“School field trip.” That phrase is enough to strike fear into the heart of any teacher. If there is a setting that includes all of the potential situations for misbehavior, this is it: stimulating new experiences; lack of structure; interactions with other classrooms… field trips have it all.
Our goal is to extend our inside classroom behavior management to the outside
The field trip attitude
Bottom line: Be ready for challenging behavior, even from your “good” kids.
Any time a group of children gets excited, they will be bursting with energy that feeds off of each other and grows exponentially.
Your approach will vary depending upon the type of field trip. There is a big difference between a nature hike and a trip to a museum; one allows the freedom to be a little out of control and the other demands tighter control than even your classroom.
By the time of your first field trip, you'll certainly know your kids and how they are likely to behave outside the school setting. If a student has significant trouble meeting expectations daily, you should already know the parents well enough to have a frank discussion. Let them know if you think their child may not be successful and come up with an alternate plan. This may include the parent going on the trip, or the student spending his day in another classroom.
Open communication with the parents and the student is the key. If you know that this is critical, then don't skip this step and hope for the best. You'll end up regretting it when you are dealing with difficult behavior without administrative support when away from the school.
Also consider the potential disruption of medication schedules for ADHD or other kids and factor that into your preparation.
Field trip preparation
Be certain that you know exactly what your administration expects for a class field trip – what kind of field trip forms must be filled out, how to coordinate for transportation, etc.
When letting parents know what is happening and getting permission slips, also advise them to supply those things that will keep kids safe and comfortable… wet kids aren't happy kids. This list changes depending upon the activity, but may include:
- Appropriate clothing for the weather
- Water bottles
- Backpacks to carry their own belongings
Regarding that last item, make it very clear that you are not your students' personal pack horse!
Enlist principal or other administrator support. Get cell numbers so you can call for a pickup if there is a serious behavior issue or if you need some backup for an emergency. Of course, be very certain that the administration knows exactly where you are going, what you are doing and how to get hold of you. The office staff will certainly appreciate this if a parent calls with an important message.
Bring along some help
If your class is going alone, arrange for another school staff member or a parent to attend all aspects of the trip, including the bus ride. This protects you from any accusations of impropriety and provides a critical backup if you must deal with an emergency or a serious behavior issue.
Your level of parent participation may vary. Many parents would rather die than play “sardines on a loud bus” and are happy to drive themselves.
If parents aren't willing to drive, just be aware that there may not be room for many extra adults when two classes squeeze onto a school bus. It is very bad form to leave a parent who has taken time off from work standing on the curb for lack of space planning.
Buddy teams for accountability
Buddy up the kids in two's or three's. Make these assignments very thoughtfully to give yourself the best chance of success. Buddy pairings help students find their seats faster on the bus and helps you keep better track of them during the trip; if you see someone standing without a buddy, you know that you need to ask:
“Alisha, where is Anthony?”
Also, the members of a buddy team will often feel a little bit accountable for each other's behavior in unstructured areas.
Video tips: Field preparation
Setting expectations before and during
Behavior expectations are established before and during the class field trip. The bus riding expectations are pretty standard (keep your hands to yourselves, etc.) but others will be tailored to the trip.
- A visit to the symphony will include reminders about being quiet during performances
- A visit to a nature preserve will include reminders about staying on the path and not running ahead of the lead adult
- A visit to a hands-on science museum will include reminders about not touching anything until instructed by museum staff
Fully expect that you will have to set these expectations before the trip and then reset them throughout the trip right before the particular activity where they are applicable.
Field trips mean lines for getting on and off the bus and for admission to events and exhibits. Make sure your student line up expectations are firmly in place.
School field trip reality check
While there are field trips where behavior must be very controlled to avoid bothering others, there are trips where the kids can have more freedom to be kids.
I have done many trips to our downtown park area where the kids sketch different bridge types as a follow-up to a science unit. I learned early to accept the fact that wide-open expanses of grass will make then run, no matter what you do. So I direct their energy and use it to my advantage:
“We have five minutes before our next stop… everyone run to that tree in the middle and back!”
Yes, wearing them out is an acceptable behavior management strategy!
Rein your students in at a level that is appropriate to the trip
You can never accept the unacceptable (hitting, swearing, shoving, etc.) but allowing a bit more freedom to be energetic if the situation allows won't hurt anything. Just be mindful to pull them back in before their exuberance leads them to escalate to really poor choices.
Remember that teachers earn their pay on a school field trip! Be ready to be exhausted at the end of the day. That will be your indicator that you've done all you can to help your students learn and succeed.
Video tips: managing an elementary field trip
Expectations are for adults too
As difficult as it may be to manage the behavior of your students on a field trip, I have also learned over time that managing your parent volunteers can be just as important.
One thing we must remember about our parent volunteers is that they are not generally experienced in managing the behavior of groups of children. In fact many of them are not very experienced in managing the behavior of their own children!
If you do not provide some guidance to these parents then they will often gravitate towards the back of the pack when moving about, often simply walking with their own child. They will understandably feel reluctant to intervene in misbehavior because they don’t know the “rules” of the classroom.
They don’t want to get in trouble with the teacher!
So right up front, address your group and introduce the volunteers and let the children know in no uncertain terms that a directive from Sidney’s mother should be obeyed as quickly as a directive from you.
That will establish their credibility in front of the group and give them permission to call out children for misbehavior.
Give parents permission to rein in the kids as needed, telling them “If they do this, you can do that.” Be specific – for example:
“If a child goes off the path during the hike, you can tell him or her to walk next to you for five minutes to show they can do it.”
With a little forethought you can get a lot more effective help from your parent volunteers. The key is simply not assuming that they know what should be done in every situation. You are the expert, not them. But they can become a little bit more of an expert with the proper guidance from the teacher.
Also be aware of situations where children may start to misbehave and let your volunteer know in advance what is and isn’t acceptable behavior. On a field trip the children will be energized and you may loosen your behavior expectations a bit while they are enjoying themselves, but your volunteer needs to know what those limits are.
It is also very helpful to provide a job for your volunteer, such as asking them to walk at the end of the line to catch stragglers or perhaps monitor a drinking fountain when you stop for refreshments.
Enough talk! Get out there and have some fun!