As summer begins, do you look back on the school year and wonder how you made it through? So often in my work I hear teachers, counselors and administrators speak of being exhausted, overwhelmed or burned out. Do you feel that more is added to your plate each day, and that although you love your chosen profession, there are days when you just don’t know if you can continue? If so, you are not alone. And more than that, there is an answer that will relieve these feelings, reinvigorate you, and inspire you to begin next school year refreshed and renewed. Fortunately, the answer is not found in more to do, but rather in a reminder of who we are and how we “be.” We are educators and as such, we are ignitors of hope. We make a difference in the lives of human beings every day. So, let me remind you of ways to ignite hope:
1. Remember the WHY.
Simon Sinek, author of Start With Why (2009), suggests that we can know what we do, and even how to do it, but unless we know why we do what we do, it will lack meaning and purpose. We cannot lose sight of why we chose our vocations in the first place. So often in the world of education, we get caught up in assessment schedules, new initiatives, and teacher performance frameworks and we forget that which is right in front of us: the human beings with whom we interact every day; the young minds and hearts we serve and the colleagues with whom we share time and talents. Simply being an educator, regardless of our role – teacher, principal, school counselor or social worker, paraprofessional or office support staff – provides us with an opportunity to ignite hope, in our own lives and in the lives of those with whom we work and teach. Irrespective of our subject area expertise, our value as a leader or our instructional or support staff experience, if we neglect compassion for people and enthusiasm for education, we diminish our effectiveness. A smile in the hallway ignites hope for a positive day; a word of encouragement in class ignites hope for learning; a high expectation set ignites hope for academic and personal success. We are ignitors of hope.
2. Believe Intentionally.
Many of our students find it difficult to believe in themselves or their ability to achieve. Therefore, it is imperative that we believe with intentionality. According to John Hattie’s Visible Learning research (Hattie, 2019), the leading influence on student learning is Collective Teacher Efficacy. Collective Teacher Efficacy can be defined as the belief that we, as a body of educators, have in our students’ ability to achieve and the belief that we have in our own ability to make an impact on their learning. We have seen our students excel when we recognize their strengths, believe in their ability to achieve, and cultivate their creativity. As much as we all know that one person can make a positive difference, the power that comes from all members of a school staff collaborating, supporting and encouraging each other and our students, makes an indelible impact on the entire school community. Webster’s Dictionary defines hope as the “desire of some good, accompanied by the expectation of obtaining it or the belief that it is obtainable.” If the number one indicator of success for students is our collective belief in them and in ourselves, then we are, and must be, ignitors of hope.
3. Have a human mindframe.
Such a mindframe focuses on humanity first. Ignitors of hope see the child behind the test score and the human being behind the behavior. As educators today, we are ultra-aware of the anxiety that our students feel about required state assessments. In fact, we are aware of the anxiety we feel connected to said assessments. We are also aware that, nationwide, our students are experiencing increased mental health concerns, often related to trauma, that can result in chronic absenteeism, classroom discipline and disruption issues, and suspension or expulsion-associated behaviors. We must remember that our students are children first. They are human beings seeking love, acceptance and safety. Some of them are literally striving to merely survive each day. David Osher, Vice President and Fellow of American Institutes for Research, suggests that as educators, we must ask ourselves if our students are thriving or simply surviving. In order for them to thrive, they need us to see them for who they are and meet them there, in the midst of their often-chaotic worlds. When we acknowledge them as people first, looking beyond the test scores and behaviors, to find the story behind the student, we will help to reduce anxiety, improve behavior, and ignite hope.
4. Choose love.
While pursuing higher education, we were all taught the valuable insight of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. I presume that we all agree that Maslow was correct in asserting that physiological and safety needs must be met first for individuals to then progress towards love, acceptance, and ultimately, self-actualization. I would like to suggest, however, that in schools, the Start with the Heart Hierarchy may be a more appropriate model. This model emphasizes love as a starting place because for many students, schools are the one place where they are assured of a roof over their head and food in their bellies. I served the majority of my 25-year vocation as a teacher and principal in Alternative Education. For many of my students, the meals they received at school were literally the only meals they could count on in a given week. If we approach ALL of our students (and colleagues and parents for that matter) from a place of love, we will provide a foundation to lead them to achieve personal and academic success. For when we start with the heart, from a place of love, we are ignitors of hope.
5. Build relationships.
As educators, we know the importance and impact of positive relationships. Yet we often are caught up in all that we have to do and forget to purely be. Being connected to our students is the final way in which we can ignite hope and find our way out of “initiative fatigue,” assessment exhaustion, and vocational discouragement. Who we are and how we interact with the human beings within our school community can make an academically empowering and life-changing impact! Taking time each day to greet our students by name, as well as our colleagues, helps them to feel acknowledged and recognized. When we add eye contact and some sort of kinesthetic connection to that greeting, we trigger a release of hormones in the brain that encourages positivity. In fact, Shawn Achor, researcher and author of The Happiness Advantage (2010), states that, “When we make a positive social connection, the pleasure-inducing hormone oxytocin is released into our bloodstream, immediately reducing anxiety and improving concentration and focus.” The powerful result of kinesthetic connection positively impacts the person with whom we are connecting, but also alters our state of mind and being for the better. We ignite hope when we create opportunities for connection.
We must remember that we chose this profession for a reason. When we work with our colleagues to believe in our students and our impact on their learning, when we start with love, seeing them and meeting them right where they are, and when we make a conscientious effort to connect, we ignite hope. And in hope, we rekindle the meaning and purpose of our vocation while inspiring and encouraging our colleagues and students. We must never forget that we are educators and we are ignitors of hope!
Michelle’s book, Start With the Heart: Igniting Hope in Schools through Social and Emotional Learning, further discusses the impacts of social-emotional learning on school culture. Michelle provides an in-depth look at incorporating social-emotional learning into schools, with tools and strategies for educators to create a positive and inspiring school environment.