Educating Hope

For scholars on hope (yes, there are actually scholars who study wonderful topics like this), they sometimes make a distinction between hope and optimism. Optimism is a more general sense that everything will work out, where scholars sometimes describe hope as a more goal-oriented optimism. I love how this article describes hope as necessary to stretch yourself and grow.

According to researchers, if you don’t have hope, you are more likely to employ “mastery goals,” i.e. choosing simple, attainable tasks that aren’t challenging and don’t help you grow.

When I was a classroom teacher for the first decade of my career, it was easy to recognize the presence and absence of hope in a student. I could not always tell why it was present, but when it was there, students persisted through challenges. Their effort was fueled by their hope, allowing them to keep working through the messy and challenging parts of the learning experience.

How do we create the conditions where people are more likely to develop hope? One thing is certain. It isn’t enough for people to want to achieve something. Hope grows when a learner wants to accomplish something, establishes a goal, and sees that she is making progress toward achieving the goal. The more this happens, the more a person’s sense of agency and hopefulness begins to grow.

“We Measure What we Value and We Value What we Measure” – Maybe Not

Scan the business and education books about assessment and metrics, and you will find countless people use a phrase similar to what you see in the title of this article. Measurement is a sign of what we actually value. Or, is it that measuring something has a way of making us value it?

Rarely do we venture into the correlation versus causation question. In most cases, people simply argue that a survey of what someone measures is a good indication of what they value in life or their organization. People who value money likely measure and monitor the status of their investments. Runners often track their distance, pace, and related numbers. Bloggers measure the number of unique visitors to their site and how many people read viewed a given article. The last 150 years has been a time of mass quantification, with people striving to measure or put a number on everything from intelligence to fitness levels, student learning to school quality, the return on financial investment to the return on mission investment, chances of surviving a disease to the risk of dying in a car accident. We strive to count money, people, performance, weather, crime, learning, happiness, attention, the quality of relationships, accomplishments, and most everything else.

This ability to measure brings with it obvious affordances in many aspects of our lives. Measurements help us establish goals and monitor our progress. They allow us to identify important and less important factors that lead to desired outcomes in countless areas of life and society. Yet, there is a limitation to the claim that “we measure what we value.” It is not a universal truth.

We measure some of the things that we value, but there are many things in our lives that we hold in high regard, but we do not find it necessary to quantify and measure. In addition, there is a persistent danger that our focus upon measuring can detract or distract from something more valuable. Furthermore, sometimes our fixation on a specific approach to measuring blinds us from the bigger picture. Each of these have important implications for our schools and learning communities.

For decades I obsessed with tracking the number of books that I read. Scan past articles and you will find me referencing the fact that I read 100+ books a year. There were times when the number started to take over. When I read something that inspired me and I wanted to spend more time re-reading and pondering, I found myself ignoring that desire because I had to get started on that next book. This was not always conscious. It was just that I started to talk about this 100+ books a year number and soon found myself feeling obligated to make sure that I was indeed meeting or exceeding that number as if it were some key performance indicator in my life and learning. It is not. That is why I eventually stopped measuring. Who cares how many books that I read? I value reading and learning from the writing of others. I invest significant time in this endeavor. Sometimes I read a great volume, but other times I can enjoy a long, slow, deep reading of a given text. It might take days, weeks, or months. Has my value for reading decreased because I stopped counting the number of books that I read?

There is much about learning that is valuable. Some argue that we should then insist on measuring those things as well or else they will be lost in the mass of everything that we do measure. The other option is for us to slow down on our obsession with measuring, instead seeking new ways to deepen our commitments to what we value most. We do this in many areas of our lives, and there is nothing inherently superior to insisting upon more quantification in education.

An Invitation

As many of you have been following my journey to Goddard College, I realized that I’ve never invited you to be part of it, and I’m sorry for that. We just launched an aggressive fundraising and friend-raising campaign, and I would love for you to consider supporting it

I went to Goddard for a number of reasons.

1. It is one of the most inspiring models of a learner-driven higher education community that I’ve ever come across, and I believe that it is an incredibly important option for people. Learner voice matters. Learner choice matters. Learner (and human agency) matters. Each of these three are contributing factors to people who live with courage and conviction in the world. One size does not fit all in higher education, and Goddard gets that, taking it to the level of inviting students into co-creating their learning pathways.

2. Goddard has the potential to be a model for radical hospitality and inclusivity in a time of incredible division in our country. Going to Goddard was largely inspired by my desire to lean into and learn about living with and honoring diverse people, while remaining true to one’s own convictions.

3. Goddard is experiencing a challenging time, having been put on probation with the regional accreditor for concerns about governance and long-term financial viability. If Goddard were not in such a situation, it would have been easier for me to pass on the option, at least knowing that such a beautiful higher education model was out there and doing well. I put many of my personal goals on hold for this, and I consider it an honor to have done so. In addition, I’ve never stepped this far out of my comfort zone. It is incredibly challenging, but even more exhilarating. I wake up and fall asleep each day with gratitude. 

4. I saw (and now see even more) the incredible potential for Goddard College to step into a role as a leader for deeply human-centered higher education, a truly distinct alternative to the dominant models. Some of Goddard’s greatest higher education experiments are almost within our reach. Granted that we make it through the immediate risk and challenge, I am ready to join the Goddard community in establishing this College as an internationally known hub for educational innovation. 

If any of this resonates with you, the types of issues that are important to you, the type of legacy that you want to leave, I welcome your partnership. I’ve included a video message about the current appeal, but you can learn or give by going to this link as well

Is Your School Living Up to Its Mission? Look No Further Than the Cafeteria

After visiting hundreds of schools over the years, I can usually tell you the values of a school in a single day, and I don’t even need to sit in on a class (although that helps). I will just show up thirty minutes before the day starts and begin observing until students head home in the evening. I don’t need to talk to anyone or read anything. By what I see in that one day, the values of the community will be evident. They shout from wall and halls. But what if I only had an hour at the school? In that case, I’d pick lunchtime.

While not as good as a full day of observation, I can get a good sense of the extent to which a school truly embraces its mission and values during that single hour. Look at the cafeteria, the food service, and what happens during meals. Do you see the values and mission embodied in the quality of the food, how it is prepared and served, the nature of the conversation, the tone, and what happens among the students?

This might sounds strange at first, but looking at areas like the cafeteria gives us a glimpse into the extent to which the mission and values truly permeate all parts of the learning community.

Consider a couple examples.

Imagine you are at a school that claims to be learner-centered. Then you go to the cafeteria and witness a fast food style service. The quality of the food is poor. People who serve it seem to hate their jobs. It is set up like a factory. If you have allergies or special needs, you are on your own. At best, it is a clean but transactional experience. When students are not happy with the service or complain abut the low quality, administration and staff just dismiss it saying that students always hate cafeteria food.

Compare that to another school that boasts of the same learner-centered value. Then go to their cafeteria, which they call a dining hall. Food is fresh and high quality, maybe even prioritizing locally sourced options. Meals take into consideration the needs and preferences of different people. The kitchen staff find time to walk around and talk to the students. Along the way, they learn about student’s favorite foods, their goals, their struggles. Staff learner the names of students and greet them when they arrive. Sometimes the kitchen staff members surprise a student with a special meal or option, just for them.

The staff members are constantly exploring ways to turn the dining hall into a place where people are cared for and are welcome. “Food is about so much more than food,” they explain with a grin of well-earned pride. There might be the occasional dissatisfied student, but in general, people love the food and talk about how great it feels to be cared for in this way. And that dissatisfied student is not disregard or ignored.

Or, another school might manifest its learner-centered values by the learners being directly involved in the decisions about the dining hall, or even joining in the work. I’m not talking about simple work study roles, but where students see themselves as co-owners of the dining hall, taking pride in how they are creating a great community and place for their co-learners to eat and enjoy fellowship with each other.

Schools are communities with a mission and values. The more that the mission and values truly shape every part of the community, the more inspiring and transformational that community becomes. That is why aspects like the food service can be a useful check. From there, we can go on to look at how we approach facilities maintenance, cleaning and care for the space, decorating and designing the space, our rituals and practices for communication, what we publicly celebrate and elevate, and more.

After all, if we can’t get our values right on matters like the dining hall, how can we possibly expect them to happen in the rest of the learning experience?