Interpersonal Dynamics On Extended Courses

We’ve been fielding a lot of questions about our yearlong program lately.  Several people over the weekend wanted to know if students live on-site for the entire year.  The answer is no, they don’t.  The program is organized around three intensives: the fall semester, the winter program, and the spring expedition.  For graduates, there is the option of staying on as TA’s for the summer session as well.  We organize the program this way to maximize learning and practical experience while minimizing burnout and exhaustion, and also because experience has taught us how long it’s practical for a group of strangers to live together.

In the summer of 1995 I participated in a 30-day primitive living experiment in the Alaskan bush with a small group.  The experience taught me that things like awareness were of little value compared to practical, hard skills, and that the real challenge didn’t lie with the skills of living outdoors, but in the interactions between the people involved.  This experience served as the model for our first semester program, and while the role of the instructor is focused on managing the learning of students, a huge component of the job is facilitating the group dynamic (often called outdoor leadership).

A common campfire discussion during semester courses is how a short course of three weeks  or less is like an affair.  You tend to only see the good aspects of people, and if there’s conflict  it usually isn’t a big deal because the end of the program is coming quickly.  Longer programs are like a marriage, where you have both highs and lows.  People can get on one another’s nerves, and this conflict can taint the entire experience if it isn’t dealt with.

So if you’re considering ours, or any other, extended wilderness program, here are two pieces of advice.  First, read about outdoor leadership.  The AMC Guide To Outdoor Leadership is one that I’ve read and liked, but there are many others.  Second, if you want a longer experience living in the bush, outfit yourself with traditional gear and plan an expedition to commence at the end of the course or intensive.  We can help you with selection and use of gear that will keep you comfortable even during the long and cold Maine winters, as well as with locations and logistics.

Educational Philosophy

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  • I’m loving this post. There is huge important wisdom here. Anytime one can somehow find the right people to do extended time in the outdoors, or even indoors it is a gift. The usual stress of the elements is bad enough without people adding to it.
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