"Hope is the thing with feathers."- Emily Dickinson
“Hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of good things. And no good thing ever dies." - Shawshank Redemption
In recent months, much attention has been paid to the concept of "grit" in academic circles. In fact, it seems to be the "flavor of the month" these days in the world of education. Experts define "grit" as perseverance, determination, and resilience. Check out Paul Tough and Angela Duckworth as experts on the concept. See Angela's Ted talk here: Ted talk. Grit is a wonderful quality to have and it is undoubtedly linked to success. We are all familiar with the stories of successful people overcoming early failures in their lives. Michael Jordan was cut from his varsity basketball team. Walt Disney was fired from a writing job for lack of "imagination and good ideas." Oprah Winfrey was rejected by a producer because she was "unfit for television news." Find a very successful person and chances are you have found someone who has overcome adversity in their life.
My concern as an educator is that we may be missing what is under the surface when we focus on "grit" with tunnel vision. After all, if developing grit in young people were as easy as exposing them to failure over and again, students in "dropout factory" schools would be destined for success, right? Sadly, that is not the way it plays out in real life.
In my opinion, there are "engines" which power the sense of grit in young people. Chief among these engines is HOPE. Hope for a better future. Hope for a better life. Hope to feel like you matter and can make a difference in this world. Educators and school counselors must be champions of hope. You can expose a child to failure all you want, but if no one else believes in the child, how likely are they to believe in themselves to persevere through the failures?
What does the research say about the role of hope in education? Gallup has done a lot of polling and research in this area in recent years. Hope has a significant correlation with academic success. "Hope accounts for about 13 percent of the variance in students' academic success, defined by such markers as attendance, credits attempted and earned, and graduation." Education Week article.
What are some simple ways that school counselors can cultivate a sense of HOPE in their students?
1. Identify your office as a place of hope. The poster on my door says, "Mr. Koebel's Office: This is a Place of Hope."
2. Ask your students who or what gives them hope. It might be volleyball. It might be their grandma. It might be comic books. The whole point is you will not know unless you ask. When you survey students, at the beginning of the year for example, include a simple question on the topic of hope. Find out what makes your students tick and what motivates them. When you meet with students who are struggling, refer back to these sources of hope to help them push through and to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
3. Recognize the positive contributions of your students. Make sure that you are finding ways to recognize the full spectrum of students and not just "honor roll" students. I will be sending leadership recognition cards to students in homeroom this year. The cards will be brief notes recognizing students for their recent positive contributions to the school. Examples of when I may send out a card: 1) Participation in a service project; 2) Participation in the talent show; 3) Qualifying for a music competition; 4) Tutoring another student. The possibilities are really endless.