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In Schools, Finding Hope at a Hopeless Time

While pandemic schooling has always been hard, it’s seemed to get harder as time has gone on according to educators who are desperately looking for ways to help students stay motivated. Teachers have reported that students increasingly see school as irrelevant and feel a sense of hopelessness about the future. Even with vaccinations and school openings increasing, there are reported upticks in youth depression, anxiety, and suicide attempts. Many teachers, too, share a deepening sense of disillusionment after a year of significant upheaval—and what is expected to be a challenging, slow transition back.

So what can educators do to instill hope in students, especially when many feel hopeless themselves? According to many research studies, people who are hopeful aren’t simply optimists or Pollyannas but are able to think proactively about the future and plan ahead to get there. Research shows that hope is a learnable, measurable skill, and one that has a sizable impact on students’ success and persistence in school. Children who are hopeful are also found to have higher self-esteem and social skills, are more likely to set and achieve goals, and can more easily bounce back from adversity.

According to researchers and psychologists like Crystal Bryce, the associate director of research at the Center for the Advanced Study and Practice of Hope at Arizona State University, small shifts in curriculum, assignments, and tasks can actually have an effect on how students see themselves and their world. By making some adjustments and bringing new activities, teachers can mitigate some of the hopelessness students feel—and, in turn, make themselves feel more hopeful too.

Don’t Sweep It Under the Rug

Both children and adults should acknowledge and address the tumult they’ve experienced this past year, said David Schonfeld, a pediatrician and director of the National Center for School Crisis and Bereavement at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, which works with schools after crises like school shootings.

Coach students to focus on one or two things that are troubling them—a roadblock, for example—and address those specifically, said Phyllis Fagell, a school counselor in Washington, D.C. Fagell’s go-to is using a “worry monster” (a stuffed monster with a zippered mouth pouch) for younger students or a “worry box” for older students, where students can write down a worry and “set it aside.” She also recommends creating anonymous Google docs so that students can freely vent frustrations and brainstorm coping strategies to help.

A Mindset Shift

When students have the right frame of reference, educators can prime their brains to be more hopeful, according to research.

C.R. “Rick” Snyder, a well-known researcher of hope, found that students who scored higher on measures of hope had more agency to develop goals and set pathways to accomplish them—including finding alternative strategies if they had setbacks along the way.

Opportunities for Impact

In a classroom, teachers can help combat the feelings of powerlessness by giving students opportunities where they regain a sense of control. This, in turn, makes them feel more hopeful, according to a 2010 research study of adolescents ages 14 to 18. These can be small things, like the ability to choose activities to complete, an opportunity to share passions and interests, or having a second chance to improve.

Excerpted from “In Schools, Finding Hope at a Hopeless Time” in Edutopia. Read the full article online for additional details and strategies to help you implement the above recommendations in the classroom.

Source: Edutopia | In Schools, Finding Hope at a Hopeless Time, https://www.edutopia.org/article/schools-finding-hope-hopeless-time | © 2021 George Lucas Educational Foundation

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