Tread carefully, but tread brilliantly.

It’s funny how hard it is to come up with motivational speeches to pupils when you have had 4 hours of sleep and 20 hours of travelling. My colleague pronounced this phrase, having held the group to account for some horseplay at the hotel we were staying at in New Hampshire. This was during my first ever residential school trip at half term ( After 15 years of teaching). And it was the Double Rollover Euromillions jackpot; a ski trip to the White Mountains.

With 48 students to shepherd and support the experience turned out to be a challenge as well as a continuous sensation of excitement, as we negotiated the unfamiliar environment. I learned a lot from the other staff about how to contain and channel the enthusiasm of students in the field. Firm boundaries and consistent monitoring were paramount. I didn’t realise how focused we would have to be at all times. One morning I watched R with mild amusement when he snapped off a huge icicle and brandished it after a girl across the treacherous ice, but my colleague called him over to ‘talk through’ the possible outcomes of this escapade. We were always alert, breaking off from our breakfast conversations to call students over for abandoning their plates on the table or wandering off. Students had deadlines to meet us for mealtimes and those who were late had to clear up; no hats were worn at the table, no visiting bedrooms, no food or drink on the coach.

It sounds dour and fun-free but it turned out that with these boundaries were like handrails in an unpredictable and potentially hazardous landscape. Once they were in place we could let loose the banter and socialising. R didn’t mind that I couldn’t help him retrieve his skis because I had been temporarily incapacitated by laughter. J was proud that his backward acceleration down a slope became legendary. H ruefully admitted that he crashed headlong into a ‘SLOW DOWN’ sign because he was going too fast. The girls shared a chairlift with me and learned about feminism. Everyone felt relaxed and at ease (but we never stopped counting heads.) We had discos, Karaoke, tubing and spoof awards. We compared purchases at the mall and we all saw each other with facial sheet-marks and bed-head. We had a fantastic time, it was a deeper type of education; building memories and strong relationships.

My colleague, Darren, was our Obama. He began each day with a speech. But we could not let him forget that particular phrase, quoting it back to him and to the students, whenever we thought his blush was finally receding. In the end, though he was right. Because the students did tread carefully but they also trod brilliantly.

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“I’ve been trying to boil the kettle for 3 hours” said M.

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Heavy snow fall and transport to the slopes

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