How to Learn and Lead from a Place of Hope

Are hope and education synonymous? It’s a common assumption, to be sure, as educators often tacitly seek to imbue hope in their students. But what does it mean to learn and lead from a place of hope during these exceedingly uncertain times?

Of the many academic and operational definitions of hope, my favorite is that hope is saying “yes” to life. Hope is a choice. It is a commitment to envisioning a future in which we wish to participate. The choice isn’t always easy, but that decision to say “yes” to life is all the more important when times are tough.

Hope is fundamental to learning and to living. Hope recruits the imagination, giving us temporary respite from the difficult present while we consider how things might be made different. Research tells us that, particularly during periods of uncertainty, hope tilts us toward action and toward engaging with life—even as we remain uncertain about what will happen next.

At Hope Studies at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Canada, we have spent the last 27 years learning about what it means to learn and lead from a place of hope. We know that hope is multifaceted. We know that hope is unique to each of us—my hope is not yours. We also know that hope is important across many cultures, faiths, and languages. So while we work across differences, there are also many commonalities to fostering hope. Our work has focused specifically on what it means to be intentional and, often, explicit about hope in the classroom, the boardroom, and the hospital room.

Below, I share some of our discoveries with you—an offering in the spirit of hope, and an invitation to experiment with and learn about hope during times when it is most needed.

  • Hope is not Pollyanna. Hope and reality can coexist. Hope does not deny the gravity of the situation. It lives alongside circumstances, inviting us to seek even the tiniest glimmer of possibility.
  • Hope is a search behavior. Become mindful about hope. Take note of where hope appears for you. Sometimes a walk, a commitment to notice hope, and a camera are just what’s needed.
  • Relationships, like those between teachers and students, can be profound sources of hope. Knowing that someone sees us as valuable and believes in us is powerful medicine.
  • Ask others about their hopes. Listen without correcting. Be present. This is a gift of hope in itself.
  • Our values are an anchor. When we are uncertain of just what difference we can make, we have the fundamental choice to be the kind of people we hope to be in this circumstance. ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­
  • The hope of leaders and the hope of learners are important. The practices we use for fostering others’ hope work on us, too.
  • Hope is most commonly pro-social and action-oriented. We hold many hopes for others. Reflecting on these hopes and explicitly sharing them can seed community building. We may hear ourselves saying, “I share your hope.”
  • To make meaningful change, it is not necessary for everyone to share all hopes. It is okay to acknowledge the hopes that we do not share.
  • Hope is both a process and an outcome. Our hopes can and do change over time. This is part of developing and growing. As we learn more about the world and ourselves, our hopes change. This process of learning and growing itself can offer hope.

Denise J. Larsen is director Hope Studies at the University of Alberta.

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