Monday, March 22, 2010

Decorate to Celebrate Your Community Service Learning Successes

by Ann Abbott

I always enjoy reading "Fast Company," and I especially enjoy two columns: "Made to Stick" by Dan and Chip Heath (this one about VanHalen is great) and "Do Something" by Nancy Lublin.

Lublin's March column talks about burn-out in the non-profit sector and gives tips about how to combat it. In a way, the very passion to be an agent of social change that motivates people to take jobs in the non-profit sector is the very characteristic that can get stifled, leading to burn-out.

In my "Spanish & Entrepreneurship" course, I can see that many students feel passionate about social entrepreneurship, working in the non-profit sector, using their Spanish to have a positive impact in Spanish-speaking communities and putting their love of travel to work in international settings. I recognize that passion because it is why I studied Spanish, studied abroad, speak and listen to at least four languages in my personal life, do community service learning work every semester and serve on the board of the Refugee Center.

That's also the reason why some days I feel stretched too thin. Now the University of Illinois' budget crunch will mean that I will have to find ways to continue to forge mutually beneficial student-community partnerships with fewer resources. I'm not burned out, but I don't want to get there either. So I read her advice as advice to those of us who do community service learning (CSL) work as well.

In one tip in her March column, Lublin suggests that non-profit employees redecorate: "...cover your walls with job-relevant cues. Those could be copies of great letters you've received or even cheesy motivational posters. For me, it's a collection of my name badges from conferences I've attended, which remind me of the cool things I've learned and the amazing people I've met."

This led me to think about my own decorating:
  • In my office, I have a basket full of thank-you notes from students. I'm proud to have touched the lives of so many students, and the over-flowing basket reminds me of who I am working for.
  • If I do a search on this blog for the label "student reflection," I have at my fingertips detailed descriptions of what students do and learn when they use their Spanish with our community partners. I find their insights inspiring.
  • I got rid of all but a few of my high school trophies, ribbons, medals and letters. But I have saved the ones I managed to garner in my career. I keep my trophies for my "Social Entrepreneurship" and "Distinguished Teacher Scholar" awards in my home office.
  • I framed a picture of me holding Comunidades: Más allá del aula. When I began teaching Spanish CSL there were no textbooks that prepared students to work in the community and that helped them understand better what they observed there. Little by little I built lesson plans to help my own students and community partners.
  • I have a bulletin board outside my office that I rarely get around to updating. I think I'll ask my students to come up with an idea of how to decorate it to motivate students and myself.
How do you decorate to counteract burn-out, to fan the flames of your passion for your CSL work? Could you ask your students to decorate a bulletin board outside your office, or in the main hall of your building?

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