December: Spotlight on Service


The last month of the year in the northern hemisphere is filled with celebrations from many cultures, often honoring the winter solstice, the turning of the seasons, and the connection with family and community.  It can get hectic, of course, and pressure to buy presents and attend social events can narrow our focus toward material concerns and stressful experiences. Because of this, December is a great time to recenter our attention on the deep origins of myriad global holidays: celebrating love and life, and our human connection to one another. One way to reshape our focus is to consider ways we might serve our fellow humans.

Serving You Serves Me Too!

Most people who have participated in acts of service and volunteerism for causes they care about will report that they feel good, and maybe personally fulfilled, during and after the service. But, could it be that authentic altruistic service to others has measurable physical and emotional health benefits? This article from the New York Times explores this idea for young people, and this post from Harvard Health Publishing looks at it for adults in general. This post from HHP examines studies about volunteerism and specific benefits to heart health and lowered blood pressure. Although there is no medical evidence of a direct link between volunteerism and better health, the correlations found in current research are intriguing and promising.


Learning Through Service

There is no doubt that communities generally benefit from service-oriented individuals, and schools offer students, faculty and families unique opportunities to do intentional, authentic service within their community.  When carefully scaffolded and crafted, service learning experiences can be deeply educational for students and teachers.

Best practices in education often mention making “real-world” connections to subject matter presented in classrooms, as well as giving students choice and voice to engage with content in ways that are relevant to them.  Well-presented service learning projects are rich opportunities for students to make those real-world connections to learning, and have that learning be personally meaningful and lasting.

Vanderbilt University gives an excellent definition and breakdown of the benefits of service learning in educational environments, including:

Learning Outcomes

  • Positive impact on students’ academic learning
  • Improves students’ ability to apply what they have learned in “the real world”
  • Positive impact on academic outcomes such as demonstrated complexity of understanding, problem analysis, problem-solving, critical thinking, and cognitive development
  • Improved ability to understand complexity and ambiguity

Personal Outcomes

  • Greater sense of personal efficacy, personal identity, spiritual growth, and moral development
  • Greater interpersonal development, particularly the ability to work well with others, and build leadership and communication skills

Social Outcomes

  • Reduced stereotypes and greater inter-cultural understanding
  • Improved social responsibility and citizenship skills
  • Greater involvement in community service after graduation

The Gift of Service

Need ideas for how to get more service and volunteering in your life? The internet is full of them! Check out this list of 10 kid-friendly service projects! Read more about service learning and get some great inspiration from Edutopia! Fill your soul with the power of young people doing all kinds of great things at DoSomething! Explore family-oriented service projects from Doing Good Together! What thoughts do you have about incorporating service into your life or classroom practice?  Let us know in the comments, or tag us @austinisdsel!  We wish you warmth and happiness this holiday season, and look forward to 2019 together!


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