Investigating service learning best practices: foundations for a whole-school program

POSTED: January 24, 2024 BY: LeeAnne Lavender,
Investigating service learning best practices: foundations for a whole-school program

The International School of Kenya (ISK) is modelling how to create community-wide understanding of curricular service learning to build a meaningful all-school program.

Service is an integral part of the ISK DNA and there has been a robust co-curricular service program at the school for decades; Director of Teaching and Learning, Ginny Prairie, who has  experience with curricular service learning at previous schools, is excited to extend that commitment to service into the PreK-12 curriculum.

The ISK Learning Leadership Team’s vision for this approach began in 2022/23 when she and a team at ISK crafted a definition for wellbeing on campus: “At ISK, wellbeing is equipping all learners with the knowledge and skills to navigate life’s challenges while feeling good on the inside, functioning well on the outside, and doing good for others.” The third component of this wellbeing statement, “doing good for others,” aligns beautifully with service learning, as do the overall mission, vision and Educational Aims at ISK.

This is an exciting example of how service learning can support a school’s leaders and educators in fulfilling its mission and vision in tangible ways.

Curricular service learning provides all stakeholders with:

  • Innovative, engaging and relevant approaches to teaching and learning (where knowledge and skills are transferred to concrete situations in local and global contexts)
  • A way to map service learning through the curriculum to create a cohesive and holistic experience for learners
  • Tools for deep listening, reflection and thoughtwork in relation to power, privilege, Western saviourism, and critical, inclusive approaches to service learning and community engagement
  • Data to evaluate how students are being impacted in relation to the school’s mission, vision and educational aims

In the fall of 2023/24, a Service Learning Committee was launched to investigate best practices in PreK-12 service learning programs and apply those to the ISK context to create recommendations for building a curricular program at the school. The committee is composed of educators from all divisions in the school, along with middle school principal Alexa Schmid who is chairing the committee.

I had the pleasure of being on campus at ISK for a week in October 2023 to work with the committee and meet with a number of stakeholders across all divisions, and I am supporting the work of the Service Learning Committee for the remainder of the year. Each month the committee meets to share progress in investigating aspects of service learning best practices, with the aim of creating a proposal for leaders in the spring of 2024.

The committee is investigating:

  • Reciprocal community partnerships
  • Exemplar service learning frameworks and models from other schools
  • Audit of existing community partnerships along with deep listening sessions with current partners
  • Student attitudes and motivations related to service & community engagement
  • Service learning stories & creating a strategic plan for sharing curricular service learning successes to enhance a school-wide culture
  • A case study involving a current co-curricular service experience called the Carbon Neutral Initiative to explore entry points and connections in the PreK-12 curriculum

The ISK approach is an excellent example and model of how to engage community members in growing an understanding of curricular service learning and an authentic, deep alignment with a school’s mission, vision and aims.

As the Service Learning Committee develops a PreK-12 proposal and strategic plan for curricular service learning at ISK, I will post additional stories in this space to show how this approach results in tangible outcomes for curricular service learning. Stay tuned!


#1 and #2: Photos from an all-staff session at ISK about wellness & service learning at ISK

#3: LeeAnne working with PreK teachers at ISK to explore how to maximize the impact of learning stories on Toddle.

#4: LeeAnne working with the ISK Advancement Office team to explore storytelling in relation to marketing, admissions and advancement.

#5: LeeAnne with ISK Director of Teaching and Learning Ginny Prairie and her husband Shane.

#6: LeeAnne working with grade 7 teacher Robin Willis and her drama students using deep listening strategies related to a cross-divisional storytelling experience with grade 2 students.

#7: High school students in the ISK Cooking Club gather ingredients and prepare to cook; sustainable food systems and a farm-to-table approach govern the club’s mission under the leadership of CAS coordinator Joyce Gacheke -Tall.

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