We have had the pleasure of working with many different teachers and groups through the years, and we’ve learned a lot from them about effective group management. Your Academic Expeditions tour leader will lead the over-all flow and logistics of your trip, but the teachers and chaperones will still have the responsibility of student management in the areas of counting, discipline, and specific group expectations. Here are some things to consider and some tips we’ve learned along the way.
Parents or No Parents?
We have seen the spectrum: from groups that bring just as many parents as students and the trip has more of a “family” feel, to groups where parents were not allowed to come at all and the teachers have more direct control over the students. And from these examples, we’ve seen both styles work for a wonderful trip or a sloppy trip, so we don’t recommend one way over another; only that whether you’re dealing with students or your parents, you communicate clear expectations for behavior, organization and promptness. Adults in their maturity and independence, have often forgotten what it’s like to be part of a disciplined group on a schedule, so they also will need coaching on orderliness and chaperone responsibilities. If your school already has an established record of parental involvement and investment in their children’s education, then their participation can be a great resource on your trip.
There are logistical considerations that the number of adults can impact. Certain sites, such as Jamestown, Williamsburg and Mount Vernon require that students must be accompanied by an adult chaperone, and the more adults you have allows you to break into smaller groups for more personalized touring. While Williamsburg and DC have sites that are contained in safer, easy to navigate corridors where trusted students can explore in buddy groups without adults, it is not advisable to let students do so in New York City without adult supervision. We suggest for Williamsburg, DC or Philadelphia an adult/student ration of 1 to 10 or less. For New York or Boston, we recommend 1 to 5 or less.
Apart from having parents available to help with group organization and discipline, parents can really help personalize the educational experience. History after all is the story of succeeding generations, and what better way to experience the continuity of history at a memorial or site than with a parent and child together. Our parents often tell us, “I don’t know how much our kids are getting from this trip, but I sure am getting a lot out of it!” Parents are much more wired to take the emotional power of the trip to heart, and they can be examples to help their children do the same.
It is essential to have a reliable counting system in order to know that the whole group is present before moving to the next site. Simply counting heads is not very effective in large mingling crowds. Some groups do a count off, which can be fun when turned into a race or game, but also has its drawbacks, as it is difficult in noisy / distracting situations, or can be inappropriate in places of reverence or silence. Our recommended method is assigning travelers to chaperone groups or smaller teams that must report when their group is all present. This is not only handy for counting, but for touring where some sites require groups to be broken into chaperone groups, and it also encourages the chaperones to be part of the counting system, because one thing we’ve learned through the years is the more likely person to not show up at the right time and place is a chaperone, rather than a student.
Your itinerary will be designed with as much logical and efficient flow as possible for your group to make the most of their time. Promptness on the part of the entire group will make this itinerary flow even better. People that show up to the designated meet places late not only cost the rest of the group time at subsequent sites, but may also cause the group to miss a timed appointment. In some cases of extremely tardy persons, the group will have to leave them behind to make it to the next appointment, or to keep the bus from getting a ticket in a No Parking zone. If a person is left behind, even if they do not have a cell phone, our 800 number is on the back of their nametag, and they can call it for help in finding out how to reconnect with the group.
Cell Phones and Headphones
While current mobile technology has made the tour business much more efficient and flexible, it has also created a whole slew of new distractions for our travelers. Some schools set no restrictions on phone and headphone use and even print out a list of everyone’s cell number, while some experienced teachers have completely banned them from the trip. We believe a compromise between the two, with well-defined boundaries works well on the trip. For example, some leaders collect such devices upon arrival and return them only at the hotel to call home. Some leaders only allow headphones on the longer drives between cities when permission is given. Whatever the case, clear expectations and consequences should be established to ensure talking, texting, tuning-out, and gaming are not done by students or adults during touring and teaching times. If you decide to completely disallow phones while touring, know that our 24 hour toll-free number which is on the back of each participant’s nametag is always staffed by someone familiar with the group and can facilitate with the guide in finding lost people and dealing with surprises. Also remember, phones and gadgets make going through metal detector security a slower process.
Touring on the Bus
If your group is allowed to sit where they want, you will likely have the front of the bus full of adults and the rear full of students. This is rarely a good situation for your guide being able to effectively communicate to the group. While seating assignments are not necessary, it is important that your chaperones are interspersed into the rear of the bus. Some groups have gone as far to move all the adults to the back and all the students to the front. Some groups have used note cards with the student and adult names on them, and each morning place them in the seats in a different order so that different students and adults mingle throughout the trip.
Be aware that the bus company and driver typically have their own standards of what is allowed on the bus. As a general rule, drivers do not allow gum, ice cream, or open top drinks such as coffee or fountain drinks. Screw top bottles are generally acceptable. Whatever the standard, the most important thing is that travelers respect the bus and clean up after themselves. Though toilets are on the bus, they should only be used in dire situations; make use of public restrooms off the bus whenever possible.
If your group is large enough that you are traveling on more than one bus, then you will have a guide on each of your buses. It is not recommended that you let students or parents switch from one bus to another multiple times during the trip, as it is difficult for your guide to maintain informational continuity when their audience is always changing. Switching buses also makes it very difficult to know how many people to count when going from site to site.
If you have a multi-city itinerary, then you will have some longer drives with down time on the bus. Likely, your guide will have DVDs or music CDs to play on the bus, but you might want to bring some of your own if you have some specific films or music that will complement the trip.
Touring on Foot
It is a very good idea to prepare your group for good pedestrian etiquette in crowded public spaces, especially for groups from small towns and suburbs. The individuals of a “group” are innocently unaware of how much space they take up collectively and how inconsiderate that can be of other people. When your guide chooses a gathering place, the group should gather compact enough to hear instructions and allow other pedestrians plenty of room to move around. When walking, avoid lagging behind and creating gaps which cause people to get lost en route. When walking on sidewalks, stay to the right side so as not to collide with people coming from the opposite directions. When crossing streets, it is all too easy to blindly follow the person in front you into unknown situations, so all must remain aware of crosswalk signals and on-coming traffic. Many times, large groups are not able to cross a crosswalk all in one signal; if that is the case, the group can reunite after the next signal. Be advised, sitting on stairwells and in passageways often clogs pedestrian flow, and is also illegal in many government buildings (a “sit-in” is a form of protest).
While there are no specific dress codes that are required at any of the sites we visit, it is always a good idea to set your own standards of appropriateness for certain occasions. For example, some schools require a polo shirt and non-jean trousers for their Capitol day when they’ll be getting a group photo or meeting with their Congressman. For those that go on a Dinner Cruise or to a Broadway show in New York, packing some nicer clothes is important (From our experience, the girls are quite keen, while the boys need some coaching). Even if your students pack only appropriate clothes, you still need to be prepared to set standards during the trip, as many of the souvenir shops sell overly flashy hats, shirts, and sunglasses that might be appropriate for the mall back home, but not for reverential sites. Whatever dress code you do or don’t establish, it is essential that you emphasize repeatedly that your students wear clothes and shoes that are comfortable for all-day touring in variables of weather. Emphasize both comfort and class over potentially inappropriate youthful fashions.
Proper behavior on the part of both students and parents is an essential part of a smooth-flowing trip. While our guides and staff will help to encourage appropriate conduct at sites, hotels and meals, the ultimate responsibility and enforcers of behavioral expectations are the teachers and chaperones of your school. As such, Academic Expeditions does not require or mandate a behavioral contract, but we do recommend that you establish your own prior to your trip, communicating clear expectations and consequences to your students and their parents. We have included our Behavioral Contract that you may print or simply use as guide in creating your own.
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After years of experience in student travel, we’ve created Discovery Expeditions for all types of travelers and destinations.