The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.
Pay It Forward
In the 2000 film Pay it Forward, 12-year-old Trevor McKinney (Haley Joel Osment) has an idea that starts to change the world. Inspired by his teacher (Kevin Spacey) he sets out to do 3 big favours for other people - things which they could not do for themselves. Nothing is expected in return except that they must each carry out favours of their own for 3 other people, passing on the same obligation. 1, 3, 9, 27..... Generosity is paid forwards. It does not need to be paid back.
Get your tissues ready for the the film's ending and brace yourselves for its 40% on Rotten Tomatoes and 2.5/5 from Roger Ebert but the story is told well and the PIF premiss makes very good sense.
What Is Service?
Trevor McKinney creates a way for people to serve each other. Embedded in the act of making someone's life better is the prompt that they do the same for others. The concept is viral, it's exponential and it's selfless. He could have spent the time and effort on himself but he chose to give it to people with a greater need.
Service is about sacrifice; about putting the needs of other people before your own. It's also about being proactive - not always waiting to be asked but anticipating the help someone might want. It's about being available to others and being willing and able to do things for them. Serving others can be hard work yet it can have great rewards. We teachers know this and we know it daily: every time a child learns, achieves and grows because of how we have served them.
Why Teach Service?
There are at least 3 compelling reasons why educators must teach children about service to others:
1. We have a moral duty to do so if we want to show children how to add value to those around them and to help push the world forwards.
2. The World Economic Forum (2016) includes 'Service to Others' in its list of the 10 most important skills/dispositions needed for workplace success from 2020.
3. Research from The New Economics Foundation (2008) suggests that giving to others contributes a great deal to our own well being and happiness.
How to Teach Service to Others
You have a packed timetable and a brim-full curriculum to deliver. Where on earth can you find time to teach about service? The easiest way is to not bother with the what but to emphasise the how. How often do you see pupils serving? Taking the register to the office; clearing up the mess together; helping someone complete a task; offering to take a message. Whatever their motivation might be, take these acts as opportunities to draw attention to how they are serving. You might want to use service-specific praise such as:
'Thank-you for clearing up the classroom for me; that meant that I could prepare for lunchtime club'
The key here is to include 'for me' to make it clear that the action was for another person, and 'that meant' which shows how the action helped.
'Thank-you for working with Micha for me; that meant I could focus on Jake'
If you do have time, define what Quality Service looks like and sounds like in your classroom and set a homework for pupils to research stories of people going above and beyond in service others.