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The legacy of a school expedition


The impact of a school expedition

Why do we do it? Preparing for a difficult school expedition takes time and involves huge additional responsibility. But – it’s what students remember, as Richard Human explains.


The year the Motorola StarTAC, the first flip mobile phone, went on sale, going on to sell over 60 million units. The year Take That announced that they were splitting up. The year that Jay-Z released his debut album Beyond Reasonable Doubt. 1996 was also the year Rupert Murdoch launched Fox News and, perhaps a little less well known, the year this greenhorn teacher was to be found in the suburbs of Nairobi – trying to write legibly on a shiny green ‘black’ board in his first international posting.

Mount Kenya

1996 was also the year that I took twenty eleven and twelve-year-old students on a four day hike up Mount Kenya, the highest mountain in the country and the second highest in Africa. For those not familiar with the country, Mount Kenya rises out of the lush central highlands of Kenya, its snow-capped peaks piercing the clouds at an impressive 5,199 meters (17,057 feet) above sea level. For an adult the ascent to this summit is both challenging and rewarding, with rugged trails winding through diverse ecosystems, from lush montane forests to alpine meadows adorned with vibrant wildflowers. As the oxygen thins, the landscape transforms into a stark, rocky terrain, where glaciers cling to the slopes, defying the equatorial sun.

The lower slopes of Mount Kenya offer warmth and opportunities for hiking, bird watching, spotting elephants, eland and buffalo. Its flanks are home to various communities, whose traditions and way of life are inextricably intertwined with this beautiful mountain.

Investing time

As many teachers do, I had, almost instinctively, invested time developing strong relationships with, and between, the pupils in the class. I worked hard to identify their passions and talents and to create opportunities for them to be challenged and celebrated. One of those students was Reena, now a 40-year-old London lawyer. When asked to reflect on that time in her life she said, “I had always had a flare in art. However, it was the creativity of our lessons that led me to think outside the box using chisels, prints, tie-dye and learning to play football and then taking a leap to climbing mountains. [It was these experiences that] made me believe in myself through perseverance and dedication.”

From comfort to growth

Finding ways to take Reena and her friends out of their ‘comfort zones’ and into a ‘growth zone’ – demanding focused attention and effort from each and every one of them seemed to me to be one of the msot important things in teaching.  Reena recalls being asked to captain the girls’ football team that I coached: “This small act, despite not being the best player, gave me the courage to lead, to utilise teamwork and even though we did not win the game I felt believed in, this has definitely shaped me to taking more risks and gaining confidence in myself.”

Another student, Nikhil, now a successful businessman in Nairobi, recalls of how he came to understand the “importance of morals, equality and a fair chance [and the importance] of developing a person to its full potential. I was a problem child and always ended up in lots of trouble at school but after spending time with Mr. Human he truly brought the best out in me.”

Now a father himself, Nikhil recognises how important it is for schools to provide pupils with challenge: “[Much] of the time we only tend to concentrate on academics. However, other skills play a critical path in self-growth for a student: it is sometimes only in such field trips that an individual discovers their hidden talent or learns something about themselves that they didn’t know.”


To prepare for the climb we spent months getting fit – swimming, running, doing the dastardly ‘bleep test’ – and learning about the mountain in geography, history and art lessons. “I remember the training before the trip and having to do different activities to show my endurance, where I wanted to give up and being encouraged to continue until I managed to complete the tasks,” recalls Reena.

Sense of achievement

She continues, “Our class trip to Mount Kenya remains one of my most proud achievements. I remember the thrill and excitement of the bus ride to the Mountain, climbing to the first peak and my first experience of a campsite. I remember the cold nights and having to go in groups of twos to use the bathroom. [It] was my first experience of independence and perseverance, having to climb with my heavy rucksack to the top and the achievement of getting there. I have used these experiences in my own growth and development, and it is independence and perseverance that has brought me to where I am [today].”

Enduring memory

Another class member, Hema, reflects how being taken “outside the classroom environment and into a new environment allowed us to work as a team with other classmates outside of our normal group. Not only this, we made lifelong memories which till date we share and which in fact was a learning experience in itself. I remember Mr. Human emphasisinf the idea of on ‘learning by doing’, ensuring we engaged with people, places and new environments by allowing us to learn outside of the four walls of a classroom.”

Hema recalls that climbing the mountain “was a super hard challenge and involved about three plus months of hard training, discipline and dedication. Our teacher had faith in the trip, so dedicated his time & energy and taught us lifelong skills.” Reena remembers, “swimming in the river, playing games and sharing experiences with my classmates, some of whom have become lifelong friends.”

Life-long skills and friends. Isn’t that what we all want?


Initially trained as a primary teacher, Richard Human has also worked extensively with secondary pupils and adult learners. He is a trained Forest School Leader and an Associate Member of the European Mentoring and Coaching Council, the EMCC

To discuss or arrange Coaching or Tutoring with Richard, please use the links below:


FEATURE IMAGE:  by Marishka Tsiklauri on Unsplash

Support Images: Kindly provided by Richard

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