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Students Have the Will to Succeed, but Many Lack the Ways

Students Have the Will to Succeed, but Many Lack the Ways

by Shane J. Lopez and Valerie J. Calderon

U.S. children have more confidence in their own academic skills than do their counterparts living in other developed nations, according to a study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. But even though young people believe they can achieve goals important to them, they often don't know how to make those goals a reality. For the most part, students are willing to put in the hard work to pursue the future they are excited about. The problem, however, is that they lack the ways or necessary strategies to reach the big goals, such as graduation or employment in a good job.

Nearly 1 million students in the U.S. participated in the 2015 Gallup Student Poll. The results showed 80% of fifth through 12th graders who were surveyed strongly agreed that they would graduate from high school, but only 50% of those surveyed strongly agreed that they can think of many ways to get good grades. Further, while nearly two-thirds (63%) of the students surveyed strongly agreed that they would find a good job in the future, just a third (35%) strongly agreed that they could find many ways around problems that arise in their lives.

Hope Index Items, Convenience Sample of U.S. 5th-12th Graders
Strongly agree%
I know I will graduate from high school. 80
I have a great future ahead of me. 64
I know I will find a good job in the future. 63
I have many goals. 56
I can think of many ways to get good grades. 50
I can find many ways around problems. 35
I have a mentor who encourages my development. 33
Gallup Student Poll, 2015

One possible reason students don't feel confident they can find many ways to get good grades and solve problems is schools' focus on teaching required content for standardized tests. The emphasis on achievement is often a well-meaning commitment to excellence. But in the midst of preparing students for standardized tests, teachers may miss chances to help them craft strategies for getting good grades and for intentionally solving daily problems. Outside of the school environment, parents and coaches may recognize and praise an outcome the student achieves, such as a test score or a win on the field, but they may not be seizing the opportunity to explain or emphasize the steps the student used to establish, pursue and achieve the goal.

There are many ways to help create hope in students and give them opportunities to achieve their dreams. Help students think about small ways to be successful in school and in life. Show them how to prepare for tests, and emphasize and praise their careful attention to each part of an assignment. Help students track their homework or test grades over a period of time so they can learn to see their progress. Help them figure out how to solve disagreements with friends, classmates or teachers. Teach them how to investigate their career interests, and help them practice for job interviews.

Help students think about what they do best and provide them with opportunities to do those things often. Focusing first on students' strengths will also keep their minds open to fixing their weaknesses. If a child comes home with a report card that has four A's, a B, a C and an F, lead with an enthusiastic discussion of the A's and B's to help the child come up with lots of ideas for making sure the F doesn't show up again. Jumping on the F first will shut your child down emotionally and undermine his or her ability to think of pathways toward success.

When students have both the will and the ways to achieve their dreams, they are more likely to reach their goals and have hope for the future.

Portions of this blog are adapted from Lopez's Making Hope Happen.

Read the Gallup Student Poll 2015 results.


Shane J. Lopez, Ph.D., author of Making Hope Happen, is the world's leading researcher on hope. He is also one of the most vocal advocates of the psychological reform of America's education system.

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