Service as the beginning, middle and end of self-discovery and learning.

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“This is the most fun I’ve had in twelve years being a principal,” Mike said as we were watching the students in his high school go about their work in their Action Teams. “In four years, I have not even noticed this girl who is now completely transforming the menu in the cafeteria!  She was so quiet before!  Now, she turns out to be this amazing leader.”

How many kids are we missing like this?  They don’t relate to what activities we offer them in and after school.  So, we assume they have nothing to offer or that they need to be “led” by popular kids elected to student councils.  I think we underestimate these kids and need to use another lens to view them.

Creating a way for kids to contribute to something they care about is a phenomenal means of building their confidence, their competence and motivation to learning in general.  This kind of service is like a shovel that excavates the “gems” latent in us all.  It pulls out what was hidden in us.

Joy, Motivation and Enthusiasm naturally follow when we discover strengths we didn't know we had.

When we discover a strength we didn’t know we had our natural enthusiasm and creativity come to life.  We become naturally more self-motivated, curious and happy. Service is is the best way to discover these hidden capacities.

What appear to be sullen and self-absorbed teenagers turn out to be independent thinkers with highly creative goals that were just waiting to be tapped.  This newly found sense of competence then generalizes into other areas giving reason to do better and finish school, to consider college or training for a career.

Without the opportunity to challenge themselves and discover this latent potential a young person’s motivation sours.  They can become resentful and withdrawn.   Creating appropriate challenges that stretch the young person is the name of the game.  (See the series  on the “Five Stages of the Bowl” to see how the Unity Project creates the means to do this.)

When I do workshops with teen-agers we spend a lot of time talking about how school is mind numbing, unchallenging and demeaning.  All too often, the experience of kids is that school is what turns them off to self-discovery and growth.  What a tragedy!

We want to create the experience of real self-discovery through action.   The kids see for themselves how action brings out their best “gems.”   There’s no need to lecture about it.  It’s obvious.  Their own excitement and motivation is proof enough.

Then, having the time to disengage and reflect on the new self-discovery allows for the learning to be internalized, a more personal motivation to be enkindled and new forms of group identity to emerge.  Moving back and forth between this kind of action and reflection is highly creative and growth inducing.

Let’s hear of your experiences with kids involved in service learning activities.  What have you learned from this method you’d like to share with others?  Let’s hear what questions and comments you have.  Better yet, let’s hear what you have learned from your own action/service learning.

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