When they enter my classroom, families and visitors will be greeted with a sign asking them to bring only love and compassion in and leave judgment at the door.
In search of…myself
I had no idea I would set out on this new adventure—a solo retreat meant to support me as a teacher—as a confident, energetic, task-driven preschool director and return having taken a life-altering journey through my soul. This teacher became her own student, which was unexpected to say the least. On the first morning home following my retreat, I woke to the bustle of my life. I was excited to take myself into 30 minutes of stillness, but found my mind racing with guilt for not having gotten to the pile of school work I had taken on retreat. Had I failed? I dug deep to retain my restful focus and felt the guilt lift from my heart. The lesson for me was that I was actually the most important “work” that needed attention while on retreat, because a happy, healthy teacher creates a happy, healthy environment. I have been so driven to take my preschool program to the highest quality that along the way I lost a very dear friend, ME! I’m certainly not naive enough to believe I’ll be able to live a completely Zen existence from this day forward, but because of this gift, I have today to be peaceful and after today I will be, God willing, gifted a new today and more to follow.
It took me at least three days of quiet contemplation and countless moments of tearful reflection before I began to really appreciate the majesty of my surroundings. I felt completely out of sorts since this was so very new to me. I, for the first time that I can ever recall, had TIME! Ironically, I had lost all sense of the clock and the need to be someplace or to do something. I felt open and free, calm and happy, scared and alone, yet never anxious or lonely. It was a feeling I never wish to leave my heart. I found peace and complete joy in the simplest gifts I have rushed passed until now. Not only did I find amazing comfort in the physical environment, but in the love and compassion shared with me by some of the most remarkable people I have met.
New classroom practices
I am not a new person. I am simply a better version of me. I am more present and intentional in my actions. I will be taking this amazing experience into my classroom practices. We will take time to listen and watch and be still. When they enter my classroom, families and visitors will be greeted with a sign asking they bring only love and compassion in and leave judgment at the door. I am already working on intentionally placing new items and creating spaces that will invite and encourage my students to stop and grow within each new experience. I will always have fresh flowers in my play space because it brings my heart great joy and I want to share the same energy with my children. I know that this retreat experience will have a profound effect on my teaching and the families who join me for their first educational journey. I am humbled. I am refreshed. I feel blessed and appreciative. I have much work to do and hope to have the privilege to return to my now beloved GilChrist. In this moment of this day I am at peace. From this experience, I have found an heirloom quilt, a patchwork of love and understanding, to metaphorically wrap around my soul to keep me warm and safe and connected.
I am forever grateful and pledge to live my best life as wife, mother, teacher, and friend in a manner that values the moment, the self, and others.
A postscript on caretakers and fellow travelers
The staff at GilChrist are some of the most remarkable people. John Howie’s passion and words of wisdom gave us days filled with unconditional goodness and acceptance. He met me where my heart needed him, and I found great comfort in his words, which helped me on this journey. Kirstin’s emails are all signed “caretaker,” and this role includes her care for the guests, which is offered with kindness, introspection, generosity, and patience. She is passionate about her community, and I so appreciate knowing there is still such goodness in our world. Nancy is a story weaver and passionate historian. Spending time learning about her and from her became a special part of our days. Kindness is the fiber of her very being. This brings me to “our” Deborah, who I believe is one of the sweetest souls to walk this Earth. Her smile lights a room and her compassion for others appears endless. I believe she represents the epitome of the Fetzer Institute philosophy of love, compassion, and forgiveness. And finally, I found myself surrounded by some pretty amazing teachers, who were also on retreat as part of the residency offered by the Yeager Family Foundation. We became fast friends and were in contact with each other within our first 24 hours home.
Laurie Kreg is program director at the PCCN Co-Op Preschool. She was a recipient of a GilChrist Teacher Residency through the Yeager Family Foundation.