6 Key Ingredients for Powerful Service Learning

by Sheril Morgan

Entitlement.  Webster says the definition of entitlement is the feeling or belief that you deserve to be given something (such as special privileges). There have been many conversations about younger generations having a sense of entitlement these days. When parents ask their children to do something, it is often attached to a reward for carrying out the task. Often children are paid for good grades on a report card, and we forget the power of making meaning.

The truth is, we all are inherently selfish, and yet we have an incredible capacity to give of ourselves. The holiday season tends to highlight both sides of humanity, our selfish and selfless tendencies. Thankfully, what we become is often what is nurtured and this presents an amazing opportunity to educators. This is the perfect opportunity to empower young people to serve their community!

Many educators cringe at the thought of service learning because there is so much misunderstanding of the term in educational circles. However, it doesn’t have to be a daunting experience, and with creativity and shared leadership, it can have a life of its own.

Here are six key ingredients to powerful service learning during the holidays:

  • Empowerment — During class meetings or during a critical thinking lesson ask students to discuss some local challenges faced during the holidays. Guide them to list some needs of the community, school included. Help them eliminate the challenges or problems that are outside the realm of the school’s influence or beyond their capacity to help.

  • Decision making — Next, prioritize which challenges are most important and vote on the particular problem that you and your students will combat.

  • Follow-through — Stay on track by creating a timeline, and segment a portion of the day dedicated to this project. Get special permission when necessary and connect students with key people in the community to help them.

  • Connect to curriculum — As a former teacher, I know you have your favorite holiday lessons! We all do, but if you see an obvious connection to your students’ project which differs from the lesson plans you have always done, be flexible and creative. Literature is often a great place to start when beginning a service learning project.

One of my favorite books to help students start thinking that they can do something significant is 14 Cows for America by Carmen Agra Deedy.  It is a beautiful book about a village in Africa with very little who feels moved to share in America’s pain after 9/11.  

  • Assess — How did the project go?  What content was mastered? How do you know?  Assessment doesn’t have to be a test. It could be a presentation, a writing assignment, a completed plan with a budget, a video, or other creative methods.

  • Celebrate — This time of year is known for the parties! Use those parties to celebrate the students’ reflections, excitement, and accomplishments. Invite parents, community, and press.  

I do believe that our young people are entitled! They are entitled to meaningful learning, rich experiences which create a love of serving others, and the knowledge that they have something to give the world. Our job is to hone, educate, and enrich those gifts.  It is after all why we serve in education.

Sheril Morgan

Sheril Morgan

Sheril Morgan is an educator of 15 years who began as a volunteer coordinator in Oklahoma after helping to lead a challenging high school in Muskogee, Oklahoma to National School of Character. Once experiencing the power first hard of the process of the Schools of Character process, Sheril has spent the last five years walking with hundreds of schools around the world through the process of implementing the 11 Principles of Effective Character.

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