Despite all the researching, debating, talking, and planning for the upcoming school year, no one can predict how it will all play out. There are too many variables, unprecedented variables that make the return to school so challenging. Simply put, this is an uncertain, scary time for educators, parents, and students. On a larger scale, it’s also an uncertain, scary time for the rest of us, which is why remaining informed, optimistic, and flexible is important. “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement,” said Helen Keller, a woman very familiar with insurmountable odds—as well as uncertain, scary times. “Nothing,” she continued, “can be done without hope.”
Don’t worry. We’re not going to get too saccharine on you. What we are going to do, true to the title of this blog, is talk about the power of hope, a subject often relegated to motivational speakers and wishful thinkers, or yearbook quotes and greeting cards. However, a June 2020 Psychology Today article by Dr. David B. Feldman argues that hope isn’t the same thing as wishful thinking. “It’s not even the same as glass-half-full thinking,” he says. “Hope is applicable even when the glass is only a third full or has nothing in it at all. That’s because real hope isn’t about living in a fantasy world; it’s about living in this one. It doesn’t deny suffering and pain.” He asserts it’s because hope isn’t a delusion, but rather something people very much grounded in the real world, who understand and accept that life can be tough, unfair, and chaotic, use to stay on course and create better realities for themselves. Hope isn’t abstract. It’s very much concrete.
Hope is “a way of thinking that pushes us to action.” Research finds that when people have hope, they’re more likely to make their goals a reality. When people have a clear belief, a clear hope, about what’s possible, they’re more likely to take the action needed on that goal to bring it to fruition. People with hope are people who are able to envision and pursue a future different than their current reality. They’re able to set clear goals, develop multiple strategies to attain those goals, and stay motivated to reach those goals even when they experience setbacks.
Studies also show that people with high levels of hope throughout their lives have better physical health, better health behaviors, better social supports, and live longer—it also can lead to fewer chronic health problems, less depression, and less anxiety. Those with consistently high levels of hope are more productive at work, handle stress better, and tolerate pain and adversity better than their less hopeful peers, keeping in mind once again that hope doesn’t mean a blind optimism. The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines hope simply as “to expect with confidence.” Hope makes students better problem solvers and students with hope for their future, who can confidently expect their goals to become realit, are less likely to drop out .
What might be the most eye-opening revelations regarding the concreteness of hope, is how experts are finding that there may not be a better way to predict student success than how hopeful they are. In an article from The Atlantic entitled “The Role of Adult Mentorship in Children Dealing With Trauma” the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development’s Dr. Valerie Maholmes said that there’s no more important predictor of success than hope, especially in children who come from environments where all circumstantial evidence points to the contrary. She said that children who are able to adapt and overcome adversity tend to have a higher sense of self efficacy, which feeds their senses of competency, and leads to a feeling of control over their environment and destination. To hear it from Dr. Maholmes, hope is one big trickle-down effect.
In discussing the results of Gallup’s 2018 Survey of K-12 School District Superintendents, Gallup Senior Editor Dr. Jeffrey Jones says that by and large the superintendents surveyed said students’ engagement and hope are actually the best indicators of future success. The survey found that students who are engaged—those involved and enthusiastic about school—are more likely to be hopeful for the future and have better academic performance than their disengaged peers; in fact, 9 out of 10 K-12 superintendents said hope for the future is a very important measurement of school effectiveness (versus just 1-10 who said standardized tests are very important). Earlier Gallup surveys indicate that students stay engaged (which in turn keeps them in school) when they’re able to connect what they’re learning to their futures and thinking about their futures is what gives students that assumption that a positive outcome can happen—it’s all interconnected.
The takeaway then, for educators, mentors, family members, and anyone else helping prepare the next generation of workers for career and life success is to work your best to instill a sense of hope in that next generation, especially in these very uncertain times. It’s not something that comes naturally to everyone, but is something that can be cultivated and worked on, and something we’re going to be focusing on the entire month of August as we gear up to what might be the most challenging school year students and educators have faced in some time.