Teaching service as action in a changing world


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Middle Years Programme (MYP) educator Novadene Miller shares two incredible service as action projects and why they are fundamental in an ever-changing world.

Art project on gender equality
By Novadene Miller 

We live in a time shaped by globalization, paradigms of sustainable development and ethical frameworks that are redefined each day. As teachers, we are challenged to consider how we embrace personified identity in action projects while confronting the threats, challenges and mixed voices that characterize this time. Action is a fundamental need and breath of fresh air in this time of constant change. 

As the teacher of service as action, I think it is essential to understand the role we play in carving the pattern of our student’s actions and guiding the footprints they leave for the upcoming generation. 

Recently, I was in class and a student said that doing service as action was enriching. Today, we live in a world in which the way we serve is being redefined each day. COVID-19 (Coronavirus) has highlighted the urgency to be a standing gap in parallel with protecting student’s physical and mental health and enlarging the capacity to serve wider communities. 

This year, teachers were faced with increasing challenges to communicate while respecting social distancing protocols and keeping students safe without stifling their creativity. 

Redefining our communication methods and ways to conduct workshops  

A group of MYP four and five students decided to do a project on gender equality, with a focus on communicating their message (using horizontal and vertical learning techniques) to elementary school students during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

They wanted to share this important message in a fun and understandable way. Rather than preparing a traditional presentation, they searched for artistic representations of gender equality. They then presented these artistic images and used thinking pathway structured inquiry techniques to solicit questions from the elementary school students. They also looked for clipping and titles from current magazines and newspapers and cut them out. Finally, they led a workshop activity whereby the elementary school students recreated their own idea of gender equality by choosing from the collection of titles clipped out and creating their own illustration of the message they received. 

Then, the MYP four and five students took the image created and added paint with glitter and other artistic tools to add a final touch to the images. This layered thought and interpretive process led to an eclectic mirage of images and allowed students to show their communication and reflection on thinking skills. At the end of the project, I asked my students to share their views on the process and they enjoyed seeing how the elementary students interpreted their ideas and felt a sense of pride in seeing how engaged they were. A clear sense of community was built whilst communicating a powerful message and building their sense of leadership. 

Fostering a sense of community for students with inclusive needs  

In light of COVID-19, our fundraising methods needed to be revamped. We had to minimize grouping and maximize our capacity to collects funds to support projects that would reach the wider community and leave a lasting impact. 

The MYP two students created a project that was linked to education for students who have inclusive needs. They have been experiencing several challenges during this time, with families being increasingly isolated from the daily activities in their communities. 

On April 2, the students decided to celebrate International Autism Awareness Day. They ordered individually wrapped badges to raise awareness and created a template that included the date, focus of the day, symbol for autism and the school logo. They displayed communicative and thinking skills throughout the project and set up an attractive stand in the school yard to sell the badges. In less than an hour, all of them were sold out and the funds will be donated to a charity engaged in this cause.  

I also initiated a collaboration with a school in Jamaica, which happens to be my home country. My motto “you are a world changer” allows students to understand that their ideas can shape the behaviour and habits across the globe. They responded to this invitation with passion and engagement and that exceeded my expectations. They also asked their parents to make a video in which they introduced themselves, their goal for April 2, what this day was about and a proposed challenge for the school to complete in relation to the International Autism Awareness Day activities they suggested. This was then transferred to the teacher at the school in Jamaica, who in turn will bring awareness to this cause. 

Seeing my students respond to their ideas being transferred to another country was a reminder that we are shaping minds and can transform international communities and build international bridges. 

The students and teachers in our school were asked to wear blue, the colour internationally chosen for this day. The school was a sea of blue and the MYP two students went into classes and asked them to write a statement in support of International Awareness of Autism Day in their language of origin. This led to a dialogue and questions on autism and we hope that it will change people’s perception towards students with inclusive needs.   

Projects that enhance interdisciplinary learning 

In the MYP, interdisciplinary learning is a fundamental part of the programme. Service as action projects provide a vector to express and illustrate principles learned during unit plans. Furthermore, I am also an individuals and societies teacher for all MYP students, as highlighted in this article that was published in March.  

The unit title for this interdisciplinary unit was cognitive skills, human science and behaviour. The key concept was change and the related concept was consequences and mind. The IB learner profile attribute that was displayed was balanced. The subject allowed students to make the link with globalization and correlated this to variables in the sciences. For example, they made an empathy map to examine the link between the nervous system (sciences), the senses linked to the nervous system, their daily activities as students, especially those linked to globalization such as the internet being an international environment and by extension, their wellbeing. The students were then guided to put themselves in the position of a friend they were concerned about. 

This activity facilitated a dialogue about the challenges faced by their friends including cyberbullying, stress and pressure from friends, expectations of parents and teachers, conflict linked to being in a new international school environment that’s different from their home and feelings of isolation to mention a few. Using peer workshop learning techniques in student pods, they came up with solutions to engage in actions for their friends within the community. 

I hope this article has given you nuggets for service as action projects as we build the next generation of decision makers. 

Novadene Miller

Novadene Miller teaches geography in the IB Diploma Programme (DP) Geography and the International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE) at Institut International Lancy in Geneva, Switzerland. At the time of publication, Novadene was an MYP teacher for individuals and societies, design product conception and service as action at the Ecole Privée Bilingue Internationale, located in Baillargues, near Montpellier, France.

Miller has a PhD in geography and her previous publications include ‘Achieving Sustainability of Natural Resources and Obtaining Economic Goals’, Tourism’s Pandora’s box’, Études Caribéennes’, and a book chapter in ‘Rainforest Tourism, Conservation and Management Challenges for Sustainable Development’, edited by Bruce Prideaux, Earthscan from Routledge Publishers, 2014. She also published an article on teaching MYP individuals and societies in a changing world.