By Linda Stade
I would love a dollar for every time I have heard the word ‘resilience’ in the last 20 years. Parenting experts, social commentators, schools, and parents have all bemoaned the lack of resilience demonstrated by young people in the 21st Century.
And then we found ourselves in 2020. Boom! Fires, a pandemic, and now floods.
What has quickly become obvious, is that most kids are resilient. They have managed massive disruptions to every aspect of their lives, and most have coped. Families and schools have been able to teach and foster resilience at point-of-need. We have also been able to normalise getting help when their internal resources aren’t enough.
When the government included significant spending on psychology in the Covid response, it marked a shift in Australian culture and perception. Hallelujah!
That said, it hasn’t all been good news. There are other areas where our kids have demonstrated a growing deficit. Many are not hopeful. The future is uncertain, and that has an impact on the way they perceive and plan for their lives.
The new normal lacks hope
It has been a long time since our kids had a normal high school experience. For any child under Year 10, that means never.
That traditional experience was not only about academic instruction. It was about all the ways schools foster a sense of belonging, a sense of who a child is in the wider world, and a sense of hope for who they will be in the future.
What hope do schools offer?
Hope is not just a positive attitude. Inspirational posters imply, ‘You can do anything; you just need a positive attitude’. It is an empty promise. Hope, on the other hand, is a much more complicated and meaningful beast. Hope has substance and a much longer-term impact.
Charles Snyder was one of the pioneers of the positive psychology movement. He theorised that hope is having goal-orientated thoughts, a plan to achieve that goal, and the belief and motivation to achieve those goals.
Hope = Goal + Plan + Self-belief
A good example is entering a music competition. Yes, positive expectations will give you confidence, however, that confidence is thin and cannot compete with hope. Hope is valuing the competition, attaining the necessary skills, practising, and having a realistic belief that winning is within your ability. Hope requires action, a positive attitude does not.
At school, part of our role is to partner with parents and help kids develop a hope-filled approach to the future and launch them into the world.
The power of hope
Hope is identified by psychologists from the positive psychology movement as one of the five most empowering human attributes. The others are gratitude, kindness, love, and forgiveness.
Extensive research shows that hope has an impact on our:
In fact, almost every aspect of life is improved by hope. So obviously this is something we want for our children.
The vital role of schools in creating hope
In the creation of hope, schools are fundamental. School is a child’s first world arena. It is their first step into life outside of the family.
Pre-pandemic, schools were able to provide community, experiences, and relationships. In this environment, our kids started to see who they were and who they could be. Now it is time to reignite that hope.
Let’s talk about what it feels like to attend lectures at university, the excitement of travel, the lessons learnt in a gap year, a social life, and a career! Let’s get kids looking forward and dreaming big.
Hope is so important that Lourdes Hill College in Brisbane has made ‘Encounter Hope’ their theme for the year. The Deputy Principal, Mission is John Thomas. He explains that “The pandemic has robbed kids of the opportunity to buy what we’re selling. We sell hope in the future.”
“The pandemic has forced us all to deal with what’s urgent, not what’s important. Now it’s time for staff and students to commit to the life of the school; to commit to community; to commit to service; to being a part of something bigger than themselves. Schools need to spark hope again.”
Mr Thomas, like teachers around the globe, knows that students remember and speak fondly about special assemblies; like Lourdes Hill’s annual Cheer Competition or the rhythmic clicking of fingers which ripples around the hall to highlight a social justice issue. These are hope-giving moments, where life lessons are received from role models who spark spirit, imagination, and hope.
These life-affirming moments cost very little time, and their impact is profound.
Mr Thomas believes schools need to double down and invest in this hope-giving, community aspect of schooling again when we can.
We may feel that it is the academics that we need to catch up on post pandemic, but connection, community, and a place in the wider world are imperative. As he says, “Hope is the compass our kids will need in dark times, and they will all have dark times.”
How can parents foster hope in their children?
There are three areas where Mr Thomas believes parents can powerfully support schools in reconnecting kids with school community and the hope it provides:
1. Encourage kids to sign up for Service and Outreach Programs. In participating in these programs, a child is putting their values into action. They see their impact on others in the world and they gain a sense of their agency. That is, their ability to make things happen.
2. Rebuild community involvement. When it is safe to do so, we need our young people to participate and be in community with others. Our kids need to see themselves beyond just their families and their classrooms.
Programs like the Duke of Edinburgh Award, Outdoor Education, sporting teams, dance troupes, social justice groups, cultural groups, and faith groups all help with creativity, problem-solving, collaboration, and a sense of self. That is where hope is built.
3. Tell young people what hope is, and then show them. Articulate the hope you have for them and for yourself. Show them what the process of setting goals and working towards them looks like. Let them see failures and how they are overcome. Let them see the spirit in you manifest in action.
These last few years have shown us the real value of schools and what they offer. Yes, they support the economy, and they teach skills and knowledge; however, it is character development that is most important. It is the wider view of the world… and the hope that comes with it.