While traditional coursework is central to the school experience, we know that students also learn valuable social and emotional skills that are important for becoming responsible, engaged citizens. Skills like teamwork, empathy, problem-solving, and conflict resolution, are essential for any post-secondary education and all career paths. If we want our teens to acquire those skills, it is vital that some of their educational experiences address this type of experiential learning.
There is no better way to engage in social learning than to put students in real-world scenarios where they are applying both academic content and social-emotional skills. Community service, specifically, service-learning, provides the opportunity to participate in hands-on experiences, get real-time feedback, and reflect on how they might apply lessons in the future.
While many forms of community service can be beneficial, service-learning creates a structure that facilitates deep reflection on the process and outcomes of the project. Here are three aspects of service-learning that foster social-emotional learning in students:
The Community Partner
The definition of community service is broad. Anything from helping a neighbor do yard work to volunteering at an after-school program can be considered community service. Service-learning puts parameters on choosing a service project that are designed to guide the learning experience.
- One example is requiring a student to volunteer with a group or community different from their own, to foster a unique cultural experience and practice empathy.
- Another parameter might be that the student must do direct-service, that is, working directly with the population being served, versus doing administrative tasks.
Consistent Service Experience
Service-learning best practice requires that students engage in an ongoing experience. The teens spend enough time learning about the organization, building relationships, and seeing more of the process, instead of just getting a snapshot. Continually engaging in one activity at a specific site allows time for students to learn lessons, reflect on them, and apply new learning while still in the experience.
Requiring students to answer reflective questions during and after the service experience furthers their learning process. They illuminate for themselves how they applied social-emotional skills and how they might use them in similar and different situations. Lessons that are unexplored are often forgotten. Reflection allows students to retain and integrate their learning.
Service-learning can be a critical component of the academic experience. Students who participate in meaningful service experiences are often able to translate those skills to the classroom and beyond. Educating the student in a holistic way has benefits that last a lifetime.