Oli’s leadership team spent a meaningful and challenging 24 hours together on its first retreat, learning more about each other and recommitting to our school’s mission and ethos.
At Oliverian, we’re proud to offer a holistic educational experience that places emphasis on our students’ critical thinking skills, emotional and physical wellbeing, and college readiness. Our curriculum and approach encourages students to challenge themselves and push the boundaries of their comfort zones, practicing community building along the way.
Every once in a while, though, it can be good to step back to reflect on and remember why we do what we do — it’s a clarifying and rejuvenating practice. That’s why in June, Oli’s leadership team left the hustle and bustle of campus behind to spend 24 hours together on a retreat in the mountains of Maine.
The retreat — a first for the Oli leadership team — took place at the Hurricane Island Outward Bound School’s mountain campus. Greg Vogel, who’s returned to Oliverian as the new Executive Director of Program and Culture, describes the experience as “an intense overnight, a two-day training packed into an intense 24 hours — and a good opportunity for the leadership team to practice what they preach.”
“It was tight and cozy and pushed people outside of their comfort zone,” he says.
During his time away, Greg worked at a facility that specifically treats anxiety, and he noticed that some of Oli’s leadership team were apprehensive about the retreat in ways that felt familiar.
“The feeling that our team had going into that training is not all that different,” he says. “It probably pretty closely parallels what our students and our families feel as they join the team, as they come to Oliverian.”
The retreat wasn’t all introspection and reflection, though. While bonding and learning how to collaborate are typical goals of team retreats, the Oli leadership group also use shared experience to discover individual strengths and learn how each person on the leadership team operates. Activities like swinging from ropes and orienteering presented opportunities for the leadership team to work collaboratively in real time without preparation — especially when they were faced with challenges that some team members were familiar with, while others were not.
“People realized there was a role for everybody,” Greg says. “So that’s very reflective of our experience as a school. We all have different strength sets, we all have different shortcomings. We all need to rely on each other to ‘build the rope bridge across the river,’ which was one of our activities.”
Greg also thinks viewing the problem-solving situations as training experiences is relevant to the work Oli does. It was important for Oli’s leadership team to go through the entire process together, he says, because it gave them the opportunity to become confident in their ability to face difficult situations collectively — and to get through them together. What united the team was their mission and their commitment to the students at Oli during what can be a difficult time in their lives.
“They may feel beaten up by this thing we call ‘school,’” Greg says, “and this thing we call ‘social life,’ and how we relate to ourselves. They’re definitely filled with questions and they don’t have a lot of answers, and sometimes the answers need to come out of the experience and out of just making a commitment to process.”
The retreat was like Oli in other ways too. Everybody’s journey is unique, but once you’re part of the community, it’s hard not to support each other. Greg says it’s not a bad way to talk about our hope for our students.
“This training was a very challenging experience,” Greg says, “both the anticipation of it, and being immersed in it. In the end, you kinda came out of it feeling washed and refreshed, with a renewed sense of self-belief. And that is what we hope to do at Oliverian.”
During the retreat, Oli’s team shared the Outward Bound campus with the leadership team from the Brewster Academy, another independent boarding school in New Hampshire. Greg says that in addition to bonding as a team, one of the biggest takeaways from the retreat was realizing that educators nationwide are the team.
“When you’re doing your work,” Greg says, “especially in a school like Oliverian, you can feel a little isolated, like you’re in a vacuum. It was a really good experience to get out there and realize that our colleagues are not just our colleagues here at Oliverian. Our colleagues are all over the country at schools of all shapes and sizes.”
Both teams came away with a tight-knit sense of camaraderie and deeper sense of connection to their mission — a powerful and much-needed realization. “We’re not alone in this, even though Oli is a unique school,” Greg says. “We’re going to do our best work if we believe we’re part of something much bigger than ourselves.”