Reflection is a power tool in the practice of service-learning. Often it seems like a simple act – think about what you experienced, write about it, talk about it, create something, but in reality it isn’t simple at all. It requires you to think deeply, to explore not only what you experienced, but what you gained from the experience. It asks you to not think about what you did, but how you grew as a person. Reflection is a building block of service-learning and one of the K-12 Service-Learning Standards of Quality Practice.
Without reflection, we may focus on what we do for others and not understand all the ways that service contributes to who we are as a person. When service-learning is done with quality, reflection is entwined throughout the student-centered service-learning experience – from investigation and planning, to action and demonstration – reflection helps everyone involved think deeply, critically, and connect to learning outcomes. Students understand what they gained from the experience as much as what they gave.
Last week’s The Power of Young People to Change the World podcast featured two students from Urbana High School’s Project Ignition team. These students reflected on what they are learning while tackling the number one killer of teens, car crashes. When we invite students to reflect on their service, they gain a better understanding of what they have learned. At Urbana, students are not only learning about safer driving habits, they are also learning about marketing and communication, research, and entrepreneurship.
Of course, it is not just students who gain from reflection during service-learning. Adults also gain a deeper understanding of their practice, their students, and themselves. It provides each of us with a new perspective, a new starting point from which to grow as educators and mentors to our students and the communities in which we live and serve. Educators Sarah Miller and Malik Peer are tackling issues of equity through Caring and Committed Conversations that drive changes in school culture and practices. Hear them reflect on their experience and service-learning practice.
Whether you are a student, educator, adult mentor or community member, reflection is a mirror that allows you to see yourself before, during, and after service. It is a way to connect service to learning. Think of it as the hyphen in service-learning. What would service-learning be without reflection? It wouldn’t; service-learning doesn’t exist without it.