Author Archives: clintlanyon

The importance of residential experiences

During the February break I was privileged to lead a group of 32 pupils and 3 staff on a trip of a life time to South West USA. Our 10 day trip began in San Francisco and finished in Los Angeles and in between we visited Death Valley, Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. A dream trip for any Geographer! For everyone on the trip there were highs and lows but what was astonishing was the amount of discreet learning that took place. Many of my colleagues jested about the trip being a holiday and I readily responded with the standard answer that it is an educational excursion and not a holiday. As a Geographer I was well aware of the educational value of the trip but what did the pupils gain from it?

Regardless of the Geographical context of the trip the biggest thing the pupils gained was independence and responsibility. All too often we wrap young people in cotton wool to protect them from our own or their parents’ insecurities / concerns regarding their ability to make sound judgement calls and act responsibly in relation to their own safety and that of others. Of course they make mistakes and need some redirection at times, don’t we all. In general they coped well with new situations and the need to make quick appropriate decisions. With the exception of one misplaced boarding pass no one lost their passport, money, travel documents or got themselves in a situation that was deemed unsafe. For one pupil this was their highlight as they could tell their parents they did it – the often insignificant things we dismiss definitely matter.

One thing that I don’t think we do enough is taking time out to listen to and observe the young people we work with. On the ferry back from Alcatraz, as staff we did just that. One girl was sat on the deck reading a book written by a former prisoner who she met in the gift shop and who had signed the copy she was reading. So engrossed in the book she had totally switched off to everything around her. Behind us were three pupils interpreting the tourist map of the island showing the route they took and what they saw at each point on the audio tour. Others were stood chatting about how it would have felt to be incarcerated in Alcatraz and how those who did escape would never have made it across the waterway they were currently travelling on. Of course some were more engrossed in eating hotdogs and crisps and wondering what was on the dinner menu at Hard Rock Café that evening, but the engagement of those students was equally as important in relation to their social development.

It would be very easy to find hundreds of examples of the educational value of the trip to convince the most sceptical. Educational excursions however are unfortunately on the decline in schools for many reasons. In my own experience the top reasons are time, paperwork and inexperience. This really should not be the case and I am confident that in every school there are staff members with a wealth of experience of running trips, visits and residential experiences and that they are more than happy to support others to do the same. I would also advocate the use of schools travel companies as the support they can provide is exceptional with regard to safety management, guidance on trip leadership and their knowledge of places to visit that comes from organising trips for hundreds/thousands of schools.

All too often we are told of the importance to take risks and allow our pupils to do the same. After all the greatest way we learn is by succeeding and making mistakes. Educational excursions are all about managing risk and giving pupils opportunities to stretch themselves and often prove themselves. Residential experiences are much more than a holiday! Outdoor learning is a valuable tool and should be embraced.

New Year’s Resolutions

So it’s the 28th December and as I sit watching mindless Christmas television I turn over the channel and am faced with a 16-year-old boy who is trying to raise his three sisters and brother in an African slum. They are living next to an overflowing communal toilet and struggling to get by. His mother died of aids and his father was killed during the 2007 elections – that’s democracy for you!

It’s at this point that Lenny Henry breaks down and a tear comes to my eye. You can always rely on Comic relief to bring you back to earth with a bump. Then just before depression starts to kick in you are shown the effects of our donations and the 16 yr old in a new house that is clean and the sight of him and his siblings receiving an education. The education they receive is delivered in a breezeblock building with minimal resources, no computers or flash resources. The greatest resource they have is a desire to learn and the passion of their teachers.

This makes me think about what it is we are doing in our own classrooms. All too often we get caught up in the negativity of diminishing budgets, poor resourcing and the need to deliver a new curriculum that is progressive, inclusive and owned by the learner. The basic reality is that what is really important is the way in which we engage our learners.

Are they as passionate as their African peers? Are they as engaged and grateful to be receiving an education? Do we hold our own learners in high enough regard?

If I am being truly honest I have to admit that the pressures of running a department and changes to management structures and budgets does at times overshadow the real reason I joined this profession. As a result I do not fully engage with the learners I work for and with. Instead of engaging learners I become a lecturer and all to often exam focused rather than learner focused. As many people make their New Years Resolutions how many will reflect upon where they truly are and if they need to make changes to attitude and pedagogy rather than the usual giving up smoking or losing a few pounds.

What’s really important in your classroom? What will be your New Years Resolution?