A Baker’s Dozen: Creating Engagement Through Service Learning – Sphere | International School

A Baker’s Dozen: Creating Engagement Through Service Learning

What markers lead toward a meaningful approach to service learning? Cathryn Berger Kaye offers a dozen helpful guideposts.

1.The Will to Start

What provides the impetus to start a sustainable school-wide service learning program? You don’t have to have all the answers. When educators wait until all is known before taking the first step, the first step may never happen. Model risk taking to initiate service learning.

2. Find Administrative Buy-In

Leadership matters with any meaningful initiative. When an administrator allows time and resources for faculty to explore and learn about service learning methodologies, this provides a clear message. When the academic deans or curriculum coordinators understand their vital role to ensure service learning is integrated into the curriculum and not an “add-on,” again, this adds credibility to service learning as a valued pedagogy.

3. A Keen Ear

Listen to all the stakeholders. This can be the students, teachers, parents, administrators, support staff, community partners, and higher education partners. Bringing collaborators to the table establishes collective ownership. Central to this approach is ensuring that all stakeholders have a clear understanding of what service learning is and how this teaching pedagogy transforms education.

4. Know the Terms

Language is the greatest communicator of culture. For a school to grow a culture of service learning, clarification of the words used is essential. Key words to explore include: volunteer, community service, service, community-based learning, project-based learning, inquiry-based learning, design thinking, and, of course, service learning. Find the similarities and differences.

5. Let Go

Consider how much classroom effort may go into control and management of students. By changing control and manage to engage and inspire, students discover their voice and their choice in the learning process. When service is added to learning, students discover a way to apply their learning to meet authentic community needs.

6. Appreciate Creative Chaos

To many teachers this is daunting until they realize that learning requires elements of discovery. In order for service learning to be authentic, it is impossible to know exactly what will occur at every moment. Again, letting go provides a bit of creative and productive chaos to emerge along with student voice and choice.

7. Acknowledge “How We Learn”

While children must have role models—the teachers—they also need ample opportunity to have discoveries that allow them to come to know their world. Service learning, when done well, provides ample opportunities to come to know oneself, including one’s personal abilities and areas for growth, while viewing diverse populations both near and distant. Service learners learn about society in a multitude of contexts. Learners develop a sense of expertise as they apply their knowledge and skills and monitor how change occurs.

8. Recognize that Kids Already Make a Difference

A phrase students often hear in support of service learning is some form of “You can make a difference.” Through service learning students can make significant contributions as they harness their interests, skills, talents, and knowledge and apply them to identified and confirmed needs. They contribute to social well-being. They self-identify as changemakers.

9. Aim for Reciprocity

Service learning always aims for reciprocity, a mutual exchange with benefits for all involved. This becomes a centerpiece for service learning and is achieved through ongoing dialogue with all partners. Reciprocity establishes the recognition that all participants have value and all contribute to the learning and the service.

10. Be Transparent Regarding the Five Stages of Service Learning

Many educators are familiar with the five stages of service learning: investigation, preparation, action, reflection, and demonstration. When students understand and can identify the five stages, and this can begin in primary grades, a common transferable language of learning has been established. Students also then learn a process they can apply to many aspects of their life, well beyond their academic years, as they continue to participate in social change.

The Five Stages of Service Learning: An Abbreviated Guide

Includes the inventory of student interests, skills, and talents, and social analysis. Verifies an identified need through action research that often includes use of media, interviews of experts, surveys of varied populations, and direct observation/personal experiences.
Students continue to acquire content knowledge as they deepen understanding, identify partners, organize a plan of action, clarify roles, build time lines, and continue developing skills.
Students implement their plan in the form of direct service, indirect service, advocacy, or research. Action is planned with partners based on mutual understandings and perspectives.
Reflection is ongoing and occurs as a considered summation of thoughts and feelings regarding essential questions and varied experiences. It informs content knowledge, increases self-awareness, and assists in ongoing planning.
Students capture the total experience including what has been learned, the process of the learning, and the service or contribution accomplished. They then share it with an audience. Telling their story often integrates technology and further educates and informs others.

11. Raise Questions

One key purpose for service learning is to engender questions. This goes well beyond the first question that comes to mind. The intention is for students to discover the question beneath the original question, and the question below that one. The purpose is for depth of understanding. Questions can continue to take the inquiry deeper and deeper to include systemic considerations and ethical dilemmas.

12. Reexamine Reflection

The purpose of reflection is not to reflect; it is to become reflective. This means that rote prompts and counting how many “reflections” are turned in will not be effective in developing this natural instinctive habit of mind. When students are guided to be on the lookout for significant moments in the learning and in the service they will likely be responsive with what matters most.

13. Make Room for a New Wall.

It has been said that service learning is the fourth wall of the classroom that opens up to the world. What a vibrant image and one educators can achieve. To meet the needs of 21st century learning, it requires 21st century strategies. Service learning brings learning to life with meaning and purpose.

Sphere International Seminar

On September 18 and 19, author Cathryn Berger Kaye will be attending the Sphere International Seminar as a speaker and will detail how Service Learning can be used to engage students in meaningful learning.

This article is adapted from:

A Baker’s Dozen: Guideposts to a Meaningful Service Learning Program

by Cathryn Berger Kaye

Cathryn Berger Kaye

Cathryn Berger Kaye

Master of Education, international educator, and founder of CBK Associates, Cathy brings learning to life through deep engagement and content that really matters. With her outstanding team of consultants, she brings expertise in service learning, social and emotional dynamics. She is the author of several articles and four books, including The Complete Guide to Service Learning. She has consulted in international schools, collaborated with the International Baccalaureate Organization (IBO), served as an educational consultant to municipal networks, departments of education, and organizations to optimize educational ecosystems that engage and guide young people to thrive. Cathryn values young people as global citizens, to keep them deeply motivated to protect our planet and perform everyday actions to benefit others.


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