Resilience, Adolescents and Outdoor Education - VU

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Resilience, Adolescents and Outdoor Education - VU

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Resilience, Adolescents and Outdoor Education: Is Resilience Context Specific?
Casie-Anne Chalman
A thesis submitted in the total fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy
College of Education Victoria University Melbourne, Australia
March 2019

DECLARATION I, Casie-Anne Chalman, declare that the PhD thesis entitled Resilience, Adolescents and Outdoor Education: Is resilience context specific?, is no more than 100,000 words in length, including quotes and exclusive of tables, figures, appendices, bibliography, references, and footnotes. This thesis contains no material that has been submitted previously, in whole or in part, for the award of any other academic degree or diploma. Except where otherwise indicated, this thesis is my own work.

ABSTRACT This exploratory study investigated the impact of participation in a threeweek journey style outdoor education program upon levels of resilience attributes and coping skills of adolescents. Globalisation and modernisation has increased the social burdens of the 21st century and amplifies pressures to conform to unrealistic expectations in society, resulting in negative impacts on young people’s mental health and well-being. These life stressors, along with the excessive amount of time that young people spend using technology, is impacting their development and causing young people to experience increased amounts of psychological distress. In order to manage these stressors, young people often require the development of adaptive coping skills and resilience attributes. Schools can assist their students by supporting the development of resilience attributes and coping skills which are crucial for the future success of young people, to thrive, cope with adversity, and live at an optimal level of human functioning. Outdoor education programs are regularly delivered by schools to students worldwide as an effective method to facilitate the development and enrichment of personal and social attributes. However, this field is undermined by ad hoc theory and limited research that supports the ability to enhance levels of resilience and coping skills through outdoor education programs with adolescents in mainstream school settings. The purpose of this longitudinal study was to investigate the effects of an extended journey style outdoor education program on levels of resilience

attributes and coping skills with adolescents. Specifically, the study used a mixed method approach to investigate if the resilience attributes and coping skills were context specific to the setting in which they were developed. The research is framed around particular theories including experiential learning, transactional theory, optimal arousal theory of play, the adventure experience paradigm theory, developmental theory and behaviouristic theories.
This research examined two groups of Year 10 boys who were aged between 14 and 17 years (N = 111). The program group (n = 69), who participated in an extended journey-style outdoor education program, and the control group (n = 42), who did not participate in any outdoor education programs, completed the same survey measures. To identify which particular attributes of resilience and coping that were strengthened and developed through participation in the threeweek program, both groups answered the Resilience Scale and the Brief COPE scale questionnaires within a similar timeframe.
Post-positivist theory was used to analyse the quantitative data, and constructivist theory was used to analyse the qualitative data. The quantitative results revealed that the program group reported higher scores of resilience and resilience attributes compared with the control group following participation in the outdoor education program. Repeated measures t-tests showed significant increases in Overall Resilience and the Existential Aloneness, Perseverance and Purposeful Life subscales. A mixed-design analysis of variance model (ANOVA) revealed a main effect for group and Self-Reliance, F (1, 109) = 7.31, p = .008, and an interaction effect for both time and group was also found for Overall Resilience, F (1, 109) = 3.86, p = .043 and Existential Aloneness, F (1, 109) 9.40,

p = .003. Compared to the control group, the program group showed reductions in coping skills that have the potential to undermine well-being in youth, such as Substance Use and Behavioural Disengagement, while increasing in adaptive coping skills such as Active Coping, and Planning after the program.
The qualitative phase of the research addressed the question of whether the resilience attributes and coping skills developed during the program were transferred and drawn upon by the participants in their lives back at school sixmonths after the program. Qualitative data was collected through two means; observation data, and small group semi-structured interviews. The researcher conducted field observations of one group's experience during the three-week program. The observation data provided an insight into the goals and activities of the program and helped to inform the design of the semi-structured interview guides. Small group semi-structured interviews were conducted with the program group (n = 18) immediately after completion of the outdoor education program. Follow-up semi-structured interviews were then conducted with the same 18 participants six-months after the program.
Semi-structured interviews conducted immediately after completion of the program highlighted that participants increased their capacity to demonstrate Overall Resilience, as well as Self-Reliance and Independence, Mental Strength, Determination, and various Developmental Tasks. The students also reported developing positive relationships with their peers, leaders, and the natural environment. An awareness and increased levels of appreciation was shown towards their relationships with family members and technology. A range of coping skills were also developed and applied by the boys during the program,

including Putting Things into Perspective; Removing Oneself from the Stressor; Ability to Accept Social Support; Addressing the Issue; Chunking; Coming to Terms with Difficulties; Cognitive Reframing and Applying Positive Thinking; Distraction and Avoidance. Thematic analysis of researcher observations and both sets of semi-structured interview responses revealed three main themes that impacted the development and transference of resilience attributes and coping skills during and after the program. These themes included the program design, the group leader and the learner. The findings showed that most participants struggled to make links between the different contexts of learning. Some of the attributes and skills developed did transfer; however, a common finding was that most participants felt their learnings had dissipated in the six months after the program.
This research supports the notion that outdoor education programs are an effective method to develop resilience attributes and coping skills in young people, however, for the transfer of learning to occur in other contexts, it is recommended that practitioners re-assess their intervention’s program design and implement more strategies to improve the transfer of learning. Overall, the findings of the thesis are discussed in terms of the development and refinement of program design of extended outdoor education programs which aim to foster the transference of resilience and positive coping skills into other contexts. Future research directions and implications of the results in relation to professional practices associated with the development of resilience and adaptive coping skills through outdoor education programs are also presented. Keywords: Outdoor education; Adolescents; Resilience; Stress; Coping.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Firstly, I would like to acknowledge the outstanding bunch of young men, the schools and the outdoor education company that graciously agreed to participate in my research. Without you, this research would not have been possible. Secondly, I would like to recognise my past educators and work colleagues. For me, it all started back in high school with Peter Ridgeway, my outdoor education teacher, sparking my love for nature and outdoor pursuits. He instilled confidence in me, supported me, challenged me and encouraged me to follow my dreams at a critical time of adolescent development. To David Marsden, the concept of embarking in a PhD all started with you. You planted the seed in my mind and fed my curiosity for post-graduate studies. I sincerely thank all my teachers past and present for the knowledge, skills, guidance and support. Thirdly, to my family and dearest friends. I love you dearly. Your support and unwavering belief in my ability means the absolute world to me. I would especially like to thank my Mother and Father. Your continual support and unconditional love throughout my lifetime is the most precious gift. Lastly, but especially not least, I would love to acknowledge my amazing supervisors; Dr Peter Burridge and Dr Anthony Watt. I will be eternally grateful for your high expectations, commitment, time, valuable constructive feedback, patience, support and wisdom.

DEDICATION To all the individuals and families that have been affected by mental illness: It is a difficult road. I feel your pain and suffering. To the youth of today: You are the reason for conducting this research. There is hope and a better way. It is my vision to help young people develop the skills and knowledge to assist them in navigating the stressors of modern daily life; and to support them to thrive and live happy, fulfilling and purposeful lives. To my family: You are the most import thing in the world to me. On reflection, I wish that someone specifically taught us effective coping skills to manage life stressors when we were adolescents. Prevention is always better than cure. Undertaking this research study has been an invaluable learning experience. I have gained an understanding of the complex nature of research involving adolescents, the concept of resilience development and outdoor education. Research involving humans and personal growth has many challenges and has proven to be problematic as these areas of research in their own right are complex, dynamic and multidimensional. This study has helped me to become constructively critical of not only my own professional practice, values, program design and guidelines but also in examining the professional organisations I have been a practitioner for. The research process has encouraged me to use different theories and practices in the in my own life. The growth of my conceptual understandings, critical thinking and

analytic skills during this process has formed the basis for my recommendations for future practice.
Ironically, throughout this study based on positive adaption, I have been confronted with many personal adversities and struggled with my own mental health issues. It has been a process where I have grown spiritually, emotionally, mentally and physically. Mental illness can be crippling, and it affects every aspect of your life. Unlike a physical ailment, I feel that adverse mental health is still not considered to be a legitimate illness in today’s western society. I think that it is time to speak up, to show power and strength through vulnerability, and to remove the stigma attached to mental health, to pave the way for others. Finally, I will leave you with the quote that inspired me and kept me going on this journey:
First, it is a challenge. Secondly, you have to learn to prepare meticulously, for your life may depend on the thoroughness and extent of your planning. You have to get off your tail and spur yourself to get going. You have to leave your comfortable slot and go out where things are rough. You have to push into the background the worry of the less likely hazards and make some bold judgements about the more probable ones.
You learn not to be frightened by fear. You discover what a fine piece of machinery the human body is and that it can take a tremendous amount of stress before it breaks down. You learn to make decisions, and gradually you find you make fewer and fewer mistakes. Your confidence grows, and you discover human resources which are ready to be called upon in time of future crises. You learn

something about human frailties and develop sympathy for those weaker or less competent than yourself; you learn to make a team out of a group of individuals.
Adventurous experiences out-of-doors are perceived to kindle the enthusiasm of the young, to develop their concern for others, for their community and for the environment. Such experiences provide the means of self-discovery, self-expression and enjoyment which are at once both stimulating and fulfilling.
It thus emerges that, for young people and adults alike, outdoor adventure is perceived as a vehicle for building values and ideals, for developing creativity and enterprise, for enhancing a sense of citizenship, and for widening physical and spiritual horizons.
- Lord Hunt of Llanfair Waterdin
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