Exploring How Roles in Outward Bound Help Adolescents Learn Social-Emotional Skills

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Natalie Szot
Carolyn Orson


This study examines how adolescents learned social-emotional skills from Outward Bound (OB), an outdoor adventure education program. Participants engage in activities such as backpacking and canoeing during five- to seven-day trips in the wilderness. Prior research has shown youth programs, including Outward Bound, are effective in facilitating the development of social and emotional learning skills. There is limited research, however, exploring the experiences and processes behind the development of social-emotional skills. For this study, semi- structured interviews were conducted with 10 teachers who chaperoned their students on Outward Bound courses. These teachers were able to provide insight into changes in youth participants as they interacted with the students prior to, during, and after the program. Transcribed interviews were analyzed using grounded theory methods, a set of analytic procedures involving creating codes and memo-making (Charmaz, 2014). Teachers reported that having a structured role in OB, such as a leadership role, promoted students’ ability to be socially open and better able to connect with those outside their usual friend groups, even when they returned to school. Furthermore, these structured roles appeared to help students gain a sense of self-efficacy. They became more confident in their ability to take action, including trying new things and problem-solving in the classroom. These results highlight the value and potential of structured roles in supporting the development of social-emotional skills and can be used to inform staff practices in Outward Bound and other youth programs.

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