Thursday 15 Sep, 2016

Choosing the Right Travel Team: Chaperones

Brent is a high school World Studies teacher. This year he is preparing to lead his 11th tour on which he has over 120 students participating (and 20 chaperones!). In this piece, Brent gives the insider scoop on how to pick the right travel team to represent you and your school abroad.

So, you’ve just announced your school’s latest experiential learning adventure: an EF Educational Tour! As the excitement builds, students enroll 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.

Sound familiar? Every time I’ve organized a tour, the selection process regarding chaperones has always been a challenging one. Many factors need to be considered. However, this is arguably one of the most important decisions that you will make as you prepare for your tour. After all, these are the people that will help you lead your students through a safe and successful trip of a lifetime. Not just anyone is up for the task! Here are some tips on how to get started.

First things first: If your trip is school-sponsored, check with your administration
If you trip is school-sponsored, then it’s a good idea to check with your administration to review any possible policies around chaperones. 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.

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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, there are a few specific qualifications you will want to look for. Are they leaders in the school community and do they know the students? Are they good with kids and do they command respect? Do they have travel experience? 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 chaperon 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 chaperons have this requirement, or are trained prior to departure.

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 solid leadership skills. Look for people that have traveled with students before and know the drill. After that, you can take into consideration things such as bringing more males or females to reflect the gender breakdown of the group of students, or maybe even bringing along a “rookie” chaperoen 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 at the beginning is so important.

To bring or not to bring: parents
The rules around this topic vary. If you choose to bring parents along as chaperones, there are a few ways to ensure that you are bringing 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’re clear with your expectations from the beginning. Outline their jobs, roles, and responsibilities – pre-tour, on-tour and post-tour – and discuss with them various “what if” scenarios, so that all of your chaperons clearly understand that their number one priority is to ensure that all your students are safe and well-supervised so that the trip runs smoothly.

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Delegating pre-tour responsibilities
Briefing your chaperones on their pre-tour responsibilities is important. 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 collecting paperwork to helping with & organizing fundraisers – there are so many pre-tour jobs to do as a Group Leader, so use the help available to you!

Prep your travel team  with on-tour information in advance
It is also wise 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 I hope for us all to collectively enforce.  I also always provide the emergency contact information, medical info, dietary restrictions, trip information, and so on for each traveler to my group of chaperones. That way everyone is on the same page and understands exactly what is expected of them.

Before departure, I also recommend hosting a meeting (or multiple meetings) as an entire chaperone group to regularly touch base and check in. That way, you’ll all be on the same page and will be able to respond to any possible hiccups along the way much faster and much more efficiently.

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

Feeling inspired to travel with your students? Find your perfect tour here