Enhancing Hope in Students

“Ontario youth unemployment among the worst in Canada”

“Canada’s youth at risk of chronic unemployment”

“Youth unemployment to hit 12.8% by 2018”

“Older workers pushing youth out of the job market”


Youth unemployment dominates headlines. Young people are inundated with doom and gloom about their future – no jobs, no pension, no future.


Hope is what keeps them moving forward.


“The capacity for hope is the most significant fact of life. It provides human beings with a sense of destination, and the energy to get started.”

– Norman Cousins, American journalist.


Hope is defined as:

  • a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen.
  • a feeling of trust.
  • the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best.

Most often hope is defined as an emotion, a feeling. Yet, it can also be characterized as a “thought process” and when seen this way, it becomes something that can be learned.


According to positive psychologist Charles Richard “Rick” Snyder (1944-2006), the Hope Theory argues that there are four main things that make up hopeful thinking:


Goals – Approaching life in a goal-oriented way.

Pathways – Finding different ways to achieve your goals.

Agency – Believing that you can instigate change and achieve these goals.

Barriers – That which blocks the attainment of our goals



Snyder begins with the assumption that human actions are goal directed. In order to achieve their goals, individuals must see themselves as capable of finding plausible routes to attaining their goals. Snyder calls this pathways thinking – being able to conceive of at least one plausible route to goal attainment. High-hope people often produce several pathways and are very effective at finding multiple and alternative routes when faced with barriers.


In order to embark on a pathway, individuals need motivation. Agency thoughts refer to the motivation we have to exert in order to follow the route towards our goals. Barriers are what block the attainment of our goals. When faced with a barrier, we can either give up or we can use our pathway thoughts to create new routes. Low hope individuals are more likely to give up. High hope individuals view barriers as challenges to overcome and use their pathway thoughts to plan an alternative route to their goals.


In the face of daunting headlines aimed at taking away all hope for a successful career,  we can see that helping our students engage in hopeful thought is crucial.




Strategies for enhancing hope in students in our Career Education classrooms


Students without hope are less likely to be motivated to engage in career planning activities or on-going career management. With hope, students can expect good things in the future. We can apply hope theory to our work in career education by providing suggestions across three categories— those involving goals, pathways, and agency.


Strategies for helping students develop goals:

  • Encourage goals that excite students.
  • Calibrate goals to the student’s age and specific circumstances.
  • Discuss and encourage goals in various aspects of their lives and help them rank them by importance.
  • Ensure students select several goals. That way they can turn to another important goal when they face with an insurmountable barrier.
  • Teach students how to set SMART goals


Strategies for helping students develop pathways thinking:

  • Help students to break down large goals into smaller sub-goals (step-by-step sequence).
  • Encourage students to think about their goals (e.g., what will you need to do to attain your goal?) and to identify several routes to a desired goal (e.g., what would you do if you encounter a barrier?).
  • Support “keep-going thinking.” If one pathway does not work, try other routes.
  • Students need to learn that a barrier is not necessarily a lack of ability or talent.
  • If students need a new skill to help them reach their goal, encourage them to learn it and then find a new route to their goal.
  • Remind them that they can always ask for help.



Strategies for helping students develop agency thinking:

  • Goals established based on self-awareness and personal desire are more energizing than those imposed by others (peers, parents, or teachers).
  • Help students to understand the importance of and monitor their self-talk. Encourage them to talk in positive voices (e.g., I can do this; I will keep at it).
  • Engage students in activities that involve teamwork so they can learn from one another.
  • Provide students with examples of how other students have succeeded or overcome adversity.
  • Encourage students to enjoy the journey in reaching their goals as much as the thrill of achieving them.



Over the last 20 years, research has demonstrated that more hopeful students do better in school and life than less hopeful students. Hopeful thinkers achieve more, and are physically and psychologically healthier than less hopeful people. High hope has been found to correlate positively with academic achievement and lower levels of depression.

Thus we can continue to introduce our students to a variety of resources like ChatterHigh (www.chatterhigh.com) which can be used daily in a career education classroom to allow students to explore all things positive about career planning, set goals, figure out pathways and instil hope for the future.

Lee Taal

A future palaeontologist/football player who attended high school in Peterborough, Ontario, Lee’s eventual career path was a complete surprise to him.  Lee graduated from RRMC in ’95 with a BSc in Oceanography & Space Science and adapted into a myriad of careers as naval officer, manager at a locomotive facility, 6-Sigma green belt, director of operations and now founder/CEO of edugaming EdTech ChatterHigh.  Considered a ‘philanthropreneur’ in his approach to helping schools, and currently a presenter at many schools and conferences in Western Canada, Lee was honoured to be the keynote speaker at a Victoria high school graduation ceremony in 2012.  The son and brother to educators, Lee resides in Victoria with his wife and twin daughters.

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