the retreat

IMG_20121002_190444This is the running track at my school. I jog here almost every other morning, feeling more “demoralised” each time as I watch my fitness level dwindled away with my age.

But hey, it could have been worse. I could have slacked off and grow fat.

*****

The day before, I brought my two project students here for a chat. It was about 2pm then but the day wasn’t hot. It was sort of cloudy and windy, with a few students on the track training. There was also the irritating grass cutting vehicle making its rounds round the soccer pitch.

My students were going through a very tough phase in their projects. They were recommended to call outsiders, to ask for the chance to be  interviewed so that they could gather more facts and evidences for their project. From what my manager said, this has never being done before. They were getting panicky about the assignment. They recognised that it will be good for them to pick up this suggestion that was given to them, but they have no idea how to overcome this task which seemed ever so huge for them.

Just a sidetrack, I must say, my school is pretty hard on final year project students. They are trapped in a laboratory from 8.30am to 6pm everyday. They are given two tea breaks, 20 minutes each and at a specific timeslot, as well as an hour long lunch. The timeslots were there to facilitate lecturers, so that they may visit their students at any timing outside their breaks to perform their little magic for their students.

To me, this stifles creativity. Being too long in the lab stifles creativity. Discussions in the lab are without passion, as cold as the air cooled by the central cooling system.

*****

“In many companies, departments hold retreats. They may book a chalet outside the office just to discuss about work the entire day. We will have our retreat at the stadium today, for about an hour,” I told my students. After all, I’m the lecturer who never fails to link everything to the working world.

In that session, we discussed about our feelings to the project they have to undertake. We discuss about what they felt good about it, and what they felt uncomfortable about it. There is no blame game, no judgement cast. Only honesty, openness and vulnerability were to be found in the discussion.

I spend some time talking about what makes me uncomfortable, and the engineer’s way of doing things, which is to pick a big problem, dissect it into manageable pieces and tackle it bit by bit. We spend time analysing how I might have tackled the project myself, seeking their constant inputs on how they might have done it differently.

*****

When our discussion ended. The grass cutting vehicle stopped. We could only hear the breeze blowing, the birds tweeting and the distant traffic humming away.

“Strange, I really think differently in this environment,” one of my students quipped. “I really feel that this task is more achievable now~”.

Personally, I was quite drained at that time. But I felt greatly satisfied.