Featured Interview with Terry Pickeral

Terry Pickeral, Executive Director
National Center for Learning and Citizenship at the Education Commission of the States (ECS)

Featured Interview with Terry Pickeral

Terry Pickeral, Executive Director

National Center for Learning and Citizenship at the Education Commission of the States (ECS)

In each issue, the Journal for Civic Commitment will include a guest interview with an expert in some aspect of service-learning. Terry Pickeral is the Executive Director, National Center for Learning and Citizenship at the Education Commission of the States (ECS). The Center’s mission is to assist state and district leaders to promote, support and reward citizenship education as anessential component of America’s education system. The mission is accomplished through national initiatives, policy scans, case studies, programs, projects and collaborations with national and state partners.

  1. Q: Terry, how many years have you worked in some aspect of service-learning and civic responsibility? In those years, and now, in your work with ECS, what have been your most significant realizations about service-learning and civic responsibility?

A: I have used service-learning as a teaching and learning strategy since 1989, when I worked with at-risk youth to increase their motivation to learn. Since the early 1990’s I have focused more on institutional and system approaches to service-learning, specifically working on strategies at the state and district levels to institutionalize service-learning in K-12 schools.The Center and ECS has made citizenship education one of six critical core areas of policy focus, and thus we orient our work to assist policymakers to advance and support the civic mission of schools as well as the academic mission.

As the Center creates national initiatives, programs, projects, and partnerships it becomes increasingly apparent that there needs to be a mutual focus on student civic responsibility and effective pedagogies. We must advocate for more active pedagogies and those that engage students in civic work rather than expose them only to historical contexts.

I believe that high-quality service-learning is an effective pedagogy for students to acquire and enhance citizenship competencies, and service-learning is an effective and efficient way for students to achieve academic success, as well.

  1. Q: What does it mean to be “educated for citizenship”? How does that sort of “education” manifest itself in the everyday lives of students?

A: I like Bob Corrigan’s concept of “active and principled citizenship,” which requires a set of knowledge that orients one to actions that are geared to sustaining our democracy. Eyler and Giles talk about citizenship knowledge, skills, experience, values, efficacy and commitment, which I believe is a great set of competencies for an educated citizen.Citizenship is an “art form” and must be practiced. It is manifested by one’s daily contribution to the common good through service, addressing social injustice and advocating for our democracy. Students demonstrate leadership in local communities, in schools and at other organizational levels; they assess community needs and maximize resources to insure safe and healthy communities; and they advocate for justice for all by participating in public forums and testifying before policymakers.

  1. Q: What have you learned about the importance of linking all grades, K-12 with higher education, especially with regard to service-learning and civic responsibility?

A: Both K-12 and higher education have civic missions, which provide one rationale for creating service-learning and civic alliances. Second, as educational institutions consider their communityschools and colleges a part of that community, they become an organization to be engaged and not ignored. Third, there are specific contributions and services K-12 and higher education can share with each other. Fourth, there are now models of how to create deep collaborations between schools and colleges.Instead of asking how higher education can helpK-12 schools (and vice-versa) we think the most important question to ask is how can a K-16 alliance assist both organizations to achieve their civic mission and contribute to community development, safety and health?

We have seen extraordinary alliances between K-12 and higher education in the Leaning In Deed (LID) initiative’s efforts in South Carolina, where each LID district works with a teacher education department to institutionalize service-learning through professional development (pre- and in-service), collaborative projects, and leadership. The result is greater opportunities for students (K-12 and higher education) to acquire civic skills and reduce the gap between the two institutions.

  1. Q: How can higher education strengthen the partnership and interaction with K-12 schools? How can K-12 strengthen or enhance the partnership?

A: Higher education contributes to K-12 schools by providing assistance, research, resources, leadership and connections to community organizations. I have seen college students assist K-12 teachers develop curriculum, design service-learning projects, establish research and assessment processes, lead student group, and enhance connections to the college and community. Further, I have observed faculty working with their K-12 colleagues to connect curriculum, assessment, and research — in addition to sharing community resources. Finally, there are many examples of higher education leaders working with their K-12 colleagues to create a more comprehensive leadership system to support and sustain service-learning and civic education.K-12 schools provide a place for college students to serve and a setting for future teachers to apply their knowledge and increase their teaching skills. K-12’s focus on accountability and assessment also assists their higher education partners to consider the impact service-learning makes on student academic and civic competencies that align with the institution’s civic mission. K-12 also contributes to the partnership by sharing their community alliances.

  1. Q: How does K-12 benefit by these linkages? How does higher education benefit?

A: K-12 benefits by having access to college resources (individuals, funding, and the campus) and their research capacity. In addition, college students bring enthusiasm, new ideas about service and learning, and a positive sensitivity to young people.Higher education benefits by securing a location for their students to serve (the schools) and learn about schools systems and careers.

Q: What shifts in policy or attitude have you seen or sensed with regard to service-learning in the curriculum (K-12 or higher ed.) have you seen over the years? How or why is that important? What do these shifts mean for students, civic responsibility, and community?

A: Our 50-state service-learning policy scans demonstrate an increase in state policies that encourage, support, and reward service-learning. The state of Maryland, for example, requires service-learning for high school graduation. Iowa recently passed a state policy that supports service-learning and character education.Most policies that are specific to service-learning fall into these categories:

  • Seven states permit community service or service-learning activities to be applied toward graduation requirements
  • Eight states have rules, regulations, creation or purpose of programs relating to service-learning
  • Eleven states encourage the use of service-learning as a mechanism for increasing student achievement and engagement
  • Six states include service-learning in their education standards
  • Six states have authorized funding appropriations and the creation of service-learning activities and programs

There is also increased state interest in K-12 and higher education alliances (e.g., WA and WI) that can encourage and support service-learning and civic alliances. Many colleges and universities take seriously Boyer’s notion of the “engaged college” and encourage and support faculty work that has a direct benefit to the local community.

These shifts are important for students in two specific ways: (1) it provides a scope and sequence of service-learning and civic education (from K-12 through their collegiate years) and (2) it makes these alliances normal and expected (rather than occasional and episodic).

Terry Pickeral, Executive Director
National Center for Learning and Citizenship at the Education Commission of the States (ECS)

Community College National Center for Community Engagement (CCNCCE) sunsetted October 1, 2015. Mesa Community College hosts content from The Journal for Civic Commitment, published by the CCNCCE, to ensure it remains publicly available.

The important work of the CCNCCE was made possible through the financial support from many civic-minded foundations and organizations, including the Corporation for National and Community Service’s Learn and Serve America-Higher Education program, the Kettering Foundation, Campus Compact (through funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation), Arizona Community Foundation, Arizona Foundation for Women, Freeport McMoRan Copper and Gold Foundation, and The Teagle Foundation.