I spent two days last week running a retreat for PhD students, with a twist – in addition to the usual retreat goal of supporting PhD students in their writing, we had a new agenda, to train them as facilitators to help us run Thinking Writing retreats. Over the last three years our writing retreat program has grown from two staff and postgraduate student retreats each year to a range of retreats for retreats for staff, graduate students, undergraduates and local school teachers and students, usually one or two days in length. In 2011-2012 we ran over 15 retreats, and demand is continuing to grow.
The two days have consisted of our usual structured retreat schedule – blocks of short writing tasks and focusing activities, writing sessions and discussion, punctuated by plenty of biscuits and coffee – with guided reflection on the experiences participants are having as writers on this retreat, and discussions about approaches to facilitation and writing support. This combination of reflection on ‘doing’ a retreat and actually doing the retreat has provided a particularly rich environment for discussing writing and thinking about writing and learning; that meta-level may be an aspect of retreats that we want to include in the future. As such it has been ‘training’ in the very loosest sense of the word, a fact appreciated by those attending.
This retreat in particular has had a great feeling of satisfaction and future potential – as a group we left the retreat with plans for a regular writing group and a reading exchange, and with three participants already planning to run retreats in their own departments: a regular day of group writing every week in the medical school, a week long retreat next summer to support other PhD colleagues in law in their final push to submission, and a visiting academic colleague from the university of Copenhagen, planning to introduce the idea of retreats to her department.