One Important Resolution to Make This School Year

I just read some research that confirmed what I suspected for years. Even though students in Generation Z (those growing up in the 21st century) desire to “make the world a better place,” volunteering is down, not up. Yes—you read that correctly.  Here is a quick summary of the findings from Education Week:

  • A recent study by the University of Maryland’s Do Good Institute indicates that though nearly half of incoming college freshmen surveyed wanted to become leaders in their communities and 80% indicate a desire to help others, volunteerism and charitable giving among high school students has declined since 2005.
  • Though 11 states require students to be involved in service learning projects, there appears to be little correlation between state policy requirements and the true rate of volunteerism; in fact, some earlier studies suggest that high school students who are required to volunteer are less likely to do so.
  • The study suggests that schools may benefit from more intergenerational activities as teens whose parents volunteer were more likely to volunteer as well. Volunteerism among parents, however, has declined as well.

Jessie is a vivid example of these findings. She is a busy rising freshman in college, who told me she wants to major in international business, so she can help people who live in developing nations. Her motives, she added, were altruistic.

So, does she plan to volunteer this year, helping needy people nearby?


Jessie performed community service projects in high school, but mostly to “pad” her transcript so she could get into a good college. Now that she’s made it, she’ll be too busy getting good grades and “rushing” a sorority.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Jessie is a great young lady and a darn good student. Just ask her parents and teachers. The problem is—her motive for “volunteering” wasn’t a good enough one to keep her involved, once she reached a personal goal. When I dug a little deeper, I saw her motivation for involvement was one of two realities:

  1. She knew it would look good on her resume and transcript.
  2. Community service projects were required at her high school.

Our Resolution: Inside-Out Motivation

Now that the numbers are in, I think it’s time we make a resolution at the dawn of a brand new school year. What if we inspired “servant leadership” from within, instead of through a requirement or the fact that it will look good on a resume? Those are what I call “outside-in motivation.” They are all about “how it appears” to others. I am challenging you to try “inside-out motivation” with your students:

1. Try “expose” rather than “impose.”

Instead of making it a requirement that they have to do, what if you exposed them to a genuine need in the community and let them decide what to do about it?

2. Try “inspiration” to cultivate “aspiration.”

Inspiration is closely linked to aspiration. If you inspire students with stories of leaders who served their communities, they tend to aspire to such actions as well.

3. Try “descriptive” leadership instead of “prescriptive” leadership.

Rather than prescribing the steps students must take in a volunteer program, why not let them describe a goal they come up with, then, decide the steps together?

4. Try “metacognition” as the motivation.

Remember—students support what they help create. Let them determine what and how they’ll get involved, (this employs metacognition). Then turn them loose.

5. Try empathy instead of duty as the motivator.

This is inside-out motivation. Empathy develops when students see deep needs and are allowed to come up with a plan of action, not forced to follow our required plan.

The fact is, over an eight-year period of time, researchers found a 34 percent to 48 percent decline in university student’s ability to empathize with others. This makes it more important than ever to teach students how to identify with others and seek to serve those in need. According to the study I cited above, many students today WANT to be a leader—we just need to create the right environment for them to do it.

Education Week offers this idea:

“Students are also more likely to be civically engaged if they are provided with convenient opportunities to serve, especially if they can serve with other students. One way to encourage student volunteerism efforts is for schools to find volunteer opportunities and to provide access to those opportunities through social media or though classrooms.”

Let’s make this our resolution as we begin a new year.

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One Important Resolution to Make This School Year