Hope IS A Strategy

Fire hat, Hope Hose Company. 2005.0233.0057. CIGNA Collection.

The word ‘dialogue’ cops 2,380,000 hits on Google all by itself, which indicates to me that people mean a lot of different things when they use the word… Dialogue. One of the purposes of the blog Testing: a Personal History was to attempt to establish a dialogue about testing. My meaning of dialogue, however, tracks to the first meaning of the word in the Oxford English Dictionary (stealing from a lot of other sources right away here, but bear with me because it’s not padding): “A literary work in the form of a conversation between two or more persons, in which opposing or contrasting views are imputed to the participants.”

Even if no one is reading, I needed this dialogue to happen as part of the dispossession of the testing world from within me. It is a dialogue because I’m of two minds about testing: the anti-testing folks are wrong because they should be asking for better testing, which is necessary for so many things including learning AND the purveyors of testing from psychometricians to teachers to governmental education officials are also wrong because even though they know what needs to be done to make testing better they stick with the same formulae year after year. These posts will continue to elaborate on both issues, but one example of where testing should already have gone is hope. Yes, HOPE!

In an article that I cited yesterday about the failure of research to support some of the beliefs about the concept of grit, Frank Worrell, one of the great scholars of high achievement and now the president of the American psychological Association as well, noted that there were other factors with more substantial research supporting their role in high achievement that deserved attention through measurement and cultivation: “self-efficacy, self-regulation, hope and optimism”. Today I want to talk about my encounter with hope as a construct that started a decade before I entered formally the world of testing at ETS as Chief Learning Officer. Hope continues to be one of the most significant pieces of my own learning. Its omission in most of the regimens of education constitutes a serious and quite avoidable mistake because we known about hope as an important factor in our lives for a long time.

My first encounter with the HOPE scale came through an article in the New York Times on Christmas Eve in 1991 by a writer, Daniel Goleman, who went on to great fame and fortune in popularizing the concept of emotional intelligence. In the article, Goleman referred to The Hope Scale devised by Charles Snyder who at the time was a professor and researcher at the University of Kansas. My interest stemmed from a difficult situation in which I found myself as vice president of a small consulting company, Longview Associates, in White Plains New York. A local financial institution, American Savings Bank, had suffered several surprising setbacks: the sudden death of their founder and president, the discovery of deficiencies in their operations, and the overall context of the savings-and-loan crisis. Consequently, the bank was placed under federal control. While examiners from government agencies considered whether to dissolve the institution and solve its assets or merge it with another bank, they gave our firm the challenge of working with employees so that they would continue to be productive even though they faced a potentially bleak future. As I said, this was all happening at holiday time.

Several quotes of Snyder struck me as not only pertinent to my current situation of trying to figure out how to do something that was going to be worthwhile for all these folks in a series of workshops and seminars but also as commonsensical:

Hope has proven a powerful predictor of outcome in every study we’ve done so far,”

“Students with high hope set themselves higher goals and know how to work to attain them,” Dr. Snyder said. “When you compare students of equivalent intellectual aptitude and past academic achievements, what sets them apart is hope.”

What seemed particularly powerful to me was that the discussed experiments produced consistent results across a variety of populations. A fellow researcher operating on the same premise, Timothy Elliott — no relation that I know of — studied the efficacy of hope found in “a study of 57 people with paralysis from spinal cord injury, (that) those who reported more hope, compared with those having little hope, had less depression, greater mobility (despite similar levels of injury), more social contacts and more sexual intimacy.”

If you believe as Susanna Schellenberg has written that “experience is fundamentally a matter of representing the world as being a certain way” then you should believe as well that attitude merits significant consideration in schemes for the education and development of all of us. Without knowing very much about this other than the New York Times article, I trudged to the local library and read as much as I could of Doctor Snyder’s work. Thus armed, I started to put together a learning session in which people would explore how much hope they had and how much hope they could have. This is important about all of the so-called psychosocial characteristics: they are malleable. You may think that you’re stuck with a certain attitude, but there are very specific things that you can do about it; there are the factors that various researchers have found to be consistent with greater chances for survival and even for optimization of a difficult situation.

Snyder at the very beginning made that distinction that hope wasn’t a replay of the old saw that where there’s a will there is a way, but rather that you needed both the will and the ability to find and pursue different ways in order to reach your goal. “Simply put, hopeful thought reflects the belief that one can find pathways to desired goals and become motivated to use those pathways. … that hope, so defined, serves to drive the emotions and well-being of people.”

From that Frank Worrell article, this definition of the construct fits what we tried to do thirty one years ago this week at the bank:

Hope, defined as one’s perceived ability to execute envisioned paths to future goals, is a two-component cognitive-motivational construct (Snyder, 2002, Snyder et al., 1991). Hope encompasses how individuals choose goals, how they plan to accomplish chosen goals, their motivation for accomplishing chosen goals, and their belief in their capacity to accomplish chosen goals.“

Snyder put it in even simpler way that we started to present as ‘Snyder’s Six Steps’.

  1. Turn to friends for advice on how to achieve their goals.
  2. Tell themselves they can succeed at what they need to do.
  3. Even in a tight spot, they tell themselves things will get better as time goes on.
  4. They are flexible enough to find different ways to get to their goals.
  5. If hope for one goal fades, they aim for another.
    1. “Those low in hope tend to become fixated on one goal, and persist even when they find themselves blocked,” Dr. Snyder said. “They just stay at it and get frustrated.”
  6. They show an ability to break a formidable task into specific, achievable chunks.
    1. “People low in hope see only the large goal, and not the small steps to it along the way,” Dr. Snyder said

In the end, the feds closed down the bank, sold off its assets, and everyone lost their jobs. But before that horrible conclusions, we worked with every employee on this concept of hope. It resonated with them to an amazing degree. No one who does this kind of work escapes brutal criticism for offering solutions in a dark time. That did not happen here: people kept wanting to talk about the research, the scale, the methods. The first of Snyder’s Six steps particularly resonated with them: ‘Turn to friends for advice on how to achieve their goals.’ They turned to those friends not for what Kegan and Lahey would nicely explain to me a decade later as “BMW mode” — short for ‘bitching, moaning, and whining.’” Nor did they consort with ‘friends’ who would gladly supply a further push into the sloughs of depression. They turned to each other and their friends outside work for ideas on what to do next, on how to break this formidable task of repairing their careers into specific, achievable chunks..  

The event signified a turn in my career as well. Snyder’s work became a staple of my consulting work but more importantly provided a lens through which to see others. Who had hope and who did not? For the latter group, how might I turn them onto this very practical course? I also started looking for it in the academic worlds encountered my own graduate teaching and the school experiences of our three kids who spanned elementary, middle and high school environments at one point. What struck me the most was the absence of any awareness of this work at any of those levels.

Hope continues to be studied as an important factor as indicated in this paper, Profiles of hope: How clusters of hope relate to school variables co-authored by Frank Worrell. And in that article, he alludes to the test developed by Snyder (who died way too young of cancer several decades ago) and his colleagues*** at Kansas. Here’s a simple view:

  • Directions: read each item carefully. Using the scale below, please select the number that best describes you and put that number in the blank provided.

1 = Definitely False     2 = Mostly False      3 = Mostly True      4 = Definitely True

  1. ___ I energetically pursue my goals.
  2. ___ I can think of many ways to get out of a jam.
  3. ___ My past experiences have prepared me well for my future.
  4. ___ There are lots of ways around any problem.
  5. ___ I’ve been pretty successful in life.
  6. ___ I can think of many ways to get the things in life that are most important to me.
  7. ___ I meet the goals that I set for myself.
  8. ___ Even when others get discouraged, I know I can find a way to solve the problem.

And as Worrell and his co-authors point out, hope is not the same as self-efficacy or optimism:

Hope has been distinguished from related constructs like self-efficacy and optimism both theoretically and empirically. … For example, optimism is likely to be experienced when students believe that they will accomplish a desirable future goal, like getting an A in a math course, but do not know how the good grade will come about. This feeling of optimism changes to hope when those students envision a pathway to getting the A (emphasis added) in the math class; that is, when they know how they will accomplish earning the A and in turn feel a sense of agency in the process of the A coming about (Snyder, 2002). Self-efficacy is different in that it is likely to be experienced before either hope or optimism. Self-efficacy is likely to be experienced in the can phase whereas hope and optimism are likely to be experienced in the will phase (Snyder, 2002). Continuing the example from above, students are likely to experience a sense of self-efficacy when they are deciding whether or not they can get an A in the math class.”

Hope links to doing well at every level of schooling, even after controlling for ability. Recently, Feldman and Kubota (2015) found that academic hope was the strongest predictor of GPA over academic self-efficacy for a sample of 89 college students with by more than 2 to 1. Optimism did not predict. Hope works in the stricter definition that Snyder and his colleagues first suggested. Then why – returning to my desired dialogue above — do the anti-testing folks not demand more of formative assessment around this construct and why does the testing industrial complex not provide this kind of resource more easily and abundantly? Damned if I know. That’s why I’m writing this blog. See you tomorrow with a reading recommendation of someone whose work in this area provides insight and controversy. Feel free to jump into that dialogue. Things are going to change but everybody staying silent. They need to change. I hope you agree.

*** The Hope Scale was developed by CR Snyder, Cherie Harris, John R Anderson, Sharon A Holleran, Laurie A. Irving, Sandra T Sigmon, Laurent Youshonobu, June Gibb, Cherylle Langelle, and Pat Hearney, Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology, 1991, volume 60 (four), 570 — 585

Roman Panel of Spes or Hope

2 thoughts on “Hope IS A Strategy

  1. Marianne Talbot

    This resonates with me in relation to my doctoral work, which is just getting underway. I am researching the impact of a specific form of post-qualification professional development on the teachers who undertake it: Chartered Educational Assessors or CEAs. This breaks down into what influence becoming chartered has had on their assessment literacy and practice, how it has influenced others they work with, and how it has influenced the organisations they work for. Confidence, motivation, self-efficacy and self-regulation (as well as many other factors) all feed into this, and I think the idea of hope could be a powerful thing to investigate further. I suspect that ‘successful’ CEAs have high levels of hope but so far have no evidence for this hypothesis! They probably also have high levels of conscientiousness, as described in yesterday’s blog. Hope and conscientiousness, I think, are infectious and can therefore spread from one individual to another and throughout a team or organisation. At least, that’s what I hope…

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