William Butler Yeats once wrote a poem titled Cloths of Heaven which reads "Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths, Enwrought with gold and silver light, The blue and the dim and the dark cloths, Of night and light and the half-light, I would spread the cloths under your feet: But I, being poor, have only my dreams; I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams."
Gallup recently conducted a poll of 1 million students, grades five to 12, between the years of 2009 and 2011. The purpose of the poll was to examine if student success is linked to their positive outlook. The question, "Do students believe the future will be better than the present and that they have the power to make it so?" Gallup defined this as "hope."
Gallup also used this opportunity to measure "student engagement" by asking questions to identify each individual's agreement regarding inquires about them feeling safe, important and acknowledged by their schools teachers and staff.
The survey found that 50 percent of today's students were hopeful about their future and 67 percent were engaged in their learning. Student's level of hope and engagement slid when they left elementary school and entered middle school. Though many adults commonly attribute this drop to "hormones" and other biological changes, when the students were asked for their opinion on this decline, they stated when they entered middle school they felt like they were "not known, not valued and not recognized" by the school teachers and staff. The "play" and discovery that is part of a successful elementary school culture disappeared in middle school. The survey found that there was an uptick in 10th grade of hope and engagement which was attributed by some degree by the students who had lost hope dropping out of school.
Sociology Professor Jessica McCrory Claraco at University of Indiana recently conducted research regarding student engagement in their schooling. Professor Claraco found that working class parents tend to raise their children to avoid conflict in the classroom. These students tend not to ask for help and find the solutions on their own. Middle class parents encourage their students to seek help from teachers and other support networks. These parents shy away from being "helicopter parents," or those that actively find solutions for their students, and stress to their children the need to be advocates for themselves and seek answers/support needed to succeed.
Researchers at University of North Carolina have found that students participating in programs that help these self-advocacy skills become more engaged and better behaved in school.
Research Professor Stuart A. Karabenick at University of Michigan conducted studies regarding students who sought help from teachers and school staff when they did not understand the subjects. Results found these students ending up trying harder to master the subjects. They had increased levels of "hope" which is found to be directly associated with academic and life achievement.
As we enter another school year, each of us must consider what we are doing to encourage hope in our children, grandchildren, students or young friends, encouraging them to seek the answers to problems they face, pursue resources to aid in their search, explore their interests and aptitudes and celebrate their triumphs both small and large. Help them create, enhance and achieve their dreams, but be mindful to watch your step.
Editor's note: Steve Patchin is the director of the Center for Pre-College Outreach at Michigan Technological University.