Sea Change

Experiences from the Borderland Retreat by Katalin Hanniker, Digital Learning Designer, University of Surrey.

I joined the Borderland retreat, not entirely sure what to expect. I’d heard Elizabeth talk before around authentic practice in the classroom so was pretty sure that, whatever it was I’d signed up for, it would be interesting and thought-provoking. But I wasn’t prepared for how interesting and thought-provoking the retreat turned out to be.

I think one of Elizabeth’s great skills is creating a welcoming, flexible space where authenticity really does matter and, as a participant, it felt fine to join in discussions and activities or not, create or not, share outputs or not, as and when we felt comfortable. 

Elizabeth suggested a series of optional creative, playful activities, including drawing, collaging, booklet-making, map-making to facilitate personal reflection in our own contexts – and really it mattered not a jot whether you considered yourself to be creative. Elizabeth shared her own journey towards becoming an artist and this, along with a rapid-fire approach, was helpful in not wasting time getting hung up about quality of outputs. After each activity we had some time to reflect on and share with others, if we wished, what we had chosen to include – and/or omit – from our creations.  

For example, it’s been a long, long time since I picked up a pen to draw with. I’d really forgotten how gratifying that creative process can be. For me, approaching issues tangentially (by stealth!) can have more impact than sitting down and trying to fill a whiteboard with ideas. Stepping away from the process of direct problem-solving provides space for thoughts to percolate upwards before they surface and take shape in ways that make sense to us and  our own unique practices. 

For example, our final activity for the retreat was mapping our future practice based on what had come up over the retreat, using any media we wanted to. All I knew at this stage was that I fancied trying a spot of collage. The only magazine I had to hand was a Christmas 2022 Waitrose Food Magazine – entirely appropriate given how excited I get about food – from which I found myself collaging a not-very-subtle metaphorical ocean-scape of strange basil-leaf fish, obstructive meringue icebergs and murky citrus fruit depths, all to be navigated before ascending into a sunny landscape of collaboration and job fulfillment.

It’s a bit literal but in incorporating the things I’d identified over the days as being meaningful to me (e.g. setting aside time to have fun, recognising that sometimes small change can have big impacts, the value of sharing authentic experience) it will serve as a reminder to me of what I can focus on to feel valid!

Oftentimes, having the space to reflect on what makes our practice meaningful to us can seem like an expendable luxury. However, one key thing that I’m taking away from this shared retreat is that in times of burnout, or at the end of a hectic academic year, there is real value in taking time out to identify and reconnect with personal motivations and values in our working contexts to keep inspired.

Many thanks to Elizabeth and colleagues for the very generous hosting of this retreat.

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