Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Making Hope Happen in the Classroom: Hopeful Students Are More Successful in School, and Educators Can Employ Strategies to Boost Hopefulness in Their Students

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Making Hope Happen in the Classroom: Hopeful Students Are More Successful in School, and Educators Can Employ Strategies to Boost Hopefulness in Their Students

Article excerpt

My son and I do lots of nexting on our morning walks to his elementary school. We talk about his next big project at school, his next basketball game, the next movie we'll watch. Nexting thinking and talking about a desired future comes naturally to kids. I have never met a child who couldn't do it.

If all children are capable of nexting, which requires thinking about the future in a fairly complex way, then why are only half of American children hopeful, according to the Gallup Student Poll? Why does only one of every two children believe their future will be better than their present and believe that they have the power to make that future a reality?

We can answer these questions by focusing on the harsh realities of our modern world that we can do little about. Or, we can exercise our own hope as educators to teach children how to hope. That starts with a common understanding of what hope is and is not, why it is important, and how it works.

Three myths about future thinking

Hopeful thinking combines future thinking with a sense of agency or efficacy. While most teachers know the value of building personal efficacy, future thinking's role in student learning and development is not well understood. This may be due to our assumptions about daydreaming, motivation, and hope itself.

Daydreaming is bad for students. Thinking about the future is something children do naturally. When their minds wander they might reflect on the past or examine the present, but most of the time they're daydreaming about the future.

While teachers may interpret students' dreamy gazes as off-task behavior, they may be considering something inspired by the teacher, a peer's comment about a lesson, or a deep thought about how what they just learned in class relates to some other knowledge.

Daydreaming gives a child a chance to take a future for a test drive. It is where imagination sparks creativity and where plans and designs for the future are developed.

All goals are created equal. Through daydreaming, students entertain aims beyond school. With the help of others, students begin to sort through the images of the future, or goals, and decide where they want to devote their time and energy.

Not all goals are created equal. The most motivating student goals are the ones they own and find personally meaningful. What's salient to young people are the same goals that captivate most adults. Specifically, they want a good job. The image of having a good job pulls people through the years required to finish high school and undergraduate education. And they want that good job to provide security for the second outcome they're pursuing: a happy family. Although ideas about what a happy family looks like differ vastly from person to person, all covet an image of a group of people coexisting and helping one another in daily life. These goals--the good job and happy family--help young people overcome the rigors of high school and college. These expectations, the foundations of a good life, are what draw students forward. Their goals motivate them.

Wishing is the same as hoping. Future thinking that is rich with imagery is a core ingredient of both hoping and wishing. If a child is thinking about a desirable outcome, she may be hopeful. Then again, she may be just wishing.

Both future visions are immediately self-reinforcing--priming the pleasure pump with thoughts about accomplishment and celebration. Both can also help individuals relax and buffer themselves against stress, anxiety, and other negative emotions.

The difference is that hopes are sustainable; wishes are not. Wishes are mental fast food. They are mind candy that satisfies for the moment, but do nothing to nourish us for the long haul. Distinguishing a wish from a hope is not always easy. The telltale sign of a wish is that its benefits are fleeting. Wishing is future thinking that sparks no action. …

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