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Best Practice Service Learning Outside the Classroom

Updated: Apr 23, 2023

If we want students to care about our planet, and thus care for our planet, getting them connected to and immersed in nature seems like an obvious first step, especially in an era where fewer and fewer young people spend time outdoors.

Immersion in Nature

Outdoor education connects students to their environment and, when done well, shows them that they are not separate from nature, above or distant from it, but an integral PART of it. Human beings are a deeply interconnected element of the natural world and when one part of this complex system is diminished or threatened, human life is also impacted. Outdoor education can lead to the understanding that humans must take action to protect that which we rely on for life - ecosystems, biodiversity, habitats.

It is important to give students, along with the immersion and connection with nature, a solid foundation in how their actions can best effect positive and long-lasting change. Having students learn best practices in service before engaging with environmental projects ensures that service action stems from proper and thorough investigation, that it uses the student’s strengths and skills to their best effect, and that the actions taken are sustainable in the long term. In this light, the likelihood for the student’s project to unintentionally cause negative impacts is reduced; so often well-meaning but improperly designed projects can cause more harm than good, as we are all well aware.

Not only does having proper foundations in service ensure alignment between the elements of the project: the student, the environment and the community involved with the project, it makes it more likely that a student will achieve their intended goals, giving them a sense of agency and hope.

Case Study: Juara Turtle Project (JTP)

What might this look like “in real life”? Let’s take a look at the newly formed partnership between Orenda Learning, an impact driven social enterprise that guides young people, educators and community in best practice service and Juara Turtle Project (JTP).

JTP is a community-based marine conservation organisation located on Tioman island, Malaysia. They work with the local community to manage threats to the local sea turtle population, as well as working with schools on educational and awareness programs on a wide range of marine based environmental issues.

The General Manager of JTP, Tom Woodford, was aware that some of these interactions with schools lacked substance and very rarely had a long term benefit for the project or for the students. Service projects undertaken without ensuring students (and teachers) have a foundation in service best practices, can actually have more negative effects than positive ones. For example:

  • Performative action without real change: groups can come in and do an insignificant task, while using it to “tick a box” for a school’s requirements or to share for social approval.

  • Surface-level volunteering: takes more time to arrange and manage than it gives back in positive changes.

  • Imbalances in perceived roles and participation: a sense that the groups performing the service are there to “save” or give charity can cause loss of pride, cultural identity or motivation in the local community

To prevent such issues from arising, or at least diminish the chances of them occurring, Tom decided to form a relationship with Orenda Learning and seek advice regarding the service aspect of JTP’s programs. As part of this partnership, Tom was given access to “Be The Change” in order to learn how to structure service projects and make them more beneficial for both the project and for the students. Be The Change is an online program in service developed by Orenda Learning, and provides a framework for best practice service engagements. Tom hoped an improved, more involved and meaningful service experience would lead to students being more invested in the project and perhaps more aware of their responsibilities as global citizens and as members of the generation set to inherit the planet.

Best Practice in Service

While embedding the lessons of the “Be The Change Program” does not guarantee that the outdoor educational activities will be flawless, it does improve the chances following best practices such as:

  • investigation of self and of the community occurs, preparing students for a deeper engagement with Juara Turtle Projects’ context and goals

  • focus on long-lasting and reciprocal relationships, as much as can be achieved in the programs with schools

  • use of practical tools and strategies that make service and learning outcomes more likely to come to fruition

While we do not believe that service always requires a partnership with (community-based) organisations, our experience leads us to encourage these partnerships. Why? For trust, communication and to build a stronger connection between students, nature and the community. These organisations already have ongoing relationships and commitments with their communities and with the environment. Using these existing connections can lead to deeper learning and more positive outcomes. The organisations have knowledge and understanding of the issues at hand and work that has been done. This can avoid ineffective service, greatly reducing the chances of conflicting or contradictory efforts or by avoiding duplication of activities, ensuring that the most is made of everyone's time and effort.

In summary, to grow a love of nature and the awareness of being an integral part of earth’s beautiful interconnected web, giving students a foundational understanding of best practices in service before, during and after a program which is designed and delivered with a partner organisation can be highly effective and beneficial.


Orenda Learning is an impact driven social enterprise that guides young people, educators and community in best practice service. They offer a range of services to support education providers and charitable organisations to develop incredible service programs. Orenda Learning is the parent company of Be The Change, an online program in service for young people.

Be The Change is a complete online program, delivering a robust service curriculum, through engaging lessons and a selection of carefully curated resources. It is purely digital, interactive and built for easy access on desktop, mobile and tablet via leading Learning Management System Brightspace. There are currently two versions of Be The Change. One is for High School students aged between 15 and 18. The other is for young people aged 16 and up who do not have access to the program through a school.



Suji DeHart B.A, MSLIS, Cert. Ed.

Suji DeHart works as a consultant for Orenda Learning. She has been a librarian, service coordinator and international educator for the past 20 years, most recently working at International School of Kuala Lumpur, and also with Make A Difference Travel, a social enterprise that works for and with marginalised communities. Her passions lie in education for lesser served communities, bringing progress through forging partnerships to promote literacy and service.

Alice Whitehead M.Ed, PG.Dip, B.Bus

Alice is an educator and advocate for positive change globally. She has been involved in service throughout her life in both personal and professional capacities. Alice gained practical and theoretical knowledge in incredible service programs working as a teacher and service coordinator at United World College in Singapore. In 2018 Alice founded Orenda Learning, an education consulting company that guides schools in best practice service.

Tom Woodford

Tom Woodford is the General Manager of the Juara Turtle Project, a marine conservation organisation in Malaysia. In 2013, Tom left his home in the UK to put his construction skills to use by helping to build a medical centre in Uganda. Ever since then Tom has been travelling, working and volunteering in different countries. He has been involved with a number of projects in South Asia and Africa, working with everything from refugees to elephants. In recent years, he has focused on conservation, working with local communities and helping to raise awareness through the education of young people.

Images courtesy of Juara Turtle Project


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