Sunday, April 5, 2009

Eight Reflection Topics That Apply to Any Service Activity

by Ann Abbott

This afternoon I will be speaking at the Service and Leadership Conference sponsored by the Office of Volunteer Programs. I have spoken at this same conference in the past, and I have always been very impressed by the students, their work and they way that they put this on themselves.

One thing I will do is a reflection activity, based on Debbie Sim's suggestions.

How is service different from service learning? In two ways: service learning is tied to an academic course and it includes structured reflection. Many of these students are very active in a Registered Student Organizations (RSO), and some of them may log more hours of actual service to the community than those in an academic service learning course. (My students are required to complete 28 hours in the community during the semester.)

But what do students in a community service learning course do more of? Structured reflection. I'm certainly not saying that people who are not in a course do not reflect on their experiences and their learning! But it is not usually built in to their service activities.

I will provide a list of categories and questions that I think anyone doing any type of service project can reflect upon. I will suggest that students jot down their ideas about one of the questions, but then I want them to share their ideas with someone else in the room. When we think of reflection our default seems to be "journaling." However, we can also reflect when we listen and speak.

Here's the list:

1. Academics. Compare/Contrast what you have observed in the community with information you have learned in at least one of your classes.

2. Media. Connect your experiences in the community with at least one recent news item.

3. Public Policy. Analyze why the situation you are working to alleviate in the community exists. Why is your service needed? Are their public policies that have negative (unintended) consequences for the community?

4. Yourself. Consider the ways in which you have grown and changed because of your service in the community. What beliefs that you previously held have been changed? Confirmed? Think deeply about whether or not you have reinforced any stereotypes in your mind.

5. Your own community. Identify needs that exist within your own community and/or campus. (All communities have needs!) How could the people you serve turn the tables and serve in your community. What resources do they have that could benefit your community. (Money is not the only resource communities posses: knowledge, experience, volunteers and their availability, etc.)

6. Inclusivity. Evaluate how inclusive your service organization or project is. Do people with special needs serve with you? If not, how could they? How could an older person serve in your project? A young person? A person who has limited English ability?

7. Community Impact. Establish ways of knowing the impact your service has in the community. How can you sustain positive impact? What happens when students from your project leave? How can you enter and exit the community in appropriate ways? Will the community always need your service? Can the tenets of social entrepreneurship help sustain your service project or the community itself?

8. National Service. Go to and explore the site. How can their resources aid your service project?

I'll let you know how the conference goes!

***Update*** I had to cancel at the last minute because I had a family emergency. I was very sorry to miss the conference.

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