Building Hope in Our Children
By Susana C. Marques & Shane J. Lopez
I usually had bad grades in English, and I didn´t feel interest for this subject. Sometimes I didn't do the homework. This year, I have a new English teacher, and she is always paying attention to me and if I do my English homework. I started to feel that I have to do it, because every day I have English class, my teacher wants to know if I am working and for sure I am one of the students that have to answer one of the homework questions. I like her because she helps students to study and like English. In the last tests I got better grades and I am learning a lot more and now I can participate in the classes. I am very excited with this subject and I know that English is very important for the future and to get a job. My parents and I are very proud about my English grades and I will keep doing my best. My English teacher changed the way I saw this subject. (Paula Ferreira, Portuguese student learning English)
This 12-year-old girl's story is an example of how “caring coaches” (Snyder, 1994) in the schools contribute greatly in helping schools become hopeful places for children. Helping students become more hopeful is rewarding for the students, teachers, school psychologists, counselors, parents, and other caring adults. Twenty years of field research demonstrates that hope is advantageous for people of all ages in several important areas, including:
- Showing up. Hopeful students are more likely to go to school, and hopeful employees are far more involved and enthusiastic at work.
- Sustained effort. Willpower (the agency component of hope) translates to sustained effort on academic and work tasks, and it is associated with more compliance in healthcare situations.
- Productivity. Hopeful workers are more likely to be engaged, satisfied, and creative.
- Health. Hopeful people consistently tolerate more pain than their less hopeful counterparts, and they are more likely to eat vegetables and fruits, exercise regularly, quit smoking, and practice safe sex.
- Well-being. For children and adults, hope leads to satisfaction with life and positive emotions, and seems to be quite closely connected to meaning in life and purpose in life, as well as to social savvy and support.
- Longevity. Hopeful people live longer and live better. In this article, we describe hope and its components, highlight the positive outcomes associated with high hope, and the hope-enhancing activities of school professionals. Moreover, we provide hope measures and methods for enhancing hope in order to stimulate school psychologists, teachers, and parents to consider the benefits of building hope in children.
Hope and 20 Years of Research
Snyder et al. (1991) characterized hope as a human strength manifested in our perceived capacities to: (a) clearly conceptualize goals (goals thinking), (b) develop the specific strategies to reach those goals (pathways thinking), and (c) initiate and sustain the motivation for using those strategies (agency thinking). “I'll find a way to get this done,” “I can do this,” and “I am not going to be stopped” are examples of hope messages. Pathways and agency thinking are stronger in high-hope individuals (as compared to low-hope people) and it is especially evident when the goals are important and when people are confronted with challenges or obstacles.
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).
Enhancing Hope in Students
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. Here we apply hope theory to work in the schools by providing suggestions across three categories— those involving goals, pathways, and agency. They can be applied in individual or group settings. See McDermott and Snyder (1999, 2000) or Snyder et al. (2002) for more detailed information about imparting goal-setting as well as pathways and agency thinking to students.
Help students set goals. Strategies for helping students develop goals include the following.
- Encourage goals that excite students.
- Calibrate goals to the student's age and specific circumstances.
- Discuss and encourage goals in various life domains and help students to rank them by importance.
- Help students select several goals. They can turn to their other important goals when they face a profound blockage in one goal.
- Teach students how to set clear markers for goals (e.g., instead of “getting good grades,” support concrete markers such as, “to study an hour each day in preparation for my next math exam”).
- Encourage them to establish approach goals (more productive).
- Support students to think in terms of “we” goals in addition to their own “me” goals.
Help students develop pathways thinking. Strategies for helping students develop pathways thinking include the following.
- Help students to break down large goals into smaller subgoals (step-by-step sequence).
- Encourage students to think about their goals (e.g., what will you need to do to attain your goal?) and to identify several routes to a desired goal (e.g., what would you do if you encounter a blockage?).
- 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. Strategies for helping students develop agency thinking include the following.
- 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.
- Encourage students to enjoy and to learn through the process of getting to their goals.
Enhancing Hope in Teachers and Parents
Children begin to learn the mechanisms of hope from earliest infancy (Snyder, 1994), and parents are the first important agents to impact children's hope. Parents model hope by the way they communicate, set goals, view challenges, and cope with problems. In the same manner, teachers play an important role in children's perceptions about their competence to achieve goals and to cope with obstacles that can arise. In fact, being a high-hope parent and teacher facilitates children's hopeful thinking, and school psychologists are well positioned to facilitate this hope transmission through the strategies for working with parents and teachers summarized below.
- Let teachers and parents know that children build hope through learning to trust in the ordered predictability and consistency of their interactions with them.
- Explain the importance of being firm, fair, and consistent in engendering hope among their children.
- Explain the importance of creating an atmosphere of trust, where students are responsible for their actions and supported to establish growth-inducing stretch goals.
- Emphasize that children should be praised and rewarded for both their efforts and achievements. Help adults develop an atmosphere where students are focused on expending effort and mastering the information rather than a sole focus on obtaining good outcomes (e.g., high grades or stellar athletic records).
- Encourage teachers and parents to make goals that are concrete, understandable, and are broken down into subgoals. Work with them to focus on longrange as opposed to short-term goals.
- Emphasize the importance of preparation and planning.
- Teachers should be encouraged to remain engaged and invested in pursuing their own important interests and life goals outside of the classroom. Let them know that being a hopeful adult has many benefits. High-hope people perform better at work (Peterson & Byron, 2008), have higher well-being (Gallagher & Lopez, 2009), and live longer (Stern, Dhanda, & Hazuda, 2001).
- Encourage a high-hope atmosphere through a give and take process among teachers, parents, and students.
School psychologists may work with teachers to find ways to infuse hopeful thinking into the subject matter that children are studying. For example, history is replete with high-hope people, and students may be oriented to explore their goals, the problems that had to be overcome, and the initiative and energy it took to achieve their objec- tives. In language subjects, teaching can benefit from the use of personal narratives and teachers can assign short stories to illustrate the hope process. Physical education is a critical area because goals and movement toward them are visually perceived. Mathematics may be one of the most strategic subjects where the steps to enhance hope described above (see the section on “Enhancing Hope in Students”) can produce benefits in learning and in reducing math anxiety. Also, school psychologists may implement group programs designed to infuse hope in children by including the entire class (for some proposals, see the section on “Helping Students Capitalize on Their Strengths and Build Hope”) and, with the collaboration of teachers, parents, and school administrators, build a hope-inducing school atmosphere.
Besides parents and teachers, there are other significant influences on children's hope, such as peer groups. It is important that parents stay in touch with these influences and be active participants in their children's interests. Hope transmission through peer interactions should also be a focus of attention in hope development. In this regard, we suggest the inclusion of peers when school psychologists intentionally work on children's hope.
Measuring Hope via Brief Scales
Hope can be detected in action by someone who knows a child well. Through daily conversations, letters, stories, games, poems, diaries, or journal entries, observation may be one of the most meaningful ways to determine individuals' hope. Additionally, there are various self-report measures of hope that can facilitate hope assessment. We describe the two most widely used scales (which are in the public domain) to measure the trait aspect of hope (i.e., as a relatively stable personality disposition).
The Children's Hope Scale (CHS) developed by Snyder, Hoza, et al. (1997) is a trait hope measure for children ages 7 through 14 years. The scale comprises three agency (e.g., “I am doing just as well as other kids my age”) and three pathways items (e.g., “When I have a problem, I can come up with lots of ways to solve it”). The CHS has demonstrated satisfactory psychometric properties when used with physically and psychologically healthy children from public schools, boys diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, children with various medical problems, children under treatment for cancer or asthma, child burn victims, adolescents with sickle-cell disease, and early adolescents exposed to violence (Snyder, Hoza, et al., 1997).
To measure the trait aspect of hope in adolescents (and adults) ages 15 and older, Snyder et al. (1991) developed the Hope Scale. This scale consists of four items measuring agency (e.g., “I energetically pursue my goals”), four items measuring pathways (e.g., “There are lots of ways around any problem”), and four distracter items. This scale has been used with a wide range of samples and has exhibited acceptable psychometric properties (Snyder et al., 1991).
Measuring Hope Ac ross America: The Gallup Student Poll
The Gallup Student Poll (GSP) is an online school-based measure of student hope (and engagement and well-being). The survey and the dates to be administered by interested schools are available at the gallupstudentpoll.com website. The following items were used to measure hope in the GSP:
- I know I will graduate from high school.
- There is an adult in my life who cares about my future.
- I can think of many ways to get good grades.
- I energetically pursue my goals.
- I can find lots of ways around any problem.
- I know I will find a good job after I graduate.
Based on convenience and representative samples, results of this poll indicated that half of American students are hopeful, meaning they have many future ideas and goals, as well as strategies and energy to accomplish these goals. The other half of students do not have the hope they need to succeed (Gallup, 2009a). These stuck (33%) or discouraged (17%) students may lack the energy to pursue goals and often give up when facing obstacles because they can't find alternative pathways or can't get the support they need to overcome obstacles. Moreover, failure in hopeless students is not used to improve performance in the future (Onwuegbuzie, 1998) and may result in frustration, loss of confidence, and lowered self-esteem (Snyder, 1994).
Helping Students Capitalize on Their Strengths and Build Hope
Given that hope is malleable and that the hopeless can learn to be hopeful, our youth need a focused effort from people who care about them and their future. As Huebner (2010) argued in a recent Communiqué article, attention to students' indicators of positive development and schooling (such as hope, life satisfaction, and related constructs) should enable school psychologists to go beyond problem-focused assessments to incorporate elements of strengths-based assessments that portray children in a more comprehensive manner.
The Clifton Strengths Finder, an online measure of personal talent that identifies areas where an individual's greatest potential for building strengths exists, initiates a strengths-based development process in work and academic settings, and findings in the school setting suggest the efficacy of strengths development interventions in fostering students' hope and engagement at school (Lopez & Calderon, 2011; Lopez & Louis, 2009).
Other efforts to foster hope in students include the Making Hope Happen Program (designed and implemented with U.S. students; Lopez, Bouwkamp, Edwards, & Terramoto Pedrotti, 2000) and the Building Hope for the Future – A Program to Foster Strengths in School Students (first implemented with Portuguese middleschoolers, their parents, teachers, and school peers; Marques, Lopez, & Pais-Ribeiro, 2011). These programs were designed for a group format delivered over 5 weekly sessions to help students (a) conceptualize clear goals, (b) produce numerous pathways to attainment, (c) summon the mental energy to maintain the goal pursuit, and (d) reframe seemingly insurmountable obstacles as challenges to be overcome. Building Hope for the Future is a social–ecological program that includes hope-based sessions with students on “Learning about Hope,” “Structuring Hope,” “Creating Positive and Specific Goals,” “Practice Makes Perfect,” and “Review and Apply for the Future” as well as direct work with key stakeholders such as parents, teachers, and school peers. The activities with parents and teachers follow the guidelines in the work of Lopez, Floyd, Ulven, & Snyder (2000) and are organized in three segments: learning about hope, instilling hope, and increasing hope. A first implementation and examination of the Building Hope for the Future program revealed that students increased hope, life satisfaction, and self-worth for at least 1.5 years after the program (Marques, Lopez, & Pais-Ribeiro, 2011).
From 20 years of systematic research, stories collected from our students, parents, and school professionals, and from our own practice, we have learned that our children need hope to succeed. Building hope in our schools may be a good start to getting students excited about and prepared for the future.
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Berg, C. J., Rapoff , M. A., Snyder, C. R., & Belmont, J. M. (2007). The relationship of children's hope to pediatric asthma treatment adherence. Journal of Positive Psychology, 2, 176–184.
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Susana C. Marques, PhD, is a senior researcher in the Psychology Center at Porto University, Portugal. Shane J. Lopez, PhD, is a senior scientist in residence, Gallup, and research director of the Clifton Strengths School, Nebraska.