This post was born at a point in an after-school run where I was just clicking over from thinking about work to getting a song stuck in my head.

I was thinking about the school that we are fundraising to build in partnership with United World Schools (UWS). Our partnership with UWS was confirmed in August and we have almost reached our financial goal to get the school started. We have one more event in a week’s time that will push us over the line. It has been a huge community effort to raise the money and as we near our goal of having the school built, the community’s focus is now understandably turning to how our students will contribute to and benefit from the partnership.

The school is in a remote part of northern Myanmar and from what I understand, we are the only UWS sponsor school in partnership with a school in the same country. An important condition of the partnership is that our faculty and students will be able to directly interact and work with the school as it develops.

Our school is a community of compassionate global citizens. That is our Mission. Our Vision is to develop lifelong learners that will be a force for positive change in the world. For us to live our Mission and Vision, compassion must be central to everything that we do inside and outside the classroom and working alongside our UWS partner school will provide a context for our students to develop the self-belief and skills to be a force for positive change in the world.

I love our Mission and Vision. They are direct and aspirational statements. We will make the world better. I feel good knowing that this is what I get to work towards everyday. Our Mission and Vision are supported by eight strategic themes that provide direction. Service learning is one of those themes and our partnership with UWS came out of an identified need to provide authentic service learning opportunities for our students. Notwithstanding our overriding commitment to our Mission, Vision and students, we see our partnership with UWS as exactly that – a partnership.

And this is the point where the song kicked in….

David Bowie’s ‘Heroes’ popped into my head. No idea why. It could have been worse. My son is five.

Once the school is built, we could definitely choose to be heroes. We could send some students up there and build them a library out of clay. Our students have done that for another school already this year. We could send some students up there to talk about gender equality. We have a very active group of students who have been promoting this for years. We could send some students up there and set up a composting system. They could definitely do that. We could send some students up there to help set up their learning spaces. Our elementary students just designed their own playground and our new campus in Nay Pyi Taw is about to go through a similar process. We could send some students up there to calculate the school’s carbon footprint. We will be carbon neutral in four years and our students are leading that. We could even have some students set up a couple of solar panels on the roof to heat water and power fans.

Our students have the knowledge and skills to do all of these things and more by virtue of what they have learned and experienced in class, on trips, or in after school activities. We can get started right away.

We can be heroes, just for one day…

Being a hero feels good. But where I am from, being called a hero is not necessarily a good thing. It can be used in a derogatory way to describe someone who does something for the sole purpose of making themselves look and feel good with no genuine compassion for those that they want to be seen to be helping. To develop compassion for other people we must be able to understand their perspective and that can take time when those other people have a very different perspective of the world than ours.

Service learning is grounded in compassion. The first of the five stages of service learning is investigation. This stage includes identifying and justifying a need for service. In our partnership with UWS, any need must be identified with our UWS partner school and their community with a common understanding of the issues that the school and community need help addressing. There will be some needs and accompanying actions that will be immediately obvious and our students can get to work on those straight away. However, some issues are more complex and will require a great deal of communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity before effective action can be taken. Action will make us feel and look good but we need to be careful that we are addressing issues that our UWS partner school and community needs addressing in a way that they want it addressed. Otherwise, any real positive difference made will be fleeting at best.

We can be heroes, forever and ever…

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) address many of the issues that our UWS partnership will be addressing – poverty, gender equality, quality education, clean water and sanitation, sustainable cities and communities, affordable and clean energy, and eleven more. This is one major reason why this week our school decided to adopt the seventeen SDGs as transdisciplinary themes through which all teaching and learning will be filtered.

We want our students to serve and learn alongside our UWS partners and we want that service and learning to stay with them for the rest of their lives. We are entering into service learning partnerships to develop lifelong learners who will be a force for positive change in the world. For this to happen, our students will need to apply what they learn once they leave us. And for this to happen, our students will need a very concrete understanding of the issues facing our world.

A focus on the SDGs will provide this understanding and we are looking forward to strengthening our partnership with UWS to help achieve some of the ambitious targets laid out by the SDGs. Ours is a small partnership in the bigger scheme of things but it promises to be one that will produce some real heroes that make a positive difference well into the future and hopefully all around the world.

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