A Class Service Project: Good for Your Students, Great for Your Community
It’s no secret that people like to help other people. And this is even more obvious in children with their (often delightfully) idealistic view of the world. Putting a class service project together — collecting donations, purchasing items for others or even traveling to an off-site work location — is a wonderful way to teach real-life skills, expose your students to the satisfaction of helping others and create a bonding activity for everyone (including you).
Here’s how to create a successful class service project.
Start with the administration
Always check with your direct supervisor before beginning a project that may be outside the bounds of your primary teaching responsibilities. As an administrator, I’ve rarely (if ever) put the brakes on an interesting and worthwhile activity, but I still need to be in the loop when my teachers are planning a class service project.
Project planners often get so excited about helping others that they move forward too quickly. Your supervisors know your school’s institutional history on similar service projects, and they can tell you the pitfalls to avoid.
If your school community has a vibrant and robust attitude toward service projects and helping others, you need to make sure you’re not stepping on other people’s toes. I know of one school that decided to collect “pennies for patients” and promoted it heavily, not realizing they had accidentally co-opted an upcoming fundraiser for a local community group.
Sometimes the most tangled situations spring from a desire to help others. Check with others, move slowly and make sure that you’re not accidentally setting off a turf war.
The world will always be a large and challenging place, and a service project can help your students to learn more about it. Explore other countries, their political systems, and the factors that lead to challenging situations.
Add in geography and math to understand the forces that drive economies. Discuss cultural differences and similarities, and use the project as an opportunity to see the world in a different way — and not just in the 30 seconds of news snippets shown each night or in a passing status update.
Use technology to get the word out
Be sure to publicize the hard work of your class, as appropriate recognition is essential (it also sets a great example to others). Sending a press release to a local paper, posting on the school website and using other school-approved social media outlets are great ways to spread the word.
Connective technology should also be part of your project. Seek out other schools that have done similar projects and connect with them for advice, camaraderie, and another chance to broaden your students’ understanding of the world.
When presenting your idea to the public, have your students create a slideshow and complete the project by posting a video or podcast offering a retrospective of the overall effort. Another idea is to set up a video conference via Skype or Google Hangout where students can share what they learned with another school or organization. Many students will be excited to use technology in this way, showing the practical and useful application of it and the power of sharing their key learnings with others.
Remember your restless students
Don’t be surprised to find that your more, ahem, challenging students often jump right into projects like this. Not only does it give them a chance to move and be active in the planning, but they’ll enjoy the break from the regular workings of the classroom. Ownership is also key. Find ways to involve different types of learners in different ways. Designate roles that draw on their strengths while expanding their horizons.
Projects like this can benefit students socially and emotionally, often increasing their level of awareness and showing them that they have the power to create change in their community. Community-focused projects can also improve their collaboration skills as well as their self-confidence. By giving back, they actually give to themselves.