Neighbourly Action: Learning how to give a hoot

A simple model for helping students

move into action

act as a neighbour

serve the common good

The usual wide and rich service learning opportunities have been on hold for the most part of 2020. This fallow period gives the chance to review things and reset how we prepare students for this work. There is no need to wait to be able to go back to what we were doing. We can adapt and work now in the situation we find ourselves.

There are plenty of issues, needs and dilemmas to assault the senses and challenge young empathetic hearts. Climate may well be at the top, but aged care, refugees, mental health are also prominent. How can we help students be effective in their action? How can we help students move with intelligence, compassion and confidence?

The common bottle neck is the gap between talking and doing. The model below offers three unremarkable steps. Yet they combine in a surprisingly energising spiral. They turn around each other until the last question appears. This would be the right question and leads the questioner into the neighbourhood with purpose and permission.

Neighbourly Action Model


                             Notice on purpose. Nonjudgmentally. In every direction.


                             Ask lots of questions. Ask good questions. Ask the right questions.


Follow the questions.

With the last – and – right question,

muster all the courage and capacity you can muster,

and follow where it leads, and never give up.

That is it. Take care noticing. Listen on purpose. Pay attention. Questions will arise. Questions lead to more questions and informs further noticing. Spiralling between these three activities will unearth the right question.

The heart of intelligent, compassionate action lies in following where this last and right questions lead. It is no small thing, worthy even of being called a quest.

What follows will require courage, patience, strength, creativity and more. There is an overwhelming supply of obstacles to noticing and questioning and following. Persist. Never give up. This is how anything, anywhere, has ever changed for the good of the earth and children yet unborn.

A Case Study – Greta Thunberg and Climate Change

This is an unauthorised and abbreviated biography, but one can safely assume her journey has gone something like this.

In the company of a teacher Greta learns about science, chemistry, combustion, photosynthesis and things. Then she notices what science has pointed to for over 120 years. A teacher talks about climate change. And questions form:

“Explain again how heat gets trapped in the atmosphere?”

“How does human activity affect this?”

These questions lead to some investigation and inquiry which leads to more noticing and then increasingly sharper questions.

“What happens when heat gets trapped? And what happens when more and more heat is trapped?”


“Ok. Can something be done about this?”

Each question leads to the next. There are many mini paths of inquiry to pursue that feeds more noticing and better questions.

“Why aren’t we doing what we can as fast as we can?”

“What is stopping us from acting now?”

“What are the consequences of inaction?”

“Where does moral responsibility point us?”

The questions continue until they spiral towards a commonly repeated question, which reads something like:

“So what can I do about this?”

This question is not the final question. It leads to a penultimate ‘quest’, a searching out and discovering of all the possibilities, of weighing and testing and searching again. Slowly, a path emerges. Greta landed with this:

  • Know as much as I can
    • Prepare a short pamphlet
    • Have lots of copies
    • Break the law and strike (in Sweden school is compulsory)
    • Strike outside the Parliament, downtown Stockholm, Monday 20 August 2018
  • Strike for three weeks leading into the Swedish general election
    • Speak to as many politicians as possible as they pass by
    • Keep striking

The final question has appeared and the ‘quest’ is near. It addresses the questioner.

“Is this issue MY issue and this path MY path?”


“Do I care enough about this issue to act in this way?”


“Is this what is asked of me and do I have what it takes to do it?”

On Monday 20th August 2018, Greta failed to turn up to school. She protested outside the Parliament with a simple sign: Skolstrejk för klimatet, “School Strike for Climate”[1]. It was only weeks away from the Swedish election. That was it. One girl, fifteen years old, a sign, a pamphlet, a broken law and time on the street outside Parliament.

Thirteen months later she was joined by millions of people from all around the world[2].

Whilst Greta’s example might be easy to romanticise, the origins of change are the same the world over. The message for anyone, and especially the young is simple.

You are not too young to notice.

You are not too young to ask questions.

And with whatever capacity and courage you can muster, you are not too young to follow where those questions lead.

To schools and teachers and chaplains, we can provide the structure and culture where skills are given to students, not just encouragement



Images in this article are taken from the Book “I Just Want To Make A Difference”, published earlier this year and available on Apple books:

Richard Browning Written by:

Richard is an experienced priest and school chaplain and is the Director of Mission with the Anglican Schools Commission, Southern Queensland.

One Comment

  1. Lana Priebbenow
    November 14, 2020

    Using this next week, thanks Fr Richard.

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