Several years ago, I found myself in a small town hospital in North Carolina on the precipice of life and death. After dealing with a chronic condition and incredible pain, I reluctantly agreed to yet another surgery which unearthed more fears and brought to light a possible diagnosis that would end my young life. The physical pain was excruciating as I waited in the hospital bed for lab results and my fight was gone. I thought of my sons and how unfair life was being to them. I thought of my students and how devastated they would be if I didn't return. The optimism and positivity I was know for escaped me. I was at the end of hope...until my teammate walked in my room. She quickly assessed the defeat clouding my eyes and the resignation in my voice. That just would not do for her! My teammate promptly “blessed me out”, as we say in the south, imposing her will that I would not give in to defeat, reminded me of my strength and declared I would fight whatever I was up against because she would be right there to make sure I didn't give up! Needless to say her support was my catalyst to regaining my health and perspective.
When I returned back to my classroom, I had a renewed sense of belief and purpose personally and also for my students. You see, each day our students walk into our schools and classrooms with an unbelievable amount of emotional baggage and circumstance. Some of our students wear their worry clearly on their faces while others show us their despair in their cadence or behaviors. There are also students who try to escape their situation with crippling vices or by hiding behind silence or a smile. Whichever coping mechanisms our students implement doesn't negate the fact that so many of them are at the end of hope. And this simply won't do because at the end of hope...should be us.
Being an educator encompasses tremendous responsibility in not only the academic success of students, but their physical, mental and developmental well being. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs explains that until our basic needs are met, our growth, learning and focus will remain stagnant as we take whatever action necessary in an attempt to fulfill those basic needs.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
According to his theory, we are always in the process of “Becoming” as our needs provide the motivation for our actions. So the question becomes how can we as educators be what our students need us to be and help them understand they are not at the end of hope, but simply their progress in the hierarchy has been temporarily disrupted? How can we as renew students’ hope?
3 Ways to Renew Hope
It's so easy to quit! Just like I lost my focus for a moment in the hospital, many of our students are engaged in their own battle and maybe resigned to losing. When our students quit, they don't have to try to improve and risk being disappointed in their abilities, or having deficiencies exposed to their teachers or friends. There is no fear in quitting and agreeing to do so absolves our students, in their eyes, of accountability. When students give up, it also allows teachers and leaders to rationalize their accountability for student success and instead usually results in the blaming of students, parents or environment for the lack of student resolve and achievement. As EduGladiators, it's our call to action to be at the end of hope for our students and encourage, uplift and inspire them to never confuse failure with defeat. We have to believe enough in and for our students until they start believing in themselves. Failure is part of the cycle of learning, but not the end game.
Embracing a growth mindset is as critical for educators as it is for students because we set the tone!
Starting at Strengths
No one, adults nor students, likes to be constantly reminded of their shortcomings. When students are at the end of hope, they are usually well aware of their deficiencies; however, they have lost sight of their strengths. If we want to support students and encourage them to maintain hope, maybe we should start at their strengths to address their gaps. I'm a firm believer we all have gifts and are fantastic at something. Our students must be reaffirmed of their value and that they matter. By creating opportunities for our students to leverage those strengths in their learning experience will transform their perspective of school by allowing students to have more voice and choice engaging in high agency lessons.
Every educator knows the importance of developing authentic relationships with students; yet for students at the end of hope, we have to travel a step further and lock arms with our students. As EduGladiators, we must have a short memory when our students make a mistake that might be an honest one or an attempt to push our support away. We have to not only tell our students we are here for them, but prove it with our actions. Often times our students who need us most resist our efforts the loudest and if those students are determined to give up, they desperately try to bulldoze through our grace and compassion so we might throw up our hands in defeat first. But we can't! When our students push us hard, we must love them back harder with our presence, words and actions.