However, it is easy to help others balance their lives, and it’s not so easy sometimes for us to balance our own. This is true in classroom activities, for just one example. As professors in higher education, we often strive to include activities in our classes that enrich students’ experiences, and we work to make the theoretical content of courses we teach integral to the students’ worlds. We balance course content with inspiration, motivation, and expectation.
We might include an experiential component in a course because of the richness it can add to a student’s understanding of course content. Service Learning has been an important part of higher education and pedagogy for over 20 years because it adds this type of richness. Service learning activities and experiences allow students to combine what they are learning in the classroom with the “real world” experience of working with a community partner. The work with these partners has academic value and is, therefore, graded work.
Community / University partnerships also have social and cultural value, and through the reciprocity that is inherent in service learning and the reflection activities which are at the core of SL experiences, students see their educations, their communities, and themselves in new lights. We, as faculty, often applaud these course additions for students—even though these additions can require a significant amount of work for faculty—because we know these are effective and students can have life-changing experiences.
SL experiences can change students and help them balance what they are learning in university courses, what they already know, and what the community can teach them. It’s about balance for the student. What about us, though? Maybe we need to engage in a little service learning for ourselves, to balance our own lives.
Much like our students, we can have myopic vision. We can start to believe that our academic world is the only world. But it isn’t. We know that, but we often forget that. Outside the walls of the university are other people, other businesses, other perspectives, other ways. When we work with community partners by volunteering, for example, we provide the partner with needed skills, but at the same time, the partner can teach us something about industry, community, populations, or activism. It becomes a reciprocal relationship, and again, the reciprocity is a key component to effective service learning.
In that process of volunteering our time (to continue with this example), we can have life-changing experiences, experiences that can keep our teaching fresh and relevant, keep us energized in a way that our academic work doesn’t, and keep our perspectives in check.
Where might you volunteer a few hours a week providing a skill (your expertise) that your community might need? Here are a few examples of organizations always in need of adult volunteers:
- A local food pantry
- Youth sports leagues
- Girl/Boy Scouts
- Church Choir
- Habitat for Humanity
- Domestic Violence Shelters
- Homeless Shelters
- Neighborhood Watch
Organizations such as Volunteer Match and DoSomething.Org can help place you with a community organization if you don’t know one that might need your help. These national organizations can also match you with an organization you might not know existed, or they can help you find a unique place for your particular skill set.
How about you? Do you volunteer in your community? In your church? With local youth sports leagues? How has your volunteer work changed you, your teaching, your community? Please leave comments below.