Making Hope Happen in Rural Schools

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By Jamie Meade, Managing Director, Learning and Leading 

Preparing students to thrive in the rural setting requires more than academic knowledge and skills. Students must be prepared to navigate the many challenges of life, which can be unpredictable, even with the best of plans! According to C. R. Snyder, who dedicated many years of research to positive psychology, hope is the state of mind paired with action that helps students navigate life’s twists and turns, and keeps them moving forward, even when obstacles arise. How can we help rural students overcome challenges of economic stability, isolation, and lack of resources to move forward? First, by understanding the impact of hope.  

Hope is more than wishful thinking. According to Shane Lopez, author of Making Hope Happen, hopeful students believe their future will be better than their present, and they have the power to make it so. Hopeful students understand there are multiple pathways to success and anticipate obstacles and plan for them. When students have hope for the future, they take their education more seriously and bring positive ideas and lots of energy into the learning process, which in turn makes emotional engagement in school more likely. The Gallup Student Poll found a positive correlation between hope and engagement: more than 70 percent of hopeful students were also emotionally engaged at school! 

So, how can teachers foster hope in the classroom?

Here are five strategies for educators to foster hope in their students.

  1. Help students get excited for their future! Hopeful students dream of what the future will hold.
  2. Support students in setting and prioritizing personal goals.  When goals are personal, meaning they’re connected to student interests, passion, and strengths, students are more likely to take action! Hopeful students set goals for what “they” want to achieve; this drives the energy needed to persevere and succeed. 
  3. Help students feel their sense of agency: their perceived ability (personal power) to be in control of outcomes in their lives.  Look for opportunities each day to elevate student voice and choice in learning.  
  4. Provide the dress rehearsal for overcoming obstacles through rigor in the classroom.  When teachers provide students with high expectation for learning, paired with the right support and resources, students get to practice overcoming obstacles through perseverance, hard work, and application of new strategies as they work toward their goals.  
  5. Help students identify multiple pathways to reach their goals. Hopeful students are creative problem-solvers in the face of challenges. They know there are multiple ways to an end and don’t give up easily.  They learn to reframe perceived failures as opportunities to formulate new strategies to successful outcomes.

The good news:  Hope can be learned!  Hope is contagious! Educators can model hopefulness in their own actions and words—for students and for colleagues. Through this approach, hopeless students can actually borrow hope from their teachers!

Rural America continues to offer fulfillment and promise for students.  Let’s ensure they’re equipped with not only academic readiness, but also with a positive outlook for their future through goals, agency and multiple pathways to success.  

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Learn how The Student Experience® Survey can help you foster student hope in the classroom.

Jamie Meade is Managing Director of Learning and Leading at Battelle for Kids. Connect with her on Twitter at @meade_jamie