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We Support Educators
We work with a diverse set of K-16 educators and schools across the U.S and internationally, through our annual Summer Institutes and on-site professional development events. We support schools large and small, as well as community based organizations that range from environmental and arts groups to the correctional and restorative justice community. CWI training sessions and events include interactive sharing of experienced best practice, blended with cohort learning, designed to create a community of practice.

Community Service and Service-Learning: What's the Difference?
Many educators are initially unsure what service-learning actually is and/or what it looks like when practiced well. In many schools we work with, service-learning has often been confused with community service since many schools have a long history with community service before deciding to shift to service-learning. So adopting common understanding, vision, clear purpose, and language is always the first step in our professional development and consulting work with schools. contact us for support

Definition of Service-Learning
Here is a basic definition and comparison of service-learning and community service:
SERVICE-LEARNING is an educational strategy that combines academic and social education goals to meet real community needs; it requires the application of knowledge, skills, and systematic reflection about the experience.

COMMUNITY SERVICE: A voluntary act that benefits others. It may or may not include reflection. Learning takes place of course, but usually in a less formalized and intentional manner.

Place Based Service-Learning
We use Place Based Service-Learning as a teaching strategy to connect and engage students. Our approach is to first consider place as the context, service-learning as the strategy, and sustainable communities as the goal. To achieve this we begin our work with educators by considering what sustainable communities look like, and how to connect students to a sense of place—their place—in ways that will inform their choices of service and social action. Student voice and creating real reciprocity (genuine two-way relationships) are absolutely inherent to high quality service-learning.

Developing Global Citizens
We use Place Based Service-Learning to connect to core 21st Century academic and social emotional skills through compelling student-centered learning projects. Our work promotes teaching for empathy by supporting the design of powerful community focused learning experiences that connect students to the humanity of their community. "Story telling" is often an important feature of this process. The process of inquiry and discovery inherent to Place Based Service-Learning leads to a deeper understanding of the nature of community itself, in all its forms. This in turn leads to uncovering the interconnectedness of people, cultures, place, the natural world, and our own role in that. We use a process that we call "collaborative ethnography" to facilitate teachers and students exploring and understanding the place they call home. We begin from a premise that every place is unique and special with a story to tell. Sharing these stories brings communities together in new and powerful ways.

Promoting Student Voice
We understand student voice as a "continuum," an ongoing process, where while it is essential that students do participate on some level in making informed choices, teachers also face limits of time, comfort, and experience. Our goal in our work with educators and schools is to set a process in motion that is grounded in a shared belief that student voice hugely deepens student engagement in learning, and in the world around them. This process takes time and practice, well worth the effort.

Project Based Learning (PBL)
Project-Based Learning (PBL) and Place Based Service-Learning are very complimentary approaches, involving a dynamic approach to learning through active exploration of real-world problem solving. However, Place Based Service-Learning intentionally moves PBL projects out of the classroom and toward the community itself with social purpose. Focus on creating hands-on opportunities for students to learn and practice essential social emotional and academic skills. Teach for empathy, understanding, and compassion using Place Based Service-Learning as a design strategy and method to create real and compelling opportunities for your students to be community builders

Teaching for Empathy Through Place Based Service-Learning
CWI's professional development events are about connecting core academic and social emotional goals with compelling student-centered learning projects, teaching for empathy through powerful community focused experiences. CWI Institutes provide K-16 educators with expert training, experienced guidance and support, with inspired collaboration. A core part of the Institute includes interactive sharing of experienced best practice, blended with cohort learning, designed to create a community of practice for our talented and creative participants to learn with and from each other.

service learning

We Provide Support to Schools On Site

CWI supports local educators, from schools and communities across the U.S. to international schools and organizations. Our work with K-16 schools and organizations includes extended site based consulting, professional development workshops, and retreats—from Boston to Oregon, and from Europe to Asia. Learn how we can support your goals with a customized professional development event. CWI workshops and trainings are highly interactive and create a shared sense of purpose and direction for school faculty.
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Teaching Implications for Place Based Education Service-Learning

• Direct application of content learning and skills, in meaningful service to the community.

• Intellectual inquiry, risk-taking, with opportunities for powerful collaboration.

• Developing personal values of respect, integrity, compassion, empathy, and social justice.

• Using the local community and the world as the classroom.

• Active contribution to a democratic society, social justice, and the global community.

• A reminder of the reason you became an educator.

The Power of Service-Learning
Service-learning possesses a transformative power for students, schools and communities. Through thoughtful engagement in service-learning, we as educators create the opportunity to practice the kind of behavior we want to encourage in our students by emphasizing the importance of caring for others and responding to community needs. By participating in an endeavor that benefits others, students enlarge their view of the world and of themselves while learning new skills, practicing personal and social skills, and applying content knowledge in an experiential context.
“The teacher is of course an artist, but being an artist does not mean that he or she can make the profile, can shape the students. What the educator does in teaching is to make it possible for the students to become themselves.”
—Paulo Freire

Practitioners of service-learning have long noted increased investment, enthusiasm and efficacy on the part of students when they are participating in service-learning projects. Authentic tasks that make practical use of content and skills can help to address the persistent student question, “Why do I need to know this?” Tasks that carry authenticity, purpose, and urgency appear to generate in students a much higher level of interest and attention to accuracy. Significantly, educators employing service-learning strategies often observe improved performance from students who ordinarily struggle with more traditional or didactic approaches to teaching.

What’s In A Name
Service-learning shares many goals of—and is sometimes confused with—other notable educational approaches, including place-based curriculum and experiential learning. The essential difference between these other approaches and service-learning is the intentional element of service to the community. Veteran practitioners agree that the “magic” of student investment witnessed through service-learning projects is unique in their teaching experience.

Brain Compatible Learning Experiences
service learningRecent research about the brain has shown educators how important it is to create a safe, supportive atmosphere in our schools and programs. It also reinforces what many educators have experienced themselves––that students learn best when given opportunities to construct their own meaning through authentic experience. By encouraging thoughtful action to help others, service-learning can offer an ideal community-building method within classrooms and schools, while addressing the students’ need to apply or expand on what they have learned through experience in the world outside of school.

“Students who engaged in high quality service-learning programs showed an increase in the degree to which they felt aware of community needs, believed that they could make a difference and were committed to service now and later in life.” —Melchior, Berkas, Brandeis University 1999
Toward the Larger Goal of Sustainable Communities
Service-learning provides an ideal way to work toward the larger goal of Sustainability. The three primary goals of the Sustainability movement are environmental integrity, economic prosperity, and social equity. Education for Sustainability (EFS) is a process that helps to bring these three goals closer to reality. It promotes an understanding of the interconnectedness of the environment, economy, and society. A more in depth discussion can be found here.

To connect students to a larger sense of purpose we see sustainability as the goal—place as the context—service-learning as the strategy. In other words, we are helping our students learn to be citizens working for sustainability—for communities that do well economically, environmentally and socially now and in the future. so often in service-learning activities stems from students’ sense of purpose and accomplishment in meeting a real community need.

Brief History of Service-Learning
Service-learning owes much to the thinking of John Dewey and an earlier generation of educator-reformers who sought to ground education in the community. A renewal of efforts to combine learning and service began in the 1970s with the work of Dan Conrad and others. At the Wingspread Conference in 1989, the National Society for Internships and Experiential Education (now the National Society for Experiential Education, or NSEE) convened a small advisory group to compose the ten “Principles of Good Practice for Combining Service and Learning.” These were later revised and updated in the Standards of Quality for School-based Service Learning published in 1993 by the Alliance for Service-Learning in Education Reform. They became widely known as the “ASLER Standards.”
The Corporation for National Service, established in the early 1990s, guided and funded a national effort to expand the use of service-learning K-16. This effort also helped evolve a uniform understanding of service-learning. In the mid 1990s, the National Service-Learning Cooperative, aided by the National Youth Leadership Council, took on the job of updating the ASLER standards. The latter work, led by Pam Toole of the Compass Institute, was done by groups of educators drawn from across the country and became the Essential Elements of Service Learning. This earlier work informed the Best Practices for Service-Learning, designed by participating K-16 educators, through a three year study group sponsored by Community Works Institute (CWI).

The Best Practices for Service-Learning
For more than two decades, The Best Practices for Service-Learning have been a highly effective and evolving tool, used in formal CWI trainings and professional development workshops and professional learning study groups to advance the use of service-learning in classrooms, schools and programs. Since 1995, educators attending CWI's acclaimed Summer Institutes have used the Best Practices for Service-Learning as both a planning and reflective evaluation tool. Teachers have also used the best practices with adult advisory teams and older students, in co-planning and evaluating service-learning projects and activities.

The Best Practices for Service-Learning are designed for novice and experienced practitioners alike. They suggest both starting points and areas of reexamination––a focus for dialogue among educators. CWI has evolved two distinct sets of Best Practices, one at the instructional level, and one for use at the site or school level.

Site Level Best Practices for Service-Learning
The Site Level Best Practices are specifically designed to help school and program leaders envision and create a supportive environment for high-quality service-learning. These practices suggest guidelines for making service-learning central to a school or program’s mission, supporting it with funding and policy decisions, and providing training and professional development opportunities for teachers. Educators who have successfully incorporated service-learning into their practice can still find themselves struggling if school or organizational policy does not support their efforts. These educator leaders can bring the Site Level Best Practices to the attention of their principal or superintendent to gain support for their work.


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