Across the country this autumn, children (mostly Year 6s) will have returned to school with one thing on their minds. No, not the SATs – they’ll be focused on their upcoming residential school trip.
We know how important these are for children’s development; how they help to build independence and develop skills not easily acquired in the classroom. How they can give children experience of overcoming adversity, and establish a trust and rapport between teachers and pupils that should hopefully see them through what will be the most challenging academic year of their lives to date.
For the teachers, leaders, other staff and parents volunteering their help, however, there’s unlikely to be quite the same level of excitement. Nervousness, or perhaps even dread, might better describe their emotions as they prepare to spend the best part of 100 hours straight in the permanent company of many, many children.
Yet these journeys also represent a unique development opportunity for those leaders and teachers taking part. It affords the chance to build trust and camaraderie between colleagues that can prove invaluable, particularly when so many schools and leadership teams are facing numerous tough choices.
The head at my school entered his job having been left with some tough choices of his own. The school’s outgoing head had put off a number of difficult budget decisions, ostensibly so that his successor could reshape the school as he saw fit.
However, the result was that soon after being appointed, the new head found himself having to make a series of redundancy and hour-cutting decisions that were largely resented by staff. A number of LSAs and some teachers left the school that year, in apparent protest against the direction the school seemed to be taking.
He, more than anyone, needed the chance to present a different side of himself; to be seen in a context outside of his office. The day he joined the residential trip gave him precisely that…
After a day spent seal watching, fossil hunting and walking through knee-deep mud, followed by an evening visit to a nearby swimming pool, we’d reached the hour when the children were asleep (or at least quiet), allowing the adults to settle down in the tiny makeshift staff room for a well-deserved glass of wine.
Everyone had done their bit during what was a difficult, if rewarding day. We’d all been equals, working through adversity together, and that evening we began to treat each other like human beings.
The head listened as we teachers described our lives before becoming educators and our current home lives. We talked about the kind of things we all need to know when building the sort of friendships that will enhance our working relationships.
This shared experience made everyone who was there far more amenable to what our head had to say. After the trip, our attitudes towards him thawed considerably, and the sentiment spread rapidly from the Year 6 staff to the rest of the school.
That trip did far more to establish unity among senior leaders and experienced staff than any CPD session. It wasn’t just the children’s lives that were enriched by what those days consisted of.
Everyone has the opportunity to grow when venturing out on a residential trip, adults included. Yes, there will always be a school to run – but taking a short time away can pay dividends for those wanting to lead a school where all staff share mutual respect and common goals.
Louis Walker is a primary school teacher based in Essex