October 20th, 2020

Communities of hope

By Submitted Article on December 18, 2019.

December is an interesting month in schools that comes with heightened emotions, a flurry of activity in children’s lives both in and out of school, and adults behind the scenes doing everything they can to make the season special and make every child feel cared for. Thank you to all staff members, volunteers and community members who put in extraneous hours for special events and also take the time to ensure all children and youth feel part of a very special place – the school community.

For many of us who are fortunate to live in a position of privilege and are of a background that celebrates Christmas, our children have the lived experience and memories that come with the ability to engage in “festive” activities such as gatherings that are well supplied with food and treats, gifts, comfort and the knowledge that all is well, predictable and absent of stress.

This kind of privileged context is not the case with all families and children, and I would suggest that the greatest gift that we can give all children and youth, year round, is the gift of hope. I still recall a conference I went to years ago called “Harbors of Hope.” The conference keynote speaker, Wayne Hulley, pointed to hope as one of the keys to students’ believing they had the power, agency and efficacy to follow their dreams. One of the greatest attributes of public education systems is that all children and youth have the opportunity to be part of a context that nurtures belief in self, care and respect for others, and the concept that learning and growth is part of everyone’s inherent nature. Hulley defines hope as, “unwarranted optimism in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds” (2005). The question is, how do we all work together to ensure that our students grow and thrive with the attribute of unwarranted optimism?

School communities that possess a culture of hope work tirelessly to instill the belief in students that everyone cares passionately about them, is committed to their success, and views failures as learning opportunities that contribute to growth. Challenge, failure and mistakes are part of what it means to be human, and we can work together to overcome these and build resiliency.

A culture of hope in a school is a collective effort that is built on respect and kindness, reassurance, affirmation of the personal attributes everyone possesses, and how these attributes contribute to the community and world. Everyone is in a position to contribute to building hope in children. It is bigger and smaller than giving material goods. It is supporting without hesitation; it is believing in choice and agency, it is the slightest action such as a kind word that may seem insignificant to us, but keeps someone hanging on to hope.

I am sure everyone remembers a time in their life when quiet reassurance, unconditional support or a kind word gave them strength, nurtured belief in self and provided a glimpse into a better future. We are all inextricably tied to one another in a community that has strengths and challenges, in a community where some individuals are facing seemingly unsurmountable odds, and a community where kind words and small actions of many build hope.

Cheryl Gilmore is the superintendent of the Lethbridge School Division

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