Defining Motivations

Many Catholic Schools have long been exploring the positive potential of service learning by developing their own programs.

Service‐learning has been defined as:

  • A method of teaching/learning that challenges students to identify, research, propose, and implement solutions to real needs in their school or community as part of their curriculum’ (KIDS Consortium 2003, p.1 in GILLEY ).
  • A pedagogy which involves academic study linked to community service through assignments that require some sort of structured reflection so that each reinforces the other, with the benefits far exceeding those of service or learning by themselves (Elwell 2001, p. 47 in Gilley).
  • Experiential education approach based on reciprocal learning- service learning occurs only when the providers and recipients of service benefit from the activities  (Sigmon, 1979). 


  • How is your school partnership or travel immersion experience conceptualized alongside these definitions?
  • How does a local or global immersion fit as a strategy to achieve your aims?

This guide focuses on student immersions that may involve a service activity in an economically poorer community.

It is important to define the motivation and expected outcomes of the student immersion, especially in partnership with the host community. 

  • Is the motivation specific academic outcomes?
  • Is the motivation cross-cultural learning? 
  • Is  the motivation faith formation?
  • Is the motivation ‘helping the poor?’

Furco (1996) states that in contemporary practice, the main beneficiary of a service activity is the student themselves. 


  • Do you agree or disagree with Furco’s assertion? Why or why not?
  • What may be a problem with this definition in light of the Christian call to serve others?
If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.
Words used by Lilla Watson, Aboriginal elder, activist and educator from Queensland, Australia.

See, Judge, Act

The 'See, Judge, Act' social analysis approach which facilitates 'formation through action' can be a helpful guide for service learning and immersions in the Catholic school context:

Caritas-australia-adult-immersion-in-Philippines, 2014

SEE: Participants  discover a reality of a particular situation.

JUDGE:  Having been provided information from the social enquiry, the participants evaluate what they have discovered; then they weigh it up in the light of their reflection on the Gospels.

ACT:  After making their judgment, the group plans some action that they can carry out either as a group or as individuals in the coming weeks. This method requires that members gather information about human experiences prior to a discussion on the scriptures. Then, starting from experience and enlightened by the wisdom of the Gospels, they make judgments about the situation before deciding on some social action.

The following four steps within the See-Judge-Act framework can assist in visualizing a beneficial student learning journey:

Step 1: Involvement- How am I connected to this injustice?
Step 2: Exploration- What can we learn about this injustice?
Step 3: Reflection- What does your faith say about this injustice?
Step 4: Action- What can we do about this injustice? 

Note:  Adapted from Catholic Relief Services

The educational and faith formation potential of a student immersion can be captured if the focus is to teach students that compassion, solidarity and human dignity crosses all geo-political borders. To experience communion with a brother or sister and be awakened to our common humanity is a powerful and valuable experience. To celebrate and learn how together, we can all build a better world and work towards the common good are significant educational and faith formation outcomes in themselves.

It is paramount, in light of our Christian call to "love others as we love ourselves"  that student immersions be mutually beneficial; for both those being visited and those visiting.

Film clip - The challenges of student immersions

Watch the film clip and discuss:


From what Kath said:

  • What did you already know? 
  • What challenged you?
  • What questions do you have?
Kath mentions that people want to visit communities to see the impact of their donations. Discuss your motivations and purpose for a student immersion.  


Kath mentions 'Poverty Tourism'. This can be defined as visits to impoverished areas with limited or no engagement with the people in those communities. 

  • How might poverty tourism not uphold the dignity of the people in those communities? 
  • How are you preparing teachers to take students to what might be confronting situations? 
  • How have you considered child protection? 
  • What is the selection process for those going on the immersion trip?
  • How have you considered  risk minimization?

It is vital that participants journey with the intention of sharing the stories of those they encounter (at all levels of society). Those that go with the intention of giving (even rescuing) needy people will be disappointed. Those that go as tourists will also feel incomplete. I well remember the comment of one young person I travelled with who remarked “I can never just look at the streetscape or the front of buildings any more. I will always be looking down alleys and laneways for what lies behind.
David, Catholic Education Officer Sandhurst

Next: Potential and Risks