Dorr hosts annual Mind & Body Retreat for faculty


HAPPY AND HEALTHY: A group of teachers spend the weekend at Dorr.

Caroline Goldenberg

This past weekend, 15 teachers across all divisions gathered at the John Dorr Nature Laboratory for the eighth annual Mind/Body Retreat. The retreat, led by Middle and Upper Division dance teacher Denise DiRenzo and Middle Division history teacher Caitlin Hickerson, consisted of two professional development workshops focusing on the mind and body and an hour long nature walk.

The Mind/Body Retreat is held each year to expose teachers to new methods of relaxation of the mind and body, step away from the busyness of the city, and enjoy nature, Hickerson said.

“It is very much like what students do at Dorr. It’s about community building, learning new skills and enjoying nature,” DiRenzo said.

“Mindfulness is being aware, paying attention, and being receptive to what’s going on around us,” Hickerson said. “Rather than being distracted by our own thoughts, we are fully paying attention to what is happening right now.”

Every year, the retreat holds a class focusing on the connection of yoga to the body and mind. This year, Hickerson, having completed advanced yoga training, ran her first workshop.

“Yoga is very connected to the theme of the mind and body because the physical practice of yoga is a way to cultivate the mind, control our thoughts and create stillness in the
mind,” Hickerson said.

Hickerson practices some of the methods taught at the Retreat in the classroom. She starts many of her classes with mindfulness activities, like 60 seconds of peace.
“I find the 60 seconds of peace relaxing and it helps me concentrate better in class,” Hickerson’s student Vincent Lee (8) said.

“The workshop is both a way for me to strengthen my own practice of being a mindful teacher and also to bring these activities from Dorr to my students directly,” Hickerson said.

DiRenzo, in her fourth year returning, invited her friend and fellow educator based in Rochester, Mary Birchenough to teach the other workshop focusing on practicing mindful approaches to events that would usually trigger an instinctive response. Birchineough, in addition to having been a classroom teacher for the past 25 years, offers professional development workshops on mindfulness in education.

“A mindfulness practice can help a person move from automatic (impulsive) reactions to conscious responses. Taking ‘anchor’ breaths regularly, and hitting the ‘pause’ button when we feel triggered, are two of the helpful tools we discussed,” Direnzo said.
Mindfulness is important for both students and teachers, as the school is rigorous for everyone, DiRenzo said.

“Taking a minute of silence is something you can build into your day to bring you to the present moment, and to stillness of the body and the mind,” DiRenzo said.
The Retreat also served as means of connection for many teachers.

“A lot of us didn’t know each other at well at all, and in some cases, we had never even met or seen each other,” DiRenzo said. “We had an opportunity to really get to know each other at a deeper level.”