Hope at the Center of Education

Hope at the Center of Education

Photograph © Colleen Watson-Turner

Hope at the Center: Voices of Indigenous and non Indigenous Educators

(See Gratitudes for full references for all authors quoted)

“Teaching is the psychology of hope, and hope is a cause and a consequence of action. It prefers participation to observation, and it believes that vast problems can yield to several small solutions. Teaching creates the infrastructure of the art of the impossible.” -Marie Battiste, (2013, p.175)

This post is largely dedicated to teachers who work with indigenous students and is written with gratitude for the educators and scholars whose books have illuminated the practice of hope in indigenous communities and urban schools. I commend their work to all teachers.

I have also explored the concept of hope in other writing and feel strongly that teaching doesn’t make any sense if, as teachers, we don’t believe that every one of our students is capable of learning and growing (Finney, 2013). With this conviction, at the heart of our teaching, we don’t give up on any student. We reject deficit beliefs about any cultural group or set of economic circumstances. No matter how difficult the challenges we face, we act. We find ways to support our students to see their own gifts, inner strengths, and the knowledge they already possess. We use our hearts to understand our students’ unique needs and to reach out to their communities; we use the resources within and around us to strengthen their learning, and our imaginations to create other resources. We see our students as always more than they reveal in the present moment. This is a practice of hope.

Hope as a belief in the capabilities and gifts of students is also an openness to being inspired by them. I feel moved by the passion of Cheryl Morin, a Cree teacher at Pelican Narrows when she describes her beliefs about her students in these words:

 I hold a number of positive beliefs in my heart, spirit, and mind that keep me focused and intent on moving forward. First and foremost is my belief that the large number of youth in our community are an untapped asset, full of potential.Youngsters are open and willing to try new ideas and alternative practices if they have guidance and receive assurances that they won’t be left defenceless ( in Goulet & Goulet, p.184).

Marie Battiste’s compassion and wisdom makes this belief in students clear when she says that education is the belief in possibilities. Her words express this idea powerfully and directly:

We as educators must refuse to believe that anything in human nature and in various situations condemns humans to poverty, dependency, weakness, and ignorance. We must reject the idea the youth are confined to situations of fate, such as being born into a particular class, gender, or race. We must believe that teachers and students can confront and defeat the forces that prevent students from living more fully and more freely (175).

We grow our courage and compassion through understanding the contextual and historical dimensions of indigenous education in our country, and work with others on overcoming present injustices. And so we begin with hope, and our first responsibility is to keep it alive, within ourselves, and within our students. This could be likened to tending the fire and not letting it die.

While this is a central principle of indigenous education after colonialism, it is not surprising that it is a shared conviction with all compassionate educators. Sandra Deane, a Canadian educator who worked with low income children in troubled neighbourhoods, ends her book, Hearts and Minds with this same message. In describing the universal themes of education that are central to her work, she writes,

Hope is the most valuable universal theme of all. With hope, children embrace a vision of better things for themselves, and realize they do not have to settle for the same conditions into which they were born (p. 242).

When I reflect on what hope looks like in action in the classroom, what comes to mind first is an attitude, belief, and responsibility to see every day as a new day – letting go of what happened yesterday or last week in terms of patterns in students’ learning or behaviours and my own. A new beginning, a new opportunity is upon us and we don’t know what it will bring but we know it will hold challenges, achievements, surprises, possibly setbacks, but we are prepared in our heart-mind to see what we haven’t seen before.

Hope can also look like humour, liveliness, patience, kindness, perseverance, listening, and appreciating. It grows through a practice of collaboration between students and with families and other community members. Linda & Keith Goulet (2014) in their book, which is rich in case studies of contemporary teachers, conclude with these words,

Above all, as the teachers in this book have shown, we need education for hope – hope that we and our students and community members are capable people who, through our individual and collaborative efforts, can create innovations for positive change in Indigenous education as we enact kee-chee-giskinaumatowin, the striving for excellence in our teaching and learning, with and for each other (217).


“The rainbow is a circle that is completed within the spirits of learners.”

What is your concept of hope? What does hope in the classroom look and feel like to you?

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