When is “Service Learning” Service?

ServieSea to Sky Outdoor School has long promoted the mantra of Wow, Wonder, and Work.  After learners engage with a topic with an inspiring experience (Wow) and reflect on this experience (Wonder), students can put their learning to use (Work).  The latter part operationalizes beliefs and makes learning relevant; and likely does the world good.

Often in school, all three of these occur during instructional hours making me wonder if the work truly is service.  Just as guided inquiry is needed as students learn to enter their own cycles of inquiry, perhaps a guided service cycle is needed prior to students entering into their own cycle of service, but the goal of service learning should be that students perform service on their own time, and not to earn points.  If the Wow and Wonder are truly effective, students will be motivated to share their learning with others and put their learning to use.

At Bowen Island Community School, School District 45’s academy outside45 has much work ahead in embedding service in learning, but I was pleased that approximately 40 students and parents came to help build our school’s second garden this past Saturday.  The event was organized by BICS’ Community School Coordinator Sarah Haxby and O45 teachers.  There were no service points awarded and many of the students who attended were in Grade 7 so by the time the garden will be built they will no longer be at BICS.  They do have the privilege of knowing that they helped the school and all of the students who come after them though.  Service.

outside45 has in its first two years really focused on the Wow and Wonder of education.  In future blog posts, I hope to share some thinking about the role of service in education and in speaking with students, parents, and outside45’s thoughtful educators, share what it looks like.

There will always be a place for service occurring within “school hours” but I think the standard of success for service learning is when students put their learning to use on their own time.

2 thoughts on “When is “Service Learning” Service?

  1. Scott,

    My first thoughts about this post relate to the word ‘service.” Service can been viewed as a duty (as in military service), a requirement/obligation (as in religious service), a celebration or rite of passage (funeral/baptismal service), or a way to assist or help (as in serving others). With such a myriad of definitions for the word ‘service,’ how do we define service learning? What are we asking students to learn about? Duty? Obligations? Assisting others?

    You suggest, “the standard of success for service learning is when students put their learning to use on their own time.” I agree with the intent behind this statement yet also feel like there is great success in service learning that happens during a scheduled class time. Students do need “a guided service cycle” to learn how to investigate, plan, act, reflect, and celebrate their intended service projects (see K-12 Service Learning Project Planning Toolkit https://www.ffa.org/documents/lts_servicelearningtoolkit.pdf )

    Ultimately I believe that service begins with gratitude – being thankful for ways others’ (human and more than human world) have impacted our lives. By identifying what we have to be thankful for, big or small, we can begin to feel gratitude and then seek ways to show our thanks – seek ways to serve or to give back to others. And yes, the ultimate success for this type of ‘service’ is when it happens naturally, on our own time, without the prompting of others.

    • Thank you for commenting. I agree that gratitude is the seed of inspired service. I was thinking of service as a way of helping others, but see that service learning could also be about learning about the various forms of service, and motivations behind them.

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