For over 80 years, Outward Bound has been providing life-changing outdoor experiential learning programs that focus on character development, leadership, and service. As a former instructor and now Executive Director, I believe in what we do and have experienced the outcomes from our programs firsthand. Yet people ask me every day: What is Outward Bound? What makes it special? Why does Outward Bound work? It is a complex and hard to define program, you can’t even take folks to see it in person as the magic often happens in far away and remote places.
We hear from students all the time, who tell us that Outward Bound showed them “I now have more in me than I thought; I am more courageous, resilient and tenacious.” The “solo experience” can be one of the most feared experiences on the course, yet students often comment that this is the most rewarding and powerful experience. Courage, reflection, a sense of belonging: these ideas are almost always a part of the story students tell us about their Outward Bound experience. And they are essential to the education and development of young people.
So how do we explain these stories students so often tell? How do we explain how Outward Bound works?
In partnership with Noam Lab and The Pear Institute, Outward Bound has developed the Domains of Thriving Observation Tool. We call this the DoT for short. The DoT is based on a research-based model of youth development. It was created to begin to classify the specific things instructors do to create the conditions for our students’ social and emotional development. These Domains of Thriving, which I will define below, blend together the best practices of master instructors from across the Outward Bound system with the most current research into how children learn and thrive.
1) Belonging is a sense of connection and inclusion in relationships.
2) Courage is catalyzing strengths in order to take on challenge and risk.
3) Physical Engagement is experiencing and expressing oneself through the body and its senses.
4) Reflection is examining and questioning one’s actions, roles, relationships, and assumptions.
Over the course of the next year, I will explore each of the four domains, how we see them across our programs and why they are critical for youth to thrive. Follow me on this journey as we explore what it takes to “Be Outward Bound.”
Next time, we will begin exploring the domain of Belonging. That is, how we create a sense of community and connection for our staff and students. Will you join me?
Nettie Pardue is a passionate educator who has been a staff member with Outward Bound for over 22 years. As Executive Director of OBCA, she loves a good tale of student transformation and getting lost on windy single track trails propelled by her feet.