How to Train Your Chaperone
Taking students on the trip of a lifetime–one that students are still reminiscing about months later–can make any director feel like a hero. As history (and blockbuster movies) will show, the most successful heroes are part of a solid team. When you and your chaperones present a united front, there is no travel challenge you won’t rise to meet. Any league of heroes will tell you, though, that building an effective team takes a little strategy. Our travel consultants, tour directors and veteran group leaders gave the following recommendations for building an effective team of chaperones:
Set chaperone expectations early.
Well before the trip–perhaps before even accepting volunteers–make it clear what being a chaperone will entail. Chaperones should see the tour as a learning experience for the students; not a vacation for the adults. Chaperones should first be familiar with, and agree to enforcing, the code of conduct, including any school policies that will be enforced on the trip and any rules specific to the tour (such as curfews or items that should or should not be brought on the trip.)
Beyond that, chaperones should be aware of what’s expected of them, personally: are they expected to stay with the students in their charge at all times? Are they expected to participate in all the same activities as the students, or may they opt out? Is it appropriate for a chaperone to order alcohol with a meal? Would they be willing to stay back with a student who is ill—or escort a student home early for any reason? Setting the standards ahead of time will ensure that your chaperones know well in advance whether they’re right for the job.
What else should chaperones know going into the trip? How about…
Chaperones pull their own weight.
Chaperones are a director’s trusted team mates, not a second set of responsibilities. Don’t shoulder all the tasks yourself; let your chaperones know that you need their help to make the trip run smoothly. Each chaperone should take on their fair share of the responsibility, taking charge of a proportionate share of students and having their turn at other duties like room checks.
With responsibility comes power—but not ALL the power…
Establish a chain of command.
Your chaperones are an extension of your authority—but ultimately, you are the leader of this elite squad. That means that some decisions—such as how to discipline a student—rest solely with you. Even more importantly, a chaperone’s instructions should not countermand your own. Rules, meeting times, and curfews that the director establishes must be respected and enforced; a chaperone that bends or waives the rules for their group (or their child) is undermining your team.
Have a plan for ‘firing’ a chaperone.
At some point in the preparation (hopefully well before the tour departs) it may become clear to you that one of your volunteers is not suited for the chaperone job, and it will be up to you to remove them from the trip. Decide what the grounds for such a dismissal would be, and discuss it with your administration so that you can be certain of their support. The grounds for dismissal—and its consequences (such as whether or not any deposits are refunded)—should be clear from the outset of the trip preparation.
Basically, it all boils down to…
Laying out clear guidelines and ground rules for your chaperones early, and reiterating them as the trip nears, will turn your chaperones into your strongest allies. Strong communication doesn’t end when your tour begins, though. Times, locations and other instructions can sometimes be clear to you, but ambiguous to your chaperones. If the tour of Radio City begins promptly at three, and stragglers will have to miss it—say so. If your group is meeting near the train station at Magic Kingdom® Park, specify which side of the building. If the students will need their sheet music for the clinic at Tulane, but not their uniforms, pass the word along to your chaperones. A few extra moments for detailed instructions could save a lot of confusion later on, and keep your whole team on the same page.
Last but not least…
Recognize your chaperones’ hard work.
Even a small reward or memento of the trip will show your chaperones that you appreciate all they’ve done. Make sure that your students, too, realize all the effort your chaperones put into the trip. For all that they do to make the tour a reality, your chaperones are heroes too!
Is your team assembled? Talk to a travel consultant to get your tour rolling!
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