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
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