Hope and Optimism: The Other 21st Century Skills
Due to the interest of my post The Other 21st Skills, I decided to individually discuss each of the skills or dispositions I proposed that are in addition to the seven survival skills as identified by Tony Wagner. This post focuses on hope and optimism.
People who have a sense of optimism tend to see things in a positive light, learn from negative situations, exert more continuous effort and persevere, assuming that the situation can be handled successfully in one way or another. Hope is closely related to optimism and is considered an ability to conceptualize goals, find pathways to these goals despite obstacles and have the motivation to use those pathways. We feel hope if we know what we want, can think of possible ways to get there and start and keep on going. Adapted from – Hope and Optimism – http://positivepsychology.org.uk/pp-theory/optimism/32-optimism-and-hope.html
Some of the characteristics or skills sets of hope and optimism include:
- Positive View About the Future
- Can Do Attitude
- Personal Agency
- Engage in Positive Self Talk
- Belief in Ability to Solve Problems
- Belief in One’s Ability to Impact Positively on One’s Situation.
- Maintaining Perspective
- Sense of Efficacy
The good news from researchers in the field of positive psychology is that an optimistic explanatory style is not just a personality trait; it is a skill which can taught and learned. Hope can also be learned; it is one of the pathways to wellbeing; it is related to our beliefs and goals for the future, it flows from one person to another and has a positive ripple effect on how we see the world and pursue our goals. Both hope and optimism are correlated with learning, achievement, positive relationships, health and satisfaction with life and wellbeing. (Teaching Hope & Optimism: Positive Psychology in Action)
Over the last 20 years, researchers have gained a clearer understanding of the relationships between hope and important aspects of students’ lives. Put simply, research demonstrates that more hopeful students do better in school and life than less hopeful students.
- Hope is positively associated with perceived competence and self-worth (Marques, Pais-Ribeiro, & Lopez, 2009) and negatively associated with symptoms of depression (Snyder, Hoza, et al., 1997).
- High-hope students typically are more optimistic (Snyder, Hoza, et al., 1997), develop many life goals, and perceive themselves as being capable of solving problems that may arise (Snyder, Hoza, et al., 1997).
- Accumulating evidence suggests that hope is related to life satisfaction and wellbeing (e.g., Gilman, Dooley, & Florell, 2006).
- Hope plays a role in student health in areas such as adherence to treatment among asthma children patients (Berg, Rapoff, Snyder, & Belmont, 2007).
- Hope is linked consistently to attendance and credits earned (Gallup, 2009a).
- Hopeful middle school students have better grades in core subjects (Marques, Pais-Ribeiro, & Lopez, 2011) and on achievement tests (Snyder, Hoza, et al., 1997).
- Hopeful high school students (Gallup, 2009b; Snyder et al., 1991) and beginning college students (Gallagher & Lopez, 2008; Snyder et al., 2002) have higher overall grade point averages.
- Hope predicts academic achievement, and the predictive power of hope remains significant even when controlling for intelligence (e.g., Snyder, Cheavens, & Sympson, 1997), prior grades (e.g., Gallagher & Lopez, 2008; Snyder et al., 1991; Snyder et al., 2002), self-esteem (Snyder et al., 2002), personality (Day, Hanson, Maltby, Proctor, & Wood, 2010), and college entrance examination scores such as high school GPA and ACT/SAT (Gallagher & Lopez, 2008; Snyder et al., 2002).
- Higher hope has been positively related to superior athletic (and academic) performances among student athletes (e.g., Curry, Maniar, Sondag, & Sandstedt, 1999), even after statistically controlling for variance related to their natural athletic abilities.
- Higher hope has been correlated positively with social competence (Barnum, Snyder, Rapoff, Mani, & Thompson, 1998), pleasure in getting to know others, enjoyment in frequent interpersonal interactions (Snyder, Hoza, et al., 1997), and interest in the goal pursuits of others (Snyder, Cheavens, & Sympson, 1997). (Research-Based Practice: Building Hope in Our Children)
Bringing Hope and Optimism into the Schools
Among global education models, it’s common for thinkers to include the idea that effective and powerful teaching and learning about the world should include an orientation toward the future and the development of personal agency (the belief that I can make a difference, either on my own or by working with others). When you put these two ideas together, you move toward the development of both individual and institutional optimism: the belief that we can make a better and more peaceful world (The Power of Optimism)
- Identify and prioritize their top goals, from macro to micro. Start by having students create a “big picture” list of what’s important to them—such as their academics, friends, family, sports, or career—and then have them reflect on which areas are most important to them and how satisfied they are with each.
- Breakdown the goals—especially long-term ones—into steps. Research has suggested that students with low hope frequently think goals have to be accomplished all-at-once, possibly because they haven’t had the parental guidance on how to achieve goals in steps. Teaching them how to see their goals as a series of steps will also give students reasons to celebrate their successes along the way—a great way to keep motivation high!
- Teach students that there’s more than one way to reach a goal. Studies show that one of the greatest challenges for students with low hope is their inability to move past obstacles. They often lack key problem-solving skills, causing them to abandon the quest for their goals.
- Tell stories of success. Scientists have found that hopeful students draw on memories of other successes when they face an obstacle; however, students with low hope often don’t have these kinds of memories. That’s why it’s vital for teachers to read books or share stories of other people—especially kids—who have overcome adversity to reach their goals.
- Keep it light and positive. It’s important to teach students to enjoy the process of attaining their goals, even to laugh at themselves when they face obstacles and make mistakes. Above all, no self-pity! Research has found that students who use positive self-talk, rather than beating themselves up for mistakes, are more likely to reach their goals.
Additional Ideas have been proposed in Research-Based Practice: Building Hope in Our Children: Research has demonstrated that hope can be cultivated to strengthen agency and pathways thinking that support goal achievement. Educational professionals are in a strategic position to make a difference in students’ hope and students’ lives. Help students develop pathways thinking. Strategies for helping students develop pathways thinking include the following.
- Support “keep-going thinking.” If one pathway does not work, try other routes.
- Help students learn not to attribute a blockage to a perceived lack of talent. Instead, help the student to search productively for another route that may work.
- Help students to recognize if they need a new skill and encourage them to learn it.
- Remind them that they can always ask for help.
- Help students enhance their agency thinking.
Keep in mind that goals that are built on internal, personal standards are more energizing than those based on external standards (e.g., imposed by peers, parents, or teachers).
- Help students to set “stretch” goals based on their previous performances.
- Help students to monitor their self-talk (e.g., via a notebook or audio tape recorder) and encourage them and talk in positive voices (e.g., I can do this; I will keep at it).
- Engage children in exciting activities that involve teamwork.
- Tell students stories and provide them books that portray how other students have succeeded or overcome adversity.
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