pandemic service learning

Service learning (during a pandemic)

This year, I am hearing that many teachers feel they aren’t practicing the kind of teaching they believe in as much as they are used to and want to. They are stretched thin with all of the protocols and decisions and shifting situations the pandemic brings. That personalized learning, and service learning, feel further away than ever. And believe me, I get it. I feel that too on a daily basis.

But like most things, small, doable, meaningful changes and steps can bring more purpose and connection to students at a time when they really need it. 

While I dream of lofty and large service learning projects, I know that this is likely not happening right now, at least not in the ways I have led them before, and written about them. As encompassing, integrated, field and community based projects. These, in large measure, aren’t really happening right now.

But what IS happening right now are ways students can use both their passions and interests to connect to others and create moments of meaning, purpose, and service.

Here are a few ideas for how to create these kinds of moments with our students. 

1. What is the pandemic version of a beloved service or connection experience for students?

For us? It was Reading Buddies. 

pandemic service learning


Reading buddies are older students reading with younger students.

This simple idea is quite profound.

One, it models a love of reading, reading skills and comprehension, and deep connection between younger and older students. Older students see themselves as leaders, as readers, and as important role models for younger students. This can reframe their relationship with reading and how they see themselves. 

Obviously, students can’t sit closely together around a picture book right now. So a tweak was first, older students making cards for younger students, then waving and introducing themselves in a whole class online meeting.

The younger students selected a stack of books they were interested in reading, and their teacher sent them down.

Next session, students did one-on-one hangout calls to read aloud to their younger buddies. My students spread out in the hallways and read book after book after book.

They were practicing reading fluency, oral communication skills, but more importantly, they felt purposeful and connected. And kindergarteners are just dang adorable. 

How could you tweak something that was already great in the before times for this moment?

Or, borrow this reading buddy idea! It is fairly simple to set up and organize!

2. Design a Weekly Connection Experience

We know everyone is feeling very isolated right now. We have winter. And we have this pandemic. And for many students, they are doing either some or all virtual learning.

Setting up a simple weekly connection activity for students to complete is one way to offer service and connection.

Ideally, this list of connection activities could be brainstormed at a morning meeting or during teacher advisory time. Weekly connection experiences are designed to connect students to purpose and meaning, but be very simple and doable.

Ideas include but are not limited to:

  • Everyone loves mail. Pick someone in your life to write a real life letter or card to. 
  • Create a playlist for someone. Develop a playlist for someone who you think really needs some theme or type of music in their lives. 
  • Create some art for a community or family member. Think about those living alone or in challenging situations. What can you create to uplift them? 
  • Perform something. Record yourself reading a poem, a story, doing a dance, playing a song, whatever! Send it along to community or family members who might feel good after seeing this. 

Students will need some support getting their creations where they need to go. They can also post these experiences right on Seesaw and their PLPs and tag transferable skills they are using. 

3. Try a Joy Project

Lastly, where have you found joy during this pandemic? Baking, playing the guitar, reading, knitting? Right now, we all need more joy. 

pandemic service learning

We released this idea early in the pandemic and I have started doing this with my students. This is a flexible way to help students discover their interests and use them to create a meaningful project. 

My students are just developing their inquiry questions and about to get feedback on them. This project can be facilitated remotely as well. 

This project can help shape and build the foundation for the PLP. Having students do Joy Projects and weekly connection activities could give them the experiences they need to create powerful PLPs and feel connected, positive, and purposeful in their work. 

What are ways you are helping students find purpose, meaning, and service in their communities during this time? I would love to hear your ideas!

What do you think?