This blog post is one of a six-part series on how to develop high-impact service-learning curricula. Each post discusses one best practice for writing effective service-learning curricula and provides an example of implementation. These best practices are informed by the development of Live the Questions, American Jewish World Service’s service-learning curriculum for the World Partners Fellowship in India. To engender greater collaboration and support the development of a robust service-learning field, we have made the complete curriculum available here.
Best Practice: Foster Personal and Professional Growth
Successful service-learning curricula support volunteers to be effective in their placements and give them the tools they need to be skilled social justice advocates beyond their term of service. At American Jewish World Service, key outcomes of our service-learning programs are to inspire and train our volunteers to be successful volunteers and successful global justice change-makers in the Jewish community upon return from their volunteer experience.
To achieve these goals, we frame our curriculum with guiding principles that support responsible and effective volunteering and global justice advocacy. These guiding principles represent values and practices that are integral to participants’ success in their placement and beyond. The guiding principles are named and discussed at orientation, and most importantly, are embedded in practice throughout the curriculum (for examples, see post 3 on productive discomfort and post 5 on mussar). They are continuously revisited and reinforced by program staff who conduct regular check-ins with participants and provide them with citical mentorship and feedback. In this post I’ll let the curriculum speak for itself by sharing these principles.
AJWS Guiding Principles for Responsible and Effective Volunteering and Global Justice Advocacy
Commit to personal growth. Volunteering enables you to contribute meaningfully to the advancement of human rights and global justice. At the same time, global justice work is not easy. The problems can seem insurmountable and without simple answers, the change you hope to see takes time and impact can be hard to measure. Being an effective volunteer and advocate in this field requires patience, humility and a willingness to turn challenges and moments of discomfort into productive learning opportunities. Cultivating these traits requires self-reflection and a commitment to learning and growth. Throughout the fellowship, we will provide you with opportunities to reflect and learn in order to help you develop your potential as an individual, a volunteer and a global justice advocate.
Articulate a vision. Your vision is the place you want to go, your ultimate destination. Setting a vision or goal for your volunteer experience, and anything you do in life, enables you to act with greater direction, intention and perspective. As you move through your experience, you may find that you need to change your actions or behavior to better align with your vision. You may also find that you are able to further develop and clarify your vision over time. During orientation, you will write a personal vision statement for your experience that you will continue to reflect on and develop for the duration of the fellowship.
Seek understanding first. In order to take effective action, it is important to first gain perspective on the situation at hand. When you act hastily, it is easy to overlook important issues that are not visible at first glance. Listening to those you seek to support and learning about the problems they face will enable you to be a more effective advocate for their needs. Beginning conversations by listening and seeking to understand the other person’s perspective also fosters mutual respect and understanding. This principles requires humility—the recognition that as an outsider, it takes time to learn how to be effective. Throughout the fellowship, we will remind you to slow down and seek understanding first in order to help you to be a more successful volunteer, communicator and global justice advocate in the long run.
Build relationships. Building relationships lies at the core of creating and sustaining change. On a systemic level, individuals have the most impact when they contribute to strengthening the power of the collective and the community. On an interpersonal level, in order to effect change it is critical to foster trust, generate buy-in and build consensus. Building relationships is a vital step in this process. Success in your placement and community in India will involve getting to know those around you. We encourage you to develop relationships with your coworkers and the people you interact with, to ask about their families and share your own background and traditions. It is especially important to gain the trust of your colleagues in the field of international human rights, where doing sensitive work can carry personal risk. We also encourage you to build a community with your cohort of fellows during and after your term of service. Your cohort can support you through challenging times and also serve as a resource for continued reflection, networking and global justice advocacy upon return from your volunteer experience.
Focus on what you can influence. It is often easy to become overwhelmed by external situations, annoyances and concerns you cannot influence. Letting go of what you cannot change and focusing your energy on what is within your control can help you remain positive during challenging times and accept the limitations of what you can achieve. This principle also encourages you to focus on what you can influence—how your actions, behavior and assumptions may contribute to creating or exacerbating negative situations. By changing these internal factors, you may find that you are able to gain greater influence over external situations. During your regular check-ins and reflections throughout the fellowship we will emphasize this principle and ask you to reflect on your own assumptions and behavior in relationship to the challenges you face.
The guiding principles provide volunteers with a set of values and practices that support them to achieve success in their volunteer placement and beyond. Through continual reinforcement, they become a shared language and frame of reference for volunteers and staff members. They demonstrate and embed habits that prepare volunteers to approach their service experience and future activism with self-reflection, intention and mindfulness.