Facilitators of service-learning are educators who manage constantly shifting ground. They take complex, involved learning experiences, and help mediate student growth and community development. This is no easy task, and in some ways it parallels the work of conflict mediation.
Service-learning, much like conflict mediation, is personal. John Paul Lederach has written about the relevance of personal processes in peace-building, and the necessity of using deep intuition and self-insight as a guide to the work. This is a process that is highly creative and imaginative, one that must be nurtured in order to gain an integrated understanding of our experiences. Harvesting this sort of moral creativity consists of “the capacity to imagine something rooted in the challenges of the real world, yet capable of giving birth to that which does not yet exist.” Constructive social change, as well as personal growth and development, are each connected to our willingness to see beyond what is directly in front of us.
Peace-building and conflict mediation share three primary concepts with service-learning: fostering relationships and dialogue; enhancing moral reasoning in individuals; and incorporating personal narratives into the learning process. As practitioners who are engaging students in complicated experiential material, it is helpful to investigate these similarities a bit closer.
Further Reading: 4 Outcomes of Transformative Learning and How to Achieve Them
1) Relationship-building and Dialogue
Practitioners of conflict resolution seek to understand how connected our individual processes are with the creation of communities in which people collaborate and work towards common goals. This form of networking is very personal, and involves building and maintaining relationships in deep ways. Relationships, especially in the realm of peace-building and international service-learning, require a tenderness and intuitiveness that will strengthen community connections through potentially frustrating or challenging moments.
The cornerstone of creating good relationships is knowing how to dialogue. This means understanding the role of reflection in relationship-building and communication, as well as enhancing facilitator capacities to do so. Relationship-building is also tied to the potential for transformative learning, as those experiential processes derive meaning from real-world interactions. By maximizing these relationships, we then open our students up to richer opportunities for growth.
Further reading: Defining Critical Reflection
2) Enhancing Moral Reasoning
Both conflict mediation and facilitation of service-learning incorporate elements of reflection in order to foster an openness for vulnerability, ethical challenges and resolutions, and ultimately individual growth. Facilitators of both strive to challenge individuals by asking questions, and by digging deep into our capacities to understand our values, beliefs, and morals in relation to a community.
Martha Nussbaum has described the reflection process as developing an understanding of one’s individual potential in the midst of “the human condition,” through learning that is rooted in the real. Reflection is a significant part of international service-learning because it provides students with more self-awareness, the capacity to think critically, and the ability for moral reasoning. Nussbaum has also written about the tendency traditional systems of education have of stunting our “moral imaginations,” or the ways in which students navigate and design their own ways of learning and doing in sometimes complex ethical situations.
3) Incorporating Personal Narratives
Personal narratives are integral to our methods of deriving meaning from our experiences. These stories catalyze the process of our transformative learning by connecting past, present, and future into a meaningful story-line through which we learn. Ideally these give us healthy narrative lenses from which we make informed future decisions and actions. We also derive parts of our identity from our personal stories, and can find unity and community through shared stories, or shared human histories. This is both useful for conflict mediation, as well as service-learning. Quality facilitators recognize the power of personal narratives in shaping complex experiences to create richer avenues for community-building as well as for transformative learning.
Further Reading: Understanding David Kolb’s Experiential Theory of Learning
International service-learning provides opportunities for discovery and the potential for new understandings. Much like with conflict mediation and peace-building, this involves a deep exploration of human stories, emotions, behaviors, and psychological processes.
These relational concepts can help guide practitioners in making informed decisions during dynamic moments in experiential learning. Because service-learning is built upon concepts of partnerships and individual relationships, knowing how to act and react in sometimes confounding, complicated, and personal situations, is a necessary component of the pedagogy.
For even further reading, please see:
Lederach, P. (2005). The moral imagination: The art and soul of building peace. New York, New York: Oxford University Press
Nussbaum, M. (1996). For love of country? Boston, Massachusetts: Beacon Press
Singer, J. A. (2004). Narrative identity and meaning making across the adult lifespan: An introduction. Journal of Personality, 72(3), 437-460
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