Crisis management; the lemon dodging approach

Date Posted: 30/11/2016

How water tight is your approach to health and safety on school trips? You can use the lemon concept to find out. 

There’s a saying in Northern Canada about lemons and crisis situations. They say that life is like a one-armed bandit machine, and disasters occur when four lemons come up at the same time. 

It may look like a twee statement, suitable only for refrigerator magnets or social media memes, but it’s actually a concept that can be applied to crisis management. 

And not just crisis management in general, but the sort that can be employed on school trips. 

No matter how robust you think your school’s approach to health and safety is, you shouldn’t rest on your laurels.

Teachers can prevent problems occurring by looking for lemons (or hazards) both before and during a trip. 

Lemon one: relying on a supplier for risk assessment and health and safety

Andy Lavin from the Outdoor Education Adviser’s Panel suggests that it can sometimes be easy to rely too heavily on the risk assessment procedures of the company or venue you book a trip with. 

Of course, it’s important to book with a supplier that has its own rigorous risk assessment procedures and crisis policies. Looking for the Learning Outside the Classroom Quality Badge can help with this.

However, Andy explains that’s not always enough when it comes to looking for lemons. 

“Schools need to take responsibility, too,” he explained at a recent seminar session at the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom annual conference. 

Teachers involved in organising school trips can do worse than regularly checking that their school’s policy is in line with both local authority or other employer guidance, and national guidance, too. 

Andy explains that trip organisers should work closely with suppliers to develop a mutual health and safety landscape. 

Lemon two: silos of training in risk assessment

Especially in schools where one person takes the responsibility for overseeing all school trips, silos of training can occur. 

It’s not always easy for Educational Visit Coordinators to get the time in school to disseminate their own training. 

Good crisis management will involve preparation. Not making time for refresher sessions can lead to problems further down the line. 

Pictured: Lemons

Lemon three: sticking too tightly to the plan

The best risk assessments should be dynamic and recognise that there is not always one answer in a crisis situation. 

Pre-visit training sessions with trip leaders and teams can not only help to identify all the various issues that might arise during a trip, but they can also empower teachers to feel like they have the freedom to take a course of action that represents common sense of a set structure. 

Lemon four: not trusting your instinct

In his workshop, Andy Lavin talked about a close call he’d had during a trip he took while he was a PE teacher. 

He’d taken a group of pupils to a martial arts training day and knew that one of the pupils in the class had coordination problems. 

Before the trip, Andy advised the pupil not to attempt the barrel roles with his peers. However, on the day, the official martial arts instructor suggested to the child that he should try the manoeuvre if he felt like he could. 

At the time, Andy’s instinct was to step in and contradict the expert, but he didn’t want to undermine the professional’s authority. 

The boy did the roll, and injured his neck. Andy had to take him to hospital.  

“Always go with your gut feeling,” Andy explained. “Hurting the feelings of an instructor is not a reason to ignore that instinct.”

Lemon five: ignoring the importance of base camp

If a crisis does occur it can often be the processes that take place back at school that are as important as those that unfold in the field. 

Does your school have a designated press liaison person for example?

And have you planned who will be the emergency base contact in the event of a crisis?

In summary, the best crisis management procedures are those that work dynamically with suppliers, involve all staff at tall stages, promote flexibility, and are ongoing. 

Keep an eye on these factors and the lemons shouldn’t come up. 

School Travel Organiser's Guide