Thursday 25 Aug, 2011

Engaging Students After Tour

3 people at Sunset

Now that I’ve covered Engaging Students Before a Tour and Engaging Students On Tour, it’s time to talk about how to engage students post tour.  Many people think that when the plane lands and the students have returned home safely, the job is done.  The tour itself might be complete, but there is still a lot that can be gained while the energy and excitement is running high.

I never look forward to the last day of a trip.  There is nothing exciting about spending an entire day waiting in airports, sitting through multiple flights, and then a 3 hour drive home just in time to make it back to school 6 hours later.  To make the most of this extra time, I ask my students to begin reflecting on the trip and how it has impacted them.  I require them to write me an end of the trip letter that I will collect when we arrive at the final airport before the students are reunited with their families.  I want my students to be productive with the remaining time and I want them to write while the emotions and thoughts are still fresh.  It really helps the day go by more quickly and I enjoy watching students think and write while on the plane.

My students are often engaged in conversations with other passengers on the flight that ask what they are writing about.  I wish I could secretly record these conversations to play for their parents.  There is something special about watching teenagers hold meaningful conversations with adults, especially after a life changing experience such as traveling abroad.  As for the letters, I have something to look forward to when I get back to school.  I love reading them.  I haven’t had a negative one yet.  It is proof that all the hard has work paid off and the trip was a success.

I keep all of my letters in a box, organized by trip.   Whenever I’m having a bad day, I go to that box and pull out a letter.  Reading it puts things into perspective for me and suddenly I’m refreshed and refocused.  If my classroom ever caught on fire, that box of letters would be the first classroom item I would try to save.

Letters written by students after our tour

Letters written by students after our tour

The first few weeks after the trip, the students can’t stop talking about it.  I hear them talking in class, in the hallways, and at sporting events.  This is the perfect time to have them attend a school board of education meeting to thank them for their support for our program and to also share details about the trip.  It is important to report back to the people that have supported our program since day 1.

I first meet with all of the students that are able to attend the meeting (evening sporting events sometimes prevents students from attending).  We discuss what each person would like to share so that everybody has something different to say and we cover a wider range of topics.  I don’t allow students to write anything down.  Instead, I ask them to speak from the heart.  I believe that as long as students have an idea of what they are going to say, it sounds more sincere being spoken instead of read.

Next, I have students vote on their favorite group picture taken while on the trip.  This past spring, I used Facebook to ask the question and collect the results.  Once we’ve chosen a picture, I have students help me write a thank-you letter to the sponsors and community members that supported us and helped make the trip a reality.  I then purchase some space in the local paper and send in the letter along with our group picture to go to print.  When the letter appears in the paper, I typically buy my students a copy to keep.

Finally, I enlarge and frame a group picture and give one to all of the students to keep.  My seniors display them at graduation open houses and take them along to college.  It’s simply another way of preserving the memories and reminding them that they will always be a part of our Spanish Club family.

Once the students have spoken to the school board and the thank-you letter has appeared in the paper, I ask my students to speak to my younger classes and help recruit for the next trip.  They often provide me names of students that they would recommend. (It isn’t surprising that they often suggest their younger siblings.)  I gather a list of names of students that show interest and begin working with EF to plan my next tour.  Once we’ve worked out all the details and have a tour itinerary and pricing ready to share with the new group, I hold an informational meeting with the new students and parents.  I invite students that just returned from our recent trip to speak on behalf of the Spanish Club and the experience it provides.

I believe that hearing these success stories from excited students makes a big difference in the recruiting process of new travelers.  Sometimes these new recruits and their parents like to hear about the program and trip from somebody other than the teacher/advisor.  On a side note, planning a new trip promptly after the return from a previous one not only allows you to engage your excited students into the recruiting process, but it often leads to early bird pricing for the next trip as well.

As all of the above things are taking place, I’m also working hard behind the scenes to create a documentary style video that captures the true essence of the trip.  I ask students to submit to me 50 of their favorite pictures of places and people.  I also take suggestions for songs that have lyrics that would describe the overall experience well.

EF Tour videos created by Scott

Tour videos I created after each tour

Additionally, I use my Flip video camera to interview students about the trip.  Once I have the pictures, music, and interviews ready, I use them along with hours of video taken on tour to create a well-produced, high definition movie.  Students help me create a personalized DVD case as well as a unique DVD label.  Once the movie, case, and label are completed, I host a movie premiere event in which the students and their families and friends all attend in order to watch the movie for the first time.  (Sometimes I also invite the recruits for the next trip along with their families.)  It is the ultimate culmination to this entire experience.

To view movie trailers for some of my previous trips, click here.

At the end of your next trip, I encourage you to find ways to continue to engage your students.  Post tour activities help students process and reflect upon the overall experience that shaped their lives in numerous ways.

Writing an end of trip letter to the teacher, speaking to the board of education, helping in the recruiting process, and assisting in creating a highlight video are what works for me.

Scott is a high school Spanish teacher and basketball coach. He began traveling with EF Tours in 2001 and has led 8 student tours to various Spanish-speaking countries. Scott strongly believes that student travel builds self-confidence and inspires students to develop and work towards long-term goals.

Flickr photo via eGuide Travel