How to Help Students Develop HopeBy Vicki Zakrzewski | November 6, 2012 | 3 comments
According to research, hope is key to academic achievement--and it's a skill students can develop over time. Here's how.
“I hope I get an ‘A’ on this test!” How many times have teachers heard these exact words from their students? Goodness knows, most teachers would certainly love for their students to get an A, too!
Well, for teachers eager to help their students get more A’s, research suggests they should help their students get more hope.
Though it may seem like a simple, wishy-washy emotion, research suggests cultivating hope is actually a complicated process—but there are significant rewards for those who make the effort.
Researchers have found that students who are high in hope have greater academic success, stronger friendships, and demonstrate more creativity and better problem-solving. They also have lower levels of depression and anxiety and are less likely to drop out from school.
But does this mean hope causes these benefits—or couldn’t success in school and in making friends just give students more hope? In fact, studies suggest that having hope may actually predict a student’s future academic achievement more than having feelings of self-worth or a positive attitude towards life actually do.
So how do teachers know which students are high in hope? Easy: They are the students who don’t take failure personally. Instead, they use it to improve their performance next time. They’re also more optimistic, and, in the face of obstacles, they tell themselves, “I can do this. I won’t give up.”
Thankfully, scientists have found that the majority of students in the United States are very hopeful. But what about those who aren’t? Oftentimes, students lose hope as a result of their family circumstances. For example, one study found that students who had witnessed violence against a family member or friend were less hopeful.
The good news is that hope can be cultivated, even among students who are at risk for losing it. But first we have to understand what scientists mean when they talk about hope.
Hope doesn’t mean wishful thinking—as in “I hope I win the lottery.” Instead, a person who is high in hope knows how to do the following things.
- Set clear and attainable goals.
- Develop multiple strategies to reach those goals.
- Stay motivated to use the strategies to attain the goals, even when the going gets tough.
For educators who want to help their students build these skills of hope, here are five research-based guidelines.
1) Identify and prioritize their top goals, from macro to micro. Start by having students create a “big picture” list of what’s important to them—such as their academics, friends, family, sports, or career—and then have them reflect on which areas are most important to them and how satisfied they are with each. Keep in mind that the goals must be what the students want, not what their parents or schools want. Otherwise, as studies suggest, they will quickly lose their interest and/or motivation, especially as they come up against obstacles.
Next, using this list, teach students how to create goals that are both specific and take a positive, solutions-oriented approach. Their goals need to focus on accomplishing something in the future rather than avoiding something now—for instance, “I want to play on the basketball team” is a more effective, motivating goal than “I will stop drinking soda.”
Finally, students should rank their goals in order of importance. Researchers have found that this is particularly vital for students with little hope, as they often attempt any goal that comes to mind, which distracts their focus and energy from the goals that can have the greatest impact on their overall well-being.
2) Breakdown the goals—especially long-term ones—into steps. Research has suggested that students with low hope frequently think goals have to be accomplished all-at-once, possibly because they haven’t had the parental guidance on how to achieve goals in steps. Teaching them how to see their goals as a series of steps will also give students reasons to celebrate their successes along the way—a great way to keep motivation high!
3) Teach students that there’s more than one way to reach a goal. Studies show that one of the greatest challenges for students with low hope is their inability to move past obstacles. They often lack key problem-solving skills, causing them to abandon the quest for their goals.
So teaching them to visualize different paths to their goals will help them get beyond insurmountable barriers. Perhaps most importantly, teachers need to make sure that students don’t equate those barriers with a lack of talent; instead, they need to be reminded that everyone faces obstacles. Success usually requires creative ways to overcome these obstacles, not avoiding them altogether.
4) Tell stories of success. Scientists have found that hopeful students draw on memories of other successes when they face an obstacle; however, students with low hope often don’t have these kinds of memories. That’s why it’s vital for teachers to read books or share stories of other people—especially kids—who have overcome adversity to reach their goals.
5) Keep it light and positive. It’s important to teach students to enjoy the process of attaining their goals, even to laugh at themselves when they face obstacles and make mistakes. Above all, no self-pity! Research has found that students who use positive self-talk, rather than beating themselves up for mistakes, are more likely to reach their goals.
Helping our students cultivate hope might be one of the most important things we do for them. Not only will it help them get more A’s in the short-run; it’ll give them the confidence and creativity to reach their long-term goals in school and in life.
About The Author
Vicki Zakrzewski, Ph.D., is the education director of the Greater Good Science Center.