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Service learning and the induction of teachers.


The first years of practicing a profession have a significant impact on the development of competence and professional identity. Teacher educators are aware of the importance of acculturation and recognition to beginning teachers. Engaging in service learning in their schools is an effective way for teachers to become full members of their new communities while developing their collaboration skills. This article describes the service-learning component of a graduate course for special education teachers that is designed to establish reflection and collaboration as career-long professional practices.


Engaging in service learning during a clinical experience is increasingly becoming a part of professional education. The National Service Learning Clearinghouse has links to numerous examples of service learning that have been incorporated into professional education for doctors, nurses, public health professionals, lawyers, social workers, architects, and many others. The goals and activities of the service-learning experiences may differ by area, but the over-riding purpose is usually to introduce new professionals to their chosen field via work that has significance and worth for both the recipients and the practitioners.

In recent years, the preparation of teachers has been extended beyond traditional courses and student teaching experiences to include structured support and an introduction to advanced skills and knowledge during the first few years of teaching (Boyer & Gillespie, 2000). Teacher educators and administrators have realized that a structured induction period can greatly increase new teachers' confidence, sense of efficacy, and likelihood of remaining in the profession (Ingersoll & Smith, 2004). One aspect of support that teachers at the beginning of their careers often value is the security of being in a community. Providing service to one's new school community is a natural way to learn about its members, become acculturated, and be accepted as a member oneself:

There is now a sufficient history of using service learning in preservice teacher education programs to have produced positive and consistent outcomes (Root, Callahan, & Sepanski, 2002; Wade, 1997). Shumer (1997) and others have promoted the preparation of teachers for service-learning, noting "focus on using the real-world, contextual nature of service experiences allows for emphasis on reflective practice, enhancing the overall development of the newer teacher (p. 5)." In addition to helping them become reflective practitioners, service-learning experiences can provide teacher candidates with knowledge of cultures and communities that differ from their own backgrounds, and skills in collaborating and communicating with other professionals and community members (AACTE, Winter 2002; Vickers, Harris & McCarthy, 2004). Such important teaching dispositions as caring, commitment to democratic values, and sensitivity to differences in students are effectively developed through service-learning (AACTE, Spring/Summer 2002). Service learning as part of teacher preparation has also been shown to increase teacher candidates' commitment to teaching as well as their interest in using this pedagogical approach in their own future classrooms (Root et al., 2002; Wade, 1995).

Using service-learning as a strategy for inducting teachers into their profession potentially offers the same benefits that accrue to preservice teachers, as well as others that capitalize on the immediacy of the situation. In addition to daily demands for planning, instruction, and classroom management, new teachers have to enter a pre-existing school community, develop their place in this community, and learn how to become part of a school wide team. While their preservice preparation has focused on the former aspects of their teaching role, the latter may not have been addressed in any substantive way. Yet, Conderman and Stephens (2000) have found that beginning special education teachers expressed more concerns about working with other adults, especially general educators, parents, and paraprofessionals, than about the traditional challenges of planning and instruction. They often express feelings of isolation as one of just a few, or perhaps the only, special education teacher at the school. Working climate, including availability of resources, workload, administrative support, and feeling of being included in the school, have emerged as significant factors in the perceived quality of special education teachers' working environment, cited by many teachers as crucial to their decision to stay in the field (Billingsley, Carlson, & Klein, 2004; Miller, Brownell, & Smith, 1999). Special education teachers also must organize their programs and prepare their students for inclusion in general education settings. Collaboration and advocacy skills are required from their first day of teaching. Implementing a service-learning project in their school can introduce new teachers to their colleagues, their students' families, and the surrounding community in a positive way.


The purpose of this study was to evaluate how well the intended outcomes of the service-learning experience in an induction course for new teachers were being realized. The questions of interest were:

* When given parameters for the design of their projects that aligned with course content and state and national professional standards, did the teachers create projects that addressed these standards? What types of projects did they design?

* What indicators were expressed in the teachers' self-evaluations related to the intended outcomes? What indications were given that they had grown in their perception of being a part of the school and community?

The Induction Course and the Service-Learning Project

The course that is described in this article is the final course taken by special education teachers who are earning the second level of their credential while conducting their first two years as a credentialed teacher. In California, these induction programs for special education teachers are university-based, and consist of advanced courses in their area of specialization and the implementation of an individualized Induction Plan, as well as the provision of university and district support (California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, 1996). An average of 25 students are enrolled in this course per semester, entitled, "Assessment of Professional Competence", at California State University, Northridge, a large, public university in Los Angeles. A service-learning project has been included in this final induction course for four years.

Because the students are teaching full-time, taking additional classes in the evenings, and fulfilling after-school duties, placing them in settings designated by the instructor for their service-learning projects was not feasible. This quickly became a strong point of the experience, however, since teachers appreciated and were inspired by the opportunity to design their own projects. As one student wrote in his course evaluation, "The openness and flexibility of the process (choosing our own services, how to implement the services in our unique situation, and the times when we could contact/work with them) was invaluable. Often we are asked to do things that are superfluous to our teaching and difficult to fit into our schedules. This was not the case here."

The service-learning project is tied to course content. Course objectives include the development of continuous reflection and self-assessment as career-long professional practices, and the accomplishment of individually set goals. This course and the entire induction program emphasize the use of best practices in their work with pupils and their families, as stated in national and state standards for the special education teaching profession. Specifically, the service-learning project must address at least one of the following elements of Standard Six of the California Standards for the Teaching Profession (California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, 1997): Developing as a Professional Educator

* Working with communities to improve professional practice

* Working with families to improve professional practice

* Working with colleagues to improve professional practice. As written in the course syllabus for SPED 629, "Assessment of Professional Competence" (Kennedy, 2005), some of the purposes for connecting service learning to special education teacher preparation are:

A. Knowledge goals for teachers:

* Become familiar with community resources that serve individuals with special needs and their families;

* Learn about community and cultural perspectives and mores concerning individuals with special needs;

* Become more familiar with resources and programs within the school that serve individuals with special needs.

B. Skill goals for teachers:

* Learn and implement advocacy skills on behalf of their students and their families;

* Learn how to collaborate with and access community services;

* Learn how to collaborate with their general education colleagues;

* Learn how to address issues of inclusion and exclusion through their projects.

Students in the course are introduced to the project at the first class meeting. We discuss service learning as a curricular approach that involves the integration of community service with academic goals. As they read in their syllabus, "For your project, you will link service to your 'subject matter' (special education) so that your classroom, school, and neighborhood communities benefit from your actions. At the same time, your professional growth will advance in such areas as collaboration, communication, and advocacy."

Examples of previous projects are displayed and discussed, and we start to brainstorm some ways to identify a real school/community need that they could tackle with their project. Via email, they are sent material to read about service learning, and are given two weeks to submit their plan. The instructor gives them feedback; they revise if necessary, and then begin their implementation. Students maintain a log of the activities and brief reflections throughout the semester. At its conclusion, a report is written that summarizes the activities and thoroughly reflects on the benefits accrued to the teacher, his/her students (directly and indirectly), and the school and/or community. The projects are presented to their colleagues in the final class meeting. Questions, comments, and compliments always follow. The parameters of the projects are:

* May be conducted as an individual, or may include their students as "server-learners".

* May take place in the classroom, in the school, or in the community around the school.

* It has three parts: design, implementation, and evaluation.

1. Design: A brief plan that answers the following questions

* What is the purpose of the project? What problem or issue is it addressing?

* What are the activities of the project?

* What is the service aspect of the project (who will be served and how)?

* What is the learning aspect of the project (what will the teacher and other participants learn)? How does the service-learning activity enhance learning and connect to the K12 academic content standards (for projects that K-12 pupils will carry out), and Standard Six of the CSTP (California Standards for the Teaching Profession)?

2. Implementation of the project and maintenance of a log of time and activities, to be included with the final evaluation.

3. Evaluation: A final report and class presentation.


The reports from 36 recent projects were reviewed to ascertain the participants, nature of the activities, and the benefits that were realized. The teachers themselves were the service providers in 17 of the projects, while 19 of them included both the teachers and their students. As examples of the teacher-only projects, teachers:

* Taught the afterschool child care staff how to help students with their homework. The teacher and a general education teacher tabbed the homework sections of the teachers' manuals for the reading and math programs, and showed the staff how to use them.

* Collected information about local services for families and children with disabilities, shared these resources at the school's Open House and at parent conferences.

* Became the Girl Scout leader of the school's troop, and drew in girls who had been referred by teachers due to social or learning problems.

* Made home visits with the school's Parent Resource Center staff.

* Participated in fund-raising and leisure activities with the local organization for children with autism.

Some projects in which both teacher and students provided service were:

* A school beautification project in which the students in a special education class

* designed and organized the painting of a sea life mural on a school wall. Students in general education classes were invited, and by the third Saturday of painting, about half of the children were from general education and half were from special education.

* The initiation of a Building Friendships Club to do community service that was composed of special education and general education high school students.

* The design of a unit about beach ecology and organization of a clean-up day at the local beach in which the entire elementary school participated. The school is in a high poverty area, and many of the students had never been to the beach although it is within walking distance of the school.

* The organization by students in two special education classes of a school-wide campaign to write letters and send packages to soldiers in Iraq.

Self-evaluations and reflections of the benefits experienced by the teachers and their students who provided service have consistently been positive. Illustrative of the comments are the following:

* Skills in communication. "I got a lot of practice in speaking to the community about the special education programs in our public schools."

* Skills in advocacy. "I was able to stress the importance of including these students in as many activities as are appropriate for the individual."

* Contribution to the school. "My administrators have remarked that I am providing a valuable service to our students and our community. They have seen many of the girls mature and begin to take on leadership roles in the school."

* Knowledge of the community. "I was able to explore a community service (food bank and other supplies) and to learn how it can benefit our students and our community." (The school is in a very low-income area.)

* Promotion of inclusive practices. "'The older (special education) students were able to teach and help the general education students use the paintbrushes and paints. I believe these older students derived many benefits from the mainstreaming part of the process."


The first area of interest in this study was to explore the types of service-learning projects that beginning special education teachers in an induction course would design, given parameters that emphasized the building of collaboration with peers, families, and community members. The projects were almost evenly divided between those in which the teachers chose to be the service provider's, and those in which they and their special education students provided the service. Yet all brought the special education teachers into closer contact and a closer working relationship with the school and/or its surrounding community. The projects conducted by the teachers were predominantly of types that served all of the students in the school, exchanged services and information with community resources, or forged closer ties with the families of students with special needs. Most of the projects that included K-12 special education students featured them as the organizers and leaders of school wide projects, thereby increasing their positive inclusion in the life of the school.

Secondly, indicators of closer collaboration, greater inclusion in the school and surrounding community, and the initial steps in developing a professional identity were expressed in both increased knowledge and skills. Learning about organizing, getting administrative and financial support, how to approach community resources, how to identify real needs generated by families and colleagues, and speaking to groups of peers and community were noted by many of the novice teachers. In addition, psychological benefits related to their efficacy and value as a member of the teaching staff were commonly cited. Is service-learning particularly suited to forging connections between beginning professionals and their colleagues? The broadness of possibilities for service learning presents a myriad of opportunities. This openness can also present a risk of diffusion, but if the experiences are thoughtfully tied to learning goals, specific and observable outcomes are very attainable. Contributing to the successful induction of teachers into their profession, their school, and their community would seem to be among those desirable outcomes.


American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. (2002,Winter). Meeting NCATE standards through service learning: Professional knowledge and skills. AACTE: Service-Learning Issue Brief. Washington, D.C.: Author.

American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education. (2002, Spring/Summer). Meeting NCATE standards through service-learning: Dispositions. AACTE: Professional Issues Brief. Washington, D.C.: Author.

Billingsley, B., Carlson, E. & Klein, S. (2004). The working conditions and induction support of early career special educators. Exceptional Children, 70, 20, 333-347.

Boyer, L. & Gillespie, P. (2000). Keeping the committed: The importance of induction and support programs for new special educators. Teaching Exceptional Children, 33, 10-15.

California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. (1996). Standards of Quality and Effectiveness for Education Specialist Credential Programs and Clinical Rehabilitative Services Credential Programs: Handbook for Postsecondary Institutions and Accreditation Reviewers. Sacramento: Author.

California Commission on Teacher Credentialing. (1997). California Standards for the Teaching Profession. Sacramento: Author.

Conderman, G., & Stephens, J. T. (2000). Voices from the field: Reflections from beginning special educators. Teaching Exceptional Children, 33(1), 16-21.

Ingersoll, R. & Smith, T. (2004). Do teacher induction and mentoring matter? NASSP Bulletin, 88 (638), 28-41.

Kennedy, V. (2005). SPED 629 MM, Assessment of Professional Competence (unpublished course syllabus description of Service-Learning Project). Michael D. Eisner College of Education, California State University, Northridge.

Miller, M.D., Brownell, N.T., & Smith, S.W. (1999). Factors that predict teachers staying in, leaving, or transferring from the special education classroom. Exceptional Children, 65, 201-218.

National Service Learning Clearinghouse. Retrieved February 14, 2005, from

Olebe, M., Jackson, A., & Danielson, C. (1999, May). Investing in beginning teachers--The California Model. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 41-44.

Root, S., Callahan, J., & Sepanski, J. (2002). Service-learning in teacher education: A consideration of qualitative and quantitative outcomes. In A. Furco & S.H. Billig (Eds.), Service-learning: The essence of the pedagogy (pp.223-243). Greenwich, CN: Information Age Publishing.

Shumer, R. (1997). Teacher education and service-learning: A critical perspective. From AAHE's Series on Service-learning in the Disciplines, Teacher Education Volume. Washington, D.C.: American Association for Higher Education.

Vickers, M., Harris, C., & McCarthy, F. (2004). University-community engagement: Exploring service-learning options within the practicum. Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 32, 2, 129-143.

Wade, R. (1995). Developing active citizens: Community service learning in social studies. Social Studies, 86, 3, 122-129.

Wade, R. (1997). Empowerment in student teaching through community service learning. Theory into Practice, 36,3, 184-192.

Virginia Kennedy, California State University, Northridge

Virginia Kennedy, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of special education in the Michael D. Eisner College of Education.
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Author:Kennedy, Virginia
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2005
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