Each of our priorities pull at us, particularly at this time of year. Each one wants, and deserves, our attention. Often, they call us to be present in differing directions. Our work and our families compete to hold center place. We neither want, nor are we able, to fully disconnect from one to give attention to the other...school concerts, excited children, family shopping, and guests coming or you traveling. Focus and distraction co-exist. Our work in schools was chosen because of our interest in children and love of learning. Our personal relationships and our families began, as our educational work did, with anticipation. Everything becomes more complex as it grows and develops. Everything. So, in the midst of this deep freeze, we turn to gardens.
At the beginning, the soil is enriched as we till and fertilize it. Then, with care, seeds or seedlings are planted in careful rows. We water and watch. As they grow, so do weeds. As they grow, critters come to nibble. We pull the weeds and build fences to protect our plants. Sometimes, we become frustrated; the weeds don’t stop or critters become aggressive or there is too much rain or too little. Eventually, we come to realize that this is not just our garden; nature co-owns it and is more powerful than we are. Then the garden becomes a dance and, fortunately sometimes, we get to take the lead. We preserve with the hope that our seedlings will survive the many challenges and grow into beautiful plants. Be they flowers or food, they become everything for which we hoped. The same is true for schools and families.
The second half of the school year approaches. Leaders are focused on students, teachers, and schools measured against a new set of standards, with new curriculum and potentially unnerving test results. Students return from vacation with happy tales of holidays and family times. Some will bring silence and others sadness. Regardless, we begin again.
How can our garden be tended? Maybe it is a matter of looking up. Psychologist Mary C. Lamia in her Psychology Today article on hope describes:
Hope shapes your methods of traversing your current situation. The cognitions associated with hope--how you think when you are hopeful--are pathways to desired goals and reflect a motivation to pursue goals (Snyder, Harris, Anderson, & Holleran, 1991). Better problem-solving abilities have been found in people who are hopeful when compared with low-hope peers (Change, 1998), and those who are hopeful have a tendency to be cognitively flexible and able to mentally explore novel situations (Breznitz, 1986).
She, and the research she quotes, suggests that hope not only makes us feel better, it makes us better able to solve problems by being more mentally flexible. It fuels us to stay the course and to consider alternatives. Who, in this time of unsettling changes in our schools, is not in need of that energy?
Consider the role hope can play in work, family, relationships...our lives. We have turned a corner. It is 2014 and the days are getting longer now. Perhaps a resolution to restore and reignite hopefulness is timely. It might change our attitude and our interactions. The commitment to look up instead of down may cause us to see different things and renew confidence and dedication. Yes, we need to keep the critters out and pull the weeds but the growing season is coming and the plants will thrive if we do not give up. The gardener cannot keep going without hope. Nor can we. Nor can our students.
Regardless of how 2013 went for them, we need to give them messages of encouragement and assure them every day is new and every one begins with hope. Cynicism and despair must release their hold on us. They easily penetrate our actions and become contagious to the children. Hope, on the other hand, can lift our chins and our hearts. C.R. Synder did in depth research about hope and asserts that it is not an emotion but a cognitive process. It requires that we believe in our own abilities and it can be learned. So as we enter 2014, let’s choose hopeful thinking. It might make all the difference.
Snyder, C.R. (2003). Psychology of hope: You can get there from here. New York: Free Press.
The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.