Reflecting on Spring Institutes

2015 – Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia

 Long-time ISW community member, Glynis Wilson Boultbee, reflects on her history with Spring Institutes and shares some of the highlights of the Tatamagouche Centre experience this spring.

Sylvia:  Can you talk a little bit about your history with ISW Spring Institutes?


“My first Institute was, I believe, in 1991 – and I’ve been to every single one that’s been offered since. For years and years, the Spring Institutes were held at Naramata Centre in British Columbia. Then we decided to alternate with other geographic locations. We’ve held three institutes at the Five Oaks Centre in Ontario and the most recent one was at Tatamagouche Centre in Nova Scotia. I’ve really appreciated the opportunity to meet people in these new settings.

Every Institute is different, but all of them have been in beautiful locations, staffed by people who were helpful and wanted to ensure that we had a wonderful experience.”

Sylvia: So what keeps you coming back?


“Obviously there’s something that calls me back. I think it’s a combination of two things.

First, you get to connect to the larger community; knowing people from a variety of places who do the work in different ways means that you get this wonderful experience of both “Oh yes, that’s what I do!” and “Oh, how interesting. I hadn’t thought of doing it that way!”  It’s lovely to have that connection to the community. And people who are attracted to ISW work tend to share a passion for teaching and learning, so it’s a pleasure to spend time with them.

Secondly, I go because we’re always on the lookout for ‘next new things’, things that are ‘coming down the tube’. Many of the big professional development adventures I’ve taken have been prompted by sessions in an Institute, including the early Appreciative Inquiry conversations, chaos theory, Strength Deployment Inventory… I wrote a whole manuscript inspired by a 10-minute exercise in a one-hour session that was offered at a Spring Institute many years ago!

Those would be the two primary reasons why I go back. But I also return because the Institute is where I get to try out my own ‘new things’. I like to experiment with new ideas with people who are great at giving feedback. Then, after I’ve learned more and I’ve had time to think about the feedback and things are clearer in my mind, I can bring these ideas forward to others with greater confidence.

For instance, I remember, we brought a professional storyteller in for a session at Naramata one year and it prompted me to think more about the role of story in teaching and learning. The next year, I brought some narrative and teaching material to the Institute in somewhat embryonic form. Cheryl King (another long-time ISW member) got excited about the material and so we moved forward together into that adventure. (They developed the Narrative Skills Workshop.)

planning the daysAnother reason I believe people come to Spring Institutes, is that they appreciate (and I do as well) the experience of working with an emerging design model. A survey is sent out before each Spring Institute to gather suggestions. We shape some of the Institute ahead of time, but the agenda is fully developed with the participants at the Institute itself.

I like that the Institute content is mostly offered by the participants. It’s a good practice that can then be taken back into the ISW because what we’re doing is similar – harvesting the strengths, passions and interests of the people in the group.

Overall, I feel very fortunate to have been part of the ISW community because people are so incredibly generous.”

Sylvia: Can you share a couple of highlights from the recent Institute in Tatamagouche?


“One of the things I really appreciated was the integration of Appreciative Inquiry (AI). Jeanie (Cockell) and Joan (McArthur-Blair) were “wearing their Appreciative Inquiry hats” and we tried to use the AI lens as we were planning and working through the agenda, and when we had our conversations about various topics. It was really satisfying to see how Appreciative Inquiry informed and was congruent with what we do in our ISW work.

A personal pleasure was taking some time out to focus on creativity. We had several opportunities to do that. For example, I brought some materials and worked with one of the other participants to offer a visual art activity. It allowed us to review the group’s aspirations (that they had expressed in the pre-Institute surveys), while reflecting on the learning that was actually happening on site. The creative activities that people bring to the Institute are amazing, both professionally and personally. A bonus is that I plan to incorporate some of what I brought to this Institute into what I do as a student in the Visual Arts.

I believe that would be why I come back again and again!”


This is one in a series of brief interviews with participants who attended the 2015 Spring Institute. The purpose of these articles is to share what people value about ISW Institutes. If you have stories about your participation in an Institute that you’d like to share, please contact Sylvia Riessner at sylviar at northwestel dot net)