Why “Cross your Fingers and Hope for the Best” is Actually Great Advice

Have you ever wondered what really creates the difference between the student who gives strong effort and the one who doesn’t? Is there some magical research that provides evidence that crossing your fingers initiates a physiological reaction that somehow leads to better student effort and attitude? Well, the research almost says that – not quite. If you’d like greater student effort (and attitude), you are in the right place.

Keep reading and we’ll learn how those two crossing fingers can help us remember the two key elements to mastering this month’s topic of building student …

The Research

Our topic is about building student effort and attitude through HOPE. You have likely noticed that when hope drops, student effort drops. And, YES, when hope is up, students do better academically. Seriously, it’s true! Hope leads to better academic performance … and so much more.

The best way to understand hope is to understand the opposite of hope – learned helplessness (which is the same as hopelessness).

Learned Helplessness: a belief that one’s behavior does not influence the outcome; therefore, one makes little effort to improve their situation (Maier & Seligman, 2016).

Ever seen that in the learners you work with?

Let’s compare that to HOPE: Hope includes a belief that one knows how to reach one’s goals (Pathways) and a belief that one has the motivation to use those pathways to reach one’s goals (Agency) (Snyder, Rand, & Sigmon, 2005).

Which do you want to see more of in your classroom, school, or training? Learned helplessness or hope?

Hope is the instructional tool for improving student effort and attitude. You can (and should) BUILD HOPE in your workplace!

There is tremendous scientific research on the topic of hope. Scientists have definedhope, studied the components of hope, and discovered what builds hope.

We’ll get to all of that, but first … why should we care? Why do you and I want to be scientifically categorized as someone with high levels of hope? And why do we want to help our students be more hopeful? Here is why:

People with high levels of hope:

  • Perform better academically at all levels (Marques, Gallagher, & Lopez, 2017).
  • Tend to be healthier (Kok, et al., 2013).
  • Report being more satisfied with their job and experience less stress at work (Woo & Park, 2017; Abbas & Raja, 2015).
  • Are happiermore confident, and have better relationships (Satici & Uysal, 2017; Alarcon, Bowling, & Khazon, 2013).
  • Handle stressors better – they see it as a challenge (Rand, 2017).
  • Use feedback to improve their future efforts (Reichard, Avey, Lopez, & Dollwet, 2013).
  • Report higher levels of self-worthlife satisfaction, and lower levels of depression (Marques et al., 2015).
  • Tend to be more forgiving of others (Taysi, Curun, & Orcan, 2015).

If some of those benefits interest you, lean in and let’s quickly learn what makes some learners more hopeful than others, and how we can help our students build their hope muscles to become what researchers call “high-hopers”. And remember, with high levels of hope comes high student effort and positive attitude. Who doesn’t want more of that in their classroom?

Practical Applications

Hope is more than wishful thinking or the feeling that drives people to buy lottery tickets. Hope is more than an emotion. There is a cognitive/emotional structure to it as well. It is a way of thinking about a future event, goal, or action.

If hope is small or diminishing, your students will pull back or quit.

We now know that hope involves both the will (Agency) to pursue a goal and the way(Pathways) to do so.

Pathway thinking involves being able to design a reasonable route to achieve a specific goal. In addition, a high-hoper is capable of creating alternative plans in case their first plan doesn’t work.

Listen … if you’ve noticed that your students rarely put forth their best effort, maybe it is because they don’t think they CAN be successful. So, they hold back and don’t work hard. Sound familiar? After all, if you don’t think you’ll succeed, why waste the effort? Students in this situation need a stronger, clearer pathway. And you can help!

You help your students become pathway builders when you:

  • clearly map out the elements of a persuasive essay – give them the steps again and again until it is automatic (or use an acronym).
  • teach them how to approach word problems in math – create a simple 7 step approach for solving all math problems. For example: Begin with positive attitude, determine problem type, pre-select a strategy & mentally try it out or talk it through, use your best choice strategy, check your work & decide if it worked, celebrate or try a new one, debrief your success!
  • show them the rules for conjugating Spanish verbs that end in –ar.
  • demonstrate how to utilize the scientific method to test a hypothesis – keep your steps simple and use acronyms!

So …

  • Teach the specific process to your students. Remember – they are not mind readers; they need to be taught.
  • Walk them through an example.
  • Let them practice with a partner or small group.
  • Give them opportunities to master the pathway individually.

Agency is the motivational component of hope theory. It involves our perceived capacity to actually follow the pathway we create to achieve our goal. It is the “I can do it!” attitude that propels a high-hoper along their constructed pathway.

If you have students whose negative attitude is creating limiting beliefs in themselves, it is time for an attitude upgrade. Negative self-talk can be a HUGE impediment to learning. Let’s be proactive and flood their minds with what we know helps them be a better learner.

You help your students build their agency muscles when you use:

  • positive pre-framing, “I know we can all master this next topic because as a class we scored our best yet on the last quiz!”
  • emotional punctuation like, “We did it! and “Turn to your neighbor and say, ‘You rock!’”
  • Students share personal success stories to build confidence.
  • Foster self-talk. Use positive affirmations like, “I am a math master!” or “I am ready for this challenge!” (Snyder et al., 1998).

Here is where your two crossed fingers can actually come in handy. Think of your two crossed fingers as the two components of hope: Pathways and Agency. When you activate both of these elements with your students, you are on your way to a classroom full of students giving stronger effort and better attitudes.

As you reflect on your students’ level of hopefulness, consider which muscle could use more strengthening – their Pathways or Agency? Pick a strategy above to build that muscle and get to work! Now you can see how, “Cross your fingers and hope for the best” is actually useful advice. The first part is the agency and the second part is the pathway. Sure, we fleshed it out a bit more, but doing something and believing that it may work is a great start!

One MORE last thing: if you mess up and don’t have a great day, DO NOT beat yourself up over it. Do not make up an excuse as to why you are unable to “do” a certain item or process on any given day. Guilt is a terribly unproductive emotion. Forgive yourself and recommit to the next day. Do not expect perfection of yourself; expect constant effort. Every day, do something. Every day, put one foot forward.

Tennis legend Arthur Ashe said, “Start where you are. Do what you can. Use what you have.” You can’t get any more profound (or useful) than that. So… you are about done reading. Go ahead and select the strategy to start NOW!

Eric Jensen
CEO, Jensen Learning
Brain-Based Education