Sally is Senco at Chaddesley Corbett [Endowed] Primary School and Ben is a consultant working with Tide~
We have loosely based our ideas on the sheet ‘Qualities of a visiting global learner’ [above], which we have often used with groups in preparing for a study visit. This comes from the indispensable publication, ‘Journeys into global understanding’ [Unicef, 1995].
We offer these ideas as a focus for discussion, and as prompts for self-reflection. With this in mind, we have taken some of the headlines from the article below, and called them ‘A Study Visit Leader’s Person Spec’ – downloadable below. We hope that it will prove a useful tool for aspiring leaders. But this is not a definitive guide, or – in reality - a tick list.
We have found that co-leading is preferable to leading a course on one’s own, allowing complementary strengths to come into play [eg Sally is a practising primary teacher, while Ben has more experience in leading CPD]. We also think that having a male and a female leader has been a strength, especially when it comes to supporting group members during the visit itself.
Leaders are still learners
As a leader, there are things in the study visit experience, and from the participants’ group, that still surprise us, and even catch us off guard - every time. Like everyone else, we are moving from one culture to another, and making all sorts of adjustments as we go – including getting to know other group members.
We know that we are a long way from being the font of all expertise. We have only become familiar with particular places, and for short batches of time. A lot of participants, on completing our course, have said “the more I know, the more I realise how much I do not know.” That is definitely true of leaders.
As enablers of the group’s learning, we have therefore found it very effective to pass on more and more responsibility to group members for structuring and leading group sessions – especially in the later stages of the course.
Being a teamworker
We learn together with the course participants, so we are part of the group. The more true that feels, the better the course ends up being. This means that we have to listen to the group, its ideas and its worries, but not that we haven’t needed to be decisive when necessary. Sometimes, especially in informal moments, we have to remind ourselves that we are in effect modelling ways of behaving, learning and being. Having two of us helps keep us on our toes, and remind us that we have a role to play.
As study visit participants are going through a lot - socially, intellectually, emotionally – we have found it absolutely essential to create a supportive group environment. Frequently, we have also needed to be able to give support on a one-to-one basis – where people are feeling a little lost and far from home, for example, or where an issue has arisen that they feel uncomfortable with.
Because we know many of the places and people we are visiting, we have had to remind ourselves at times about what it felt like for us when we arrived for the first time: the nervousness and excitement of being in a new place, with new experiences, and unfamiliar people.
Giving support also means providing the group with plenty of time to prepare for the visit, to think through some issues, and consider how they are going to work together. We have usually spent three days together beforehand, and sometimes had a short group residential [which has been brilliant for group-forming]. We have also spent a couple of days unpacking ideas together, following the visit – and usually allowing a bit of time to pass first, so that participants can begin to process their experiences.
Moving learning on
Being supportive is one thing, but we have also had a crucial role to play in moving learning on, and that means offering a challenge as a “differently knowledgeable other.” For example, where an issue has come up, where there has been conflict in the group [for example, around child sponsorship or charitable giving], then we have had to think hard about how best to intervene.
Sometimes this has meant going back to the principles or focus of the course, or about Tide~’s partnership with the NEA [its Gambian partners] – or revisiting ground rules that the group has set for itself in advance of the visit. It has been most valuable when such a disagreement has served as a learning point for the whole group, and everybody’s ideas have moved on together as a result. Moving understanding on does not mean we have always been able to agree with each other on everything, however – and often it has been our own learning that has been challenged the most.
With a bunch of sometimes tired, hot and anxious people together in close proximity for an extended period, being able to resolve conflicts has been an essential skill to have. This has not always been easy – sometimes we have been the tired, hot and anxious ones, as we usually take on everything that participants take on, and then additional tasks and responsibilities as well.
The more we have been able to resolve conflict creatively, rather than bury differences or force a consensus, the better the outcome has been. We have found that encouraging participants to think about the needs of the group as a whole has nearly always proved a more effective strategy than simply asserting our own authority.
Keeping feet on the ground
There is a whole bunch of practical stuff we have had to keep on top of, while still keeping an eye on the needs of the group, and on the ‘big picture’ of the course: logistics, safety issues, money, transport and accommodation issues, the specific needs of individual group members.
Sometimes these small things have seemed disproportionately important, but if a group member is feeling unwell, has not eaten properly, is overheating or overtired, or is freaked out about spiders and other bugs, then that will affect the working of the whole group. We can spread the load by encouraging the group to look after each other, but often these things will inevitably end up back with us as group leaders.
Flexibility, adaptability, resilience
We have learnt to be pretty flexible about plans, since unexpected situations have often arises, the needs of group members have often changed during the course of a day, and practical matters such as transport and meals have often proven unpredictable.
We try to think on our feet, respond to things as they come up, and try to deal with them in a patient and good-humoured way. Trying to do that, while not belittling the frustration and anxieties of group members, is not always an easy task – and we have not always managed to get it right. We have learned the hard way that a genuine apology can be worth a great deal!
References and further reading
To download A Study Visit Leader’s “Person Spec”, see PDF below
We have found the following really helpful to us in planning and leading study visit courses.
Publication: Journeys into global understanding. Margot Brown. Unicef, 1995.
Research: Global Partnerships for Mutual Learning
Click to download in your preferred format.