The Russian philosopher and write Dostoyevsky once said, “To live without hope is to cease to live”. In my experiences within school, the power of hope is widely underestimated as a wellbeing intervention yet has the power to underpin all the good work that is done day to day in a school.
As much as we’d like to be able to pick up every child facing challenging circumstances and drop them onto a new path in life, free from unfair and unrelenting stressors, as teachers we often find our powers limited to make a real difference in the here and now. A family living in poverty, a grieving student, a child struggling whilst waiting a long time for specialist mental health support or a young person in the middle of a messy divorce – unavoidable issues strike the wellbeing of our students at different points and we often find ourselves clamouring to offer the support now to make them as comfortable as we can in school.
What I have found incredibly powerful to lay the foundations of drive and motivation is a focus on the future, whilst acknowledging the challenges of the present. Mapping a child’s future drawing from real life examples can give them a direction and a distraction from the challenges in the present. School life is incredibly short as a percentage of a child’s life but when in school it is all a child has ever known. The idea of finding love, enjoying a career, maybe having children and living a fulfilled life seems so far off. The idea of making their own decisions, living where they want and finding their own fun seems impossible. But this is the future they are working towards whilst at school. Schools is a bubble during term time and many day to day issues that seem unimportant when teachers explain them to a colleague outside of work, often felt like the highest priority at the time, often over your health, diet and sleep. As a teacher I have often reflected incredulous about how much time and energy I invested into things that seem largely insignificant afterwards but it comes from a good place, the desire to do your best for the children. For students this is also true – school is their social bubble, their world and where they spend a good deal of their time. An unhappy childhood in school and at home can seem like a lifetime. Helping to improve the here and now is incredibly important, but knowing the upward curve will continue far into the future is also vital.
The idea that school is the “best days of our lives” is a positive one but not always true. For some children school is a struggle that teachers often have little power to influence – to know that the end of the school road can lead to a place where they have more control, future financial independence and happiness is key. It renders the hopeless question “What’s the point?”, pointless.
Key discussion points:
Happy memories – draw on happy memories in discussions with children and encourage the child to know that there will be many more happy memories still to make
Future mapping – a discussion with a child about where they see themselves going in the future can be helpful, even if they believe they will fail their GCSEs. This is a path that can be discussed, it is important for students to know that failure at GCSE can make life more difficult in the short term, but is not the end of the road.
Bucket list – things a child wants to do in their life. 30 countries before 30? Driving test? Parachute jump?