All abroad!

The benefits of overseas expeditions for students are well recognised, but trips abroad offer teachers opportunities too, says Wendy Knight

As a teacher of art and design at The Dixie Grammar School in Leicestershire, I first got involved with World Challenge supporting the lead teacher on the school’s first expedition to Namibia in 2007 before going on to lead the trip in 2009 to Zambia and Botswana. I am currently planning and looking forward to the 2015 expedition to South Africa, Mozambique and Swaziland. Although I am passionate about the experiences such expeditions offer students, I’m also aware that there are benefits for staff as well. 

Look at your school’s development plan to see where you can have an impact

In 2009 one of the priorities at The Dixie was to promote an international education. We had been successful in being re-accredited with our school’s international award and, having been international coordinator, this was a great opportunity to bring an international experience to the rest of the school. We had two groups on expedition in 2009.

As an art teacher I kept my eye out for artefacts and image-taking opportunities that could be shown in an exhibition or used to start discussions. I also worked with heads of department to see how international aspects could be brought into the curriculum; the real skill here is in making links with what students have to learn within the curriculum, but giving it an international theme. 

Network, make links and swap contact details

When I first went out on expedition I was meeting new people, getting involved with different projects and just swapping contact details. Now I make sure that this is something I am actively doing whilst out in country. Through my networks I have been able to arrange further trips for my students to undertake art and conservation projects with pupils in those African schools. Without first working with World Challenge, with all the support and encouragement they provide in planning and logistics, I would not have had the confidence or the appropriate organisational skills to do my own overseas trips. 

Embrace the opportunity to step out of that student/teacher relationship

On expedition both teachers and students need to work together as a team; there is no hierarchy. I have found that this has really helped with my pastoral responsibilities and I have learnt so much about myself and my students. When we get back to school it is so much easier to talk about their aspirations and future goals because I have learnt so much more about them as individuals. Both teachers and students will benefit so much from building a more open and ‘grown-up’ relationship. 

Learn to step back and let them learn from their mistakes

One of the hardest things to do is to learn to step back and let the students make mistakes. When they leave school they won’t have someone there to always tell them what to do so it is a vital skill to cope when things are going wrong, solve problems and learn from mistakes. It is all about resilience and this is something that I have also taken back into my classroom. As an art teacher I want students to be creative and this often comes with taking risks and learning from mistakes. Going on expedition has given me the confidence to know when to step back and when to get involved. 

Involve the wider school community

For many of these types of expeditions there will be an element of fundraising involved in the run-up to the trip so you will undoubtedly be calling on the wider school community to offer support. When you get back, show the community what they helped to achieve. Our exhibition resulting from our recent trip, open to the local community as well as people within the school, has proved a real success, not least in its focus on pupil interaction. 

Wendy Knight, The Dixie Grammar School, Market Bosworth, Leicestershire

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