Context Guidelines
Core Questions for the Contextual Guidelines

What are the environmental factors that are necessary to support high quality service-learning and professional development?


Core Question: What are the environmental factors that are necessary to support high quality service-learning professional development?

Service-learning professional development does not exist as an island onto itself. Everywhere you find professional development activities, they will be surrounded and influenced by a larger environment that can either help or hinder the intended outcomes.

The Context Guidelines identify five systemic factors that are critical for successful service-learning professional development. These represent the big picture leadership issues that create the backdrop for any professional development effort. When present, they will exponentially increase the power of service-learning professional development. When absent, it will be difficult to facilitate deep organizational learning and change.

While it is easy to focus only on professional development activities themselves (e.g. workshops, coaching, teacher observation), these efforts will fail if they exist within a larger environment that ignores, dismisses, or interferes with the efforts. If you place a good person in a bad system, the system will win every time!

Context Guidelines

Professional development that fosters quality service-learning practice:

  1. depends on skilled organizational leadership from all stakeholder groups to demonstrate a commitment to service-learning growth, excellence and sustainability. (Leadership and Advocacy)
  2. is built on a culture of learning and collegiality that extends beyond the school walls to include community partners. (Culture)
  3. relies on formal systems of encouragement, support, rewards, continuous improvement and accountability. (Policy)
  4. connects and aligns its goals and objectives to the school or organization's larger purposes, priorities, improvement strategies and accountability systems. (Purpose)
  5. requires resources to support ongoing adult learning and collaboration. (Resources)

These Context Guidelines, while critical, can be difficult to achieve. Those that are responsible for service-learning professional development will need to be not only skilled facilitators, but bold activists. Harvard researcher Richard Elmore notes the challenge of creating the right environment:

When you begin to describe the organizational conditions under which professional development actually contributes to instructional capacity in schools, you begin to describe an organization as it rarely exists. Such an organization would only require teachers to learn new skills and knowledge if it were prepared to support their practice of these schools in real classrooms….It would be an organization that offered consistent messages to principals, teachers, and students about what goals are most important and what resources are available to support the work of meeting them. (Source: Richard Elmore Bridging the gap between standards and achievement. 2002, p. 25. Washington D.C.: Albert Shanker Institute