Cultivating a culture of service in schools


A sign some student volunteers placed on the lilikoi (yellow passionfruit) vine in the middle school garden. I think that this sums it up.

Is mandating volunteer work in the spirit of service?

This is an excellent question that I have been asked by my students. As an IB school, service is a key component in all of our curriculum programs – just like in many school systems. We ask our students to do a minimum of twenty hours of service per year. Actually, that’s not completely correct. We don’t ask, we make them do it, hence the question from students. I would love to find a better way.

The program itself attempts to promote a spirit of service, a sense of selflessness and joy at helping others in the community. Wouldn’t it be something if we could actually do this. One outcome of this ‘mandatory-volunteer’ service is that students do get an opportunity to experience different activities and it is surprising how often they stumble across an experience that makes a big impact on them, learning something about themselves.

We can’t change what people believe, however in schools, we have the responsibility of exposing students to an array of learning opportunities. In this sense, service is as much about the student learning, as it is about helping the community. If is wasn’t for the program, would the seeds of the spirit of service be planted? (Couldn’t help throwing in a gardening metaphor.) For this reason, we will ignore the mandatory-volunteer conundrum and continue to plant these seeds.


The pig with no name


The pig with no name

photo 1

Some neighbors

Perhaps, all schools should have a pig. Otherwise, how do we get a child to really understand that pepperoni doesn’t grow on trees?

In March 2014, a few lower school students hatched some eggs. They wanted to keep the chickens. The question was asked, ‘Can you build us a chicken coop?’ Well, we had space in our middle school garden. Easy. We collect lunch and they eat it. When they are six months old, they start laying eggs and we eat them. Everyone is happy.

Some time later, we happened upon a piglet (a small feral pig caught by some hunters). He joined us as well in the garden. It loves middle school lunch. The problem is that the pig doesn’t lay eggs. There have been many questions asked about the pig who has no name – no name as it will one day be large enough for the ‘imu’, the traditional Hawaiian underground oven. Everyone is not happy.

It has been an interesting experiment in how disconnected we become from our food sources. I have had students arguing that we should not eat the pig, while eating pepperoni pizza, not really making the connection. Should this worry us? Other students, while eating beef, saying that they like pigs, but not cows, a seemingly odd distinction. Perhaps this should worry us more? Very thought provoking lunch time conversation. I have mixed feelings now, and feel that it has been a good provocation to promote deeper thinking about where our food comes from and our place in the world as consumers. Interestingly, no vegetarians have voiced a concern and I wonder if it is because they have already considered the questions that the others are just being forced to ask through this experience.

The next addition to the garden will be a pepperoni tree.


Not enough time, mental energy or organization?

With the start of the new academic year, when we are trying to organize our school lives, we are all wondering how to get everything done. When it looks like we may not be making the progress we want, and we have all been there, we have a few aspects of our professional lives to potentially reflect on: time, mental energy or organization. Which one do we choose and why?

Time: It would seem that a common first reaction is ‘time’ and I would suggest that this is because, of the three, this one is the most removed from self. The fact that we don’t have time is conveniently due to someone else, and the demands they make on us and our time. Although this is part of the problem, an exclusive focus on time leaves us as mere victims.

Mental Energy: This can’t be ignored. How many afternoons have we found a spare half hour, but have been unproductive having left  a job that needed full concentration to this time slot, while we did a routine job in the morning, when we could have managed it easily? Imagine if we had a full reserve, being able to focus and concentrate all day. Imagine what we would get done. Unfortunately we don’t.  In this sense, time is not fixed in terms of productivity. Some minutes are ‘longer’ than others in terms of productivity. Use the long minutes wisely. This is more about self, a useful question for reflection.

Self-organization: When we are not getting things done, how often do we take stock of our own personal organization. This is all about self. We have the power to make the changes here. Perhaps this is the reason why it is often overlooked – when it is so tempting to fixate on time, making productivity someone else’s problem. 

My advice would be to consider all three of these ideas when you can’t seem to get everything done, and doubt the depth of your own reflection if you use time as the sole consideration – it’s always a combination.