The World Challenge School Leader at Gillotts School led his first expedition to Kenya's Rift Valley in 2012. The group spent some time acclimatising to the culture, altitude and temperature before spending a week living in and working with a local community to help build a new health centre. They then headed into the Aberdare Mountains for a five-day trekking expedition before heading north to Lake Baringo and Lake Bogoria for some rest and relaxation.
"I have always been interested in outdoor education, from going camping with my family, then doing the Duke of Edinburgh Award at school, continuing to travel as an adult and climbing Mont Blanc.
"I recognised the personal development that I went through myself by getting involved in these activities and wanted to offer the same opportunity to my students. It helped me to develop a greater sense of personal responsibility, greater independence and improve my social skills; and now I can see the same development in my students.
“When asked, the students said that they felt they got most out of working in the community, experiencing life first hand in a new culture and becoming fully involved in all areas of life. This is also something that the parents really valued.
"I certainly think that taking part in the World Challenge experience helps develop a sense of maturity in the students. This is something that was clear to see when the year 10s on the expedition rejoined their peers when they returned to school for their final year. Those who had been on expedition during the summer were streets ahead with regards to independence, leadership and valuing other people.
"I was genuinely excited when World Challenge introduced the new fitness test. It really hits home to students that this is more than just a holiday and setting targets can encourage a strong work ethic, giving a greater sense of achievement when they are successful. Having a focus on fitness can also build resilience amongst the students, something that is vital out on expedition and in many other aspects of life.
"On our first trip a couple of the students didn't really take fitness all that seriously and then struggled on the practice expedition in the UK. One particular student had difficulties with the hike which impacted negatively on the rest of the team. Going through this experience taught him that he could do more than he thought he could, pushing his body beyond what his mind was telling him he could do.
"After the practice expedition he put more effort into physically preparing for the task ahead and as a result was able to really enjoy all the opportunities afforded by going on an expedition like this and ensured he could adequately support his team.
“Personally, the planning phase of the World Challenge experience is almost as beneficial as the experience itself. If the students had just paid their money and got on a plane they wouldn't get half as much out of the experience. They value the opportunity so much more because they have had to work hard to earn the privilege of taking part.
"The planning process also helps develop valuable skills like team work, delegation and communication. Students have to learn how to sell themselves and to have the confidence to go out into the community and engage people in what they are doing.
"As a teacher I want to get as much out of the experience as my students. Personally, one of the best things about these expeditions is the chance to develop stronger relationships with the students; relationships that are on a more equal, mature level than that of the student-teacher relationship.
"One evening a couple of the students were responsible for serving the meal and had allocated a certain number of buffet items per person. They certainly weren't scared of challenging us teachers when we took more than our allowance!
"At school I have a pastoral role with responsibility for about 150 students so it is incredibly important for me to be able to develop relationships with students in a short amount of time. Through this experience I have learnt how to better regulate my own emotions and to focus on promoting positivity; things that have certainly helped me in my pastoral role."
The School Leader's next World Challenge trip will be a two-week expedition to Morocco later this year (2015).