Skip to main content

Best Practices

These principles are the product of a two-year collaborative process involving seventy-five regional and national organizations committed to community service and experiential education. This final product was created at the 1989 Wingspread Conference, hosted by the Johnson Foundation. The principles are the cumulative best practice wisdom as articulated by experienced practitioners, and have been adopted by service-learning professionals across the nation as the foundation for effective programs in schools and on campuses.

Guiding Principles for Service-Learning

  1. The syllabus is developed and revised to incorporate the service experience into the teaching and learning objectives of the course.
  2. Partner agencies define their needs and are included in planning for the service.
  3. The faculty member becomes acquainted with each community agency that students are placed with, and understands the agency mission, clientele, location and student role.
  4. Preparation for the service addresses student training, clarification of responsibilities, and risk management issues.
  5. Students are introduced to the partner agency before the service begins, and are given an orientation to the issues being addressed.
  6. Students are involved in at least 4 hours of service in the community for each hour of credit they receive for the course (fully integrated classes).
  7. Academic credit is awarded for the learning gained from the experience, not for the service itself.
  8. The service experience is connected to the course through readings, projects, and class presentations.
  9. Reflection on the service experience is ongoing and includes dialogue about community issues and the need for the service.
  10. Students, faculty, and community representatives participate in the evaluation process.


  1. Academic credit it for learning, not for service.
  2. Do not compromise academic rigor
  3. Establish learning outcomes
  4. Establish criteria for the selection of service placements
  5. Provide educationally-sound learning strategies to harvest community learning and realize course learning outcomes
  6. Prepare students for learning from the community
  7. Minimize the distinction between the students’ community learning role and classroom learning role
  8. Rethink the faculty instructional role
  9. Be prepared for variation in, and some loss of control with, student learning outcomes
  10. Maximize the community responsibility orientation of the course.

Further Reading

Howard, J. (1993). “Principles of Good Practice in Community Service-Learning Pedagogy”. Praxis I, A Faculty Casebook on Community Service-Learning. Ann Arbor, MI: OCSL Press, 5-9.

*Excerpted from Howard, J. (2001). Service-learning course design workbook.

An effective program

  1. Engages people in responsible and challenging actions for the common good.
  2. Provides structured opportunities for people to reflect critically on their service experience.
  3. Articulates clear service and learning goals for everyone involved.
  4. Allows for those with needs to define their own needs.
  5. Clarifies the responsibilities of each person and organization involved.
  6. Matches service providers and service needs through a process that recognizes changing circumstances.
  7. Expects genuine, active and sustained organizational commitment.
  8. Includes training, supervision, monitoring, support, recognition, and evaluation to meet service and learning goals.
  9. Ensures that the time commitment for service and learning is flexible, appropriate, and in the best interests of all involved.
  10. Is committed to program participation by and with diverse populations.

Further Reading

Honnet, E. P., and Poulen, S. J. (1989). A Wingspread Special Report. Racine, WI: The Johnson Foundation.

Mintz, S. & Hesser, G. (1996). “Principles of Good Practice in Service-Learning”. In B. Jacoby & Associates, Service-Learning in Higher Education. San-Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.


Adapted from The Institute for Learning and Teaching at Colorado State University. Colorado State University Service-Learning Faculty Manual, Fourth Edition, 2007.