Buddhist monks help P.E.I. teachers start school year on 'positive note'

'A spa day for the mind' was the description of a teachers' retreat Monday led by some of the Buddhist monks who now call P.E.I. home.

66 educators attend retreat at monastery in Little Sands

'Today was a day for supporting our teachers,' said Derek McEwen of HOPE International Foundation. (GEBIS/Twitter)

Buddhist monks who now make their home on P.E.I. led some local teachers on a retreat Monday described by one organizer as a "spa day for the mind" in hopes of getting the school year started on a positive note. 

The workshop, held at the Buddhist monastery in Little Sands, P.E.I., was sponsored by the Great Enlightenment Buddhist Institute Society (GEBIS) and the HOPE International Education Foundation. 

A lot of them felt reassured and re-energized.— Derek McEwen

"We called it a spa day for the mind,"  said Derek McEwen, a former P.E.I. school principal and Department of Education official, who is now CEO of the HOPE International Education Foundation. "We hear a lot about mental health issues — stress, anxiety — amongst our students and amongst our teachers. So today was a day for supporting our teachers, hopefully giving them a chance to reset and begin the school year on a positive note."

The foundation is a not-for-profit organization that plans to open a private English/Chinese school in P.E.I. by Sept. 2018. 

No 'magic solution'

The retreat included keynote sessions led by GEBIS monks as well as by Islanders who have learned from them.

"The idea of the day was not to give teachers a magic solution, but to give them some tools so they could help themselves, help those they work with, help their families, just to be better people and better teachers," McEwen said. 

The day included sessions on meditation and on establishing positive relationships centered around the principles the monks teach in their "happy class," called OMAK: Observing Merit, Appreciating Kindness. 

"The whole idea there is you can perceive a situation and you can see the negative things in it or you can see the positive things in it," said McEwen. "If you choose to see the positive, then that can start your day on a positive note, and... that spreads. How we perceive things is a choice." 

The retreat has already received positive feedback from some of the 66 teachers who participated, McEwen said. 

"A lot of them felt reassured and re-energized," said McEwen. "Some of them said they would definitely do things differently in their classroom and approach things in a different way... from the relationship side of being a teacher." 

Teachers head back to P.E.I. classrooms Friday, while students' first day will be the following Thursday.


Sara Fraser

Web Journalist

Sara has worked with CBC News in P.E.I. since 1988, starting with television and radio before moving to the digital news team. She grew up on the Island and has a journalism degree from the University of King's College in Halifax. Reach her by email at