Hope Happens Here

Convocation is a day that our staff gathers to celebrate the start of a new year serving together in Fairbanks! I am thankful, honored, and privileged that I get to share this day with 150 colleagues that care deeply about our students, families, and school community. Below is the text of a message I shared today for convocation. Our theme this year is “Hope Happens Here”!!

Why do kids (and some adults) love video games? The obvious answer is they are fun. Once you dig into the answer, you find out young people love games that are challenging to master. They love that they are able to learn from their mistakes to build towards mastery. They love the concept of “Nexting”; focusing on what comes next. This mode of thinking provides kids with hope. 

Hope is powerful. The idea of a better future provides fuel for individuals. We all know examples of how hope powers people to impossible heights. Sports provide innumerable examples of teams and individuals that reached the pinnacle of their sport against all odds. Artists from all walks of life share similar stories of hope, bringing their work to the world. Doctors, business leaders, public servants, and individuals from all walks of life share their stories of growth and development. A common thread usually emerges. Each person has hope for better days ahead and has optimism to fuel their work. They each have a picture of a better tomorrow, whether that is serving others, impacting their community, or publishing their first record. Hope is a fuel that can propel a person to what is next. 

In education, a body of research has emerged focused on Hope. Battelle for Kids conducts the “Hope” Survey. They look for trends in goal setting, relationship building, belief in a better tomorrow, and how people will meet their goals. Dr. Shane Lopez has conducted extensive research in this area. In his book “Making Hope Happen”, Dr. Lopez shares stories of individuals that embraced hope to change their lives. In schools, building hopeful students is worth at least one letter grade. In the workplace, it is equal to one day of productivity a week. Through his research, Dr. Lopez shows hope is a leading indicator of success in relationships, academics, career, and business. 

In the book, “Tightrope: Americans Reaching for Hope”, Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn paint a picture of working class America. America’s working class and people living in poverty are walking a societal tightrope where one bad break can lead to personal disaster. In the book, one superintendent is quoted saying “the biggest enemies of the United States are poverty and hopelessness.” The book paints a picture using a growing body of work showing a sustained increase in child mortality, increased substance abuse among adults, overdose death, and suicide that impact more and more Americans everyday. Children from traumatic backgrounds significantly struggle across America. So much the authors say, “As a society, we denounce “delinquents,” “hoodlums” and “hooligans,” but the truth is that we routinely fail troubled kids before they fail us. More children die each year in the United States from abuse and neglect than from cancer. We shrug as millions of children undergo trauma in ways that harm them and unravel our social fabric–and then we blame the kids when things go wrong.” 

I share these thoughts because we are in the most important position to provide hope across our society. Each one of you has the power to make hope happen and to make it happen here. 

Everyday we get to serve in public education. In Ohio, roughly 83% of students attend a public school. The collective impact that teachers, support staff, school leaders, and board members can have can change the lives of students and change the world.

However, hope is not a plan. It will not happen for a student unless adults take intentional steps to build belief in a better tomorrow. Hope starts with relationships. It starts with every person in our school district focused on students first. It requires us to listen and learn from them.  We must respond to their needs, not the other way around. We must put Maslov before Blooms.  

Hope requires us to lead with empathy. Creating situations to engage in dialogue with each other about personal experiences builds understanding. Only understanding each other will lead to a better tomorrow. We can personalize learning through empathy. Connecting with student interests is not just an exercise in differentiation, it is an exercise in empathy. 

Instructional practices that engage students in what is next builds excitement for learning and possibilities. Student-centered learning plans put their goals and ambitions in the forefront making school a partnership. This requires systems and thinking through options to meet students where they are at. It requires attention to learning deficiencies and how to scaffold support. Students must do the work. They must take responsibility for their own learning. We must give them reason to do so. We must give them hope for whatever is their next. 

As you know, I am sucker for themes. They allow us to unify our thinking for a short amount of time. Phil Jackson, the championship coach of the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers, had a theme for every season. His final season with the Bulls was “The Last Dance”. Our theme this year is “Hope Happens Here”. This has more meaning this year because here is relative. We do not know where physically we may be throughout the school year, but we will still make hope happen. You have the power to make this a factory of hope. A place that builds a better tomorrow for every student that walks through those doors. Quite frankly, a growing number of our students need that. They need to see what a better future holds. Dr. Lopez showed that the message is clear: Hope is a choice. Hope can be learned. Hope is contagious. Hope can change your life. In Fairbanks, Hope Happens Here. 

If you are interested in watching our entire convocation, here is the link: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1e5IN3er69uoWdgrH7mbKS2yAKutCKC85/view?usp=sharing

  • Adham Schirg, Fairbanks Local School District, Superintendent

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