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Instructor Effectiveness

Characteristics of
Outdoor Education Instructors

James Neill
Last updated:
02 Aug 2004


Some research has been done in the area of instructor effectiveness and their personal qualities.  Hendy (1975) found that Outward Bound instructors typically had a clear self-concept, were bright, tender-minded, very imaginative, and creative.  In addition, some instructors were rated by participants as superior to other instructors, with one of the distinguishing factors being enthusiasm:

Enthusiasm was a very noticeable quality of the superior instructors as was forthrightness.  In view of the short time period instructors have with their students, the ability to dispense with trivia, peel away the facades and get down to business is desirable in an instructor.  Furthermore, teacher effectiveness studies have shown that students trust and like such teachers and in the Outward Bound situation when students perceive themselves to be at risk, all they have to begin with is trust in their instructor and in their peers.  It isnít until later that they trust themselves...Also noteworthy are the high scores by the superior instructors on being imaginative and experimenting. (Hendy, 1975)

Another major characteristic necessary for Outward Bound instructors is warmth of personality.  Research evidence has suggested that teacher warmth tends to be associated with student creativity.  Teachers who like their pupils tend to have pupils who like one another.  Emotional security is highest in students whose teachers are warm, understanding and business-like (Richards, 1977).  Gage suggested that:

Warmth may be understood in relation to conditioning theory as the teachersí overall tendency to emit positive reinforcements.  Hence, pupils who have warm teachers are less inhibited about making responses, because whatever they do is likely to be met with positive reinforcing behavior on the part of the teacher.


In another sense, however, the value of teacher warmth may be understood in terms of the theory of cognitive balance, which predicts that we will tend to like someone whom we recognize as like us. (Gage, 1970)

Warmth is important for teachers, but fundamental for instructors, because outdoor education places participants in unfamiliar situations without many usual anchors for emotional security.  Instructor warmth can help participants to find the new experiences stimulating and rewarding, as opposed to overwhelming and threatening. 

In addition, outdoor education tends to operate without an extensive syllabi or detailed lesson plans.  Personal development is often placed as the priority, and a basic framework provided, but the instructor has a large amount of flexibility in terms of how information and activities are presented and how they interact with the  participants.  With the priority on personal development through experiential learning, instructor warmth is important for the process of inspiring participants towards feeling comfortable taking initiative for themselves and for supporting participantsí sense of rewards from their own achievements.