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Growing Together – Community Partnerships at Woodleigh School

At Woodleigh, we expect that students will take increasing responsibility for themselves as they grow. We believe that every child can be a compassionate and active contributor to society and make the world a better place. More than this, Woodleigh students should be prepared to play a role in contributing to social justice globally. We aim to develop young people who embody their values and understandings and act upon them both at school and beyond.

Effective character education is not achieved through a series of isolated interventions but rather a sustained and ingrained approach to teaching and learning. Character education is enhanced and brought to life through planned, integrated projects, experiences and adventures within the schooling experience.

The principal objective of Woodleigh's Community Partnerships Program is to add breadth, depth and enrichment to our young people's experience – and to share these experiences with our outside partners. Of critical importance is that these programs empower students to feel that they can make a difference and leave a positive legacy that enriches the lives of others.

Woodleigh's Community Partnership Program aims to challenge young people to engage in authentic experiences that strengthen our communities while embedding the 3Rs – Respect for Self, Respect for Others and Respect for The Environment. It is not about saving people; it comes from the heart. It is about two-way learning, solid connections and long-lasting relationships.

Woodleigh's Community Partnerships Program aims to:

Provide practical opportunities for learning which develop initiative and perseverance, enabling students to experience how they can make a difference within our community.

  • Offer genuine experiences that will require courage, generosity, imagination and resolve.
  • Deliver authentic experiences that demonstrate the importance of service to others.
  • Facilitate learning opportunities that enable students to listen to community partners' wants and needs – allowing partnerships to co-develop long-term, sustainable projects and tackle relevant and important issues.
  • Avoid tokenism or creating beliefs of superiority, and challenge students' thinking.
  • Promote the opportunity to foster understanding, goodwill, respect and friendship between individuals.

The Background

Kurt Hahn has, both directly and indirectly, impacted our Community Partnerships philosophy and practice. His approach to learning influenced Michael Norman's thinking around many aspects of school life, especially linking academic curricula, activities, and involvement with broader community life.

Community Partnerships align with Round Square and the International Baccalaureate (IB) framework. Round Square schools share a commitment to character education and experiential learning built around six IDEALS – International Understanding, Democracy, Environmental Stewardship, Adventure, Leadership and Service. This international schools network promotes values-based education, which explores personal qualities, attitudes, personality and strength of character.

These evolve through experiences, real-world learning and periods of reflection. Round Square experiences can instil a passion for lifelong learning and provide the 'noise filter' necessary for students to develop higher-order thinking skills, both of which are essential for the constantly connected, communication-rich i-Generation. The Round Square community cares passionately about the future of our world and educating students on the variety of cultures and communities it supports. It aims to create communities that thrive and prosper and care about each other in mutual cooperation. To achieve this, we need courageous and compassionate world leaders who are prepared to discover and embrace different cultures in ways that promote meaningful understanding and respect.

Today's students are the next generation of leaders. Education plays a pivotal role in shaping how our young people understand, prepare for, and respond to the world's challenges both today and in the future. Ultimately, students should understand that whatever field of work or career they enter, they can make a positive difference in the world. They don't have to wear a backpack and hiking boots to experience adventure. They don't have to be a doctor to save lives. They don't have to go on a community service project to help a community in need. They don't have to run a charity to be a compassionate leader.

Hahn was a key architect of the philosophy, structure, and content of the IB and the founding father of both Outward Bound and The Duke of Edinburgh's Award. Indeed, his theory of Outward Bound inspired the Creativity, Activity, Service element of the IB Diploma, most notably a sense of compassion through service.

IB learners strive to be caring members of the community who demonstrate a commitment to service – making a positive difference to the lives of others and the environment. Service as action is an integral part of each IB programme. In alignment with the International Baccalaureate (IB) Learner Profile, all members of the Woodleigh School Community are encouraged to be:

  • Inquirers, by nurturing curiosity and a lifelong enjoyment of learning.
  • Knowledgeable, by developing conceptual understanding across a range of disciplines.
  • Thinkers, by applying thinking skills critically and creatively.
  • Communicators, by expressing ideas confidently, listening carefully and collaborating effectively.
  • Principled, by acting with integrity and honesty, a strong sense of fairness and justice, and respect for people's dignity and rights everywhere.
  • Open-minded, seeking and evaluating a range of viewpoints, and showing a willingness to grow from this experience.
  • Caring, by showing empathy, compassion, and respect to make a positive difference in the lives of others and the world around us.
  • Risk-Takers, by approaching challenge and change with courage, determination, resourcefulness and resilience.
  • Balanced, by understanding the importance of intellectual, physical and emotional balance in achieving personal wellbeing in our lives.
  • Reflective, by thoughtfully considering our ideas and experiences, strengths and challenges to nurture our growth as learners and people.

When compared to more traditional classroom learning, service learning does not fall short. If anything, it shines. In a survey of 4000 students (all involved in service programs), 75 per cent reported learning 'more' or 'much more' through their service than through their regular classes (Conrad and Hedlin, 1991). More recent educational research is singing the praises of allowing students to work for 'real audiences'. Service activities are a wonderful expression of this. Generally, service is performed both with and for other people, and in this way, it fuels learning and develops a student's sense of educational competence. The experiential component and the importance of applying content and skills in a real-world environment for real-world benefits lead to tangible improvements in student outcomes and increased motivation to learn. (Kaye 2010)

The MYP IB Inquiry Learning Cycle

The System of Service Learning

Building on the MYP Learning cycle, the stages of service learning that Kaye proposes are valuable to add rigour to the entire process. If we imagine that the skills and knowledge we aim to impart in our students as the ingredients, then the six stages are the recipe. These stages constitute a key to students' effectiveness and are critical to learning transferable skills and content. Even though each stage is referenced separately, they are linked and often experienced simultaneously.

  1. Awareness, Inventory and Investigation (What is the need?)
    1. Begin with a personal inventory:

i. Interests
ii. Skills
iii. Talents
iv. What is the need
v. Analyse the community problem
vi. Start to gather partners

2. Preparation and Planning (What is the plan for accomplishing this service? What are the roles? Responsibilities? A timeline? Resources needed?)

    1. Find a partner (in school, at home, local, regional, international)
    2. Is anyone doing work on this already? Make contact!
    3. Make calls, contacts
    4. Design a way to monitor your progress (what is the need, what changes have been made, what other changes have taken place, describe the evidence of your progress, provide a summary of your findings).

3. Action (Carry out the plan through direct or indirect service, working individually, with partners, or in a group).

    1. Letter writing
    2. Excursions
    3. Research projects
    4. Events
    5. Crafts
    6. Fundraisers
    7. Tutoring sessions
    8. Awareness campaigns
    9. Various service projects

4. Reflection (What did I learn? What benefits did my service provide? How did I feel during the service cycle? What difference did this make?)

    1. This should take place at many stages, not just the end. It is too late then!
    2. Recheck, redesign, change, improve.
    3. Think about what you learned; feel better about your work.

Students can reflect on their experiences with:

  • Group discussions
  • Journal entries
  • Worksheets
  • Essays
  • Blog posts
  • Videos
  • Poems or songs
  • Visual art submissions

5. Demonstration This can lead to more questions but may include:

    1. Final presentations (parents, Assemblies, external audience)
    2. Newsletter articles
    3. Videos
    4. Graphs or charts
    5. Books or portfolios

6. Celebration

This may include:

    1. Making thank-you cards or gifts for peers and community partners
    2. Being recognised at the next school assembly or on social media
    3. Discussing the impact their efforts have made

This shows the stages of learning, the many different skills used, and evidence that the experience matters. It can inspire other people to take action and helps students understand that they can do this again at another time, in another subject or facet of their life.

The Sustainable Development Goals

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also known as the Global Goals, were adopted by the United Nations in 2015 as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that by 2030 all people enjoy peace and prosperity.

The 17 SDGs are integrated – they recognise that action in one area will affect outcomes in others and that development must balance social, economic and environmental sustainability.

The 17 SDG's are a handy tool to assist students in exploring or developing their interest in these areas, especially during the initial stages mentioned above.

Wellbeing and Engagement

Numerous studies have recorded increased personal happiness, life satisfaction, hopefulness, open-mindedness, self-esteem, and connectedness due to involvement in service activities. Key elements of service programs (such as positive relationships with adults, opportunities to develop social competence, and involvement in a local community) are cited as influential protective factors for young people. Recent Australian studies have demonstrated a correlation between service activity and reduced rates of depression, isolation, mental disorders, psychological stress and (in some cases) even physical health conditions (Berry, 2007). It is proven that adolescents need to contribute to society and, by doing so, can safeguard against anxiety and depression (Johnson, 2020). These activities must have personal meaning rather than serving as padding for university applications (Scientific American 2021). While people impacted by misfortune benefit from the support of volunteers, evidence indicates that volunteers also benefit from their service.

First and foremost, engaging with and building Community Partnerships is an excellent way to make a connection. They connect our students, school and others in our local communities to better mental wellbeing or potential pathways to employment (Volunteering Australia, 2021). Research confirms (Beyond Blue, 2017) the inextricable link between connectedness and good mental health. Indeed, as social distancing and isolation became our new norm, the value we place on connectedness has increased.

Definition

Connected with the IB creativity, activity, service approach, Community Partnerships can be defined as an unpaid and voluntary relationship that has a learning benefit for our students and our community partner. The rights, dignity and autonomy of all those involved are respected.

Cathryn Berger Kaye (2010) encompasses Woodleigh's aspirations in her statement: (It) "connects school‐based curriculum with the inherent caring and concern young people have for their world – whether on their school campus, at a local food bank, or in a distant rain forest. The results are memorable, lifelong lessons for students and foster a stronger society for us all."

A Commitment to Connection

A commitment to the philosophy of building connections is part of Woodleigh's culture. We strive to spread the excitement and inspire the engagement that leads right back to the classroom integration of service learning. A key feature is an expectation that all students will engage with local and broader communities through voluntary service activities. It is very much a distinguishing feature at Woodleigh that the needs of our community partners guide the actions within these programs.

By defining and promoting this spirit of service, we encourage responsible social action based on a deep understanding of challenges, and issues faced by individuals and communities in need of support throughout the world. At Woodleigh, we offer programs and projects (both individually and collaboratively) that engage students and role-model positive, sustainable, community partnerships locally and further afield.

The connections listed below provide a glimpse into the raft of opportunities at our school. However, it is important to remember, the purpose and magic lie beyond the programs themselves. We must look beyond the 'doing' of volunteering, mentoring, charity, community engagement and fundraising and see the 'being' within our students. By engaging with service, we instil in our students a culture of teamwork, transcultural understanding, and knowledge of world issues – fostering compassion, empathy and creativity in our community.

GARETH BOLCH
Deputy Principal – Community, Culture and Student Experiences