Getting Students Excited for Service

Posted by Natasha Derezinski-Choo on Tue, Apr 29, 2014 @ 10:00 AM

This post was written by NobleHour Special Contributor Natasha Derezinski-Choo, a student at Grimsley High School in Greensboro, NC.

A more caring world would be comprised of more people using their time to improve their community.  However many people do not feel motivated to serve.  The best way to overcome this obstacle is to instil a sense of obligation to one’s community at an early age.  Motivating young people to volunteer can seem daunting at first because teens are perceived as being apathetic and selfish.  However, with the correct approach, bringing out the compassionate side in teens is less challenging than it may seem.  To encourage young people to become civically engaged, you must first appeal to their interests by listening and guiding them toward service opportunities that they will learn and grow from the most.  Motivating students to serve is less challenging than it seems.

Becoming influential in young people’s lives means earning their respect. Students will be more open to your ideas if you become relatable without being artificial.  Trying to relate to young people by pretending to be one of them will only have their eyes rolling at you. Treat them as you would anyone else, and be yourself.  Young people want to feel that your energy and enthusiasm is a genuine part of who you are.  They don’t want to hear a sales-pitch type speech about volunteerism that blatantly attempts to appeal a younger generation.  To do this you must break the predisposition that adults don’t trust teens and vice versa.  

Though seemingly counterintuitive, young people will sooner respect and follow you if you treat them as an equal.  Show them you are someone they want to respect and listen to rather than someone they must follow.  An important step in establishing this relationship is so engage them in meaningful conversation. Using authoritative language full of rigid directions and procedures is ineffective because in truth, no one really likes being told what to do.  People like to hear about new ideas and then with their own sense of agency decide to act upon those ideas and movements.  Avoid clichés and present the platform of volunteerism as an exciting, new idea by showing how it can be innovative and meaningful. Once you have earned the trust and respect of a group of young people, you’ll be ready to engage them and help them make the most of their service experiences.  

As an advisor and mentor to young people, encouraging them to serve means being a resource and guide to their service projects.  Students are driven to work for causes that they are interested in, so rather than handing them a project, talk to them and coach them through what they think is needed in the community and how they believe they can help. Though they may be initially motivated by an incentive to volunteer the goal is that gradually students will become more inclined to volunteer out of personal interest and growth - rather than just a reward.  You can help students develop this inclination to volunteer by guiding them to find opportunities that align with their interests.  Listen attentively and show them ways they can become involved with nonprofits or start their own service initiatives that cater to their interests.  Students are impacted personally more by the one-on-one conversations they have with mentors and teachers than large, wholesale speeches and lectures.  Getting to know a student can help you be a better resource to them in finding service opportunities.  

The main goal of motivating students to serve is to make service fit with their lives rather than forcing it on them.  You earn their trust and respect by being genuine, relatable, and an attentive listener. Often students feel unenthusiastic about service because they don’t really feel they can make an impact; they think they do not have a say in the things they’d like to change in their community.  Intrinsically, most students want to exercise their voice in the community, but don’t realize they have the power. Volunteering helps students understand ways they can make a difference.

Additionally, when a student feels stuck, help break down a project into small tasks.  Try to understand what they are interested in changing and show them that this can be achieved by asking them to break up a project into smaller steps.  Short-term goals are easier to digest than big-picture ideas.  Showing students that service is an accessible way to make a difference is one of the best motivators.  Check in with students periodically on the progress of their service projects and remind them that their work is appreciated.  Showing appreciation for a volunteer’s work helps to maintain that trust and respect that was initially built to get them involved.  

Encouraging students to volunteer means first gaining their attention and respect.  Incentives may help catalyze a student’s service, but individualized attention and guidance will help motivate them to become life-long volunteers.  Getting students to work with other people their own age also helps motivate them to serve.  In the end, fostering a culture of service and instilling in each individual the desire to work for something greater than themselves starts with making change-making more accessible.  Showing young people that by applying their knowledge and passion, they already have the tools to make a difference is the best way to ensure volunteerism begins and continues to give them purpose in life.  

Topics: service learning, volunteering, k12, millennials, leadership, engaged learning, social entrepreneurship, higher education, community service coordinators, experiential learning

The power of experience: How service-learning transforms education

Posted by Natasha Derezinski-Choo on Thu, Apr 24, 2014 @ 10:03 AM

 

This post was written by NobleHour Special Contributor Natasha Derezinski-Choo, a student at Grimsley High School in Greensboro, NC.


“We have to realize that sitting in a classroom is not the only way you learn, and it’s certainly not the best way you learn.”

 

Recently, I shared how Brenda Elliott-Johnson, along with her Character Development team, is successfully leading a growing service-learning movement in her school district.  Elliott-Johnson is the Executive Director of Student Services and Character Development for Guilford County Schools and the 2014 recipient of the G. Bernard Gill Urban Service-Learning Award.  

 

This week, in part two of my interview, Elliott-Johnson shares the power of service-learning as a tool for educators. In response, I share my experiences as a student involved in service-learning.

 

Natasha: What would you might say to someone who is critical of the value of service-learning?


Elliott-Johnson:
Sometimes the community and the world has a perception that our youth are sitting around playing video games, watching television, going to the mall, or looking in the mirror - caring about themselves. So, I just don’t understand anyone who would be against young people using what they have learned in school to improve their schools and their community. 

One of the things about the service-learning in Guilford County is that it is optional.  We understand that many of our young people have really full, active lives and may not really see this as something that they really have a passion for, or time for.  We have 72,000 children in our school district.  This isn’t going to be the thing that every child wants to do. 

We do believe that our teachers should be using this as an instructional strategy in classrooms because it is a research-based strategy that increases student engagement, reduces discipline and improves attendance. We hope that students that are doing this don’t just want to get an award, but that they have a passion around an issue and they are committed to solving that issue. 

What we try to do in the elementary and middle school levels is build that passion for the [service] work, so it’s natural for them to have a passion for serving their communities in high school.  That’s our goal.  We intentionally made sure it was optional just for that reason.  We didn’t want people to feel obligated to serve.  We wanted people to do this because this is what they are passionate about.   


Natasha: You talked about innovation and problem solving.  Do you remember a specific time or example when you saw a student really grow or something just clicked when they did service-learning?

Elliott-Johnson: We read a lot of the reflections that youth write about their experiences. [At] the middle school down the street, one of their English teachers lead a global awareness project in connecting students to another country that she had actually spent time in as a Peace Corps volunteer.  Those students wrote letters back and forth, and ended up actually writing books for the students there because one of the issues is that they don’t have books. 

Another example - we have students who are developing tutoring programs.  They are helping us address issues of literacy; they are helping us to address achievement gap issues.  [In] one of my favorite projects, we had students lead a senior project called “Malaria Sucks” which was an initiative to purchase and distribute netting in a country with a lot of deaths and illnesses from malaria.  I just see this as the world being opened up to a lot of students.  We have a responsibility as global citizens to help each other.  



Natasha: You described service-learning as an educational tool. Now, this seems to be a point of confusion for some people: the difference between volunteerism and service-learning.  How would you clarify or define what service-learning means?

Elliott-Johnson: When you look at high quality service-learning, when we are talking about service-learning being used as an instructional strategy, we’re talking about a teacher using it as a strategy to teach content in the classroom.  In the classroom it should be a very good balance between the learning and the serving.   

We have to realize that sitting in a classroom is not the only way you learn, and it’s certainly not the best way you learn.  You learn by doing.  Experiential learning is the best learning.  
 


As a student, speaking with Brenda Elliott-Johnson was inspiring. I got to see how educators are finding innovative ways to improve education through service-learning.  She stressed the importance of learning real-world applications and skills through service. Elliott-Johnson believes that service teaches “big picture skills” such as critical thinking and teamwork, and also helps build empathy, reflection, and oral and written communication skills. She sees service as a way to build persistence and global awareness.  Her passion for improving education through service has resulted in the growing success of Guilford County Schools' service-learning program.  For students, this program is opening doors and eyes, which otherwise would remain closed in the classroom. As a student, I personally can attest to the power of learning through service.  

Halfway through grade nine, our guidence counselor visited my English class to talk about opportunities in high school and our future.  What stood out to me most during this session was a story he told about what may happen to a student participating in service-learning.  In the story, a student interested in science starts volunteering at a local hospital.  In time, the student gains insight into the medical field and might even take on a small part time position at the hospital. This experience helps him to grow as an individual and become an engaged member of his community.  With this experience in hand, when the time comes to apply for college, this student has built an interest in medicine upon real-life experiences.  Students engaged in service-learning form connections and learn real-world skills.

After hearing this promising story, I decided to find out more about the service-learning program.  I started with volunteering at the library two hours a week to meet the monthly goals I'd set for myself.  From there, I was exposed to other exciting extracurricular and service-learning opportunities where experience and connections started becoming my most prized tools.  I'd become aware of the possibilities available to me, and my volunteer work became about more than counting hours and a piece of paper at graduation.

Spending a few hours sorting books at the library snowballed a whole new chapter in my life centered around service-learning.  I became involved with other nonprofits and service events, joined youth leadership and service organizations, and learned the value of being an engaged member of the community.  I became more outgoing and a better risk-taker.  While engaged in service, I interact with people from different backgrounds and age groups.  I developed better oral and written communication skills, and the confidence to make myself not just seen, but also heard.  

In short, my life has taken a turn similar to that of the student our counselor described to us.  Because of the work of people like Brenda Elliott-Johnson do in the field of service learning, pushing students to solve community problems and apply themselves to more than just school work, I have grown and matured. I have learned more from the opportunities presented by service-learning than from any other experience in my teen and adolescent years.  
 

How have you seen service-learning change your own live or that of someone else’s? 

 

Download the Benefits of Service-Learning Infographic

 

 

 

Topics: engaged learning, service learning, k12, community engagement, experiential learning, leadership, learning strategies

Volunteering & Kindness: Secrets to a Meaningful Thanksgiving

Posted by Natasha Derezinski-Choo on Tue, Nov 26, 2013 @ 08:36 AM

This post was written by NobleHour Special Contributor Natasha Derezinski-Choo.

Since we started making turkey-themed crafts in kindergarten, we’ve been taught that being grateful is important.  However, this year I challenge you not just to share your gratitude at Thanksgiving dinner, but to also be proactive with your thanks by expressing it to those you appreciate most.  The word “Thanksgiving” does after all imply giving thanks not just saying thanks.  Here are some ways individuals and organizations can give thanks through kindness and volunteerism:

For Individuals

A Thanksgiving Cornucopia

Say Thanks to Friends and Family:  Here’s an interesting exercise. Take out a piece of paper and write down the names of one hundred people you know and interact with.  These don’t have to be the people closest to you or the people you know best.  The idea is simply to write continuously, so this means writing down the names of whoever comes to mind regardless of their importance.  The only requirement is they are a person who has made it into your life at some point.  Don’t overthink it and don’t read over the list right away.  Leave it for a few days, and then return to read over the list.

Now, reread your list and star the people most important to you.  You may find yourself erasing some names from the list or adding ones you forgot, but don’t feel guilty about erasing or forgetting.  Perhaps your list is short, or perhaps it is rather extensive.  The length is not important, but the thought put into it is.  The objective to keep in mind is not to rank your friends’ importance to you, but rather pinpoint who has had a significant impact on you.  This Thanksgiving, instead of generically saying you are thankful for your friends and family, try to reflect on exactly how and why you are thankful for them.  What is it about each person on your list that makes them important, and how might your list need to change?  Finally, express your thanks by telling these people how much you appreciate them.  This might be by sending an email, writing a letter or short note, or giving them a call.  It’s important to surround yourself with people who are helping you life a happier life, so hopefully this exercise will help you reflect on the importance of others in your life.

Say Thanks to Your Community:  One of the best ways to show your thanks for all that you have in life is to help those less fortunate than you.  This is a great way to spur a service-learning project.  Contemplate some basic things you have to be thankful for, such as food, a home, good health, and a job, just to name a few.  Now, how can you show your appreciation for material things?   Share them with others. Consider this example:

UNEP reports that roughly a third of the food produced for human consumption every year is wasted.  In the United States, 30% of food is thrown away accounting for the second highest source of waste in landfills.  At the same time, according to Feeding America almost 15% of households in America are food insecure.  Clearly this is a problem with a feasible solution; that solution is simply being thrown in the trash.  In your local community, you could contact local restaurants and grocery stores to find out how much of their food is wasted and how that food could be repurposed to help others.  This basic formula could be applied to myriad situations.  By doing this, you are showing your gratitude and using this as an occasion to help others.

For Organizations and CommunitiesFall Leaves

Say Thanks to Volunteers:  Volunteers do so much good, and they do it without expecting repayment, but that doesn’t mean their work should go unnoticed.  If you are an Organization, Group, or Community, there are several ways to thanks volunteers.  Showing your appreciation could be as simple as saying “thank you” and letting volunteers know they and their time aren’t taken for granted.  Once a year, take the time to write thank you notes to each of your volunteers.  You might also consider planning a volunteer appreciation event like a luncheon, dinner, or awards ceremony.  Thanking volunteers is not just the right thing to do, but it also a good strategy for keeping volunteers interested and involved in your cause.

Say Thanks to Donors:  If your organization or service project relies on an outside source of funding, make sure you take the opportunity this Thanksgiving to thank whoever has contributed financially to your cause.  Applying for a grant or asking for donations is usually the first obstacle in turning an idea into a reality.  This may come from individual donors, grants, or a combination of the tow.  Call, email, or write a letter expressing sincere gratitude for their aid.  Let them know how the project is going and how their money has contributed to its success.

This Thanksgiving, reflect on what you are grateful for by making a conscious effort to express your thanks.  Remind yourself to be thankful all year, not just once a year.  What are your favorite ways to give back?

 

Topics: service learning, volunteering, community, outreach, leadership, community service, Thanksgiving, fundraising

Shy or Introverted Students: You can be a leader

Posted by Natasha Derezinski-Choo on Thu, Oct 17, 2013 @ 08:30 AM

This post was written by NobleHour Special Contributor Natasha Derezinski-Choo.

The five-year-old Natasha was an imaginative little girl living in her own little world.  She played by herself or with her cousins, living comfortably in Neverland until she was thrown into the big wide world: school.  She went through pre-school with her cousin—where the two of them only talked to each other—and spent junior and senior kindergarten (we had two years of kindergarten) mostly keeping to herself the whole time.  She lived within her imagination.  She was scared to talk to people she didn’t know.  Then, at five, she started grade one where she barely knew anyone.  In her new school, everyone could read, but the five year old Natasha didn’t.  From the start she didn’t do very well in class, but luckily her teacher realized her potential.

In grade one, my teacher gave me a green, apple-shaped timer to set when I started my homework, because I struggled with managing my time and finishing my assignments.  On it she wrote, “Natasha, you can do it!” and I did. In time, and with my mom’s help, I learned how to read, and I studied and became self-disciplined.  By the end of the year I was doing much better.  Ten years later, and my peers don’t believe that I used to make D's on those very first report cards because I’ve managed to do pretty well in school. All because of those little words of encouragement, I’ve learned there’s nothing stopping me from my determination.   School Classroom image via http://www.flickr.com/photos/sidewalk_flying/4267034867

By my freshman year of high school, school came easily to me, but inside I was still the shy little girl again - in a new school of 1,700+ students where I only knew four people.  My quietness was still holding me back.  My best friend wrote me a note in the beginning of the year when I was afraid to talk to someone who intimidated me, and on it those same words from grade one occupy the whole page: “You can do it.”  That was the day I stopped being shy.  Little by little, I shed my inner silence.  I started talking to people outside my comfort zone.  I joined clubs at school and even ran for office in one. I volunteered.  I spoke up, and the whole time I was still just as scared as before, but I did it all anyway. I feel like I’ve become a better leader and person because of it.  Overcoming my shyness has been one of my biggest personal challenges because it’s something I had to figure out by myself, but today it’s resulted in the confident young woman looking back at me in the mirror.

The green-apple timer doesn’t ring anymore because it must have been dropped a few too many times, and when I shake it the pieces inside rattle about.  The message written in Sharpie is faded, but I still keep it and the note because they remind me of how much I’ve grown in my short time on earth.  However, this story is not about my accomplishments, or telling you how great I am—because I have flaws too.  It’s about how I see my own shyness in my peers all the time, and how just a little bit of encouragement would give them the courage to speak up and share the brilliant ideas hiding behind their quietness.  Let this be my “You can do it” to every shy person (but if you aren’t shy keep reading too).

Students help create a more sustainable community.

Being shy can keep students from becoming more active in extracurriculars like sports, clubs, and service-learning.  Timidity can keep us from achieving our goals because being a bit timid and shy is about fearing speaking up both in our words and our actions.  An idea can be entertained in your head, but for it to come to fruition, you need to speak up.  Maybe something inspires an idea in you that could solve a problem in your environment.  Perhaps you think of how to change something in your community like homelessness, hunger, the achievement gap, poverty, or clean water, but that idea is just a thought until you make it a reality.  That takes courage, and it takes confidence in yourself and your abilities. 

If you feel like your shyness inhibits you, I challenge you this week to speak up just once.  Ask just one question in class.  Ask a teacher for help if you’re struggling.  Talk to someone outside of your usual group of friends.  Find out from your peers how you can join an organization at your school and become involved in something that interests you.  Call one local nonprofit and ask about volunteering.  Think of something you’ve always wanted to do, and if the only thing keeping you from it is your fear of speaking up, then challenge yourself to do it anyway.  Sometimes it’s the scariest things that end up being the best things.

Confidence often appears as being loud and fearless.  However, confidence in fact is not how we interact with others.  It’s how you interact with yourself, and how you learn to believe in yourself.  We seek the approval of others before our own, and confidence is learning to be comfortable with your own self-approval.  I’m so grateful that along the way I’ve had people who, in four little words, believed in me and gave me the approval I thought I needed, but I realized all I needed was to find the nerve to believe in myself.

Susan Cain’s book Quiet talks about the power of introverts where she challenges the negative connotations behind the characterization of an introvert.  She talks about how we live in a world where being bold, outgoing, and sociable are valued most, and being quiet and thoughtful are not considered useful.  Everyone is both intrapersonal and interpersonal, but we typically lean naturally toward one more than the other.  With the immutable babble of some successful, loud extroverts we often tune out people who are quiet.  However, Cain suggests that introverts actually make better leaders than extroverts because they are better listeners and can lead more productive groups.  Don’t see your quietness as a weakness; see it simply as part of who you are.

Being quiet isn’t something to be ashamed of.  It’s something to be embraced because it means you bring something different to the table.  Don’t change yourself into someone you think you should be, but sprout into the person you want to be.  

For me, overcoming my shyness wasn’t about changing who I am.  I’m still very much the imaginative little girl from preschool, but I’ve grown up and developed my ability to communicate who I am to the world.  As much as I love my friends and activities that challenge me to speak up, my favorite time of day is between 2:30-5:30am when I can be by myself, entertaining the constant soliloquy in my head.  If you aren’t a shy person, I challenge you to realize that speaking up is not as easy for some people as it is for you.  I challenge you to be the green-apple timer in someone’s life, and if you’re like me and are shy, I implore you to adopt the mantra: You can do it. 


Topics: volunteering, leadership, introvert, shyness, involvement, engagement

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