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Teaching in challenging times: the role of retreats and reflection in improving staff morale, motivation and productivity

Robert Chalmers, Simone Daniells, Samantha Kontra, Flinders University


Teaching a tertiary law course against the backdrop of change in both the legal profession1 and legal higher education landscapes2 is difficult. Challenges over recent years have included: Covid-19,3 the impact of generative artificial intelligence,4 institutional restructures, and changes to the Higher Education Standards Act 2003 (Cth) requiring a Support for Students Policy,5 formalising our interactions with students. Each of these changes has led to changes in University policies and practices, and has impacted both staff capacity and productivity.

In this presentation we consider the Law Program at Flinders University, which comprises an in-person undergraduate Bachelor Degree and Diploma in Law, as well as an online asynchronous extended masters-level Juris Doctor. Our observations, as course leaders, is that the challenges mentioned above have had a significant impact on staff morale and motivation, with an associated impact on productivity.

This presentation evaluates the way in which a full-day teaching retreat can positively address these impacts on staff, allowing teaching staff to share experiences and rekindle their passion for teaching. To evaluate this retreat we used a pre-retreat survey to identify key challenges and passions. The retreat itself was structured around guided sharing of experience and practice and creative approaches to challenges. Post retreat feedback showed a significant positive impact on morale and motivation. Quick collation and extraction of insights, which were then fed back to staff and to management, enabled a shift from research to action and a focus on future opportunities. We also explore the structure and utility of post-retreat debriefs and planning sessions to allow an ongoing conversation around teaching that draws on and addresses the key themes raised during the retreat.

This session will incorporate interactive elements including inviting attendees to share their experiences with similar or diverse approaches to improve the morale and motivation of law teachers.


  1. Law Society of New South Wales Commission of Inquiry, The Future of Law and Innovation in the Legal Profession (2017).
  2. David Barker, Michael Adams, Kate Galloway and Nick James, ‘Legal Education: Evolution or Revolution? Reflections on the Fresh Challenge for Legal Educators’ (2023) 16 Journal of the Australasian Law Academics Association 60.
  3. Kathleen Raponi, Gayani Samarawickrema, Gerard Everett, Lloyd England and Tristan Galloway, ‘Academics Embrace Disruption: Lessons Learned Teaching First Year Law During a Pandemic’ (2021) 31(1) Legal Education Review 27.
  4. Stuart Hargreaves, ‘Words are Flowing Out Like Endless Rain Into a Paper Cup’: ChatGPT and Law School Assessments’ (2023) 33(1) Legal Education Review 69.
  5. Higher Education Standards Act 2003 (Cth) ss 19-43.