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Responsive Classroom Strategies

Hopes and Dreams:
A Strategy to Begin the Year

"In classrooms using the Responsive Classrooms approach, teachers begin their year generating 'Hopes and Dreams.' The process of developing hopes and dreams each year is a process of reviving hope -- and hope is one of our most critical community resources. How do we teach or learn without it?" Ruth Charney shares strategies for developing hopes and dreams.

"My hope for you this year is that you will become a good problem solver. Everyone will learn that they can figure out some tough answers even when they feel stumped and frustrated in math, or reading, or at recess. Instead of giving up, you will say in your own mind, `I can figure this out! I can do this.' That's my hope for you." (4th grade teacher)

"I want to read harder chapter books this year." Keisha, age 9

"I want to not go to time out so much." Daren, Age 7

"I want to learn cursive." Jennifer, Age 8

"I want to have a friend who likes me every day." Monique, age l0


In classrooms all over the country using the Responsive Classroom approach, teachers begin the year generating "Hopes and Dreams." They offer their own hopes for their class. They ask their students to construct hopes of their own. As we create and speak our hopes, we begin to imagine a year full of delicious and shared challenges.

The process of developing hopes and dreams each year in our schools is a process of reviving hope -- and I am convinced that hope is one of our most critical community resources. In today's schools, hope seems almost fragile and under siege from so many external, as well as internal, sectors. Yet, how do we teach or learn without it?

To do our job well, to teach with conviction, patience, and skill, requires a steady infusion of hope. We have to maintain our hope that children can succeed, even in the face of struggle. We need to believe in our own efficacy; our ability to reach hard-to-reach children. We need to assert our own priorities and knowledge of how children learn. We need to say out loud that we have high expectations and good plans. We also need to invite our children to articulate their social and academic goals. When we ask our children to explore their hopes, we give them the opportunity to invest in their own schooling and, with eagerness, to bring their hope into the classroom each year.

Thus, we begin the year with a hopeful statement and a hopeful question: "My hope for you this year is.What is your hope for this year?"

When we ask ourselves and our students to generate hopes, we activate our imaginations and practical knowledge. Our best hopes can be translated into successful action plans. If I want my fourth grade students to become problem solvers, I am ready with opportunities to learn and appropriately phased interventions. To help Keisha become a better reader, a reader of chapter books, together we will select appropriate texts and a series of instructional steps. What is important is that teacher and students are a team working on student- and teacher-named goals.


The teacher names and models "Hopes and Dreams" for the class.
It is important to remember the following:

  • Hopes are framed in a positive and inspirational manner. They are intended to guide and stretch the group. For example, "I hope that all of you do proud work each week. Every week, you will select some work and say, "That was good work. I'm proud of it."
  • Hopes need to be general and offer descriptive detail. It is important that children form a picture and see themselves in the hopeful setting: being problem solvers, having purposeful conversations, making new friends, trying new tasks.
  • Hopes are realistic and draw on experiential or developmental frameworks. For example, some teachers might base a hope on prior experience with the group or predicted developmental considerations. Those can be strengths or weaknesses. For example, knowing that a particular group is highly creative, but also highly social, not distracting themselves with non-stop chattiness will inform a hope. One teacher, realizing that her group was young and on the impulsive side, developed her hope around children learning to think before they acted and "use their brakes." Some teachers might align their hopes for the year with new curriculum initiatives -- solving math word problems and social conflicts.
  • Hopes provide whole class rather than individual focus; something everyone will work on together. For example, anticipating that her third graders might become gender exclusive, a teacher framed her hope to say, "My hope for you this year is that girls and boys will continue to work and be friends with one another."

The students generate their own "Hopes and Dreams" for the year, and add a way to work on them.

"My hope for myself this year is______________. I will work on it by_________________________."
  • The teacher brainstorms with the whole class possible hopes and dreams. "What is a hope someone might have this year in school?" (Examples from last year could be a way to start.)
  • Students' hopes might express social or academic goals. ("I want to learn hard math. " "I want to learn cursive. " "I want to learn to write a poem. " "I want to get my homework done without fighting. " "I want less homework! " "I want to have a friend that is a boy." "I want to not give up so easily when I don't 'get' things right away. " "I want to not go to time out so much.")
  • Students' goals might express areas to improve or just to enjoy more. ("I hope to have more time to make up plays." "I hope to do more art." "I hope to do harder math.")
  • It is important to differentiate between a plan for a career and a hope for something a student really wants to learn this year in school.
  • Some teachers like to have their students articulate both a social and an academic "hope."
  • Students do a draft. Some teachers find it helps to have students visualize by drawing a map of last year's classroom and locating themselves in three different areas. Those teachers ask students to 'star' on the map three areas: Something they really enjoyed. Something that was hard for them (Working on writing for example). Something they want to work on this year.
  • The teacher conferences with children about their hopes, helping them find words or express ideas.
  • Children do a first draft, writing and illustrating their own hope for the year.
  • Children do a final written and illustrated "Hope and Dream."
  • The Hopes and Dreams are displayed on a beautiful class bulletin board.

The teacher and students follow-up on their "Hopes and Dreams."

  • From hopes and dreams, we derive our rules.
  • During the next six weeks, the teacher revisits students' hopes and dreams, asking such questions as, "How do you think you're doing on your hope to make a new friend this year? I notice. What do you notice?" Sometimes the benchmarks are clear and sometimes they need more specification.
  • Hopes and dreams are sent home to parents.
  • Parents also might be asked to formulate their hopes and dreams for the year for their children. Some teachers use a fall parent night for that.
  • The teacher might revisit hopes and dreams at mid-year. Some children are ready to celebrate and create a new hope. Others might want to revise or think about the next steps in achieving their original hope.


  • Kindergarten and pre-kindergarten teachers might wait until children have become familiar with school before beginning their "Hopes and Dreams" activities. Young children also might be confused by the word "dreams," so teachers might just want to talk about hopes. Children might illustrate their favorite areas of the classroom.
  • It is important to remember that with some children you are planting a seed. It might be a while before the idea takes hold.
  • Some children "test." Their initial hopes are silly or not realistic -- "My hope is to play video games all day long." I find it helps to stay serious, convey the responsibility of the task, and stick with it. I reinforce the relevance of school-related hopes and urge them to find a way to combine play and learning.
  • Some children are resistant and defiant or utterly discouraged. "I just hope school gets over fast." "Nothing. I hope nothing." "I just don't wanna be here." I tend not to give up and keep reiterating my own hopes for children to like school. "My hope for you," I keep saying, "is that we can figure out something that makes school good for you. There is something you will feel good aboutproud aboutexcited about this year. Let's work on it." One of my most resistant students wrote finally (after several days of balking), "My hope is to like school better this year." (He now is 25 -- and a teacher!)

In sum, "Hopes and Dreams" is a strategy to engage children and teachers in setting a positive, workful tone for the year. It gives us all permission to begin the year recalling the apt words of Sara Ruddick, "for children, hope is as important as breathing."


Article by Ruth Sidney Charney
Education World®
Copyright © 2017 Education World


Originally published 08/30/2004
Last updated 09/12/2017