Instilling Hope in Students

December 9, 2015


Why is hope such an important concept for schools to consider? Over 20 years of research has clearly demonstrated that more hopeful students perform better in school and in life than less hopeful students. Hopeful thought reflects the belief that one can find pathways to desired goals and become motivated to use those pathways. As a result, hope drives the emotions and well-being of people…an essential component of one’s happiness and success in life. Hope is positively associated with the following outcomes:

  • Self-Efficacy and Self-Worth                                      

  • Better Attendance

  • Optimism                                                                                           

  • Higher Grades

  • Life Satisfaction and Well-Being                                                

  • Athletic Achievements

  • Physical Health                                                                                 

  • Social Competence (Snyder, Rand & Sigmon, 2000)

Although Ruby Payne doesn’t specifically refer to Hope Theory in her work on poverty, central to her observations of families living in poverty is a lack of hope. There is a sense that there is no way out…that a life without poverty is not even visualized. Children who believe they can’t meet academic expectations or that education isn’t the answer to the problems of poverty are doomed as their beliefs become their reality. However, research in positive psychology suggests that creating hope may be a process we can control versus being an inborn attribute (Sheehan & Rall, 2011).  To have a hopeful school, you must have hopeful teachers as they are the engine driving hope.




Charles R. Snyder (1944-2006), a Distinguished Professor of Clinical Psychology at University of Kansas, developed the field of positive psychology and Hope Theory. His theory of hope consists of three components, and was a unique contribution to the field because of his incorporation of the emotions associated with hope. The components are:

  1. Goals – Hope Theory is based on the assumption that people’s actions are goal-directed (Snyder et al, 2000). Goals may be short- or long-term, must be attainable and almost always contain some degree of uncertainty. Levels of hope are highest when there is a high probability the goal will be attained. This notion is supported by the work of Daniel Pink (2011) who asserts that mastery of a particular goal or task is motivating. In other words, when we believe we will master a particular task and accomplish a goal, we are motivated to keep working toward that goal. It is easy to see why it is so important for students to have successes in the classroom. Without experiences of mastery, students will experience very little motivation to persevere. 



  2. Pathways Thinking – This refers to one’s belief that they will be able to find a solution to a problem or meet a desired goal. Pathways thinking touches on Albert Bandura’s concept of self-efficacy, or “one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed in specific situations or accomplish a task” (Bandura, 1994). Bandura (1997) defined four factors that are at the heart of the belief in your own effectiveness (self-efficacy): (1) mastery experiences, (2) vicarious experiences of others, (3) effective persuaders, and (4) a positive social-emotional climate (Sheehan & Rall, 2011). Bandura asserts that self-efficacy is the most important self-reflective ability (Mulhollem, Liberty University). It is especially important in schools because students who have high self-efficacy have an increased ability to self-regulate their behavior. Problem solving and critical thinking skills are important as people generate several alternative solutions to achieve a goal. As barriers present themselves, high hope people are adept at finding a different way to reach the goal.


  3. Agency Thinking – This is the motivational component of Hope Theory. Angela Duckworth’s research is about the importance of helping students develop perseverance and grit, and that these characteristics have even more to do with achievement than IQ (Duckworth & Seligman, 2005). Hopeful people use self-talk messages such as, “I can do this,” and “I am not going to be stopped.” When a barrier presents itself, agency thinking (motivation) allows one to put into motion a new plan of action.

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