Part V: Hope Can Be Taught

This is a transcription of a short clip in which Dr. Hellman shares more behind his research on Hope, including as it applies to well-being and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES). You can watch the video here.

The good news is that hope can be taught. We know this process. We know these strategies we’ve developed. Strategies that I can show are statistically significant improvement in a child or adult in about one hour of hope work. We can introduce these strategies in a very short amount of time right and the process itself is well established.

 It starts with the goal setting process, then listing and discussing potential pathways, identifying sources of motivation, helping children identify obstacles and begin to find strategies to solve those barriers, and then ultimately we advocate creating a hope visual or a gallery of hope.

This is a pretty high trauma group of kids. I study about 2,000 youth who have been exposed to domestic violence. The average age of these kids is 10 years old. It is a one-week camp run for these children. The camp is run by 18, 19, and 20 year old camp counselors so it is not a therapeutic camp. It is a hope-centered camp, so the curriculum is built on hope. We measure hope 30 days before the last day of camp and 30 days after the last day.

What you see is a statistically significant increase in a child’s hope scores from before this intervention to the last day of the intervention and the hope scores remain. Here’s the good news: a two-point increase in a child’s hope score. Look at pre-test to post-test, two-point increase in a child’s hope scores which predicts a letter grade change in the classroom. Improving a child’s hope will improve their behaviors at school.

I do want to give a shout out Enid Public Schools who is building this hope centered school process and we are building tool kits with them. The big news is that we’ve created a hope navigator training program, where hope navigators will become the school’s local experts on hope to work with teachers, counselors, and principals to help build a culture of hope. What we’ve learned in other research is that schools where children have higher hope scores have significantly lower chronic absences, get better grades, have better graduation rates, and better attendance. A child’s hope scores are a better predictor of first-year college performance than the SAT, ACT, or high school GPA. Nurturing hope benefits a child’s life

I want to show you what we found on hope and its impact on teachers, counselors, and staff at schools. We found that hope was a better predictor of staff well-being than resilience. In fact, resilience lost its significance as a predictor. Hope is a better predictor than resilience of well-being.

*POS stands for Perceived Organizational Support.

We see that hope is a significant buffer to burnout which then reduces turnover. So hope is a significant predictor of both burnout reduction and reducing turnover.

When we look at goal attainment, individual hope and burnout are significant predictors but when we look at school burnout, the significant predictor becomes collective hope. That’s what we’re doing at in public schools, building a culture of hope in a school. I like to finish with this quote at the very top. It’s the idea that, “At the heart of change is our ability to understand the way things are right now in my life and that I can begin to imagine the way things could be.” That is the essence of our capacity to hope, that the future will be better, and I have the power to make it so.



Hope Rising SEL’s curriculum is based on Dr. Chan Hellman’s definition of Hope, and it is making a difference in many schools and communities across the country.

If your school isn’t using My Best Me yet, we would love to help you bring Hope to your school. Our sales team is ready to answer your questions and demo My Best Me for you. Contact us to start spreading Hope in your school.

Part IV: Hope Centered

This is a transcription of a short clip in which Dr. Hellman shares more behind his research on Hope, including as it applies to well-being and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES). You can watch the video here.

We’ve created this framework of hope centered and trauma informed so when we begin to become more and more aware of trauma-informed practice, we recognize that trauma exists in our classrooms and our schools and in our communities. The question becomes, “What do we do about that?” and the answer is hope. The science is really good.

What is the opposite of hope? The typical answer that I get is despair, and while I appreciate your participation, I’ll tell you that you’re wrong. It is not despair. The opposite of hope is apathy.

 It is this idea of hopelessness, it’s when we give up, it’s when I look at a goal and recognize that no matter what I do I’m going to fail – so why try? Despair is still a part of hope because I desire the goal – it’s just that my pathways are blocked. Wo what I want you to think about, is in this context of losing hope is when individuals are in despair, what does desperation look like? Because despair leads to desperate action which are oftentimes leads to very dysfunctional pathways in order to achieve goals. What we’ve learned is that when we start to focus on this willpower piece, this idea is really based upon where we have the ability to focus our attention.

 It is this idea of hopelessness, it’s when we give up, it’s when I look at a goal and recognize that no matter what I do I’m going to fail – so why try? Despair is still a part of hope because I desire the goal – it’s just that my pathways are blocked. Wo what I want you to think about, is in this context of losing hope is when individuals are in despair, what does desperation look like? Because despair leads to desperate action which are oftentimes leads to very dysfunctional pathways in order to achieve goals. What we’ve learned is that when we start to focus on this willpower piece, this idea is really based upon where we have the ability to focus our attention.

If we think about what’s going on with COVID, in our experience, we had these ways of doing things (pathways) that we were familiar with and then the crisis hit and the fear and uncertainty and the despair. What we know, is that lower hope individuals will get caught up and stay in that emotional based coping framework of fear and despair which leads to social isolation. However, we’ve been looking for how people have creatively found these alternative pathways to achieving those goals and so we’ve been really focused on when we experience these crisis how that influences our capacity to hope.


Hope Rising SEL’s curriculum is based on Dr. Chan Hellman’s definition of Hope, and it is making a difference in many schools and communities across the country.

If your school isn’t using My Best Me yet, we would love to help you bring Hope to your school. Our sales team is ready to answer your questions and demo My Best Me for you. Contact us to start spreading Hope in your school.

Part III: Tenants of Hope

This is a transcription of a short clip in which Dr. Hellman shares more behind his research on Hope, including as it applies to well-being and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES). You can watch the video here.

It’s important to recognize that both willpower and way power (pathways) are required to be hopeful. The idea is, I may be highly motivated for a goal, I just don’t know how to get there from here – I don’t know the strategies or the pathways to achieve my goal. In this case, we would be lower in hope. Alternatively, I may have the pathways available to me, I’m just not motivated to do that. For instance, studying for an exam, working with a tutor, and joining a study group are all pathways to achieving a better grade, but if I’m not motivated to do that work, I would be a lower hope person. You have to have both willpower and way power (pathways).

I want you to reflect for a second and think about all of the times and all of the ways you use the word hope. Even today when you’ve used this word, what are some of the ways that we use hope in our everyday language. For instance, “I hope that you’re well.” “I hope that you have a great day.” In Oklahoma, we’ll typically say at this time of year, “I hope there are no tornadoes today or this week.” What I want to do is make sure that we understand that when I’m talking about hope, I am not referring to a wish. In fact, a wish is when we have desire for a particular goal, but we have no pathways. We have no control over that. Hope is about taking action to pursue your future. A wish is passive in the way we think about the future.

I want us to do this real quick experience of understanding the interplay between goals, pathways, and willpower. With this particular slide, there’s going to be about four really key takeaways on hope and I’ll point them out as we as we go along. What I’d like for each of us to think back in our youth and think about how many of you know how to drive a stick shift car or a manual transmission vehicle. I want us to think back when to that first opportunity that we had to drive a stick shift car. That first very first time, our goal is we want to drive the pathway that we have available to us. If we’re going to drive, we’re going to have to figure this pathway out. We have the car started, we have the clutch depressed, and we’re in first gear so as we’re starting to let that clutch out for the very first time. As you’re starting to let that clutch out for the very first time, what is your goal in that moment?

Answers from chat: “Not to jump it.” “Not kill the car.” “Not let the engine die.”

I want to highlight that a lot of those are avoidant goals. Often times, when we’ve got these new pathways that we’re experiencing, we’re going to be in this framework of avoidant. The reason that I think this is so important is because all of us set avoidant goals in our life and all of us set achievement goals in our life. What we’ve learned is that high trauma children are more likely to set avoiding goals across their opportunities. We let that clutch out and in fact we did kill the car, we stalled the car. What I would like for you to think about is when you killed that car for the very first time in this scenario, what was going through your mind? What were some of the things that you were saying to yourself in your mind? Often times, especially in this avoidant framework, we’ll say things like “I’ll never be able to do this.” “I can’t do this.”

With high trauma kids, what we learned or what we’ve we found is that the self-talk becomes very harmful. It becomes things like “I’m so stupid.” “I’m a loser.” and it is this way of self-evaluation that prevails about who they are they are filled with the ‘I can’t’ and lower hope children have this history of failed attempts at their goals. They’re coming at any new goal from a framework of failure and negativity. Here’s one of the key takeaways: when you stalled the car that first time, if you did not quit and I ask you why did you not quit, what is the reason that you did not stop this pathway? Here’s the key takeaway: the more you desire the goal, the more likely you’re going to face adversity to try to achieve it. This really highlights the importance of that goal how desirable the goal is and when we’re working with children or adults, we have to remember it’s their goal, not our goal. They have to desire the goal.

So we start the car up, we’re still in first gear, we let that clutch out, and this time when we let the clutch out we lurch forward but we’re driving! We’re driving around third time we get in the car we let that clutch out we stall it. But what I want you to recognize is that this time when we stalled the car after that previous successful attempt, the way that our self-talk starts to change. Our self-talk is now “Hey, I did this before I can do this again.” Here’s the takeaway: hope begets hope. What we’ve learned is that that opportunity for success made the future possible and once the future is perceived as possible then the hope starts to build, their will power starts to build, and pretty soon they’re driving. We get that process. This is the pathways component. What I want to ask you now is how well can you manage your willpower while you’re going through this new pathway experience. Think about how much of your willpower, how much of your attention, is required the very first time you let that clutch out – and the answer is all of it! Now, compare that to how much of your willpower is required today when you let that clutch out and the answer is “I rarely do I even think about it.” We’ve got that process now.

What we also know about willpower is that it’s finite. We only have so much mental energy to give every day and we have to recognize that while we’ve got this pathway we have to learn the rest of life is going on, too. So if we have a child who is in the classroom trying to learn new lessons but they’re wondering where they’re going to eat tonight or if they’re going to be safe at home or they don’t know if ‘good dad’ or ‘bad dad’ is going to show up when they get home, and on, and on, and on – all of these things are demanding their willpower and keeping them from focusing on the pathways of school. We’ve also learned is that unmitigated trauma is not an attention detractor it’s a hope robber. Trauma robs children of hope at a very young age.


Hope Rising SEL’s curriculum is based on Dr. Chan Hellman’s definition of Hope, and it is making a difference in many schools and communities across the country.

If your school isn’t using My Best Me yet, we would love to help you bring Hope to your school. Our sales team is ready to answer your questions and demo My Best Me for you. Contact us to start spreading Hope in your school.

Part II : What is Hope?

This is a transcription of a short clip in which Dr. Hellman shares more behind his research on Hope, including as it applies to well-being and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES). You can watch the video here.

This is the part where I’m going to ask you to engage with me a little bit using the chat function. Before I get started, when you hear the word hope – what are some terms that come to mind? What does hope mean for you.

Answers from chat: “Something better.” “Things can get better.” “A brighter future.”

While you’re thinking about what hope means to you, let me ask this additional question. Is hope a feeling or is it an emotion or is it a way of thinking?

Answer from chat: “Hope is a feeling.”

Here’s how we define hope. Hope is the belief that your future will be better than today and that you have the power to make it so. We define hope as a way of thinking and the reason that is so important in this context is as we begin to think about the power of hope, the reason it’s so important to consider it as a thinking process and not an emotion, is because it can be taught. It is something that we can teach both children and adults. The other thing about this definition, the belief that the future will be better and that you have the power to make it so, if we stopped at the midpoint, hope is the belief the future will be better, that is optimism. A few of you typed that into the chat. It’s this last part of the definition that is so critical. You have the power to make it so distinguishes hope from just positive perspectives of the future.

Hope is based upon these three categories. These three simple ideas. First is the idea that goals become the cornerstone of our ability to hope. The goals that we set dictate our potential for hope. The two main components include pathways, which are the road maps of how we’re going to achieve or pursue our goals. That is, ‘how do we get there from here’. The final part, willpower, is the mental energy or the motivation that we have to pursue those pathways. Goals, pathways, and willpower.

I want to distinguish a couple of things that we’ve learned about high trauma youth and their ability to set goals. What we’ve learned, is that high trauma youth are much better at short-term goal setting than they are long-term goal setting. So, they are much better at starting to think about goals that are 24 or 48 hours or one week than long-term thinking. We refer to this as an idea of survival hope. When we’re thinking about goals around our safety or goals around surviving, it’s in the short term. The other thing we’ve learned is that high trauma children and adults are more likely to set avoidant goals than they are to set achievement goals. What I mean by that is when I set goals of things that I don’t want to occur, it begins to influence the way I think about pathways. So if a child comes to me, for instance, and says ‘I want to stop fighting with my sister,’ that is from an avoidant framework. The way they think about that goal is going to drive that pathway thinking. I’ll give you a real quick example I tend to use.

I was homeless throughout high school so from about eighth grade on, I spent most of my high school years couch surfing and staying in different locations. When I graduated high school from Helena Goldtree back then, its Timberlake now in northwest Oklahoma, when I graduated, the principal asked us to identify the goals that we had for the future. I will tell you, when I was examining that process it was the first time in several months or years that I’ve thought beyond where am I going to eat, where am I going to sleep, where am I going to be able to take a shower, and I started to think about what options I had. My goal, my options as I understood it, were that I could work on somebody’s farm, I could work at the local prison, I could join the military, or I could go to college. So I chose going to college, not to achieve a college degree but to avoid the other options. As a result, my first semester grade point average at Northwestern Oklahoma State University was a 0.56. I failed every class but one. Because my goal was to avoid the other options, my path pathways were not about attending class or studying for exams.

So you can see that goals influence our pathways. Thinking goals, pathways, and willpower make up the core components of our ability to hope.


Hope Rising SEL’s curriculum is based on Dr. Chan Hellman’s definition of Hope, and it is making a difference in many schools and communities across the country.

If your school isn’t using My Best Me yet, we would love to help you bring Hope to your school. Our sales team is ready to answer your questions and demo My Best Me for you. Contact us to start spreading Hope in your school.