Reflective encounters for enabling educators: the role of debriefing in building psychological capital
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Pre-university enabling programs are a strategy to widen participation in higher education for people from under-represented backgrounds who would otherwise not meet general entry to university. They prepare students for a smooth transition to undergraduate studies. Typically, the enabling student cohort is diverse in regard to age and prior educational experiences; students are often first-in-family to attend university and/or from low socio-economic backgrounds. Many experience mental health challenges, such as anxiety and depression. Meeting the needs of this cohort is complex and demanding (Crawford et al., 2015). Previous qualitative research conducted by members of the National Association of Enabling Educators of Australia (NAEEA) Special Interest Group (SIG) on Mental Health explored the high emotional labour demands involved in teaching enabling cohorts and suggested that social support was integral to managing the stressors of the job (Crawford et al., 2018). One form of social support highlighted in the paper was debriefing. Debriefing, it was revealed, was utilised by enabling educators as a coping strategy that distributed the emotional labour load and reduced emotional distress (Crawford et al., 2018). Research, in fields such as defence and nursing, suggests that debriefing can aid in achieving emotional equilibrium after challenging events (Moldjord & Hybertsen, 2015) and, when implemented effectively, can also become a powerful developmental strategy for communities of practice (Cheng et al., 2017). The aim of this investigation was to explore the debriefing practice of three enabling educators located at two Australian universities, Murdoch University and the University of Tasmania, and to further understand not only what role debriefing performed when negotiating the demands of such high intensity learning environments, but also what conditions were conducive to effective debriefing. To gain an insider’s view (Mendez, 2013) of the debriefing process, a collaborative autoethnographic research method was undertaken. The autoethnographic reflections were then analysed thematically. Throughout the discussion, we demonstrate the positive impact of debriefing for enabling educators. We suggest that facilitating reflective encounters can build the psychological capital (Rabenu, Yaniv & Elizur, 2017) of enabling educators and, in turn, equip them to better respond to the diverse academic and non-academic needs of enabling students.
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