We recently sat down with BSSM 2 Overseer, Gabe Valenzuela to discuss the value both staff and student retreats add to the school environment. Staff retreat is a unique opportunity for a team to feel refreshed, valued, and connected before the beginning the school year. During retreat your students experience momentum build as they begin to embrace the vision given to them by the school’s leaders and establish deeper connections with each other and school leadership. Retreats are strategic opportunities to meet these and other needs for both your leaders and students, setting the tone and laying the foundation for the rest of the year.
Below, Gabe shares keys to planning and executing staff and student retreats. Then, read on for more practical insight to bring the strength of retreats to your environment!
Staff Retreat: Purpose, Logistics, & Desired Outcome
The purpose of a staff retreat is for your team to bond every year before welcoming a new class of students. Staff retreats should be fun and relaxing and provide ample opportunity to connect to each other. As a leader planning a staff retreat, keep the following in mind:
- Schedule the retreat during your school’s off-time, while school is not in session. The school year is busy and finding time for your team to get away is challenging once school has started.
- Create space for connection. Include a mix of structured group activities and free time. This is especially important for new staff members. Retreat can be a powerful time for new friendships to form between teammates and for existing relationships to strengthen.
- Make it fun! This means more resting than working. Staff retreat is not the time to get all the work done before students arrive.
TAKE TIME TO HONOR YOUR TEAM. YOUR LEADERS WILL BE POURING OUT THEIR BEST ALL YEAR LONG; MAKE SURE THEY KNOW THEY ARE LOVED, VALUED, AND CHAMPIONED.
By the end of retreat, staff should feel refreshed and ready to run together for a new year.
Student Retreat: Purpose
While staff retreats focus primarily on connection, refreshment, and honor, school retreats include additional components. The purpose of a school retreat is for students to experience greater connection with God and each other; to leave retreat changed, marked by encounters with the Lord.
Retreats create opportunities for students to get know each other, staff, and God for an extended period of time outside the normal school environment, creating momentum for the rest of the school year. At BSSM, retreats are 2-3 days but this “break” from the routine allows for accelerated growth and development. Spending the night, sharing a room, and other unique retreat dynamics are intentional choices that reveal aspects of a student that may be revealed much later or not at all in the traditional school setting. Take advantage of the distinct circumstances that retreats create to root students in the vision for the year.
Student Retreat: Logistics
Planning a student retreat should include the following:
- Plan to incorporate any retreat costs into your students’ tuition. BSSM school retreats are covered entirely by student tuition.
- Schedule the retreat during the first month of school. If running a part-time school, scheduling a retreat for the second month may work better. This time frame allows your team to greet students, set some expectations, and allows students to get their feet wet, but is not too far into the year. Retreats should help students take hold of the vision and understand the tone/expectations for the year
- Key elements of a school retreat include worship, teaching, meals, free time, and focused connection time in groups. These connection group times should be different from the normal connection groups that students will experience throughout the rest of the year. Remember, this is the time to set the tone, the standard, and the expectation. Be prepared to lead your students in ways that you are not able to in the normal school setting. Here is an example of a daily schedule:
1:00PM – 3:00PM: Arrive at retreat location
Afternoon: free time
11:00PM: Lights out
10:30AM: Connection Group time
Afternoon: Some groups choose to continue with connection time, others allow free time amongst the students
- Be aware of what you’re trying to accomplish with retreat and be intentional in the details. Be strategic with time allotments, don’t overschedule. You may be surprised at how long activities can go when your students connect.
- Create space to invite students into greater levels of vulnerability and be ready to pastor students through various responses and effects of the invitation. Some students may embrace the opportunity and experience immediate connection or breakthrough, others may overshare or slip into performance mode, and others may shut down. To learn more about pastoring students with different personality types, read our post Draw from the Gift of a Pastor.
- Remember that it’s a student retreat. You are always working. Be strategic and make the most of the “off” moments in the students’ schedule. Pursue individual students during free time.
- Be prepared to follow up with students after retreat. Bring a notebook to take notes of what is happening throughout retreat and identify ways to follow up with the entire class, connection groups, and individual students.
- Choose your location wisely. Think through first aid and emergency procedures should you need to use them.
Student Retreat: Desired Outcome
The goal of retreat is that students have a mountaintop experience. This does not necessarily mean that retreat is the highlight of the year, but that they each encountered God in a way that produced a change. Students should leave retreat different than when they arrived. You may not be able to gauge this until after you return back to your normal school environment and some time has passed, but take note of the following:
- Connection: Students should be more connected to your leadership team and each other.
- Openness: Retreat allows students to be more seen and known, creating an openness and willingness to trust the school process and take risks.
- Vision: After retreat, students have some momentum and have gained ground in terms of the vision of your school. Their expectations are aligned to the school’s values and their actions begin to reflect this truth.
We hope these principles and keys bless you as you prepare for both staff and school retreats!