Search form

Create a Classroom Plan for Service and Helping Others

As educators strive to continually improve their skills and methodologies to shape young minds for the better, it is necessary at times to go back to the basics. The basics of education used to be the three "r's": reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic. In addition to this simplified philosophy, the goals of education involved building good character and shaping good adults. 

Fortunately, cultivating leaders and good citizens through education is still relevant today. One method of promoting this type of character building is through service. When kids learn to help and serve one another, they benefit themselves and the rest of the community. These benefits can be realized through the implementation of community service in the classroom. 

What is Service?

Service: to act meaningfully on your concern for another individual.

We may think that including service is a straightforward implementation. However, as always, terminology subconsciously affects our students more than we would think. For instance, there is an argument that "helping" is often more beneficial to oneself and one's ego, whereas service is more of a giving and unselfish approach. That's why our language should focus on serving, or serviam, instead of "helping" as students grow older. 

This would make for a great discussion when speaking to older students, like high schoolers. They would likely benefit from having the opportunity to learn to define these terms. Not only would they learn the fine points of language, but it would also be a dive into human motivations. Introducing service into a curriculum for high school students may involve a more in-depth discussion of what it means to serve and what problems the students would like to solve. 

When it comes to younger children, using "help" and "service" interchangeably will likely not matter and might be more effective as little kids already understand what it means to help. Younger students may benefit from learning a simple definition of "service" and finding small ways to implement that, starting in the classroom.

The Importance of Teaching Community Service

There are several ways to teach service to others. One way, which takes students beyond the classroom, is through community service. Serving our community teaches us, even as adults, that the world is bigger than ourselves and that we have a role in that bigger picture of the world. 

This Ted Talk from 2019 shows a young girl speaking about her experiences with community service.

As you can see in the video, the girl, who is only in ninth grade, has already grown tremendously, thanks to her work serving others. She lists off the reasons she does so: 

  • learning experiences
  • feeling of self-satisfaction
  • shaping of her character

In addition, based on the fact that she's standing in front of a crowd giving a talk after previously stating she was not outgoing, her work seems to have improved her confidence and communication skills. 

Although it is difficult to say conclusively that certain types of service lead to specific short-term benefits, there is evidence of an association between long-term service and improved well-being. For example, older adults who volunteer after retirement tend to live longer and report feeling a greater sense of fulfillment.

"Well, okay! Obviously, community service is great, but how on earth do I get my students involved?" What an excellent question. 

How to Educate and Serve 

Believe it or not, community service does not have to feel like a huge undertaking for you as an educator. It does not necessarily even have to be "extra" work. On the contrary, you and your students will likely reap as many benefits from service as the ones you serve. You can reduce the stress of adding service into the curriculum by considering both as one subject, slipping pieces of the curriculum into service projects through the following. 

Writing assignments 

Before and after completing a community service project, have your students journal about their expectations and something they learned. Allow for freedom in this, but encourage students with open-ended questions, such as, "How might this experience shape how you spend your time in the future?" 

Vocabulary competitions 

Consider a vocabulary competition between different students or groups. Plan a service project the same as you would a field trip. On the bus ride over, instruct students to pay attention to the road signs, advertisements, etc., as well as any conversation they hear during the service project. Then they will take mental notes of any words they may hear that they don't quite understand. Whoever learns the most words that day wins! 

Choose service projects based on the curriculum.

Say you're teaching a culinary class. Students could serve their community by preparing a dish and dropping it off at a homeless shelter or a soup kitchen. It is feasible there could even be a program for delivering food to students who are in need. Food drop-off could even be done anonymously (part of service is not bragging about the service you've done but rather to be humbly proud of oneself for the good they've done).

If you are teaching communication or language, students could volunteer to help younger children either in school or perhaps at the YMCA or another after-school program. They could help kids read or finish homework assignments. Teaching is proof of mastery. It provides the opportunity to apply the knowledge they've acquired in the classroom. 

Additional Opportunities

Other opportunities for community service may include taking students to volunteer at the soup kitchen, participating in Habitat for Humanity or a similar program, or in after-school programs, volunteering to coach sports or swim lessons. 

Final Words

Keep in mind when putting together service projects for students to emphasize the importance of long-term service. This should not be reduced to a one-time or "feel good" thing to do. Rather, emphasize that service is a lifelong opportunity, the gift that keeps on giving. Remember, too, you, as an educator, are in a career of constant service. The job goes beyond multiplication tables and Shakespeare, and although it is work, there is a reward too. In any case, these students are the future of our society, a society that will be better if shaped by service. 

Written by Melanie Combs
Education World Contributor
Copyright© 2021 Education World