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School principals rejuvenate on rainforest retreat

Balance, space, self-care and spiritual nourishment can be illusive ideals within our always-on, modern working environments. Add to that the pressure of providing a high quality education service, managing teams of staff, balancing budgets, administrative responsibilities, community expectations, large student cohorts, hyper-interested parents.... and you've landed yourself in the shoes of a school principal. 

Understanding that being a school principal is a serious gig that can be both as draining as it can be rewarding, Brisbane Catholic Education engaged Gone Bush Adventures to design a nature-based wellbeing retreat for school principals with a focus on renewal, connection, self-reflection and exploration of wellbeing practices that can make a difference in every day life.

Our approach

Long before we set foot on the trails of the World Heritage Listed Lamington National Park in South-East Queensland with our first group of school principals for a 3-day intensive wellbeing retreat, our engagement involved leading a collaborative program design process with Brisbane Catholic Education's organisational development team.

This process enabled us to closely align the offsite learning experience with the core wellbeing frameworks and objectives that underpinned the broader suite of wellbeing tools and resources offered to school leaders and principals by Brisbane Catholic Education. 

With core themes, outcomes and high level approach clearly mapped, we enlisted the support of acclaimed wellbeing and life coaches, Shannah Kennedy & Lyndall Mitchell (The Essentialists) to be our facilitation partners in the delivery of the program. Their experience in coaching high performers from all walks of life with the skills and practices to take control of their health and wellbeing was seen as a critical component in making the program both broad ranging and also highly practical and focused on how principals can pursue wellbeing in their every day life.

In addition, we leveraged the support of the Ngutana-Lui Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Studies Centre run by Brisbane Catholic Education to integrate two indigenous cultural educators onto the facilitation crew for the program, Marlon Riley and Brian Whap. This additional layer of storytelling, traditional perspectives and wisdom added significant depth and value to the journey that unfolded for the group.

The program

The core program itself involved a 3 day nature-based retreat in the World Heritage Listed Lamington National Park. With the iconic O'Reilly's Rainforest Retreat as a base, each day was designed around on-foot expeditions deep into the rainforest with a facilitated learning journey unfolding along the way. Core to the approach was allowing space for the group to connect with the natural surroundings and each other on a deeper level while refocusing on renewal and their personal wellbeing in a practical and holistic sense.

The first day was designed to get participants grounded, focusing on their environment, their senses and their immediate experience. The agenda allowed time for participants to breathe, connect with each other in a more authentic way and self reflect. Silent walking, journaling and solo time with nature were all part of the immersion on the first day to help participants truly 'arrive' within the natural environment. After a day of exploring the trails, dream time stories were shared around the campfire with Brian Whap and Marlon Riley from Ngutana-Lui which made for an inspiring way to close the day and tie together the key wellbeing themes that had already been explored.

On day two, the program picked up pace with the arrival of The Essentialists, who utilised their 'eat, sleep, move, nourish' model to help the group explore the foundations of wellbeing in their lives as we continued further into the World Heritage Listed rainforest of Lamington National Park. Moving beyond the practical foundations of wellbeing, a journey of deeper self connection unfolded in the afternoon with participants given the opportunity to delve into their values and strengths with new perspective and clarity under the guidance of Shannah Kennedy and Lyndall Mitchell's expertise.

Integrating wellbeing practices into every day life was the focus of the third day of the program - with participants led on a goal setting and action planning session to help bring to life a road-map for improving and sustaining their wellbeing personally and professionally beyond the retreat. To conclude, a celebratory lunch was held at Canungra Valley Vineyards before the group returned to Brisbane with a fresh kick in their stride and readiness to make positive steps for their personal health and wellbeing.

Snapshot of client feedback and participant impact

“We have been delighted with our partnership with Gone Bush Adventures. They provided a highly professional, customised experience for our senior leaders that exceeded our expectations and that had a meaningful, lasting, positive impact on the participants. The team are easy to work with and, most importantly, listen to their clients and deliver on their promises. Our experience with Gone Bush has been exceptional.” 

Dr Stephen Hart, Manager Organisational Development, Brisbane Catholic Education

"Well on Monday I returned to the roller coaster that is called 'work' when you are dealing with 600 kids under 10 years of age. Everyone eagerly asked me all about my leave.... as I started to try and explain and retell some of the story, I realised that actually you can't retell the essence of those three days. You simply cannot capture the worth of that experience in a few sentences. I am writing to simply say thank you! 

Monday and Tuesday (14 hour day at school) have been pretty standard days, but every now and then, a memory of last week will flutter across my mind. Memories from all different parts of our experience. A quote, a scene, a sound, an explanation from Matt or maybe just a conversation with another walker. It has amazed me that this is continuing to regularly happen four days after getting home. 

The Gone Bush experience has certainly left a footprint on my mind. You were clearly passionate about your work and wonderfully skilled in your roles, that made the time all the more enjoyable for me.....not to mention your mum's home cooked delights! Keep doing what you are doing and your business is bound to be a raging success. 

- Libby Lee, Head of School – Early & Junior Years, Head of Student Services P-12, St Augustine’s College 

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