Creating a Culture of Hope and Optimism

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Emily Gibson explains why students need their schools to create a culture of hope and optimism. Check out the article she coauthored with Robert D. Barr, “Showing Seeds of Hope,” in the summer 2015 digital issue of Educational Leadership®.

Gibson Hope and Optimism 300x300“Why should I care?” “Why do we have to do this?” “When is this ever going to be important?” Teachers often hear these complaints from students who are facing difficult academic tasks.

Of course, some children arrive at school already knowing that they can learn and that their effort matters. For these students, high-quality instruction is usually enough to set them on the road to academic success. But many children, especially those growing up in poverty, need more than a solid curriculum and engaging pedagogy. To believe that they can learn and that their hard work will pay off, these students need schools that convey hope and optimism.

Hope and optimism aren’t just feel-good emotions. In fact, they’re more important for student engagement and achievement than intellectual ability. They motivate students to keep trying when things get hard and help them believe they can make a better future. Teachers are more likely to teach effectively—and students are more likely to achieve fully—when they are immersed in an environment of hope and optimism.

To improve from within, therefore, schools need to provide more than just extrinsic motivators like grades and adult approval. Students are more likely to find hard tasks personally motivating when a school’s culture is infused with optimism, pride, purpose, and a sense of belonging. In such schools, students feel increasingly capable of and motivated by working on difficult tasks with their classmates. Their successes fuel their motivation, which helps them connect their classwork to their personal goals and discover pathways to their future.

How does your school infuse students with optimism, pride, purpose, and a sense of belonging?