How school leaders can help students embrace hope
Guest Column by Rebecca Wheat
April 22, 2024
Working in schools, we see firsthand many complex mental health needs. Yes, the pandemic was major, as students were isolated and missed many important milestones, but we also need to pay attention to other considerations. It wasn’t just missing school. The pandemic created a world of chaos, anxiety and uncertainty. Sure, we had heard of pandemics in other parts of the world, but certainly not here. We were safe, until we weren’t. Students wonder, what does this lack of safety bode for the future?
In addition, there is the issue of artificial intelligence. I recently chatted with a psychologist who told me that many of the young people she is seeing now are very worried about AI. They are not worried about AI and cheating. They are worried about whether there will be jobs for them or will many jobs be taken over by AI?
And there there is of course climate change. Will they even be able to breathe fresh air? What kind of a world will there be for their future children? Why is alleviating climate change taking so long?

Whatever our role in schools, we can offer hope that there are meaningful actions we can take. When Michelle Obama was asked, “What can we give our children?” She answered, “Hope.” How can we offer real hope, not just fluff and platitudes?
One way we can offer hope is by young people witnessing us, not just talking but taking bold actions. Whether we are involved in racial justice, climate change, community gardens or food insecurity, the very fact that we are doing something offers hope and a sense that actions can make a difference.
In addition, we can create a project-based learning curriculum in school and after school that will offer engagement, belonging, hope and a sense of purpose. The possibilities for projects are endless — community gardens, food distribution programs, tutoring younger students and leading peer groups. If we ask young people their ideas for important projects we will receive many creative suggestions.
We can help students realize they are part of something bigger than themselves, and their actions can make a significant difference.
In the end, we can be a catalyst for hope, and that can make all the difference.
Rebecca Wheat is an ACSA member with more than 40 years of experience as a teacher, principal, adjunct professor and coach to principals. She is the author of four books including “The Spirited Principal.”