Moved by a Vision of Hope

One definition of “vision” according to the the Oxford Dictionary is the “…ability to think about or plan the future with imagination or wisdom.” The only thing I would change about this definition is to combine both words at the end of it. Imagination and wisdom are needed to create a compelling vision for the future that motivates others and give them a sense of purpose.

Attendance trouble and blurred vision

Unfortunately, many students do not have a hopeful vision for their future. A few days ago, I found myself in a meeting with one my students (lets call him Deep) and his school counsellor to discuss his course load. Near the end of our conversation, the topic changed to a discussion about class attendance. With a mere week and a half behind us in the school year, Deep had accumulated a small pile of absences.

For the next few minutes, I listened to the counsellor compassionately urge Deep to attend class but she didn’t do it in the brow-beating sort of way that might be expected. First, she questioned him about what he envisioned himself doing in the future. These questions were difficult for Deep to answer but eventually he put forward one or two things that he saw himself doing. To move toward that vision of the future, she said that it would require commitment, ownership and action. At the end of our meeting, she made Deep promise that he would attend his classes consistently for the rest of the year. He agreed.

The vision and motivation connection

Deep’s lack of motivation and purpose is a familiar story in many schools. However, this conversation helped highlight the direct link between motivation and vision. Students with a hopeful vision of the future are deeply motivated to work toward it. The opposite is also true. Those who lack vision also lack purpose and a plan for accomplishing something great with their lives.

The link between vision and purpose is as true for groups as it is for individuals. To influence a community of citizens, shareholders or stakeholders, leaders needs to communicate a compelling vision of the future. Creating a shared vision that others really believe motivates others to work hard to contribute to it.

M.L.K. had a dream. Do you?

In his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, American freedom fighter, Martin Luther King Junior, communicated a powerful vision of the future where he saw his four little children living and playing in a nation where they wouldn’t be judged by the colour of their skin but by “…the content of their character.” It was this compelling vision of the future that propelled the nation into an age of increased racial harmony, equality and freedom. The same is true of every individual person and student. Every person is heavily influenced by their ability to imagine a hopeful way forward.

Visions require imagination and faith

George MacDonald, the author who inspired the writing of C.S. Lewis, had much to say about vision and imagination. For MacDonald, a person’s vision was deeply tied to their beliefs about God and the nature of reality.

In very truth, a wise imagination, which is the presence of the spirit of God, is the best guide that man or woman can have; for it is not the things we see the most clearly that influence us the most powerfully; undefined, yet vivid visions of something beyond, something which eye has not seen nor ear heard, have far more influence than any logical sequences whereby the same things may be demonstrated to the intellect. It is the nature of the thing, not the clearness of its outline, that determines its operation. We live by faith, and not by sight.”

George MacDonald, Dish of Orts

MacDonald was a Christian and his view of living by faith is inspired by his own faith in God. However, even if you don’t think of yourself as a religious person or a person of faith, MacDonald’s point is no less important. What a person believes about who they are, their ability to see a vision about something beyond themselves is one of the most defining things about them.

MacDonald was adamant that vision-casting ability required a wise and powerful imagination. If that is true, the question becomes, “How can I develop a wise and powerful imagination in my students that gives them hope?” I suppose there are a million ways to do this but here are some ones on the top of my head.

Ways to foster a hopeful vision

  • Don’t pass over the goal-setting process at the beginning of the year. It’s not a part of your academic content but is certainly will impact learning through the year. Spend some a significant amount of time there. Make SMART goals and spend time revising them. Make sure the goals are challenging students to grow and not something they have already achieved. Come back to them at the middle and the end of the semester. Have students reflect on them and self-assess. Setting meaningful goals promotes student voice in the classroom. I’ve also found it far more productive to have a conference conversations that include both student goal and teacher goals because it shifts the focus of the meeting to include student self-evaluation and self-assessment.
  • Teach students to ask “What if..” questions and imagine the possibilities
  • Share stories about people who dreamed big and made a huge impact for others in the world
  • As you get to know your students affirm their growth, areas of passion and abilities.
  • Create a culture of “becoming” in your classroom that doesn’t focus on a perfect score or the highest grade but the developing character by admitting mistakes and learning from them.
  • Support students in their difficulties. A hopeful vision isn’t merely about the “power of positivity.” Life is hard and many of my students lives that are harder than my own. Ask how you can support your students? Follow up with them to make sure that your support is appropriate and timely.
  • Hold them accountable. One way to treat someone with hope and dignity is to hold them accountable to standards they want to achieve. Failing to to this is sometimes understood to mean that you have given up on them.

As I type this list, I know that there are so many other ways to foster a hopeful vision for students. Please let me know how you do this in your classroom in the comments below.

Photo by Warren Wong on Unsplash

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