Creating a Tranquil, Open, Organized School Environment: Reflections from The Nest’s Second Annual Educator Retreat


Caroline and Trisha clearly enjoy spending time together as we plan and project for the new school year.

The Nest Educator Retreat has become an annual event that kicks off each new school year. During pre-planning, all educators travel together for an overnight experience of hard work and good fun! This year we traveled to Dahlonega where we shared a lovely house in the woods and dinner together in charming downtown Dahlonega. We also enjoyed celebrating multiage teacher Caroline who spent her birthday “retreating” with us!

We had many goals and objectives for our retreat – building a stronger team, planning and projecting for the new school year, developing our school-wide “Declaration of Intent”, discussing how to strengthen our communications and connections between home and school, and deepening our conversations about the Reggio Emilia approach which is the cornerstone of our educational philosophy at The Nest.


Kalei, Leah, and Heather work together on the sunny deck to project experiences for the toddler class.

In support of the latter of these goals, we watched two videos from Reggio Emilia. On the first day, we watched a video entitled “Everyday Utopias” which describes “a day in an infant-toddler center, the everyday-ness of being together, a special care for the environment, and the idea that the infant-toddler center and preschools are places in which culture is created”. On our second day together, we viewed another video entitled “Shadow Stories”, which describes the experience of an encounter between the children and shadows. After each of these viewings we had lengthy and productive discussions about the connections we see between our work (and our hopes for our work) at The Nest and the experiences of the schools of Reggio Emilia.

One of the strategies to encourage and facilitate dialogue among educators is the provocation of keywords; this is a strategy that is often used with success in our professional development encounters with Project Infinity, so we decided to try it to support our conversations during the retreat. After viewing “Everyday Utopias”, educators were asked to share keywords or short phrases about their thoughts and impressions concerning the role of the adults as seen in the video. The Nest educators responded with the following list of behaviors, attributes, attitudes and dispositions that they observed:





Not the main focus


Speaking to children as if they are adults


Prepared to get dirty

Trusting children’s competence


On the child’s level







Simple way of being



The laughter was plentiful as the hard work during our teacher retreat!

With these keywords in front of us, we launched a conversation about the role of the adult at The Nest, using what we had observed in “Everyday Utopias” as inspiration. During our discussion, virtually everyone expressed her appreciation for the tranquility and the openness evident in the school we saw in “Everyday Utopias” video, as well as the overall organization of the environment and materials. We had many wonderings; here are a few of those:

    • What are adults doing to promote this kind of peaceful and calm environment?
    • How do adults cultivate a sincere and authentic trust in children?
    • How do adults approach time?
    • How do adults maintain with children a rich, inviting, interesting, and organized environment?

As we thought about and discussed these and many other questions that the video provoked, we began to think more consciously about our own interactions with children, asking ourselves questions such as:

    • How can we, as adults, engage with children in ways that promote calm, tranquil experiences?
    • How can we trust children and ourselves more?
    • How can we create and maintain strong environments?

These questions, inspired by the experiences of Reggio Emilia, launched us with excitement and positive energy into our planning and projecting for the new school year.


The wonderful 2014-2015 Nest Nursery School educators!

We are looking forward to a wonderful new year – our fourth – at The Nest and are so happy to be kicking off the year with such an intelligent, curious, hard-working, fun-loving group of educators!

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