"Hope changes everything. It changes winter into summer, darkness into dawn, descent into ascent, barrenness into creativity, agony into joy.”
Hope is foundational to Alberta teacher and school leader experiences in classrooms, schools and across the educational landscape. It is also a fundamental part of our professional identities: a hopeful future is why we teach.
The Hope: Resilience and Recovery research project was launched in response to findings from the Alberta Teachers’ Association’s 2021/22 pandemic rapid research (pulse) surveys. In these random stratified surveys, we found a high level of hopelessness among Alberta teachers and school leaders. This was followed in the spring of 2022 with data that showed a high percentage of our teaching population (one in three) indicating a plan to retire, leave the profession or leave Alberta within the next five years. In fact, at one point during the pandemic, Association researchers measured a random stratified sample of the teaching profession and found that more than half felt hopeless.
This study concentrated on both Alberta teachers and school leaders and included five focus group conversations along with a survey of 561 professionals. This Association research study was conducted by the University of Alberta’s Dr. Denise Larsen, Dr. Rebecca Hudson-Breen, Dr. Darryl Hunter and doctoral student Veronica Taylor.
The survey instrument, which is the first of its kind attempting to measure hope within the teaching profession, included 29 items designed to address experiences of hope and low hope in the contexts of teaching and school leadership. We will continue using the instrument to better understand how we can support Alberta teachers to navigate a more hopeful future.
Sources of Hope
1. witnessing student success and resilience
Key research findings
Alberta teachers and school leaders evidenced some strong reservoirs of hope, suggesting that students, classrooms and communities of learning are often hope-fostering sites for public schools. Below are some of the key findings regarding threats to hope, sources of hope and strategic considerations on the road ahead.
Threats to hope in Alberta
Identified by teachers
- workload intensification
- lack of time and resources
- disconnection from senior administrators
- perceived government attacks on teachers
- perceived negative impacts of government decisions on students
- being devalued and misunderstood by the public
Identified by school leaders
- witnessing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on students
- being targets of parent frustration
- experiencing frustrations with senior administration
- seeing the provincial government as an enemy of public education
Teachers’ experiences of hope (or threats to hope) are not only psychological. They are also socially constructed—meaning that they are deeply impacted by the broader educational contexts of the classroom, school, school board, government, professional association and even the public. The way we are treated as professionals matters deeply in terms of our experiences of hope/hopelessness.
Students Inspire Hope
Hope is not only conveyed from teachers to students. Teachers and school leaders are also inspired by students.
Teachers, regardless of age, report the inspirational influence of students, and increasingly so as they age.
Seventy-three percent of 25-year-old and younger teachers are inspired by students, but by the later stages of their career, the percentages climb to 90 per cent and even 100 per cent.
"To see the positive effects of our teaching on our students (especially when they get to high school),” creates hope for one elementary teacher."
Similar to teachers, Alberta school leaders are also inspired by students. Nearly 95% of school leaders [in the study] draw inspiration from students.
“We are close to a central element in teachers’ and school leaders’ reason for being in education, and a core source of hopefulness for these professionals.”
Sources of hope in Alberta
Sources of teacher hope
- witnessing student success and resilience
- recognizing their own agency and professional skills as teachers
- observing that teachers are contributing to good futures
- experiencing supportive leaders
Sources of school leader hope
- supporting struggling students to succeed
- moving forward as school communities through the pandemic
- feeling valued as an instructional leader by students and parents
- experiencing supportive leaders
- maintaining trusting relationships with staff
For both teachers and school leaders, action or inaction by senior educational leadership often has negative effects on hope. The research identified that Alberta teachers seek leaders’ cues and trace their hopes to actions and inactions of school leaders, central office administration, school board trustees and the distant provincial Department of Education, including the current minister of education’s comments and action/inaction.
The key findings from this study highlight the importance of teacher and school leader hope to health, workplace engagement, motivation and caring for students. They also provide the following strategic considerations with respect to the need to educate those in leadership positions, and education bureaucrats, on the now robust human science of hope.
- Show appreciation to Alberta teachers and school leaders for their engagement in the profession and work in the classroom.
- Provide periodic evidence to teachers of individual students’ progress and accomplishment in their years ahead, beyond the grade level or their classroom, will have hope fostering effect for educators. Showing them their long-term impact as professionals and explicitly celebrating successes (both small and large) of Alberta teachers are important.
- Alberta school leadership (at all levels) must be supported in sustaining hope in order to remain a source of hope in their school communities.
- Alberta school leaders identified in this study that belonging to the same professional association as teachers was an important source of hope. Removing this association would lead to even greater challenges.
- Continue to support the adoption of school leadership approaches that focus on asking questions rather than making assertions.
- Schools, school divisions and the Association should proactively support teachers in cultivating/creating ongoing networks of support. Within these networks find ways to support teachers and school leaders in actively and explicitly pursuing hope-fostering practices and provide resources to make this possible.
The full research report will be published in the fall of 2022 on the Association’s website under Research. It will provide a detailed description of the rationale for the project, literature and contextual elements relevant to the project, the findings, a discussion of the findings, and field relevant recommendations. The findings will be mobilized through professional conversations and in policy and practice discussions regarding support for Alberta teachers and school leaders.
It is encouraging to discover the strong reservoirs of hope in Alberta public schools. Now it is up to the rest of us to support school leaders and teachers as they continue to create hope-fostering classrooms and vibrant learning communities.
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