Juan de Vicente Abad

Guidance counselor and teacher

Students must learn to understand each other, do things for themselves, get along and how to be themselves

A few lessons on the service learning methodology

I found out about service learning through my students who were very used to getting involved in issues and events at school. As a whole, the student body is used to playing its part in resolving conflicts. When there's a problem, the children have strategies to settle disputes. They also play an important role in observing how well people are getting along. They get involved in a lot of things and are accustomed to using their initiative.

Service learning is a teaching and learning method that combines what children learn through the different subjects they encounter in the classroom with community-based service. The service aims to tackle social issues and times when a person's rights may have been violated because, sometimes, people's social rights are not respected. What's interesting is that children learn about these things and get to have an impact on their environment through community-based action. Then, merely because this service and community-based action exists, what they learn comes alive, they can put it into practice in a context where it's useful, they're no longer just reading about these things in books or on a computer screen; therefore, they become meaningful. Service learning can be used to change a situation.

Ideas about service learning projects arise in very different ways. Sometimes they come from teachers who might say: “I think I could use what I have to teach in the curriculum to focus on something in my area, which is physics, because I'd like to do something related to science. I think I could do that." So, they have an idea and they put forward ways to implement it. Sometimes, they come from the students themselves. In our municipality, we have two service learning programs that feature animals, because the students said: “We want to work with animals. So, we're going to think of a project we could do that's linked to what we're doing in school but that focuses on animals."

Older people, such as the students' grandparents also play a really important role, because what they convey through their relationship with their grandchildren or the students they work with on these types of projects has far-reaching effects. The children often tell us that they feel happy when they're with them. The main thing they convey is affection.

As teachers, our challenge is to ensure that all our students learn something, not just the 80% or 70% who usually get their diplomas and go on to further education. Furthermore, we want them to learn as much as possible. What service learning does is get everybody working together on projects, in teams and groups of people with mixed abilities, in a situation where those with more advanced skill sets can help others to achieve more. This gets more children involved. Furthermore, one of the things that encourages more children to get involved in these initiatives is that, as well as working in teams, they get a much better understanding of the reasons why they're studying certain subjects in class. This helps motivate and inspire them to get involved. We have discovered that students become more motivated when they participate in these projects. Children who don't normally show any interest in class become engrossed in these projects and their motivation improves. Children have to understand what they're learning in class. They also have to learn how to do things for themselves, get along with each other and how to be themselves. Service learning projects focus on these four areas. If children don't get involved in these projects, they'll find it more difficult to develop their sense of self. When I say they have to "learn how to be themselves", I mean they have to learn to be autonomous and to be responsible by making a commitment to a service or another undertaking. They also have to learn how to self-regulate and know what they want to achieve. These projects help children learn how to get along with each other because they have to work in teams and try to resolve any conflicts that arise as a result of the activities they perform. If they don't get involved in the activities, they won't be able to take advantage of these opportunities. They'll learn to do things for themselves, because these projects focus heavily on reflective action, which enables children to show that they've learned something.

More on Juan de Vicente Abad

Juan de Vicente Abad is a guidance counselor and teacher at the Instituto público IES Miguel Catalán de Coslada (Miguel Catalán de Coslada public high school) in Madrid. He won the "Certamen D+I al Docente más Innovador de España" (R+D award for Spain's most innovative educator) in 2016 and is an authority on the service learning methodology, which is used to improve school environments.
How can schools manage conflict and help students to get along with each other?

We started by developing an idea, which we then included in service learning projects. The idea I refer to is that we can all get along more effectively if we give students a voice. I'll give you an example. You have to look at three different areas in order to understand school bullying. First, there are the people who are made to feel uncomfortable, who are assaulted and made to endure degrading situations. Then, there are the people who make other people feel miserable, and finally, there are the spectators. These are the people who witness bullying. In a normal school that doesn't focus on these issues, the spectators will take on a passive role, because it's more than likely that 99% of them will do nothing. The way to resolve these situations is to encourage spectators to take an active role. They can even go so far as to say: "We will not let these kinds of things happen." This is one of the main ways that schools that encourage students to get along with each other through participation are successful. Children learn how to resolve conflicts, which is a skill they can rely on later in life. Students learn how to manage participation in the classroom and how to stop and think about rules. They also learn the social and emotional skills they'll need to be aware of and express their emotions. Maturity is all about understanding any strong feelings you have and being able to talk about them.

"Service learning is a good way to encourage inclusion and respect for diversity in schools."

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