Sunday, January 27, 2019

A Service Learning Program Proposal

by johnhain courtesy of
I am enrolled in the EdTechTeam Teacher Leader 2 course. The first unit for this course is service learning. After studying the work of  Cathryn Berger Kaye and engaging in dialogue with other members of the cohort about their schools, I have undertaken writing a high school-based service learning plan. I envision a program for 9th graders that will set the tone for how they approach learning for the rest of their time in high school. In my grand vision all rising 9th graders would participate in a full quarter (if not semester) of “boot camp” for lack of a better term. It could be kicked off during freshmen orientation. The boot camp experience would be a deep dive into design thinking, problem solving, and service. The normal bell schedule and daily routine would not apply to 9th graders during this marking period. The program would provide 9th grade students guidance developing what we know are critical life (not just learning) skills: critical thinking, empathy, collaboration, problem solving, communication, creativity, flexible thinking and comfort with ambiguity. There is also room for computational thinking and entrepreneurship. All of this can lead to global mindfulness and an innovator’s mindset. Emerging from this experience students would be well prepared to engage in two years of problem-based learning curricula and transition into an internship and continual service-oriented senior year.

Imagine if all teachers of 9th graders from all disciplines as well as the guidance counselors and library media faculty participated in design thinking professional learning as well as orientation to service learning. Then they could rotate through the program facilitating the work of the students, lending their expertise and support to projects that align with their areas of interest and skill set. Ultimately this would be an eight week, full day program which would then carry into the advisory groups of the students throughout the duration of the year.

The type of service in which each student engages will be determined by the student. As they undertake an examination of the needs of the school, the community, and the wider world, students will choose the focus of their service and design an approach that marries their skills and resources with the needs of the group they choose to serve. Ultimately, I imagine students would engage in multiple forms of service and will collaborate on combined interests to maximize the services offered and the impact of their work.

Students might address the prevalence of juuling in their school in the interest of promoting community wellness. They might tackle intersectionality which is a particularly potent topic where I live in the wake of a proposal in our state general assembly that a mostly white and affluent district be merged with a neighboring district that has a multi-ethnic population and significant funding challenges in its schools. There are so many possible ways students can work to improve their school, their community, and the wider world and the skills they learn in the process will be essential to the rest of their education and life beyond school.

As part of their experience, students will create a social media campaign through which they can document and publicize their research and service in order to inform the community of their work and recruit participation in order to sustain and even scale up their projects. These networks and means of telling their stories, which can also include student blogs and school newsletters, will allow for ongoing reflection on the work they are doing and the value of service as well as provide a channel of communication which can also facilitate the development of empathy among the various members of the community.

As facilitators of the boot camp, all teachers of 9th grade will be able to integrate the students service learning into the curriculum throughout the year. Advisory and other student groups and clubs will also serve as a means of continuing the reflective dialogue about the importance of service in learning and beyond.