Ellis McKay, 42

Although I work in a school – Bathgate Academy in West Lothian – I’m always explaining to people I’m not a teacher, I’m a pupil support manager. My job is to support pupils and their families so young people can go into a classroom and learn. In August 2017, I got what I now describe as a "professional kick up the backside" after being asked to attend a meeting called by our head teacher Grant Abbot.

There was one third year pupil, Alex Cochrane, at the meeting. Alex laughs now about how she "stalked" Mr Abbot and badgered him into inviting Bo'ness-based Arctic explorer Craig Mathieson to the school. She'd heard from a friend at another school about Craig's Polar Academy and was desperate to get our school involved.

Craig gave an inspiring presentation that day on the work of his charity, which helps bring the Scottish teenagers he describes as being "invisible" out of their comfort zones by taking them to the wilds of Greenland. I talked to Alex after the meeting and realised I'd no idea of the challenges that kid had faced or how her school experience had been. It struck a wee chord.

"We've got to do this," I said to Mr Abbot. He talked to his bosses and they agreed our school could get involved. Being part of Polar Academy involves a lot of fundraising and buy-in from staff, pupils and families alike so it's not something to enter into lightly.

Craig also has to decide if he can work with a school but luckily he agreed and so the adventure began. Around 200 pupils and eight members of staff, including me, put their names down for the expedition, which would take place in April 2019.

Craig makes it clear Polar Academy is not "just a jolly" and that we'd train with the kids for a whole year, doing intensive weekly fitness sessions, camp craft and overnight expeditions in the Highlands. I used to be an outdoorsy type but it had all fallen by the wayside.

My wife Pamela, daughter Abbie, 17 and 11-year-old son Logan were all behind me. "You'd be mad not to," my wife said when we discussed me signing up.

The transformation started immediately. After the first selection weekend at outdoor training centre, Glenmore Lodge in the Cairngorms, I went from being a 15-a-day smoker to quitting the next day.

In the end, ten pupils, including Alex, and one member of staff – me – were selected and training began. We finally set off on the expedition in April this year, followed by a film crew who were filming it for BBC Scotland.

We were away for two weeks. As the four-part series shows, it was physically and mentally demanding. You're a team member of Polar Academy, not a member of staff. As viewers will see, it's all about building up resilience and confidence. At one point, a pupil is struggling both physically and mentally. Craig is seen being very tough with her. At the same time he's saying to me, "You have to resist comforting her." It's a very different approach from the one we'd normally take in a school.

Polar Academy was life-changing for me and for everyone involved on the expedition. It reminded me of the benefits of getting kids outdoors and seeing them challenged outside the classroom. I've since got involved with the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme and I've also been involved in the selection for the next Polar Academy expedition, which is being undertaken by pupils from Bell Baxter High School in Fife.

Being part of Polar Academy is life-changing experience before you even get to the Arctic. Greenland is simply the icing on the cake…

Arctic Academy starts on BBC Scotland at 8pm on Wednesday