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Building Hope as an Adaptive Educator

Updated: Mar 20, 2022

Author: Dr. Tiffany Hall


It was my junior year of high school, I was eating dinner, and my Dad asked how I did on a recent English test. I told him I made a 90. He asked what would have made the three-point difference. I told him I studied for the test like it was going to be multiple choice assessment and it was an essay test. I was not prepared to expound on my answers. My Dad simply said, “Tiffany, you have to be proactive not reactive.”

Years later I entered the teaching profession and shared with my Dad, who was a retired military pilot and a teacher at the time, this great book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He grinned and said, “I know the book. I studied it in the 1980s from a human resources perspective.” It was that moment I realized I was a product of living the 7 Habits. When people called me resilient, it was because I was explicitly taught how to have hope in all circumstances.

Student achievement in the 20-21 school year was lower compared to a typical year with larger declines in math than reading according to NWEA (Figure 1). Achievement was lower for all groups of students in Fall 2021, but historically marginalized students and students in high-poverty schools were disproportionality impacted (Lewis and Kuhfeld, Figure 2 & Figure 3). Youth depression has increased 28% over a five-year period (Nguyen, 2017) and it is estimated 39% of adolescents will experience anxiety disorders (“Any Anxiety Disorder,” 2017). The reality is teachers and leaders have to be concerned with more than teaching today. One of the most difficult times to be an educator is during a pandemic. One characteristic every adaptive educator should have is HOPE. Educators must be able to teach others how to have hope through explicitly teaching in direct lessons.

With all of this data, we clearly know students have been adversely impacted by the pandemic. What are educators to do? Ultimately, there is no one-size-fits all approach. Multiple strategies have to be implemented from trauma-informed response, family engagement, social emotional support, etc. For the sake of academics, today we will solely focus on hope building and positive psychology. If educators and students have hope, they can overcome some of the obstacles of COVID-19. You might think that is easier said than done, but did you know you can explicitly teach hope? Dr Synder said, “Hope is defined as the perceived capability to derive pathways to desired goals, and motivate oneself via agency thinking to use those pathways.” To help students gain hope they must (GAP): 1. Goal Set

2. Action Plan

3. Practice Agency Build hope through asking:

1. Where do I want to go? (Goal Set)

2. How can I get there? (Action Plan)

3. What strengths do I have to help me get there or keep on track? (Practice Agency) To move from a “repairing” mindset to a “building” mindset one has to hone in on his circle of influence. Depending on the age, it may be best to start with a “fun” important goal or FIG to model the process. For example, one may start as a class. A kindergarten group may focus on increasing drawing confidence from 0% to 100% (lag measure). The action steps, or lead measures to meet the goal, could be to watch Art Hub daily and practice drawing the image once daily. An example of taking agency (living good habits) would be through a compelling “scoreboarding” daily or charting the lead measures of watching Art Hub and practicing for accountability. By the end of the time period allotted to meet the goal, students compare growth from the beginning to the end and chart this growth in confidence in relationship to drawing. All students, if they complete the lead measures, will grow in the lag measure. Ultimately, students develop hope that, by taking on one goal at a time, living good habits, and taking very specific steps to achieve the goal, they can make positive change.

Transitioning this process to an academic wildly important goal (WIG), students review their school data. The process needs to be heavily supported by the teacher. For example, a student may decide to have a goal to achieve 100% of his growth target for MAP, iReady Diagnostic, or STAR in ELA by the winter formative assessment. The lead measures to do this may be to pass at least one personalized learning path lesson a week in ELA and to read independently 20 minutes a day. Always remember, more than 3 just cannot be. Over three steps or goals becomes difficult to achieve. Examples of action steps are, the child charts daily the lead measures, proactively reads during any “down time” and lives healthy mental habits such as the 7 habits of highly effective people. Goal setting with action planning offers direction to the destination. A destination without having the directions or a mode of transportation to get to the destination ensures failure. With pathway choices led by the students, educators are able to empower students and motivate them to move forward with their achievement in regards to attainable goals. As Dr. Lopez, positive psychologist, ascertained (2014) hope is not just an emotion but an essential life tool. By building hope through GAP, students are equipped with life skills for success. Lewis, K., & Kuhfeld, M. (2021). Learning during COVID-19: An update on student achievement and growth at the start of the 2021-22 school year. NWEA.

Lopez, S. (2014). Making Hope Happen.

Synder, CR. Hope Theory: Rainbows in the Mind. Psychological Inquiry. 2002, Vol. 13, No. 4, 249-275.




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