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Best Practices

Reflection: The critical component of successful service-learning programs is "reflection". Reflection describes the process of deriving meaning and knowledge from experience and occurs before, during and after a service-learning project.

About Reflection...

“Reflection is the hyphen in service-learning”

 (Janet Eyler, "Emotion and Learning: Feeling our Way Toward a New Theory of Reflection in Service-Learning")



Effective reflection engages both teachers and students in a thoughtful and thought-provoking process that consciously connects learning with experience. It is the use of critical thinking skills to prepare for and learn from service experiences. [citation: Learn and Serve America's National Service-Learning_Clearinghouse. Glossary. Scotts Valley, CA: Author, 2003]


The term "reflection" is derived from the Latin term reflectere -- meaning "to bend back." A mirror does precisely this, bend back the light, making visible what is apparent to others, but a mystery to us -- namely, what our faces look like. In service learning, we look to develop processes that allow the people doing service to bend the metaphorical light of their experiences back onto their minds -- to make careful considerations about what their experience were all about: what did they see, who did they meet, why is there a need for such services in the first place, etc. The act of reflection, therefore, becomes crucial to their education. It serves as the bridge between experiences and learning.




"Reflection is a process of seeking clarity about truth, it  demands consideration of one’s internal state (beliefs, feelings, assumptions) and external circumstances (actions, relationships, power dynamics, obstacles). It also demands a self-honesty and humility that will hold its own against affront from any quarter. "
––Tony Chambers, National Forum on Higher Education for the Public Good, 2002.





More reflection resources:


Principles of Good Practice in Combining Service and Learning


An effective and sustained program:

  • Engages people in responsible and challenging actions for the common good.
  • Provides structured opportunities for people to reflect critically on their service experience.
  • Articulates clear service and learning goals for everyone involved.
  • Allows for those with needs to define those needs.
  • Clarifies the responsibilities of each person and organization involved.
  • Matches service providers and service needs through a process that recognizes changing circumstances.
  • Expects genuine, active, and sustained organizational commitment.
  • Includes training, supervision, monitoring, support, recognition, and evaluation to meet service and learning goals.
  • Insures that the time commitment for service and learning is flexible, appropriate, and in the best interest of all involved.
  • Is committed to program participation by and with diverse populations.

Honnet, E. P., & Poulson, S. J. (1989). Principles of good practice for combining service and learning. (Wingspread Special Report). Racine, WI: The Johnson Foundation.

Principles of Good Practice in Community Service-Learning Pedagogy:

  • Academic credit is for learning, not for service.
  • Do not compromise academic rigor.
  • Set learning goals for students.
  • Establish criteria for the selection of community service placements.
  • Provide educationally sound mechanisms to harvest the community learning.
  • Minimize the distinction between the student’s community learning role and the classroom learning role.
  • Re-think the faculty instructional role.
  • Be prepared for uncertainty and variation in student learning outcomes.
  • Maximize the community responsibility orientation of the course.

Howard, J. (Ed.). (1993). Praxis I: A faculty casebook on community service learning. Ann Arbor, MI: Office of Community Service Learning Press, University of Michigan.

Standards of Quality for School-Based and Community-Based Service Learning:

  • Effective service-learning efforts strengthen service and academic learning.

  • Model service learning provides concrete opportunities for youth to learn new skills, to think critically, and to test new roles in an environment that encourages risk taking and rewards competence.

  • Preparation and reflection are essential elements in service learning.

  • Youths efforts are recognized by those served, including their peers, the school, and the community.

  • Youth are involved in the planning.

  • The services that students perform make a meaningful contribution to the community.

  • Effective service-learning integrates systematic formative and summative evaluation.

  • Service-learning connects the school or sponsoring organization and its community in new and positive ways.

  • Service learning is understood and supported as an integral element in the life of a school or sponsoring organization and its community.

  • Skilled adult guidance and supervision are essential to the success of service learning.

  • Pre-service training, orientation, and staff development that include the philosophy and methodology of service learning best ensure that program quality and continuity are maintained.

Alliance for Service-Learning in Education Reform. (1995, March). Standards of quality for school-based service-learning.

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