By Amy Meuers, NYLC CEO

Service-learning is an approach to teaching and learning where students use academic and civic knowledge and skills to address a genuine community need. When service-learning is used in or outside the classroom, it provides ample opportunities for young people to share their voices and experiences while addressing a genuine community need. There are many ways you can support youth voice within quality service-learning instruction. 

Here’s our top 10 list to get you started!

    1. Create a safe and inclusive environment: Encourage a space that supports respect for each other and community by encouraging an open dialogue among students. Create group norms and discuss how you will hold each other accountable to those norms.
    2. Actively listen: Demonstrate active listening by giving students your full attention when they speak. Encourage everyone to share their thoughts and ideas without interruption and support them in validating each other’s perspectives and contributions through reflection.
    3. Incorporate choice and autonomy: Support opportunities for students to make choices within the service-learning process. Encourage them to identify community partners, community assets, service opportunities, and more. Empower ownership of the process through contribution.
    4. Encourage reflection: Provide structured reflection activities that allow students to critically analyze their experiences and connect them to their own lives. Help them explore the implications of their actions and encourage them to think deeply about their service-learning journey.
    5. Foster meaningful dialogue: Facilitate discussions that encourage students to engage in thoughtful conversations about social issues, community needs, and the impact of their service. Encourage diverse perspectives and create a supportive environment for students to challenge and learn from one another and from the community.
    6. Create space for student leadership: Provide opportunities for students to take on leadership roles within the service-learning experience. Encourage them to develop and implement their own ideas, initiatives, or events. Leadership can promote a sense of agency and responsibility for students.
    7. Amplify youth voice: Actively seek and value the perspectives of young people. Create platforms for students to share their insights, experiences, and ideas with a broader audience, such as through presentations, panel discussions, podcasts, or publications. Celebrate and showcase their work.
    8. Foster collaboration and teamwork: Promote collaborative learning experiences where students work together towards a shared goal. Encourage teamwork, active participation, and the exchange of ideas. Create group activities that foster cooperation and shared decision-making.
    9. Provide ongoing feedback: Regularly provide constructive feedback to students during their service-learning experience. Offer guidance and support to help them develop their skills and achieve their goals. Celebrate their accomplishments and acknowledge their growth.
    10. Be flexible: Continuously seek feedback from students regarding their experiences, challenges, and suggestions for improvement. Use their input to refine and adapt your service-learning instruction. Involve them in the decision-making process and demonstrate a willingness to learn and adjust based on their needs.

Supporting youth voice in service-learning instruction involves actively valuing and incorporating student perspectives, promoting agency, and creating opportunities for meaningful engagement. By doing so, you empower young people to become active contributors to their communities and agents of positive change!

Want to hear real life stories of students who were given the space to be leaders and use their voice? Check out The Power of Young People podcast, where we talk to students from around the world who are using their skills to make change!

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