Resetting service learning programs
In the context of continuing uncertainty, Megan Flottorp asks service learning guru, Cathryn Berger Kaye how schools can develop their programmes for ‘21-‘22.
The importance of service
As we collectively process and adapt to the changes brought on by the pandemic, I think everyone agrees it is critical to continue facilitating meaningful service opportunities for young learners. To further understand the potential role of Service Learning as we enter a new phase of the pandemic, I talked to pioneering service learning expert Cathryn Berger Kaye.
An international education consultant offering award-winning expertise in Service Learning and engaging teaching methods, Cathy has played a leading role in shaping IB pedagogy and philosophy. She generously shared her insight as we discussed the importance of student voice and strategies that teachers can use to move forward.
You have been instrumental in shaping the evolution of best practices in Service Learning over the last 40 years. How have you stayed grounded through the pandemic?
Throughout the pandemic, I have recommended remaining steadfast to the foundation of service learning – the five stages of investigation, preparation, action, reflection, and demonstration. This begins with identifying student interests, skills and talents, and also areas for growth of knowledge and skills. This dynamic exchange lays the groundwork for collaboration and engaging every person involved.
What examples of successful Service Learning adaptations have you tapped into during the pandemic?
There have been so many wonderful projects! The creative things that young people are doing across the arts, and the innovative ways they use technology is genuinely stunning. One initiative that I particularly love came from Luanda International School. When they discovered that some communities in their home country of Angola did not have access to masks, they began devising a multi-faceted strategy to provide this critical resource while empowering the local community. Aptly named, Masking Angola, the team raised funds and distributed the material needed so the community could fashion homemade masks. They also created a series of infographics raising awareness about safe practices. It is an ongoing reciprocal effort rooted in enfranchising local communities, building relationships, and collaboration.
Listen to the team behind ‘Masking Angola’.
Are they any instances of Service Learning strategies that you found have been less effective?
With less direct contact between communities, it can be challenging for some young people to appreciate that just because a certain group has less material wealth, they are not lacking in others areas or are necessarily disenfranchised. It is crucial during these times, that we resist reinforcing stereotypes. I think this tension is explored poignantly in the work of Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie. Her brilliant TED talk, ‘The Danger of a Single Story,’ describes the effects that labels can have on how we think about ourselves and others. Adichie argues that single stories often originate from simple misunderstandings or one’s lack of knowledge of others, but that these stories can also have a malicious intent to suppress other groups of people due to prejudice. She asserts that media and literature available to the public often only tell one story, which causes people to generalize and make assumptions about groups of people. We must resist this in our service work and encourage students to dig deeper.
How do we facilitate this process and assist students in identifying where to focus their service?
The MISO method of action research is my go-to tool to help students during the investigation stage of Service Learning pedagogy. Representing ‘media, interview, survey, and observation,’ it serves as a reminder to students that research is more than just a Google search. It is re-looking and adding to the body of knowledge based on new examination. Consulting multiple sources of information by following the MISO methodology is an efficient way to construct a new understanding of a topic. MISO also helps students organize their inquiries. They decide which of their questions would be best answered by the media, an interview, a survey, or an observation.
It is a wonderfully expansive way to explore different areas for action while maintaining the quality of flexibility needed for truly impactful service. It is true that ultimately students should focus their efforts, but I think it is always more productive to begin with the bigger picture. Once students map out all the issues they want to engage with and areas where they wish to effect change, they can begin determining the best place to start.
What are the most effective ways students can adapt their service to support communities and institutions in need right now?
Some of the most effective actions I have seen lately involve finding unique and unusual ways to educate. There are so many avenues for engaging others through the service of providing useful information. On Earth Day, I was walking through my neighborhood and saw a sign with three facts about the planet. They were things I did not know, and I have written a book about our planet! That got my attention.
Students derive more meaning from their school work when they can share it with others. Using a research paper assignment to accumulate information for an organization that could benefit from it is powerful and necessary work that is also likely to help students approach their homework with more enthusiasm.
Do you have any advice for teachers and schools who are planning for next year?
Look at the resources that exist within the community. Now is the time to take a good look around and learn about those we interact with every day. We need to find out about the resources that are right at our fingertips, what different skills community members have, and how they can complement one another.
Leaning into the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals is also a hugely productive strategy. The fact is that none of these goals exists in isolation and that their interconnect nature helps provide vision and context to Service Learning activities.
Do you have any advice for teachers who are struggling to adapt?
At this time, I think it does us all good to remember that great learning always has an element of chaos. Adults are inclined to impose order and structure, especially when faced with a challenge. The truth is, though, that Service Learning resists this. It is full of surprises, and that is the best part!
The way we absorb the benefits from all the twists and turns is through reflection. As educators, we need to provide opportunities for students to witness us reflecting too.
Cathryn Berger Kaye is the founder of CBK Associates, brings learning to life. She is an author, framer, ranter, concept developer, and presenter/collaborator.
Megan Flottorp is a writer, analyst and editor.
Support Images: kindly provided by CBK Associates & Luanda International School