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one school’s journey: Building hope one step at a time by Sarah Harrington

Hope is more than a wish. “Hope is the belief that your future can be brighter and better than your past and that you actually have a role to play in making it better” (Gwinn & Hellman, 2019, p. 8). In their research, Casey Gwinn and Dr. Chan Hellman (2019) have seen a link between hope-driven individuals and improvements in grades, social and emotional learning, attendance, and more. Further, when children and adults begin to experience meeting a goal, it raises their level of hope. It is important that at the school and home level, we create opportunities for children to generate self-goals and meet them; this will increase children’s ability to thrive in all settings. In this article, I’d like to share with you how I am building hope with the staff and students for which I am blessed to serve as proud principal of Lake Ridge Elementary School. I will also share some ideas I have for parents as they work to build hope in their child/ren.
As I write this, I am reflecting on an important time in history when hope seemed far away. Our country has just marked the 20-year anniversary of 9-11. The impact of 9-11 can be felt to this day. As a nation, we are still rising from the ashes. In memory of many lives lost and families hurt, I pause here for a moment of silence.
Another traumatic event grips us now. At this time, Covid-19 has sparked a worldwide pandemic and it has been clutching our lives for almost two years now. The impact of the pandemic is heavy. In many ways, I believe we are just beginning to see some of the deep trauma this pandemic is causing. Socially, emotionally, and academically, many students are struggling. Staff are also struggling. They have come into this school year from an exhausting year of uncertainty, teaching virtually, teaching simultaneously, enforcing mitigation strategies with little ones, and more. At this point, hope is our lifeline.
In fall 2019, my first year as a principal, Dr. Stacy Phillips (Program Manager, Office for Victims of Crime and CEO of Impact-Intervening-Mitigating-Preventing Adolescent and Childhood Trauma consulting business) connected with me about a Hope-Science training from the research of Dr. Chan Hellman. Thankfully, she was willing to present to my staff that same fall. Faculty were led through activities to determine their own Adverse Child Experiences (ACE) score, discussed the impact of trauma in their personal life, and the connection to hope. I received so much praise from the staff for the personal and professional impact of this presentation that I continued connecting with Dr. Stacy Phillips. Little did we know that in less than four months, a global pandemic would be announced by the World Health Organization and the importance of hope would be paramount.
In summer 2020, after reflecting on the pandemic as well as the status of our nation, I wanted to ensure that every student felt hope because they matter. One of the most important additions I have brought to my school was the inclusion of affirmations in our daily news announcements in the fall of 2020. Everyday our students say, “I am loved, I am valued, I am unique, and I am worthy.” This is critical because as Dr. Hellman shares, “The big secret in nurturing hope is communicating to a child that they matter.” How might you embed this into your personal self-affirmations? What are some ways that you might implement a family affirmation?
In fall 2020, realizing the need for staff to personally continue building hope, Dr. Chan Hellman was gracious enough to provide a virtual staff training after the pandemic officially began. He facilitated a presentation on the definition of hope, how to build it, create it, sustain it, and maintain it. During this workshop, staff were invited to select an area in which to create a goal, determine pathways, identify challenges, decide on steps to address those challenges, and flesh out their plan (facilitating hope). I believe that after teachers can generate this personal experience of hope-building, they can then model this for students from an authentic place. For example, last school year one of my staff members was struggling in the classroom. The staff member and I worked together on the hope-science worksheet to create a hope-driven solution. As we ended our discussion that day, I saw her shoulders lighten and her face calm. Just the impact of creating the plan was hope-building.
I am working toward a vision of our school based on hope-science. My initial steps are to facilitate personal growth in staff through hope-driven action steps. Next, I will be working alongside teachers as they model creating hope-driven action plans with students. Ultimately, I see students independently identifying challenges, problem solving solutions, tweaking as needed, and seeing faces shine as they discover hope as an action and reward.
As a parent, you can breed hope in your child by developing some goal setting. I would recommend starting small. Work with your child to pick an area of strength. You could consider a current topic at school (a subject area or a social topic) or even at home. For example, if your child loves socializing with friends, you could work with them on how to incorporate others who might not have friends. The goal could be, “I will include the new student at school in one of my playground games”. This type of goal would build on their strength in socializing as well as increase their skill of empathy for others. Then you would identify pathways to obtaining the goal and any barriers or challenges to the goal. Work with your child to problem solve some solutions to those barriers. Finally, you would choose one or two action steps toward accomplishing the goal. Remember to check in with your child to see how it is going. Celebrate small wins and adjust the action steps as needed. As your child sees their goal accomplished, they will literally build hope. To learn more about building hope, I highly recommend the book titled, Hope Rising: How the Science of Hope Can Change Your Life by Casey Gwinn, J.D. and Dr. Chan Hellman.
As Dr. Hellman says, “Hope begets hope” (Harrington, 2021). There is a continuum of hope-driven individuals. We can create and build hope-driven children and adults who become the best version of themselves and impact this world in a positive light. This is my mission.❦

Casey, G. & Hellman, C. (2019). Hope rising: How the science of hope can change your life. Morgan James Publishing.
Harrington, S. (Host). (2021, April 11). 3. Hope science with Dr. Chan Hellman part 2 of 3 [Audio podcast episode]. In The Craft of Leadership. Anchor by Spotify.–Hope-Science-with-Dr–Chan-Hellman-part-2-of-3-eumkq0

ABOUT Sarah Harrington

Sarah Harrington is the blessed mother of two children and wife of a retired Navy Officer. She is in her third year as the proud principal of Lake Ridge Elementary School in Woodbridge, Virginia. Prior to administration, she worked as an English to Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) Specialist, ESOL teacher, fourth grade, second grade, and Kindergarten teacher.

Sarah has presented at state and nationwide conferences and holds a Masters in Educational Leadership from George Mason University, and a Masters in Education, Reading from California State University, Long Beach. Her passions include literacy, English Language Learners, hope science, and growth mindset.

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