On some days I have mixed feelings about myself.
But on most days I appreciate that by nature and nurture I am a bit of a contrarian, meaning that I tend to see things a bit differently than most people. That certainly is true regarding a lot of what is considered “conventional wisdom.”
Recently as a hospice volunteer in a healthcare facility I saw a sign that said, “Give hope.”
The contrarian part of me immediately wondered if it is possible for one human being to give hope to another, and if so, under what conditions.
For instance, can I say to you, “You should be more hopeful,” or more simply, “Be hopeful,” and as a result you will think about the future in a new way?
Or, can I expect new attitudes by saying “Believe in the potential of all the students to learn more,” or “All of us can continuously improve what we do”?
In my experience, such expressions seldom produce the desired result.
But there are three things that I think can make a difference:
1. Be the qualities you seek.
- Be authentically hopeful.
- Embody continuous improvement in all aspects of your work and life and do so publicly, revealing both your successes and frustrations.
- Affirm through your words and actions your belief that all students can achieve at higher levels and that all teachers can develop the necessary skills to produce that learning.
2. Design structures that enable staff members to experience first hand the validity of a growth-oriented point of view in their daily work.
- Organize all teachers into teams to increase the likelihood that they will be successful with all students.
- Have high expectations for team performance and provide the training necessary to ensure that performance.
- Provide time for regularly-scheduled team meetings.
- Establish processes for reporting team activities and accomplishments to other teams and to school leaders.
3. Celebrate “small wins” at every opportunity—one-to-one conversations, team and faculty meetings, and school-community events. When teachers and others are frequently reminded of the progress they have made that is often invisible to them on a day-to-day basis they become more energized and focused.
Can I give hope to you? I don’t think so, at least not in the way it is often meant.
But I can create an environment that increases the likelihood that you will experience possibility where previously you experienced none.
Creating those conditions, first in ourselves and then in the culture and structures of the school, is, I believe, a primary and fundamental responsibility of all school leaders.
Do you agree or disagree?