Better yet, I’m still pondering the topics and issues we delved into over a 2 day retreat at The Thacher School in Ojai, California.

ojai image 2

(photo from lastagetimes.com)

For librarians and teachers the world over, summer is a time of rejuvenation, relaxation and reinvigoration. AISL’s Summer Institute (this year’s edition coming soon to the John Burroughs School in St. Louis, directed by our own Linda Mercer) is a shining example of what can be accomplished in just a few days when we all get together to develop really meaningful content and match that with the inspiration that comes with connection and community.

A more modest approach can be taken for those perhaps unable to manage the trip to St. Louis, or who would like to augment that event with a local retreat of their own. In Los Angeles, we’ve just finished our own “2nd Annual Retreat” and I’m returning home with fresh ideas and much to ponder as the summer moves on. Here are the basic ingredients you’ll need to cook up your own local librarians’ getaway.

  • Start with a bunch of librarians. Do you have a local librarians’ group that meets occasionally for professional discourse? Start there. Don’t have one yet? Get one going. The Independent School Library Exchange (ISLE), founded in 1980, includes schools and librarians from throughout the greater Los Angeles area. It has grown and changed over the years as libraries have changed, but has always been a great source of professional support. 
  • Find a venue. We’ve had ours at The Thacher School in Ojai the past two years; it was perfect. If you’re lucky enough to have a boarding school anywhere nearby, see if you can meet there for a few days. The Thacher librarians—Jenn Finley-McGill and Bonnie LaForge—were instrumental in providing the perfect setup. Our accommodations were comfortably rustic, as Thacher is situated in the hills above Ojai and has a decidedly equestrian flavor; the kitchen, dining facilities and meeting rooms were ideal. The Thacher School is about 90 miles from downtown Los Angeles. Some had longer drives, some shorter.  No handy boarding schools nearby? Don’t despair. Try working with local hotels for accommodations, and have the retreat centered at a local school.

Thacher School

(photo from www.Thacher.org)

  • Set the program. Communicating through the ISLE Ning, the Board surveyed members to see what topics of interest might rise to the top. We already had some items on our list, issues that had been raised at our bi-annual meetings but which – due to time constraints—had not been explored in depth. This is where we set time to look at hot topics during the program, and then (here’s the vital piece) continue conversations over lunch or during a pre-breakfast ramble. 
  • Take full advantage of local talent. We recruited member librarians to present hour long sessions on Book Talks and Readers’ Advisory, Collection Development and Team Building/Department Management, among other topics.

ISLE ojai retreat session

(photo by Matthew Wittmer)

  • Bring in Wisdom from Afar. We were lucky to have Buffy Gunter Hamilton (The Unquiet Librarian) join us to present sessions on “Teachers Engaging in Inquiry Using Write Around Text on Text Strategies” and “Defining Makerspaces”. Having Buffy join us for much of our retreat was an added extra bonus, bringing further depth and breadth to our discussions throughout the retreat. 
  • Carve out time at the beginning for a ‘pre-retreat’ for your librarian group’s leadership. The ISLE Board met the evening before the rest of the membership was scheduled to come in, allowing for final retreat planning, but more importantly, for philosophical discussions about ISLE’s growth, focus, and future. This can be a really fruitful time for your group; goodness knows there’s precious little time for such important work during the school year. 
  • Don’t forget to include ‘down time’, for the pool, for hikes, and for long chats in the shade. This is the ‘retreat’ part of a retreat. Program is only part of it; just as important is the time apart to ponder, discuss, share and ponder some more. For dinner, break up into smaller groups and head into town, amble the sidewalks, try out some local cuisine.

ojai librarians dinner

(photo by S. Acedo)

Every region and every librarians’ alliance is different, but if you follow this recipe you’ll be sure to have cooked up something inspiring with a taste carefully crafted for your own group. The benefits are many and varied. Individual rejuvenation, professional development, and community building are just a few. ISLE was able to define and build on its policies, and many librarians met each other for the first time.

For those of us who attended ISLE’s Summer Retreat at the Thacher School in Ojai, we learned that one important definition of “Retreat” is “Advance”.


4 thoughts on “A Recipe for the Quintessential Summer Retreat

  1. Fabulous! Love the idea of creating a local, grassroots initiative that looks like it provides a similar flavour of support, sharing and vision as AISL conferences, just on a smaller scale.

  2. Oh to be a fly on the wall at this retreat!! Sounds amazing. There are so many solo librarians, it would be an awesome way to connect in a more relaxed setting, to share, and to form a stronger local PLN. I’m inspired, Shannon (and only a little jealous of the scenery you enjoyed). Thank you for this!

  3. Thanks, Shelagh and Katie. As I was writing this, I came to realize the really important piece was the bit about building your own professional support group. We’re lucky to have ISLE in Southern California. ISLE has slowly grown over the years, to where it now can support a retreat for 20. When it started, there weren’t 20 members TOTAL. Starting small, building over time, the success of our retreat is testimony to the success of ISLE. Many hands make light work, truly.

  4. Great post! It’s always inspiring to attend these professional gatherings. Independent schools benefit tremendously from collaboration.

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