These tips, developed by The Straub Environmental Learning Center, may be helpful for teachers who are beginning to integrate a service learning component into the classroom:
1. Start small, and find other teachers who are interested in doing a community project. Support and collaboration are critical for success as you begin this work.
2. Use available community resources. Don’t let issues like transportation and funding stand in your way. Be creative and persistent, and employ all available community resources.
3. Get to know community partners. Be prepared to make calls and meet with prospective partners. They will probably be more than willing to work with you, and may have resources you can use.
4. Don’t let your class become a work crew. The work you do should be the work of your partner. This is not a field trip or guest presentation, but authentic involvement in your partner’s work.
5. Be organized and plan ahead. You can never foresee all possibilities, but staying organized will make you more successful with students and partners.
6. Promote the program. It’s not about you; it’s about the students and their capacity to serve as a resource for their community.
7. Involve students in the selection of their work, and in designing their products. This may be the first time they have some control over their learning. It can be empowering for them.
8. Consider sustainability. As your work expands, think about ways for the program to sustain itself after you leave.
9. Don’t worry about having to know the content, or being in charge of direct instruction. You will become a facilitator; instruction comes from the community partner and the curriculum resources you organize. One of the great joys of this approach is that you often get to learn along with your students. Sometimes, they can even teach you. In other words, the teacher is not the “sage on the stage,” but the “guide on the side.”
10. Remember: This is about community! The work students do must have a clear context. They should come out of their study knowing what their community is, how it functions and how they can participate. This approach also fosters community building within the classroom, as students reconnect with themselves and each other.