Professional Learning

To Teachers: How to Stay Hopeful and Inspired

How to stay hopeful and inspired as a teacher.

November 23, 2011

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about how we refill our reservoirs of hope -- specifically, hope that we can positively change this world. For many years now, I have sought out stories and films that make me feel hopeful. I collect quotes, poems, YouTube clips, music and art work that fuels my faith and alleviates the suffering on this planet. It is far too easy to be consumed by grief over what is happening in our world, without even reading the news (a habit I've tamed -- I limit myself to consuming news once or twice a week).

I want to share some of my favorite and recently acquired inspirations, and I'd love to hear yours. Here are some suggestions to refill your reservoirs of hope:

  • Walk Out, Walk On by Margaret Wheatley and Deborah Frieze. I love everything that Margaret Wheatley writes, and this is my favorite new book on the topic of transformation. This is an inspiring, engaging read about seven communities around the world introduces us to groups of people who have "walked out of limiting beliefs and assumptions and walked on to create healthy and resilient communities." The authors take us on a journey into Mexico, Brazil, Ohio, South Africa and elsewhere where communities use what they have and what they already know to solve their seemingly insolvable problems. I plan to make this book a gift to many friends and colleagues both in and outside of education this season. It's that kind of book.
  • Leymah Gbowee is the Liberian peace activist who was one of this year's winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. Watch this recent unedited, extended interview on John Stewart's Daily Show where she discusses leading the women's movement that ended Liberia's bloody civil war. I was entranced by Gbowee's force and strength, her grounded charisma and radiant life force, and am eager to read her memoir, Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War. The documentary, "Pray the Devil back to Hell," made several years ago also chronicles the movement that Gbowee led. It's available through Netflix.
  • Wangari Maathusi I first learned about her through this children's picture book by Jeannette Winter: Wangari's Trees of Peace: A True Story from Africa my own website. It tells the true story of Wangari Maathusi, the Kenyan environmentalist and 2004 Nobel Peace Prize winner, who led the reforestation movement in Africa. This is a powerful, beautiful story -- one to share with our children who also need stories of hope and empowerment. Wangari Maathusi (who passed away in September of 2011) wrote several books, including a memoir. Here's a wonderful interview that she did earlier in 2011 for the American Public Media show, "On Being."
  • The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear This is a fantastic compilation of fifty stories, essays and poems from peace and social justice movements around the world. This tome brings you into an international, multi-generational community of those who are moving beyond despair to compassion, hope, and activism. This is an old standby-favorite of mine when I need a little jolt of inspiration.
  • Desmond Tutu I am deeply inspired by just about everything the South African bishop and freedom fighter says, writes, and does. His book, No Future without Forgiveness is directly applicable to our work in schools, particularly those that struggle with gang violence. (There's an excerpt from this work in the above listed, The Impossible will Take a Little While.)
  • UC Davis students On Friday, November 18, students at this California university peacefully demonstrated the increasing tuition hikes at their campus. As they sat quietly on the ground, police Lt. John Pike sadistically sprayed their faces with pepper spray. watch it if you haven't. In the wake of this brutality, many are calling for UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi to resign. The following evening, students staged a silent protest as Chancellor Katehi walked to her car. This video is chilling. Inspiring. Powerful. There are so many ways that we can respond to injustice.
  • Websites One of my favorite to troll around in is Charity Focus, a fantastic organization focused on compassion, giving, and the little things each of us can do every day to make this world better. You'll find a treasure trove of videos, articles, quotes, and additional resources on these topics. Their description of their "Inspiration" page reads, "We at Charity Focus feel that it's impossible to create a better world without inner change that results from selfless service. In the spirit of sharing, volunteers have put together many inspiring features to help each other cultivate the change." I also appreciate their email service "Daily Good" through which you can receive a bit of good news every day.
  • Martin Luther King's final speech Reaching back some decades, this film clip of the speech in Memphis, Tennessee, always provokes a wave of emotions in me that is indescribable with words. The night before he was assassinated, Dr. King spoke these words: "I've been to the mountain top...I have seen the promised land. I may not get there with you, but I want you to know, tonight, that we as a people will get to the promised land." Listen to Dr. King speak these words, look at his face. Listen to the audience. Faith is contagious.

This is the short list that comes to mind on this November day of those who inspire me, who help me refill the spaces in my soul which are often depleted by witnessing the poverty, violence, and injustice in our world. I need this sustenance as much as I do my daily bread; if I am not hopeful and inspired, I cannot do the work I do.

How do you refill your reservoirs of hope? What are your favorite books, (fiction, non-fiction) films, poems, video clips, pieces of music or art or anything else that sustains your faith? Please share!

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