Monday, October 28, 2013

10 Trip Tips: "So what did you learn?"

Two weeks ago, I took my high school students on a long-weekend trip to Chicago. On the two buses were 66 students, 17 chaperones, 2 directors and a "partridge in a pear tree" (a.k.a.  my student teacher). I have asked said student teacher, Kayne Edwards, to share the most important things he learned about planning a trip.

1. Small Details 
It is the small detailed planning that makes the biggest difference and takes the most time. Making sure every thing is set beforehand sets the tone for the whole trip and makes it a smooth process. Also, making sure students (and chaperones) have a pocket itinerary saved the hassle of continuously being harassed about what was happening next. Rehearse the trip in your mind. Where will there be potential logistically snafus?

2. Parent Participation
Taking a trip and involving the parent-chaperones gets them involved in the program. This is the perfect time to mingle and get them interested in participating in the future. Additionally, it can help to boost the strength of your program and possibly even gain some music booster parents/officers. The same goes for administrators. Make sure to keep them involved and included in the participation and planning processes.

3. Generating Interest 
By routinely taking a trip, you can gain student interest in the program. Letting future students know of this possibility can influence their interest in learning a stringed instrument. In addition, you can have students begin fundraising for future trips in your lower aged string classes and get them devoted to the program and looking beyond middle school. Make them think ahead about their future in the orchestra and you could increase retention.

4. Leave (Some) Room For Down Time 
This could go either way, however, when a trip is crammed with activities from 7am-11pm the students, chaperones, and directors never truly get to rest, recover, and reflect on what they have done throughout the day. I think it would be nice to have some relaxation time for every one so that there is not a feeling of exhaustion. Cramming the itinerary can prevent potential behavior problems; however, travel days can be physically and psychologically draining. Plan accordingly. 

5. Don't Overload The Chaperones
Bringing enough chaperones to equally distribute a small number of students is recommended. If the chaperones become overloaded and do not get to enjoy the trip, which they are paying for, it isn't likely that they will feel appreciated or want to participate in future trips/events/activities in your program. This was something interesting to see/hear from our chaperones on the trip.

(The following are additional points I would like to tag on.) 

6. FIND SOMEWHERE CLOSE AND MANAGEABLE, if this is your first trip. 
My cooperating teacher (during student teaching) was planning a trip to Italy with his high school orchestra. This is definitely not a good idea for a young teacher. In fact, I am not sure if this is a good idea for a veteran teacher. Find a location that you feel comfortable traveling. The students will have fun regardless. 

Ask around. There are many educators around the state that have used various travel companies - some choose to plan the trip themselves ... this is a huge undertaking. You should begin hearing some reoccurring names/companies. Do some research of your own and get some pricing and itinerary options. Find what is best for your students and meet the needs of your trip's goals.

8. SEEK APPROVAL BEFORE ANNOUNCING TRIP, and follow all district protocols. 
As it turns out, my timeline for Board of Education approval was far more generous than others'. To announce the details of a trip to students or parents without proper approval did not sit well with me. I got my ducks in a row, consulted our travel company for pricing and itinerary options, and presented the itinerary for board approval a full eight months before the trip. To show my appreciation to the BOE for considering the trip during their agenda, I attended the open meeting. When I looked at the dates of other trips, I noticed they were in a few weeks. "Hmmmm...," I thought. "Talk about counting your chickens before they hatch." What would have happened if the other organizations did all their planning but the BOE did not approve the trip?! This advanced planning earned me a shout-out from our superintendent at the meeting. 

Emergency Medial Forms (EMFs) are a requirement for any school; however, our band and orchestra departments - through the encouragement of our school nurses - have our students complete a second EMF for our program. Think about it: pulling and photocopying each student's EMF and filing it back in alphabetical order is a nightmare. For individual students this is no problem, but when its the week before a trip and you are asking your school nurse to pull 60-120+, think again. Save your nurses' sanity - be proactive.

On the trip we utilized Remind101, Facebook, Twitter, Google Forms (Drive) and an iPad. Many of my students were already enrolled in our orchestras' Remind101 groups. It was through these that I invited travelers to sign up for an additional "class" for anyone wanting updates and reminders leading up to and during the trip. Through this new group various Google Form links were sent to gather important information before leaving: dietary restrictions, meal choices, emergency contact numbers, etc. and logistical information while on the buses or at the hotel. Prior to the trip I converted all EMFs to PDFs as well as the itinerary and form responses. These were downloaded to a school iPad for immediate access during the trip. Social media was used throughout the trip to keep our community, parents and administrators connected.

... also, think about how you are transporting your instruments. We used a 14' U-Haul truck driven by two awesome husband/wife parent chaperone teams. They rocked!

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