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Title:“It’s okay to ask for help”: Outward bound co-instructors' experience of stress on course
Author(s):McGovern, Gina
Director of Research:Larson, Reed W.
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Larson, Reed W.
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Smith, Shardé; Ebata, Aaron; Akiva, Thomas
Department / Program:Human Dvlpmt & Family Studies
Discipline:Human Dvlpmt & Family Studies
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
occupational stress
experiential education
outdoor education
professional development
Abstract:Outward Bound (OB) provides experiential outdoor learning programs where youth grow through overcoming challenges. Pairs of instructors leading these wilderness courses face numerous demands and situational conditions which may create stress. This study sought to describe instructors’ experience of stress on OB courses and to identify the processes by which Co-instructors support each other to manage stress. In this study, I conducted semi-structured interviews with 31 OB instructors from two sites. Instructors provided in-depth guided narratives of stressful course situations, which were analyzed using grounded theory methods. I found that instructors were stressed by unsafe and unpredictable situations (i.e., adverse weather, dangerous terrain, medical concerns) and student behavior, thoughts, and feelings (i.e., conflict, oppositional behavior, distress). Analysis suggested, however, that role demands—for student safety, student learning, and control—were an underlying cause of stress. Incongruence between instructors’ expectations of themselves in the role and their performance led to stress. I also found that stress affected instructors’ functioning and their interactions with students. Instructors reported that Co-instructors were a source of support during stress. Relationship factors, including holistic relationships, open and honest communication, and felt commitment, influenced whether instructors felt comfortable accessing support from their Co-instructor. Co-instructors offered support by providing time and space for instructors to cope, co-regulating emotions with the instructor, or helping to solve problems. This study suggests several recommendations for youth-serving organizations to adopt aspects of the OB model. These include pairing instructors to lead groups of students and support each other’s development and providing organizational supports that encourage reliance on skilled peers. By focusing on the well-being of the adults who work with youth, we can create better experiences for the youth they serve.
Issue Date:2019-08-23
Rights Information:Copyright 2019 Gina McGovern
Date Available in IDEALS:2020-03-02
Date Deposited:2019-12

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