What do we learn when we travel together?
This summer, thousands of students and teachers traveled near and far on family vacations and educational trips like ours.
There’s a lot to see and do when we travel, and more often than not, there’s not enough time to get it all in. So what to do? I’ll tell you – collaborate. Easier said than done? Maybe so, but there’s no better time to practice the unique and often-underappreciated skills of group dynamics when you’re out of your comfort zone and exploring a new place with options galore.
Group travel provides an ideal opportunity for students to develop and practice better collaboration skills. Student travel requires classmates to work together to navigate the seemingly basic but, in reality, not-so-simple acts of getting themselves and their groups from one place to another safely, staying with peers in hotel rooms, and making good decisions for themselves when it comes to dining in a new city.
When several students must share one hotel bathroom, tasks as simple as showering or brushing teeth in time to catch an early bus to the morning’s planned activities become a lesson in teamwork, time management, and communication. Students quickly learn that setting and respecting roommate boundaries is key. They learn the importance of watching out for one another, working together to help keep each other safe in a city far from home. And they learn to see one another with fresh eyes, finding connections with peers they otherwise may only pass in the school hallway. In a survey of U.S. educators, teachers ranked improved cooperation and collaborative skills among the top five social impacts of domestic travel they observe in their students. More than 40 percent of teachers in the survey said their students learned how to work better in groups during such trips.
And there’s no reason to suspect that any of these group aspects – boundaries, respect, understanding, communication – operate any differently when you’re in family vacation mode as when you’re in educational student travel mode. The players in a group might have different names, “student” or “child,” “Mom” or “teacher,” but the fact remains: you’re all in this together.
The importance of teaching students how to effectively collaborate goes far beyond the classroom, the family, or the workplace. Cooperation forms the core of civic engagement and it is sewn into the fabric of our democracy. Students should be given as many opportunities as possible to develop and refine their collaborative skills, and to apply those skills to solve unfamiliar challenges in new situations. Especially now, it’s vital that students learn to thoughtfully navigate the environments, identities, and opinions that characterize our nation at this moment. But it is equally important they learn to navigate the challenges of being a part of a community every single day.
After all, it’s our home communities that await us to return from our travel experiences. Don’t we want to take the collaborative lessons we’ve learned and practiced while out-of-town back with us? (The answer is yes, of course we do!)