Framework for Harm Reduction in International School Service Learning 

By Emily Meadows, LGBTQ+ Consultant for International Schools; Tiwana Merritt, PreK-12 Service Learning Coordinator/Teaching & Learning Coach, American International School of Johannesburg; Emily Zien, Health and PE Teacher; Haakon Gould, CAS Coordinator/Service Learning Coach/Individuals & Societies Teacher, Shanghai Community International School 

Originally published in ISS NewsLinks, Volume XXXX, February 2024.

Global events of the past few years have acted as an opportunity for members of the international school ecosystem to reflect on what we truly mean when we promote ourselves as internationally minded, global citizens. Courageous educators and leaders have pushed these DEIJ/B conversations to the front, with organizations like Association of International Educators and Leaders of Color (AIELOC), the Diversity Collaborative, the International School Anti-Discrimination Task Force, and the Organization to Decolonize International Schools (ODIS) leading the way.  

Our team first came together with the desire to address the ways in which our attempts to build a better world in fact uphold manifestations of white supremacy and saviorism. We wanted to develop a way to support international school community members in reducing possible harm and increasing meaningful intentionality within service learning programs. 

Why: First, we wanted to cultivate awareness around possible harm that may be caused by service learning. Intentions do not always match impact. Throughout our work, we shared anecdotal stories about service learning trips and projects to ‘fix’ issues or causes outside the school campus, despite internal work within a school community around that cause not being addressed. 

Who: Through thoughtful reflection, we hope to acknowledge and recognize the tendency towards going elsewhere to ‘solve’ issues or contribute to a cause, instead of first looking internally at the root of those issues or the way that issue shows up in our own school community. Additionally, we wanted to highlight how privilege and positionality can sometimes embolden us to think that we have the expertise and tools to fix issues in communities outside our own, especially if it means we get to feel ‘good’ about ourselves by way of feeling a sense of elevation over others. 

Service practitioners are uniquely positioned to support community members to understand their current and potential impact on important global issues. This tool is specifically designed to be used by international school communities (including students) seeking to reduce harm and to instead build more effective service learning experiences that promote responsibility, accountability, dignity, and humanity for all involved.  

What: Together as a team, we designed a practical tool that can be used to assess current and future service learning in an ongoing reflection to deepen the intentionality of values and impacts made during service learning in international schools. Our tool addresses how ethics, power, privilege, and identity may increase or reduce harmful practices associated with service learning.  

When considering an existing or possible service learning experience, our reflective tool allows How: participants to walk through a structured flow chart step by step with members of your community, including students. Critical and honest answers to each question will invite you to either carry on to the next step, or guide you to relevant resources to investigate further development of that particular area.  

As a community-oriented project, we encourage international school members to access our reflective tool linked below, as it is freely available. Our intention is for this tool to evolve alongside our collective service learning work, so we welcome any thoughts or feedback regarding how this tool supports your school’s endeavors. 

View “The Framework for Harm Reduction in International School Service Learning” here. 

Connect with the authors:

Emily Meadows:

Emily Zien:

Tiwana Merritt: @tiwana_merritt on X

Haakon Gould: LinkedIn

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