Leadership Is An Invitation To Serve: Service Learning Through Empathetic Understanding

We, Branson, Liz and Kimberly, were invited to lead a series of professional development workshops at the Sidwell Friends/Educational Collaborators 2013 Connections Conference in Washington, DC. We had a lot of fun meeting people and hearing new perspectives. Being immersed in the professional development side of things was interesting. Our main focus since we began our explorations has been in the classroom, so this conference gave us a nice opportunity to see more from the view of other teachers and administrators. During the three hour sessions, we told the story of how our work evolved in order to reframe the concept of service into a definition of service learning we find effective: "leadership is an invitation to serve." From there, participants explored an object that might commonly be found in the trash can. They researched its global connections, design origins and future uses. Working in small groups, just like students might, participants then addressed one of three activities creating a deliverable based on the object that they had picked from the trash can in an effort to create a wasteless classroom. 

Why Service? Why Learning? Why Leadership? Why Trash?
We believe service is a two way street. One workshop participant defined it as a transaction. This transaction can be one person giving another person money in exchange for a product, an action or a feeling. Or on the other end of the spectrum it can be two people learning from one another as they act together, each in her own way. We like the latter. Simply put, by learning through service we can lead one another. As another participant put it, leading is putting listening into action. ...So why trash? Look at the device on which you are reading this. What do you know about that device? This list of facts will be relatively concise. You might be able to list off the company that made it, where it was made, what is was made out of, how fast its processors are, its screen resolution and so forth. But even if you describe yourself as an electrical engineer, your knowledge of this device is relatively limited. Now, what do you not know? Think about this one for a while. (Sidwell teachers Cynthia Grady and Rebecca Farnum gave an outstanding presentation on open and closed questions. Please keep in mind both forms of questions.) It can take some time to answer because it's endless. The same can be said for any item of trash. We throw things away without even scratching the surface of our knowledge of an item. Who is it impacting? What do the jobs that it provides mean for the people involved? What if it didn't exist? What does it do to our environment? What cultural conditions lead to its creation? Do we need it or do we want it? These are just a few questions we might think about. We come to see through that there is a world of knowledge and a million perspectives contained within one item. This humbling thought should give us pause. We should take the time and push ourselves to learn other people's perspectives about the impact of our choices to use something and throw it away. We should take the time to share our own perspectives too. Learning like this in service to one another we can come to appreciate the time that we share on this planet together.

Here's an embed of the presentation that was driving our discussions at the 2013 Connections Conference. 

We are grateful for the time that fellow conference presenter and educational media specialist Wes Fryer has taken to hear our story and share it among his connections. You can find the podcast he recorded with us after the conference here.