The importance of creating and sustaining reciprocal community partnerships for healthy service learning

POSTED: January 24, 2024Category: AISA Articles, NewsBY: Steve

Any school that has created a PreK-12 curricular service learning program, or that has a robust co-curricular service program, will have community partnerships that play a foundational role in direct service opportunities for students. Partners could be community organizations or groups, NGOs, local schools or maybe even small businesses or social enterprises.

Sometimes these partnerships are robust, inclusive, long-term and rich. They involve opportunities for students to learn from and with community partners, and for all stakeholders to develop an assets-based approach to sustainable community engagement and development. They foster empathy, intercultural understanding, deep listening and reflection, and increased social and civic awareness.

Sometimes, though, partnerships can fall short of this ideal. Because of busy schedules, lack of resources or understanding, or unclear communication, some partnerships can be superficial and short-term; in worst-case scenarios, these partnerships can actually entrench stereotypes and impede intercultural understanding. They can skirt reflection, a vital component of service learning and community engagement; this means students can exit a service experience with less understanding (or even incorrect understanding) of the root causes of local and global issues. They might even experience feelings of saviourism, unchecked privilege and greater separation from others who may have different life experiences and cultures.

We want to reduce (and ideally eliminate!) harm when we engage in community partnerships, so how can we do that in thoughtful, purposeful and inclusive ways? How can we collaborate with community partners to reach relevant and impactful outcomes? How can we foster true connections and genuine relationships with local community members? How can we support students in developing cultural competencies and an understanding of how inner well-being connects to sustainable action and service?

These are really important questions, and this spring AISA educators have an opportunity to engage in a professional learning deep dive course about “Reciprocal Community Partnerships”.

In this 6-week course, designed by Shei Ascencio and I, you’ll learn:

  • How to evaluate existing partnerships
  • How to create new reciprocal community partnerships
  • How to sustain inclusive partnerships over time
  • How to nurture student leadership and agency through community engagement
  • How to create school-wide approaches to community impact

You’ll have access to multiple examples of successful community partnerships, and you’ll hear from several expert educators and community partners. You’ll also obtain multiple resources we’ve created to support and guide your work with community partners.

Shei and I are really proud of this course. We are experienced service learning educators who have grappled with these challenges ourselves, and we’ve had countless conversations with other service learning, CAS and global citizenship coordinators about these questions and topics. We know that there is much work to be done in this area.

As a way to support AISA educators with this important work, a special cohort will be offered for AISA educators in the spring. The cohort will launch on March 30th and will be discounted $100 for AISA educators from member schools. The regular price for the course is $598 but for this AISA professional learning experience, it will be discounted to $498. In addition to the course content, we’ll host two Zoom calls so participants can network, share and learn together.

You can learn more about the course and register here. Also, if you have a group of educators from your school who would like to participate, every sixth educator registers for free. If this applies to you, send me an email and I’ll help you with registration.

I look forward to supporting your work as a service learning and global citizenship educator! If you have questions about joining this AISA group in March, please get in touch with me at 


LeeAnne Lavender
AISA Service Learning Program Coordinator

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