Time Well Spent: Preparing Chaperones

Jul 12, 2022

A good chaperone can make a trip run smoothly. An ill-prepared chaperone can leave you feeling you have even more students to keep tabs on.

Before accepting a volunteer’s offer to chaperone, make sure they have a clear understanding of their obligations. This might include trip price, if they’re sharing a room, whether they’ll have time away from students, and whether it’s acceptable to drink alcoholic beverages or use tobacco.

Match expertise to your needs. Are volunteers experienced with public transportation or international travel? If traveling abroad, do they speak the language? Seasoned travelers may help navigate airports and subway stations and have good instincts in unexpected situations. Inexperienced travelers may need ample guidance.

Ensure chaperones understand their role. If at times they’ll be solely responsible for a small group, are they comfortable with that? Chaperones need to be active participants and serve in loco parentis—acting as each student’s parent. Ask if they’re comfortable supervising children, willing to adhere to the rules and not make exceptions for their own child, physically able to take part in scheduled activities, and able to put away cellphones and model technology expectations for students.

Familiarize chaperones with all rules applying to students—from the school and tour company and as local customs dictate: dress code, public displays of affection, language, cellphone use, curfew and whether they can leave the hotel. Discuss how infractions will be handled.

If any students have a medical condition, chaperones must know symptoms to look for, where a student’s medication is located, and when it’s appropriate to call for emergency services.

Check your school or organizational chaperone policy before offering anyone the opportunity. In some school districts or areas, chaperones trips must submit to criminal background checks and fingerprinting, just like staff members. In many districts, screenings are mandatory, even if not required by law.

Use technology to assist your chaperones. Many free messaging programs can be used with local Wi-Fi. WeChat is commonly used in China, KaKao Talk in South Korea; WhatsApp is used most anywhere in the world. Have everyone download the app you’ve chosen, create groups based on the whole and by chaperone, and use the app for everything from sending reminders to connecting with someone needing assistance.

If splitting into small groups, it may be helpful to create a digital document that contains each student’s picture, passport information, parent contacts, and other important information to aid the chaperone in case of an emergency.

Be sure all chaperones have a business card for each hotel you’ll stay in and contact information for the teacher leader and tour operator. Review the district’s policies on taking photos of students and sharing them on social media.

The Ideal Chaperone …

  • Is willing to attend all meetings with students and parents and help with fundraising.
  • Sees the importance of the schedule yet is flexible.
  • Is punctual.
  • Is respected by the students.
  • Will follow rules and guidelines.
  • Is adventurous and doesn’t mind making a fool of himself or herself, which can help encourage reluctant students to take part in activities.
  • Models lifelong-learner behavior: curiosity, open-mindedness, respect for other cultures, desire to learn from each opportunity.
  • Has a sense of humor, but isn’t too “buddy-buddy” with students.

Written by Jennifer Reynolds, contributing writer for Teach & Travel.

This article originally appeared in Teach & Travel.