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Always Strive to Be a Better You

Hope Ain't a Strategy

You know how some words have double meanings? Sometimes they confuse us if we're not paying attention. Like when your brother sets you up on a blind date and says, "She has a really nice personality" or idioms like "That man was a real horse's you-know-what." Well, what I'm referring to are real words that mean two things: in particular, in my meanderings through the Oxford Unabridged Dictionary and recent presidential inaugurations, I've stumbled across the word Hope.

As a noun, hope is a beautiful thing. It's what we all hold onto when we think about the future, about our children, our country, and our favorite baseball teams. Hope is the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, beckoning us with some sort of promise that our lot will improve. It is the beacon of children's dreams, manifested by caring and demanding educators, navigating the treacherous waters of reality -- and showing them the course from here to there. Hope as a noun gives us energy to continue, to fight, to work, and to persevere.

As a verb, hope is okay at best. We can hope the neighbor's dog will stop barking in the middle of the night, we can hope that Brad and Angelina stay together long enough for their kids to enter therapy, and we can hope that our hair doesn't fall out before our next high school reunion. Maybe hoping makes us feel better when we're confronted with elements of our life that are beyond our control.

However, as a strategy in schools, hope just doesn't belong. Quite simply, hope ain't a strategy at all. Think about how silly it would be to rewrite your school's mission statement thusly: The mission of Mountain View Elementary School is to hope our kids learn to read, write, and do 'rithmetic, so they can be prepared for a variety of pursuits in our diverse and democratic society.

However, to a certain extent, hope is still a quite prevalent approach in our schools, our classrooms, and our boardrooms across the country. We hope our students will pass the state tests. We hope our troubled children will grow out of their problematic behaviors. We hope our slower children will catch up. We hope all our students will grasp the lesson objectives and learn the material. We hope our teachers will pursue their own professional development. We hope education salaries rise to a parallel with sanitation workers and airline pilots. We hope...

but what are we doing about it?

Rather than simply throwing hope onto the table, let's take some responsibility for our situation. Encourage your teachers to expect their students to master their spelling words and to enroll in AP classes. Expect that your staff will work tirelessly to communicate the learning objectives and utilize formative assessments in your building. Expect that your students will demonstrate compassion for others and exhibit exemplary citizenship. Let's throw down the gauntlet here instead:

Every time we hear somebody mutter something about “hoping such-and-such happens,” we should immediately spin that around by saying, “Excellent! You’ve identified a goal. Let’s get to work making it happen.”

Change something. The next time you find yourself in a meeting with teachers and you overhear "I sure hope he learns to be more responsible before he gets to high school," ask instead, "What are we going to do to help him learn responsibility?" We can't sit back and watch a child flail -- hoping alone is indefensible -- when we can brainstorm some interventions and put them into place. When it's not working, we've got to change something and try anew.

Set goals immediately. Once we identify what we're hoping for, we've got the main raw ingredient for a goal. Then all we need to do is dissect the goal, break it down into reasonable short-term targets, and get to work climbing the staircase to accomplish it. Every time we hear somebody mutter something about hoping such-and-such happens, we should immediately spin that around by saying, "Excellent! You've identified a goal. Let's get to work making it happen." The longer we wait, the less likely we are to set the goal, start our work towards it, make progress or celebrate its accomplishment. So do it now.

Act intentionally. Now that we've determined that an element of our school needs a change and we've framed the ideal situation as a goal, it's time to make a list of precise strategies and try one out. What is a specific intervention that we can attempt that will most likely yield a benefit? Start it today, implement the strategy for a designated period of time, collect data, and revisit to compare our progress with our benchmark targets. Just don't shoot from the hip -- be intentional.

Hope is not a bad thing, not by a long shot. Hope carries with it the power of optimism. But using hope as a strategy for school improvement? That will never work, because elements of schooling really are within our control. We, as educators, have tremendous power to reach out and do something to help those in need. What's more, we have the obligation to do so. In order to make a difference, we cannot watch blithely as our schools unravel and our children's potential goes unfulfilled. The time is now.

I sure hope you've paid attention. Scratch that: I expect you're going to make a difference.

Always strive to be a better you,

Article by Pete Hall
Education World®
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