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Pathways to Hope: Innovation Starts Right Where You Are

Tuesday, January 16, 2024

A new series from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction's Division of Teaching and Learning
Victoria Rydberg-Nania, Environmental Education and Service Learning,  Division of Teaching and Learning
Dr. Steven Rippe, President, Talent Enthusiasts
Laura Roeker, Director of Teaching and Learning
Chris Gleason, Arts and Creativity Consultant, Division of Teaching and Learning

January is a month of renewal, transition, and hope; as educators, it is a time to reflect on the new year and make changes to better support ourselves and our students. As education faces unprecedented challenges of staffing challenges, censorship, and violence, how do we sustain hope? How do we foster hope and prepare students to be “college, community, and career ready” while working within systems mired in layers of antiquated structures, processes, and traditions? In the coming months, members of the Teaching and Learning team at the DPI will highlight stories of innovation from across the state and showcase educators who are growing hope.

Given the complex world students are asked to navigate after graduation, we argue students must be prepared to “navigate the world with agency, curiosity, belonging, criticality, and hope” (from the DPI's Teaching and Learning mission statement).The science and practice of hope has been researched for over 30 years and comprehensively documented in the Oxford Handbook of Hope. Richard Snyder’s “hope theory” defines hope as “a positive motivational state that is based on an interactively derived sense of successful (a) agency (goal-directed energy) and (b) pathways (planning to meet goals).” Individual levels of hope have been measured in schools, and hope has been shown to play an important factor in education.

Growing and fostering hope is a key lever in innovative educational practices. According to the Talent Enthusiasts, who manage the Hope Survey, “Higher hope individuals do get better grades, are more self-directed, have better problem-solving skills, are more likely to persevere on tasks and to continue to graduation, enjoy learning, and contribute to a positive environment.” Not only can hope be measured, we can actively grow hope in ourselves and our students through six pathways: belonging, goal orientation, agency, autonomy, and engagement, and self-efficacy.

Belonging refers to the depth and quality of interpersonal relationships, including the trust, encouragement, and resources a student feels when accomplishing day-to-day work. To get started, school boards and administrators might ask: How are we creating a space for our educators to bring their professional expertise in this space? Educators might ask: How can we set up a safe space and bring learners in from the start? How can we help them connect (with each other, the lesson, the greater community, etc.)?

A sense of belonging should be fostered the moment a student steps into the building. In the Bayfield School District, library media specialist Liz Bodin strives to create a sense of belonging by creating text sets that honor students’ cultural identities and provide opportunities to promote curiosity and develop criticality.

Using a variety of primary and secondary multimodal sources, Liz asks high school students to dig into historical events like the Apostle Island Indian Pageant and Native American Boarding Schools in Wisconsin. These learning experiences, according to Liz, “allow students to develop a deep understanding of historic events and allow their feelings and thoughts to develop multiple interpretations of our state’s and nation's past." She adds, “When students feel a sense of belonging in the classroom, they are more likely to build positive connections with their peers. They experience higher levels of self-esteem, making them more confident in their ability to learn, explore, discover, and be creative.” Interested educators view these text sets on WISELearn.

Fostering belonging requires schools examine engagement — the emotional connection to the work and the people around you. Salanova, Gonzalez-Roma and Bakker (2002) defines engagement as "a positive, fulfilling, work-related state of mind that is characterized by vigor, dedication and absorption" (fully focused) (p.37). Personalization and constructivist learning that encourages learner voice and choice, works well to facilitate engagement. Measuring engagement based on participant (staff or student) voice helps accelerate and fine tune engagement. School boards and administrators should ask: How can we help staff to feel fulfilled and dedicated on a daily basis? Educators should ask students: Is there any role in this process that we are going to do today you would like to lead or help facilitate? Now that you’ve learned this and done this, what do you want to do next?

Kelly Koller, currently a technology integration specialist at Bay View Middle School in the Howard Suamico School District, felt called to action after reading Gallup research that showed a steady decline in engagement from fifth grade to 10th grade. Koller integrated an “explorer mindset” in her classroom where she helped students emotionally connect to the learning experiences and provided multiple opportunities for reflection. She asked: How did you ask questions, use your imagination, or wonder today? How did you make a positive impact, push past challenges,or build upon your strengths today? By cultivating an intentional outlook of exploration, Kelly was able to not only stop the decline, but to measurably increase engagement.

Goal Orientation and Agency
As we foster belonging and engagement, we also support learners’ goal orientation, or the ability to find pathways and motivation to achieve desired goals. This might take the shape of the practice of “20% time.” This practice, created by Google, is where 20% of an individual’s time is dedicated to passion projects. In schools, this could look like learners engaging in maker spaces developing their own projects. Or, it could be micro-moves where students are given the opportunity to answer questions after a lesson: What would you like to learn about this topic? What questions do you have about this? This would allow students to shape the trajectory of their learning on a topic. Educators' moves to support goal orientation may also support student agency — where students are active participants and designers of their own learning, and have voice and choice in the process.

At Pewaukee Lake Elementary School in the Pewaukee School District, Genius Hour, Makerspace, and other classroom-level strategies support agency, curiosity, and encourage students to pursue their interests. For example, art educators Katie Moede and Julie Purney have instituted the TAB (Teaching for Artistic Behavior) methodology in their classrooms. TAB classrooms are highly structured studio environments with clearly delineated expectations for self-directed learning choices in varied work spaces. During a lesson, all students learn the same concept, however students are introduced to available tools and art materials ahead of time and then provided freedom to select and arrange these materials independently to initiate and explore their artwork.

At Valley New School in the Appleton Area School District, students are engaged in advanced goal orientation by collaborating deeply on Transformational Personal Learning Plans. By integrating hope and goal orientation, they create personalized pathways that boost engagement, achievement, and joy. Students document the process and create a manuscript for publication.

We all want to feel that our voice matters. We also want our learners to develop confidence in making decisions. Autonomy is the independence one feels when making decisions and the influence one has in determining how things are done. To foster autonomy, school leaders should ask themselves: What voice do students have at our school? Educators should ask students: How do you want to learn? What process do we use?

Browning Elementary School, a part of Milwaukee Public Schools, has a youth council which helps foster safe, welcoming spaces for students, and provides opportunities to develop decision-making and leadership skills. Last year, students wanted to reduce school violence. With the help of other students and support staff, they analyzed behavioral data like classroom notes and incident reports, in addition to collecting qualitative data of their own through community conversations. They used this data to complete a root cause analysis, and then plan their course of action. Their data showed that behaviors ramped up during transition periods, so the students advocated for the creation of a sensory room to help students who may need extra help self-regulating a calm space to collect themselves. The sensory room, with zones, furniture, and items to facilitate both relaxation and stimulation, was funded and created over the summer by the United Way of Greater Milwaukee's Emerging Leaders group for their “Day of Action.”

Belonging, goal orientation, agency, autonomy, and engagement all contribute to fostering self-efficacy, or the empowerment one possesses to achieve desired results by oneself or with a group.

In addition to reducing school fights, the Browning Elementary School Youth Council also wanted to encourage peer-to-peer and student-to-staff kindness. Rather than implementing a top-down solution, school leadership supported students’ own investigation of the issue, examining root causes, and proposing solutions. Students started the Great Kindness Challenge to show the impact of kind gestures between adults and students. Students provided classrooms with a checklist and posters of ways to practice kindness, and then extended the invitation to the adults in the building and challenged them to consider their interactions with each other as well as with students. This process helped students develop self-efficacy by solving a problem that was important to them.

On the road to innovation
We can all find ways to grow hope for ourselves and for our students. The six pathways mentioned here provide entry points for small changes that don't require a lot of extra resources. For the next six months in ConnectEd, we will be highlighting different pathways to innovation in teaching and learning. Far from being some pie-in-the-sky goal, innovation is already happening in so many schools across our state. It’s not some big, shiny, untenable goal. The road to innovation starts with a spark, an idea, a connection, or maybe an example where you think to yourself I can do that too. To begin, we invite you to ask yourself: What are some of the issues or opportunities I see that could be solved with innovation? Who might share these priorities with me? How can I enlist their help? Who has done something like this? Are there examples? What supports exist? Where can my school, district, and the DPI help by providing resources?

To learn more about innovative practices and flexibilities that exist under current state law to grow hope, join us for a three-day retreat in the great Northwoods this summer. Through hands-on experiences, concurrent sessions, small-group discussion, and reflection, school teams can joyfully explore ways to create their own pathways to hope. Learn more on the DPI retreat webpage.

Read the second article in the Teaching and Learning Innovation Series: Educators and Students Are Clamoring for Change and Making It Happen

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