The IB strongly believes in giving back to the community. For high school students, one aspect of this is Service Learning; and with the new year starting, a lot of said students are considering leading a group themselves.
The only problem is: how do you lead a Service Learning Group effectively?
As the student leader of “A Lending Hand” (a small group which supports children with autism) for three years, I can personally attest to the fact that running one of these groups can change your life. But to get the most out of it, you have to know what you’re doing. I’ve put together 11 helpful tricks that I wish I knew before I got started.
11. Have a group chat
According to the Pew Research Center, 95% of Americans now own a cellphone. This makes group chats extremely convenient for quick conversation.
“We use WhatsApp group chats so we can talk outside of service sessions,” explains Andrea I, the student leader of Amnesty International, which is a group focused on preventing human rights abuses.
You can create a group chat with apps such as Whatsapp or Skype, or simply by using SMS. Having chats allow you to be constantly in touch with the members of your Service Learning group, and as a result, allows you to become more organized and efficiently meet deadlines.
10. Outline your goals
Image source: Newfound Balance
During your first meeting, create effective goals that will guide you throughout the rest of the year, defining your Service Learning group.
Use the SMART goal template (above). Make sure that your goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely. This prevents unrealistic or vague goals which can hinder the cause in the future!
9. Have an agenda
A meeting agenda is, essentially, a list of things your group should accomplish during your session. It’s a great organizational tool because it allows for you to clearly understand what you want to accomplish for that meeting.
But something I’ve learned: The agenda should also be open to edits or additions by the rest of the team in order to maximize your group’s potential. Using a shared document is best for this.
Maria A. agrees, saying, “I always ask people [for input]– if they have any ideas for fundraisers or ways for us to raise awareness.” Maria is the student-leader of Mia’s Children, a Service Learning group supporting the association by the same name which seeks to help children in difficulty build better lives.
8. Make and keep deadlines
Deadlines can be difficult to keep up with when combined with school’s hectic schedule. In order to make this easy, set a deadline for your goal (such as a fundraiser, presentation, etc). Then, create small tasks your group needs to complete in order to reach that lager goal and assign them to all members.
In order to clearly organize deadlines, there are many methods. But one I find effective is creating a gantt chart (seen above)– a horizontal bar chart displaying a visual schedule. The easiest way to create one is in Excel, where you can find many templates.
7. Spread out the workload evenly among members
Make sure that you aren’t doing all the work on your own!
In order spread out the workload evenly, Maria explains, “We try to make sure that everyone is contributing equally by counting the number of events that people participated in.” She continues by saying, “But we needed some trial and error to discover that.”
6. Don’t waste time during Service Learning periods
Service Learning sessions are given as valuable time so that your group doesn’t feel burdened to complete all the work at home, so use this time. It’s your job to prevent procrastination during the sessions by keeping focused on the agenda.
If other members, however, are consistently not focused, talk to your supervisor; it’s their responsibility to solve the issue accordingly.
5. Don’t prioritize the group over school work
At the end of the day, homework should be prioritized over all non-academic activities (such as extracurriculars or Service Learning). Make certain that if you are unable to keep up with school work, use a chart or organizational system like the one above, to understand where your priorities lie.
Something that’s worked for me: numbering the things you have to do from 1 to 5– the smaller number should indicate urgency and typically be associated with class work.
4. Keep minutes
Minutes are written records created to document what a group does every meeting in order to jot down critical information. These are handy because you won’t forget important discussion points.
Assign one person from your group who is good at organization to take the minutes in whatever method they find effective. I would recommend keeping them on a Google Doc so everyone can see them.
3. Communicate with other Service Learning groups
Certain Service Learning groups aim to use their art form to help others. So, if you need publicity, why not ask Service Through Film to make an advertisement? Or, if you’re hosting a benefit concert, you could ask Service Through Music to perform.
2. Confidence is key to earning respect
Whether you’re pitching a fundraiser or introducing the meeting’s agenda, make sure that your aura screams confidence. Although this is easier said than done, through time, like many things, being a leader will become second nature.
In the meantime, make sure that your body language indicates that you truly care about the cause you’re trying to help, and instantly, respect will be built.
1. Care about the group
“I believe that people should only be in a Service Learning group if they are passionate about the specific cause,” explains Maria. “It is very important that we…understand that we are changing someone’s life.”
In fact, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs confirms this theory, stating that humans work hardest when we’re passionate, in order to achieve a positive end result. So, it makes sense to only create and lead a Service Learning group if you truly care about the cause.
**Thank you Maria A., Andrea I. and Margitha Hoffman for contributing to this article!