Student Services Retreat “connects” team with a day in nature

Montreal - Friday, October 18, 2019

On the morning of October 3, 104 members of the Student Services Department of the English Montreal School Board (EMSB) set off on buses for a professional development retreat at Domaine Vert in Mirabel.

The cool breeze in the air that morning had the team bundled up with their puffer jackets, hats and gloves, but the retreat was soon to warm everyone up.

Upon arrival, the team was treated to breakfast, followed by a presentation on the topic of “connections” by Sandra Reich, Clinical Director of The Montreal Center for Anxiety and Depression and well-known expert on anxiety, relationships, family dynamics and more. Reich was there to remind this group of psychologists, autism spectrum disorder specialists, spiritual and community animators, speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists, behaviour management specialists, guidance counsellors, special education consultants, assistive technology consultants, TEVA consultant, drug prevention specialists and healthy and safe school consultants, and support staff, of the importance of self-care, particularly  while working with the vulnerable student population that they service.

Ms. Reich touched on everything from trust and authenticity in relationships to how loneliness can be solved by increasing social opportunities, and how we first must connect with ourselves before we can truly connect with others. She recommended a healthy dose of self-love to cultivate self-worth by combatting fears, avoiding judgement, expressing gratitude, and using eye contact to connect. “Choose to live in colour versus black and white. Take a risk for true connection,” she said. 

The outdoor adventures then began! With staff split into 10 teams, Domaine Vert animators  instructed staff to play and compete in rally games, including tug of war, a balancing contest and a Frisbee toss. Teams had a blast getting to know each other (some staff have been in the department for years, others have just begun at the EMSB in recent days), and banding together for the win.

After lunch, to reinforce the theme of connections, the staff tried rock climbing, archery, hiking, and a most entertaining and rugged quidditch match. These activities were followed by a photo rally scavenger hunt which had teams searching for clues within nature. Staff demonstrated creativity and teamwork - skills that are required daily in their work - and had fun doing so. 

The day closed off with a Laughter Yoga session under a tent by an outdoor fireplace which saw everyone in stitches. Through laughter, this presentation solidified the messages of seeking connection and self-worth that Ms. Reich imparted in her morning session. 

Director of Student Services Lew Lewis, who will be retiring on October 18 after  having worked 52 years at the EMSB and Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal, ended the day with a touching toast to his team, reiterating the importance of connecting and taking care of ourselves.

“This Retreat provided a wonderful opportunity for Student Services staff to engage in team-building activities which served to foster closer and genuine human connections, ultimately resulting in a more mutually supportive and energetic approach to effectively servicing our student population,” said Mr. Lewis.

The Student Services team was treated to a meaningful day in nature; the perfect setting to form connections. As Ms. Reich stated: “The love outside of you is directly proportionate to the love you give yourself.” This is exactly what this team of givers needed in order to best help the students that they work so hard with to flourish and succeed.

Congratulations to Coordinator of Student Services Patricia Sansone and her Retreat Planning Committee for their outstanding organizational work. “It was a day that will long be remembered by all,” said Mr. Lewis.

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