The Science of Service

Please save and use to build support for service learning with your community, including parents.

If you think that Service Learning in the IB is a tick box exercise, think again.

A powerful platform for the elevation of authentic learning in all IB subjects and an embodiment of the IB mission in action, service learning is a complex part of the IB core which incorporates many tangible and abstract aspects of its programs. For service to become a meaningful individual and collective practice which brings a school together in its mission, essential enabling factors are needed. Often, depending on context, this could require working towards a cultural/mind shift with all stakeholders in regards to thinking about service – not an easy task.

Of course, the students come first in this process. Please explore the student version of the service ladder as one of many approaches you could use to achieve this goal, along with the empathy continuum. As subject teachers are now required to embed service into their teaching, getting them on board with a positive outlook to value service (vs. “another thing I need to do”) is crucial. Here, with support from the senior management team, work done with heads of department and their teams to integrate as part of their departmental goals has helped my school move ahead in this journey. There is still a lot to do with changing teacher mindsets. Last but definitely not the least, parents are an important yet often under-utilised source of support for service.

There is no doubt that education begins at home. As such, one of the most powerful actions I have taken in the last few years is to include parent representatives in my service journey. I have involved them in both the frustrations and joys of service. Through presentations, interactions, planning and dialogue with my parent community, I have been able to build solid backing for service for students at home. At the basic level, many parents are ensuring their children have time in over scheduled after school lives to undertake service. Most parents love discussing service and how it links to their own/ school (IBLP or other) values with their children. Some participate in service along with their children. Others have changed household practices or family choices in light of discussions on global issues. Dinner time debates about SDGs do pop up, they tell me. In a few brave cases, parents openly admit that they struggle with the complexity of local/global needs. In rare cases, parents have been inspired to spend holidays taking action together – they say it is a great way to connect to their otherwise non communicative teenagers and the results are worth it. When there is a student-led service drive at our school, more parents actively support these. Our community is slowly but surely coming together by developing a common language about service.

To facilitate this process, above is a tool I have used successfully for provoking discussion with parents and teachers in making the service journey visible to my community beyond the students – could this be something you use with your community to build a shared understanding of service?

Could this tool be further improved? Tell me how!


  1. Hi Elizabeth, I am a huge fan of your work in service as action, and really appreciate you sharing your fantastic infographics! I would like to adapt the science of service graphic for my school context (and credit both yourself and IB-innovate of course). Would that be acceptable? If you like, I can share the document I have created with you. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

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