Prairie Oaks Institute

cultivating the earth, rejuvenating the spirit

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Register NOW! Draw from the Deep Well: A Courage to Teach® Oasis for the End of the Year

“Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher….”   – Parker J. Palmer, The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscapes of a Teacher’s Life


  • yearn to revive your heart for teaching in the face of the pressures that can make it so hard?
  • need to rediscover your passion for the work?
  • crave a chance to explore big ideas in a safe space with like-minded colleagues?
  • want to “reconnect what you do with who you are?”
  • hope to end the school year with a sense of spring’s resilience?

The “Draw from the Deep Well” Retreat offers a quiet, supportive space for such exploration.  Buoyed by the new and re-emerging life that marks a Minnesota spring, it’s a rare “oasis” in a parched and hectic world.  It’s an opportunity to explore your own sense of identity, purpose, and calling in the teaching life; to reweave the deep connection between your “soul and role”; and to renew your capacity to live and work from a place of wholeness and authenticity.  Grounded in the truths of your own stories and questions, and guided by the Circles of Trust® model and the bestselling book The Courage to Teach by Parker J. Palmer, this retreat invites you to step with intention into a time and place apart and to take a well-deserved respite from the end-of-year craziness.

We’ll begin with dinner Thursday evening, March 31 and end shortly after lunch on Saturday, April 2.  We will gather in the beauty of the spring landscapes at Prairie Oaks Institute, at the edge of Belle Plaine, Minnesota, just southwest of the Twin Cities.  The retreat will be led by Chris Johnson, PhD, a Courage and Renewal® facilitator and founder of The Milkweed Group; and Courage and Renewal® facilitators-in-preparation Patti Hoffman (Director of the Center for Education & Learning at Minnesota State University, Mankato) and Chris Commers (Education Association President in the Chaska, MN public schools).

We are able to make this life-giving opportunity available for a “set your own investment” sliding-scale suggested donation of only $195 – $255, which includes lodging, meals, materials, and program. Please let us know well in advance if you have any dietary restrictions.  You’ll receive further details about what to bring, how to prepare, and so on, from the facilitators in late March.

Space is limited to 15 participants, so please register early (by March 27 at the latest) at .

What are the benefits of Courage to Teach?

CTT helps each educator strengthen his or her sense of identity and integrity. Men and women, individuals of all backgrounds and belief systems, experienced educators and novices—each has a unique experience based on the questions she or he brings. Across the nation, educators report common powerful benefits:

  • a renewed passion for teaching
  • strengthened relationships with colleagues
  • increased commitment to vocation
  • more time spent reflecting on professional practice
  • improved relationships with students
  • revitalized capacity as leaders for educational change.

For more information about Parker J. Palmer and the Courage to Teach, as well as the Circles of Trust approach, please visit the website for the Center for Courage and Renewal at

We look forward to having you with us!

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Wintering Through: Exploring Your Life’s Calling in the New Year

The rigors of winter are accompanied by amazing gifts….
Times of dormancy and deep rest are essential to all living things.
Winter clears the landscape…giving us a chance to see ourselves and each other more clearly, to see the very ground of our being.

~ Parker J. Palmer

One of the gifts of winter in these climes is the way the world around us slows and stills.  For many creatures winter is a time of hibernation or migration; seeds cast in the abundance of autumn lie dormant, waiting for spring.  It is an inside time for curling up by the fire, a time of deep replenishment and reflection – often hard to come by amidst the hectic pace of our days and the relentless attention to the communities, causes, and people we care about.

“Wintering Through: Explore Your Life’s Calling in the New Year” is an opportunity to experience the winter gifts of stillness and rest, of renewed clarity and mindful presence.  Grounded in the truths of your own stories and questions, and guided by the Circles of Trust® model based on the work of author and educator Parker J. Palmer, this Courage and Renewal® Retreat invites you to step with intention into a place apart, to pause from the frenetic pace of your regular days, and to explore in fresh ways the Big Questions of your lives – questions of identity, meaning, purpose, and calling.

WHEN: 9 A.M. – 4:00 P.M., SATURDAY, JANUARY 30, 2016

FACILITATORS: Cindy Johnson, Professor of Biology & Environmental Studies, Gustavus Adolphus College &  Chris Johnson, Courage & Renewal® Facilitator; founder & principal of The Milkweed Group, LLC

COST: Sliding scale $85-$135, includes Lunch and Materials; OPTIONAL OVERNIGHT LODGING IS AVAILABLE Fridya or Saturday for $45.

Click here:  Wintering Through

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Reserve Tickets Available! Parker Palmer & Carrie Newcomer – Healing the Heart of Democracy on February 27th at POI!

Reserve tickets available here!

At Prairie Oaks, we have the good fortune to be connected to many amazing people. Through our efforts to offer retreats and programming, we’ve been able to build relationships with some well-known authors, advocates, and change agents.

One of these amazing people is Parker Palmer, advocate, activist, and author of several books including: “The Courage to Teach,” “Let Your Life Speak,” and “Healing the Heart of Democracy.”  We appreciate Parker’s continuing support of our mission.

This year, Parker is making an even greater and more generous contribution to POI – he and Carrie Newcomer are coming to present their program “Healing the Heart of Democracy”.  A public event will be hosted at St John Lutheran church in Belle Plaine on the afternoon of Saturday, February 27th. That evening, Parker and Carrie will be guests at a private reception at Prairie Oaks. We are honored and excited to welcome them to Belle Plaine and to Prairie Oaks!

POI is proud to feature Courage and Renewal / Circles of Trust retreats, based on Parker’s ground-breaking work, as a key part of what we do.   It’s because of the generous support from people like you — and Parker — that POI can provide opportunities like these at affordable prices, and live out its vision to be a community-building catalyst.

We’ll provide more details soon on how you can attend both of these exciting events!


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Registration Ends Soon! Join us for the Power of Story & the Courage to Change the World


There is still space available for this May Day program on the Power of Story!

We are the stories of our lives, and story is how we seek to understand who we are and how we should live. In this retreat we’ll explore the power of story to:

• shape our sense of identity and calling

• illuminate our relationships with others – especially those whose perspectives and worldviews may be different from our own

• create and sustain a more just and peaceful world

We’ll gather in the beauty of the vibrant spring landscapes at Prairie Oaks Institute in Belle Plaine, Minnesota, on the southwest outskirts of the Twin Cities. Space is limited, so register early (by April 15 at the latest)!


Visual artist, photographer and author John Noltner (

Musical artist, singer/songwriter Neal Hagberg (

Listening artist, Courage and Renewal® facilitator Chris Johnson (

COST is a steeply discounted $110/person, including meals, program, and materials.

Overnight lodging (in shared bedrooms) and Saturday morning breakfast are also available for a low additional cost of $45/person.

Tickets at The Power of Story  or mail to Prairie Oaks Instititute, 1200 W South Street, Belle Plaine, MN 56011.  Questions, please email us at


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(Re-)Uniting Soul and Role: Soul-sustenance for Change-makers

Spring cleaning for the soul!

Please join us March 19-21 for a special retreat led by Dr. Chris Johnson and Rev. Sarah Ciavarri.  Retreat begins Thursday, March 19, 6 pm and ends Saturday, March 21 at 2 pm. Meals and shared lodging included.

Why should I come? How will it help me? Key leadership “take-aways” of this winter-into-spring-themed retreat will include:

  • enhance your sense of calling, initiative, and confidence to address complex challenges
  • replenish the inner reservoirs of courage and resilience that are necessary to sustain crucial, change-making work over the long haul
  • deepen your integrity and authenticity by reconnecting what you do with who you really are
  • practice self-development by reflecting upon and learning from both success and failure
  • understand the power of paradox and strengthen your capacity to hold tension in lifegiving ways
  • view your life, work, and leadership in the context of an interconnected world • revive, renew, restore; come back to life from the long dormancy of winter.

Bring a journal or notebook and an object that connects you to a place that is important to you. Dress comfortably and be prepared to be outside.

PicMonkey Collage

Facilitators: Dr. Chris Johnson has more than 20 years of experience in facilitating retreats & workshops, teaching, speaking, consulting, and deep listening in higher education, faith communities, and the business and not-for-profit sectors. He is founder and principal of The Milkweed Group, whose work is to create safe, courageous spaces that that nourish inner wisdom, sharpen clarity of purpose, and fuel capacity to live and lead for a better world. Chris is a Circles of Trust® facilitator in association with Parker Palmer and the Center for Courage and Renewal. For more about Chris and his work, please

Rev. Sarah Ciavarri is a Daring Way™ Facilitator and Consultant who leads retreats and works with people who are looking for transformation in their vocation, relationships, and leadership. Sarah is the Director of Spiritual Care at Augustana Health Care Center of Apple Valley and the Apple Valley Villa. Sarah was a parish pastor for six years and has been a care center chaplain for nearly 15 years. For more about Sarh and her work, please visit

Corporate/Government – $365/person; Individual/Non-profit – $285/person. Register at or email us at

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Give Thanks for Local Food Producers at our November 18th Potluck!

Join us on Tuesday, November 18th for our last Community Potluck of the season.  We’ll be serving a Kale and Bean soup featuring ingredients from our local producers. Farmer Sonya Ewert of A Place at the Table CSA will talk about the economics of local food production. Learn how changing federal and state farm policies can support local food and farmers.

Gather at 6 pm, eat at 6:30 pm at Harvest House, 1200 W South Street, Belle Plaine.  We’ll provide the soup, bread and beverages, you bring great conversation, a dish to share, if you like and a friend.  If you RSVP on Facebook it helps us know how much soup to prepare.

Community Potluck

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Belle Plaine Garden Club at September Potluck

Did you know that Belle Plaine has a Garden Club?  Come out for the potluck on September 16th and get to know these fine folks and learn about their varied gardening interests.

As always, we’ll gather at Harvest House at 6 and eat at 6:30 pm.  You bring your friends, ideas and interests and we’ll provide the soup, bread and beverages.  Bring a dish to share, if you like.

RSVP on Facebook to help us make sure we have enough soup on hand!