Making Sustainability and Service-Learning Mesh in the Classroom


Natalie currently teaches a second and third grade combination in Burlington, Vermont. She previously taught as a math Title I educator at Edmunds Middle School and in the second grade at Edmunds Elementary School, both located in Burlington, Vermont. Natalie originally graduated from Saint Michael’s College (SMC) with a Business Degree. Knowing that her real passion in life was education, she subsequently returned to SMC to do graduate work and her Elementary Teaching Licensure. Natalie feels very fortunate to be in Burlington where there is a richness of experience and diversity of background contained in the student population. Natalie is an alumnus of CWI’s Summer EAST Institute on Service-Learning.

A major theme of sustainability is improving the quality of life for all. One way in which my classroom is going to improve the quality of life for all is through a service-learning project that I planned during my time at CWI’s Summer EAST Institute on Service-Learning. The project I have designed aligns with the first history unit I will be delivering, “North Street Then and Now.” Over the course of the unit students will learn about the history of North Street, the street on which their school is located. North Street is located in Burlington’s North End, an area with rich cultural diversity and history but also traditionally an economically challenged area of the city.

I am a 2nd and 3rd grade teacher at the Sustainability Academy in Burlington, Vermont. The Sustainability Academy is the nation’s first K-5 magnet school with a sustainability theme. The Sustainability Academy is one of a kind in that sustainability is integrated into our curriculum, campus practices and culture.

At our school, we engage young citizens to make a difference in the community by exploring our diverse society, our local economy and the environment through hands-on projects. Sustainability is a shared responsibility for improving quality of life for all, economically, socially and environmentally, now and for future generations. Every day students experience the theme of sustainability. Students explore their community, learn about food and nutrition by visiting local farms and gardens, help build a school garden, compost in the classroom and cafeteria, recycle and eat locally grown food. Continue reading

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The Essence of Social Learning: From Classroom to Community


I began my teaching career as an outdoor educator, leading and engaging small groups in hands-on, community-building activities. After working with a group of kids for just one week at a time, some of them gave me thank-you letters that told me I changed their lives. Many of these kids had never spent a week away from home or walked in the woods at night or held a squirming salamander. Their boundaries had been pushed, but in a safe place, and they had become stronger for it.

After working as a teacher-naturalist for a couple of years, I decided to go to graduate school and hone my skills in the classroom. My first assignment as a student-teacher was in a traditional middle school in a poor, rural community. After working in the woods with lots of creative freedom, I knew the move to the classroom would be somewhat rocky. But the transition wasn’t merely difficult, it was downright shocking. Continue reading

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Motivating and Engaging Our Students Through Service


Nicole is the Service-Learning and CAS coordinator at the American School of the Hague in the Netherlands. She is an alumnus of CWI’s Summer Institute on Service-Learning.

Since the week I spent at CWI’s Summer Institute in the picturesque and ever so inspiring setting of Vermont, I have reflected much more about place as the context and service-learning as the approach to (further) develop sustainable communities. The Institute was ideal in order to get a dose of ‘nature therapy’ and work collaboratively with a mix of professionals across the education community spectrum. We were all able to effectively mesh our service-learning frame of reference with each other in order to help create a ‘bigger picture’.

During the institute, I also experienced the importance of working professionally with ‘study group’ networks. Each member was given the opportunity to air a challenge that he/she faced and receive constructive feedback from the other members. What I found, (which I did not initially expect but which now seems obvious to me), was that it was just as beneficial to receive the feedback as it was to offer it to each member of the group. I made the connection that feeling that your input is valued is somewhat similar to how students feel while working collaboratively with others on service-learning initiatives. Suggesting ideas to explore, offering comments or possible solutions, sharing personal experiences, or asking more questions to gain a better perspective helps us get or stay invested. This team approach keeps us focused, invigorated, intrinsically motivated and energized, just as our students feel when they are involved in meaningful and worthwhile service-learning experiences. Continue reading

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Educators Finding Power in Collaboration and Mutual Support


With CWI’s annual Summer Institutes on Service-Learning and Sustainability now well into their third decade, we’ve been privileged to share the work with educators from an incredibly diverse set of experiences and backgrounds.

Most teachers or administrators can’t afford the “luxury” of networking with peers if real planning is not taking place. CWI’s Summer Institutes provide a way for both needs to be accomplished in a powerful design lab atmosphere. In the words of Abbie Andrews, a CWI alum and French teacher from New Hampshire, “The Institute reaffirmed my hope that there really are people and organizations out there that are not simply idealistically chipping away at insurmountable challenges to “save the world; they are methodically, carefully, thoughtfully planning and implementing ways that our communities and environments can survive and sustain. It wasn’t just ideas, it was action.”

We’ve all struggled sometimes to bring tight focus and real action to our pedagogical beliefs and goals—goals that in the right setting ring clear as a bell but are often infinitely harder to work out back “home” when reality sets in at our respective schools. We do our best work when we have the power of supportive colleagues to amplify and ground the significance of what we truly wish to be about as educators. And we do our best thinking, learning, and planning work when we are collectively focused on creating a plan of action that actually works—surrounded by colleagues who share our vision and are ready to help us put our vision into practice. That, in essence is what CWI’s Summer Institutes are all about. The Summer Institutes represent a unique opportunity to create real and powerful projects, programs, and curriculum in a safe and supportive atmosphere of supportive colleagues. Colleagues with experience who are equally invested in our success—real projects that work in the real world that we teach in, this is what we are collectively about.

After three decades now, we also know that there are a vast number of educators out there who want and need to be connected to something larger than themselves and know that this will invaluably support their work with students. Join us this summer, in Los Angeles or Vermont. Your colleagues are waiting for you. learn moreregister now

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Finding and Working with Like-Minded Educators


A clear awareness of the need for connection and community-building within the teaching profession led to the launching of Community Works Journal in the mid 1990’s, as a way to create connections and bring community focused teaching to a wide audience of like-minded educators.

The response has been extremely heartening, with the Journal now reaching hundreds of thousands of educators around the world. Feedback from our educator readers led us to create intentional and active opportunities for teachers to support each other. CWI’s acclaimed Summer Institutes on Place Based Service-Learning being one important opportunity.

“The thinking on my own is possible because of opportunities to run intellectually deep in the company of others….”

— CWI Summer Institute Participant

With a dramatic increase in interest by schools in using Place Based Service-Learning and Sustainability, educators from across Canada were loudly passionate about focusing learning on their local community, at an extended regional CWI Institute and training.

Since 1995, we have seen thousands of teachers from nearly every U.S. state attend our CWI Summer Institutes, along with educators from many international schools.

Educators have thrived in these collaborative design based professional development experiences, taking their passion and learning back home with the tools, skills, and confidence to deepen and broaden their local programs. Continue reading

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Finding the Whole Child in Education Reform


Big challenges lie ahead — fixing the economy so that it more equitably serves everyone, not just those with the wealth and power; rebuilding democracy so that it is no longer hijacked by lobbyists and corporations; and redirecting cultural life away from decadent diversions and violence but toward higher purpose. Addressing these and other challenges like global warming will demand more than competent workers and participating citizens. It will demand people with a broader vision and a higher and evolving humanity.

An excellent article not long ago in Community Works Journal by Hector Vila addresses this demand from the point of view of teachers and their responsibilities within the broader culture. In what follows I use a different perspective that I believe complements what Dr. Vila had to say.

Think about those, now children, who will be called upon one day to supply solutions in these three spheres. The problems are daunting and will take decades to resolve, but don’t we owe it to those who are now young and in our charge to equip them to handle the world we leave in their care? We can begin immediately to instill the qualities needed to create a new vision and a vibrant society.

How can this be accomplished? Continue reading

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The Bat Cave: Accessing the Deeper with Our Students


Dr. Stuart Grauer is a teacher, the founding Head of School at The Grauer School, and Founder of The Small Schools Coalition.

Sean Preci’s winning high school surf team set out for the coral reef breaks and sandbars of Panama’s Bocos del Toro archipelago, but even the sunniest trip has its shadow side, it’s Inferno… as Dante cast it, “Midway along the journey” our surfers found themselves drawn to such a place, “where the straightforward pathway had been lost:” The bat cave of Bocos.

Luke, class of ’17, not completely with a straight face, has asked me to tell about this place and so here is an accounting, in three cantos.

I. “It seems to me I am trying to tell you a dream.” — Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness

There was a dull, rhythmic flutter and I could not discern if this was sound or feeling. The ceiling fan came into subconsciousness and I lay still, resisting wakefulness, as a throbbing in my right knee actuated a vision of a slick, dark rock face. The close-up pans out into the wide angle. The Caribbean. The jungle. The day before.

Rutilio Milton, an indigenous Ngöbe, is steering our panga along the mangroves along Bastiementos Island, making our way to the river mouth, and the mangroves are getting thicker, the transition to the wild. We pass a tiny dock and out front a father and son hold the corners of a tablecloth, sliding an edge into the water and pulling up on both ends, then sliding out sardines into an aluminum pot. Soon we approach a tiny brown clearing, and a dark bird with tail dipped in yellow flies over and perches, making a loony call from another world. Rutilio calls it an Oropendola. Our boat draws into the mouth of the winding cabrada, the stream, and is swallowed. The canopy thickens overhead and presently there are echoey sounds and heavy air. The panga slows, all the students’ eyes circling, adjusting to the darkening. Juan Diego is saying, “My friends tell me private school is sheltered and I try to explain things like this, and they can never understand.” Two white-faced monkeys hang above us in a tree like emperors of the branches. Continue reading

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Support Your School Service Program with On-Site Professional Development

We Support Local Schools and Community Organizations
Since 1995, Community Works Institute (CWI) has worked with school and community educators — across the U.S. and internationally — in support of building teaching practices that connect K-16 students and curriculum to their local community and the world. Since 1995, we have worked closely with thousands of educators from nearly every context and geography, large and small, public and independent — from Manhattan to Los Angeles, and from Warsaw to China. testimonials

We guide powerful training and collaborative planning experiences for school and organizational faculty, working with local teachers and administrators to craft a customized training specific to local context and needs.

Our support for schools focuses on helping educators integrate place based service-learning, and sustainability within the curriculum, as a central part of every student’s K-16 experience. Service-learning is associated with higher student engagement and achievement, improved school climate, and greater teacher effectiveness.

We Support Educators by:
• Providing high quality training, consulting, and professional coaching;
• Offering annual open enrollment
Summer Institutes;
• Showcasing resources and curriculum examples that work;
• Publishing and sharing teacher created work;
• Connecting practitioners in the field.

Continue reading

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Teaching to the Personal through Community Focused Learning


Sifting through themes that revolve around creating and supporting educational experiences that build community and foster meaningful learning, it’s connecting school work to a larger purpose, to the self, to experience that resonates. As it was “then” is how it is now and many of us remember our own school experiences as not so different, regardless of decade. But there ARE schools and teachers working to change the paradigm.

Most teachers, parents, and communities DO support students experiencing school as an early act of civic participation—especially if that participation is directly connected to academic learning. And, they DO value the local in learning, especially when they understand the effect. Service-Learning as a teaching strategy is a most direct way to achieve this.

(Interviewing community elders is one of the most obvious examples, among many. Pictured above “The Great Migration Documentation Project”) Continue reading

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Why We Should Embrace Personal Stories in Our Teaching


It seems that maturing the human heart depends on developing our insight into other people’s situations; their challenges, sensitivities and talents.

A reasonable hypothesis is that our most fundamental values are motivated by our drive to serve all living systems. This perspective and the healing actions flowing from it are a core instinct for the healthy development of humanity. The quality of our lives, and even our survival, calls upon us to live in intimate appreciation, humility and empathy — empathy for others and for ourselves.

From TED Talks to This American Life and Story Corps, telling our personal stories creates a deep understanding of the person who has lived through the details of their story — from difficult circumstances, temptations and dangers, to redemption by living with struggle, courage, patience, friendship, grace, and transcendence — to name some strategies for traveling the path to personal growth through authentic problem solving.

Oprah, when speaking about her work as a storyteller, begins by saying that she views all of her work as being in-service. Perhaps this realization of living a life in-service is the guiding principle when our hearts speak. Continue reading

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