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Inspiring Hope in Students in the Coming School Year

All too many students are entering this school year overwhelmed and discouraged. Counselors and educators can make an intentional effort to find ways to inspire hope in their students to nurture student development and catalyze growth.

SchooLinks Staff
SchooLinks Staff

Aug 01, 2022

The past two and half years have taken a toll on everyone associated with schools. Headlines about schools have dominated national and local news, alike; and, the prevailing narratives have focused nearly entirely on deficits: learning loss, behavioral issues, chronic absence, mental health struggles, and failing grades. 

Though it has not been the intention, this constant dialogue about the shortcomings of schools–about how students are behind or lacking–has permeated student worldviews. This has occurred with a backdrop of collective financial strife, housing insecurity, discontinuity of relationships, and health and safety concerns across all too many students and families. 

Because of this, many students are entering this coming school year discouraged about themselves, their trajectories, and school in general. They are feeling disempowered by their circumstances. As this school year begins, it is critical that districts, schools, and educators understand this context and make intentional efforts to inspire hope in their students–to nurture their positive sense of self, to empower them with action, and to find ways to build relationships with a supportive network of both peers and adults. 

Leading with Authentic Optimism 

The ways that counselors and educators communicate with students have a profound impact on school climate and how students feel about their futures. Their words and actions matter and set the tone of the classroom, school, and district. Educators that lead with hope, trust, and genuine respect for their students implicitly communicate to their students that they are appreciated and cared for. Counselors or educators can pair messages about what students have missed with notes about what a student has done well. This prevents students from being overwhelmed by negative communication and helps keep them motivated moving forward. 

Honoring the Student Rather than the Outcome 

So often students are only evaluated on major academic milestones, final grades, or test scores. Especially at this moment, when so many students are behind a typical rate of growth, it is vital that adults recognize and notice seemingly small measures of student learning or qualities that transcend academic standards. Counselors can be leaders in creating a culture where students are celebrated for traits such as perseverance, collaboration, or kindness. When educators acknowledge these attributes in students, they can communicate to them that they are unique and special and that they have characteristics that will help them achieve their dreams for the future. When educators honor who a student is at their core, they feel seen and valued and look to the future with a positive outlook. 

Empowering Students with Agency

When indications of effort and intention are recognized–when learning is seen truly as a process rather than an outcome–students who may be discouraged about school are empowered with a sense of agency to positively impact their future. When there is a setback or challenge, counselors can work with students to make a plan for a path forward. This transforms what feels like mistakes or a deadend into a hopeful path forward. And, they can encourage students to reflect and feel pride when they have overcome obstacles. These examples work as sparks to encourage students and can be immeasurably impactful for them as they often shape how students see themselves and what they are capable of accomplishing. 

Building a Supportive School Community

One of the most significant ways to inspire hope in students is to create a mutually supportive dynamic at school. When it is evident to students that they are part of a community–that there are peers who understand them, that there are adults who appreciate them for who they are, and that there are others who will support them through a struggle or challenge–they can look to the future with confidence and aspiration.

During a time when there is such intense pressure to accelerate learning and fill academic gaps created by the pandemic, an explicit focus on these non-academic goals and outcomes can easily get lost. But, if students do not feel a sense of hope about their learning and their future, they will be unable to deeply engage with academic content. Taking steps to ensure that students feel there is purpose in what they are doing means they are motivated to think about all they can do in school and beyond.

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