If you’re a student, you and your classmates research local needs, agree to take action, develop a plan, and go! If you’re a teacher, you link student service to the curriculum and help students learn from their work. The LEADERS of service-learning model is a great way to understand the process. You can find the LEADERS model on our Resources Page.
What Students Do
Explore your community. The best way to get started is to explore and learn about your community — either your school or your neighborhood or town. Here are some ideas:
- Think about community issues that matter to you.
- Ask your classmates or neighbors about a local issue they care about.
- Interview community partners — people in local government, or people who work at nonprofit organizations in your town.
- Go online and look through recent issues of the local newspaper for articles about community needs.
- Do a “walk-about” with your classmates to identify local situations that need improvement, and take pictures to document your observations.
Research issues and questions. Once you define the issues, you need to examine them more closely by developing a list of key questions and then gathering more information. This might involve Internet research, visits with potential community partners, additional surveys or interviews, or checking out books about the subject from the library. By getting diverse perspectives on the issues, you’ll also make sure that you’re fully prepared to take action.
Agree to take action. You and your classmates need to choose what you’re going to work on. Led by your teacher, your class may debate the pros and cons of suggested actions, or everyone may simply vote for their favorite one. The important thing is that you use a democratic process to select what you’re going to do, and that you keep an open mind as you consider different opinions.
Develop a plan. The next step is to develop a plan. Your teachers and community partners will help you prepare for and carry out the service-learning experience, which may take several weeks or even months. You’ll need to decide on your goals for the work, which will help you track your progress and document your successes later on.
Carry out the plan. When you begin your activities, you and your classmates will pay close attention to the results. Your class will take time to discuss what seems to be working, what needs improvement, and what you’ve learned.
Celebrate your success. When you’ve completed what you set out to do, your class will present the results of your work to your school or community. You’ll explain what you’ve learned and demonstrate the difference you’ve made in people’s lives.
For many young people, service-learning is one of the few activities that can be successfully accomplished on a regular basis. The experience of working with and for others can be empowering.
What Teachers Do
Teachers can facilitate this process*1 by listening to student input and ideas, identifying standards in the curriculum that might be addressed through service-learning, and helping students link their interests with real community needs. You can suggest ways of exploring the community and guide students toward practical and developmentally appropriate strategies by providing choices and asking pertinent questions.
You can also help facilitate student research on topics of interest, and propose ways for students to come to an agreement about their proposed work. Once students have reached an agreement, you can assist students in developing and implementing the plan, reviewing outcomes, showcasing results, and exploring career paths that might be associated with their service.
Service-learning works especially well when teachers provide maximum opportunity for students to “own” their work — allowing students to make key decisions and play important roles. For example, with adult support, even young students can learn to contact community partners, plan events, and evaluate their own efforts.
For maximum effectiveness, teachers should:
- ensure that student activities address curricular standards;
- facilitate reflection by providing a variety of verbal, written, artistic, and nonverbal activities that prompt students to think deeply about what they’re learning; and
- assist and support students so that they learn from their experiences, regardless of whether they meet their goals.
*1 The service-learning process is outlined in the LEADERS model of service-learning — seven steps that incorporate the eight K-12 Service-Learning Standards for Quality Practice. The LEADERS model can be found under Resources (Service Learning General)