Catching up with Professor Polly Attwood and Education in the Community

By Ben Sanders
photo from Northeastern University’s College of Professional Studies website.

This week, I had the pleasure of being able to sit down and chat with Professor Attwood, a long-time member of the Service-Learning Program, about the way service-learning melds with her course: Education in the Community.

Professor Attwood graciously described the course to me, as someone who hasn’t taken it before, and described its original design to invite and support students going through a teacher education program. At quick glance, one might think that that’s all there is to it; However, Attwood tries to not focus so intently on the notions of: “how do I teach?” “what do I do next?” or “give me the recipe,” but instead believes the course’s roots lie in the sociology of education. She told me that the course really explores why teachers need to understand the communities in which they teach and how you can come to know the community where you teach especially since it’s not your own. Attwood posed questions considered in the course such as what it actually means to teach across differences in race, class, and culture. “The course is a lot about surfacing people’s stereotypes and misunderstandings, and replacing them with more nuanced and rich understandings,” Attwood said. When considering what she wants her students to leave the class with, Attwood suggested that, “the most important thing for you as a teacher, is how you build relationships with your students…if you can’t build a relationship with your students, no learning is going to happen. Now you can’t just have relationships, so it’s not just about being friends either.”

Attwood has been teaching this course for seven years and for the most part, has had service-learning integrated from the beginning. She provided insight on the course prior to the formal start of the S-L Program here at Northeastern and said, “Historically this course began in connection with community partners. It may have been one of the early courses that did service-learning here in the 90’s long before there was a Service-Learning office.” Prior to the S-L Program and S-LTAs, Attwood recalled working with a part-time co-op student as they took on the the “burden” of reaching out to community partners. It was a lot of work for her, but it became a lot easier with the growth of the S-L Program and the S-LTAs. However, Attwood found satisfaction in being able to get to know the partners. Even today, with the logistics of placing community partners with courses depending mostly on the S-L Program and S-LTAs, she still tries to meet the partners every few semesters because she says she values, “my own relationships [with the partners], and not [just being] the professor behind the syllabus.”

Attwood wonderfully wrapped up the conversation by providing some feedback based on her experiences, which she hopes can motivate other courses to incorporate service-learning. She simply said that, “service-learning is just so rich, it makes the classroom come alive and… it doesn’t need to be overwhelming. Sure, there is going to be a learning curve in doing something new as a teacher, but its very enlivening! So for me, its well worth it.”

Education in the Community has worked with, among other partners, Balfour, 826 Boston, Math Power, St. Peter’s in Dorchester, St. Katharine Drexel Afterschool, Ellis Memorial, USES, South Street Youth Center, Yawkey Boys and Girls Club in Roxbury and South Boston. We are delighted to have Professor Attwood as part of the Service-Learning family, and thrilled with the community-based perspective that drives her course.

Ben is a member of the Service-Learning Street Team.
photo courtesy of the Northeastern University College of Professional Studies website.

2 thoughts on “Catching up with Professor Polly Attwood and Education in the Community”

  1. Nuslearning:

    Thank you time and time again for bringing S-L to the forefront of the academic conversation. You have provided more insight and transparency on what is going on within your learning community than most Centers and departments. I applaud your effort and encourage you to keep growing implicitly and more importantly explicitly.


    Liked by 1 person

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