Is there any hope?

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)

Hope is central to the life of Christians. It doesn’t solve all of our problems – but we do live in ‘hope’.

However, we know that many of the children and even the staff in our care, are struggling to find ‘hope’ in our schools. Life can be complex, complicated and challenging.  We all need ‘hope’.

I was thrilled to hear Dr Dante Dixon speak about HOPE at the Greater Good Science Centre Summer Institute for Educators at Berkeley in June 2017. Dr Dixon is an eminent researcher on hope and with his team has compared the results of ‘high hopers’ with ‘low hopers’. Very simply put – ‘high hopers’ have better academic and psychological outcomes when compared to ‘low hopers’.

One of the most marvelous and amazing educators in the world is Vicki Zakrzewski of the Greater Good Science Centre. Vicki has long recognized the need for ‘hope’ in our students and she was one of the leaders at the Summer Institute for Educators, where Dr Dixon was a guest speaker.

Vicki writes, “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.” Furthermore, “studies suggest that having more hope may actually predict a student’s future academic achievement more than feelings of self-worth or a positive attitude towards life actually do.”

According to Vicki Zakrzewski, ‘hope’ is not about wishful thinking – it is about setting clear and attainable goals, developing multiple strategies to reach those goals and staying motivated even when the going gets tough.

Vicki Zakrzewski has looked at the research and provided educators with five guidelines to build the skills of hope.

  1. Identify and prioritise their top goals, from macro to micro. This is a great thing to do with any class. Help the students create a ‘big picture’ list of what is important to them. It might be to play for the Wallabies, to get an OP 1 to 5, or whatever.  Make the goals ‘solution oriented’ – based on accomplishing something. Then ask the students to rank their goals in order of importance. This is key if you want your students to have focus and energy to pursue their goals.
  2. Breakdown the goals into steps. Explicitly teach students how to see their goals as a series of steps and encourage celebrations along the way as each step is achieved.
  3. Teach students that there is more than one way to reach a goal. Students with low hope are often unable to move past obstacles. They may lack problem-solving skills or perhaps they have a fixed mindset and believe they lack the necessary talent. Help students to explore creative ways to overcome obstacles.
  4. Tell stories of success. This is one of my favourite things to do with any class to foster hope. Read books or share stories of people show have overcome adversity. There are so many inspiring stories and there is always a great Youtube video to share!
  5. Keep it light and positive. It’s important for students and for us to find the joy in process. Laugh at the bumps along the way. Avoid the self-pity response to issues and maintain positive self-talk.

Why not give all of our students some hope. Don’t they deserve that? And why not give yourself a little hope too?

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthian 13.13

Vanessa Gamack has joined the team at the Anglican Schools Commission in Southern Queensland as the Mission Education Advisor.

After a career in teaching spanning three decades and three continents, Vanessa now hopes to make a difference by serving other teachers. Presenting professional development and supporting teachers is something Vanessa thoroughly enjoys and she has presented at local, national and international conferences on Religious Education.

Vanessa has been most recently teaching Religious Education at ‘Churchie’, Anglican Church Grammar School. During her 12 years at Churchie, Vanessa developed a passion for character education and developed her own subject called Christian Character and Religious Education or CCARE.

In 2016, Vanessa was awarded the Harrop Family Churchie Teaching Fellowship, which enabled her to travel to the US in 2017 and attend a course at Berkeley University. More recently, Vanessa has been in the UK looking at trends in Religious Education in England and Scotland.

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