Equipping students to connect with others and develop the ability to listen and empathize with others is foundational in our service learning programs and experiences. This is the backbone of good, critical service learning that shapes our students’ understanding of the world and opens up complex layers of thinking about self, community, equity and belonging.
Often, we celebrate the action components of service learning. The action that students take to create positive and purposeful change in local and global communities tends to be the focus of the stories we share as students demonstrate what they learned and what they did during a service learning experience.
While it’s important and good to honour what students do as active global citizens engaged in applying curricular knowledge and skills to local and global community assets and needs, we need to spend more time celebrating the deep thought work and identity formation that is key to preparing students to take action.
In order for our students to take action in sustainable, open, inclusive and equitable ways, they need to spend time listening to community partners and others who are different from themselves. They need time to reflect deeply on what they have heard and learned, and to analyze their own sense of power and privilege in relation to others. They need the time and skills to unpack root causes of inequity and root causes of local and global issues. They need to know how to identify community assets and abundance that may look very different from what they see in their own communities.
The skills of deep listening can be taught when we create deliberate and purposeful experiences for our students to learn from and with community partners, and where we set up protocols for students to listen quietly and carefully to others. As you think about past, current or upcoming service learning experiences you may have planned or be planning, can you identify where you have carved out time for these types of settings for students?
The investigation stage of a service learning cycle is an excellent place to begin. As students engage with MISO (Media/Interviews/Surveys/Observations) action research, deep listening can take place in interviews with community members. Teachers can also schedule group interviews or listening sessions with community partners to augment MISO learning, and during the action stage, teachers can work with community partners to schedule purposeful listening/story circles so students have the opportunity to participate in thoughtful conversations and dialogue. During reflection, deep listening can also play a role as students share what they have learned and what questions they have about community assets and needs.
In all of these opportunities, students can cultivate genuine and deep empathy for others, to develop mindsets and dispositions that honour and celebrate others, and to grow the ability to think critically and carefully about the human experience from multiple perspectives.
There are several protocols available to help teachers plan for deep listening experiences with students to foster this type of learning. UNESCO has some excellent resources, as does Narrative 4.
As we work to deepen our service learning and global citizenship practices to a more critical level, the role of empathy through deep listening and community connections becomes foundational in everything we do.