Monday 12 Sep, 2016

Choosing the Right Travel Team: Chaperones

Brent B. is a secondary teacher specializing in Canadian & World Studies in Oshawa, Ontario.  He has been a chaperone or Group Leader on ten student trips abroad, including the upcoming Vimy Ridge 100th Anniversary National Student Tour, on which he has over 120 students participating (and over 20 chaperones!). Here’s how you can prepare for your tour by selecting the right travel team to represent you and your school abroad – by choosing the right chaperones.

So, you’ve just announced your school’s latest experiential learning adventure: an EF trip abroad! As the excitement builds, the students enrol and the pre-trip preparations begin. Quickly you realize that you’ve become quite the popular staff member from colleagues and parents of students that are keen to volunteer themselves as a potential chaperone and part of your designated travel team.

Every time I’ve organized a tour, the selection process regarding chaperones has always been a challenging process, as many factors need to be considered.  However, this is arguably the most important decision-making process that you will go through as you prepare for the tour; after all, these are the people that will help you lead your students through a safe and successful tour of a lifetime, and not just anyone is up to the task!  Here are some tips on how to get started.

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First things first: check with your administration
The first thing to do is meet with your school administration and check what your local school board policies are regarding chaperones on student trips abroad.  For example, what is the minimum student-to-chaperone ratio that must be followed?  Generally speaking, EF’s ratio actually exceeds minimum school board minimum requirements, but check to make sure.  One thing I recommend is always bringing at least one more chaperone than your school board minimum requirement – that way, if a student falls ill during the tour and a chaperone needs to separate from the group and help that student, the rest of the group still has enough chaperone coverage to meet those minimum requirements.

Who should be on your travel team?
In selecting fellow teachers to act as chaperones on your tour, there are a lot of things to consider.  While you’ll get lots of volunteers, are they leaders in the school community and do they know the students?  Are they good with kids and command respect from them? Think about bringing various personalities, too – try to bring people that students can connect with, as different students connect with different types of people.  Would you like a chaperone that speaks the local language(s) of the destinations on your itinerary? If so, someone from the Languages department might be a consideration.  Do they have First Aid / CPR training? I try to ensure at least several of my chaperones have this requirement, or are trained prior to departure. Do they have travel experience – either personally or, even better, on a previous student trip?

Another consideration is gender – in general, you should aim to designate two lead chaperones – one male and one female, both with considerable travel experience and leadership skills. Look for people that have traveled with students before and know the drill. After that, you can take into consideration such things as bringing more males or females to reflect the gender breakdown of the group of students, or maybe even bringing a “rookie” chaperone that has never traveled before to help them learn and potentially help support them to lead their own future student tours. Some school boards require (or recommend) a school administrator to be one of the chaperones on the tour.  This is why meeting with your admin from the outset is so important, so that everything is clear as to what parameters you’re working with in your selection process.

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To bring or not to bring: parents
The rules around this topic vary from school board to school board, and there are arguments both in favour and against it. If you do choose to bring parents as chaperones, there are ways to ensure that you bring the right parents on the tour (for instance, asking parents to write a letter/application, conducting criminal checks, interviewing with the principal, or requiring certain skills – you could look to add a doctor, medic, nurse, etc.).

In the end, whoever you pick and however you pick them, ensure that you are clear from the outset as to your expectations of what being a chaperone on your tour entails.  Outline to them their jobs, roles, and responsibilities – pre-tour, on-tour and post-tour – and discuss with them various “what if” scenarios, so that those people that you do select as chaperones clearly understand ahead of time that their number one priority is to ensure that all your students are safe and well-supervised so that the trip runs smoothly.

Pre-Tour Responsibilities
Preparing your chaperones ahead of time for what to expect is key.  I always emphasize to my chaperones from the beginning that everyone is expected to “earn their way” as part of our tour.  I ask them to be active participants in the pre-tour planning and organizing, from paperwork and collection of items from students, to helping with & organizing fundraisers, to attending our pre-departure Parents Night (so parents can meet the people taking their kids away!).  There are so many pre-tour jobs to do as a Group Leader, so use the help available to you!

Prep your travel team in advance
It is also wise ahead of time to prepare your chaperones with all the information they’ll need to do their job effectively while on tour.  I like to provide my travel team with a package in writing that outlines exactly what my expectations are of them and the trip policies & procedures that we will all collectively enforce.  As well, provide them all the emergency contact information, medical info, dietary restrictions, trip information, and so on – that way, everyone is on the same page and understands exactly what is expected of them.

Before the tour, I would also recommend hosting a meeting (or multiple meetings) as an entire chaperone group – this is particularly important if some of your chaperones are not teachers at your school – to discuss the trip policies that you have in place for the students, the duties & roles expected of the chaperones, and to discuss any medical or dietary concerns regarding any of the students.  That way, you’ll all be on the same page before issues arise.

I wish you all the best in planning your trip and assembling your travel team. I’ll be following up with another post on how to make the most of your chaperones during your tour and after your tour, coming later this fall.

Are you inspired to travel with your students? Find your perfect tour here.

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