My life is on the brink of massive change. Perhaps you can relate. Within the next four months, I will be completing and defending my dissertation, graduating with my Ph.D., packing up my life, moving to a new state, and starting a new job. I have gone through big changes before, including two moves, a wedding, and the start and end of several jobs. For some reason, however, this time it feels different. Maybe it’s because I’ve been a full-time student for the better part of my 30-year life, and who am I if not a student? Or maybe it’s because I’m asking my husband to uproot his life and replant it somewhere else for my job and me, and what if what we find is different than we expected? Or perhaps it’s just because change is scary – and when this much change happens at one time, it feels very scary. When I expressed these very sentiments to my husband, he said four words that have continued to resonate with me: “Commit to the opportunity.” At first, I wasn’t quite sure what this meant. But as I’ve continued to mull this over in my mind, I have started to appreciate the weight and value of this perspective. Commit (kuh-mit), verb: to pledge (oneself) to a position; to do; perform
- Synonyms: act, promise, dedicate
The most important part of this definition to me is the little word nestled between parenthesis: oneself. This word lets us know that commitment is a personal action. Commitment must have internal roots. It is a pledge, an act, and a promise that begins with the self and moves outward. Opportunity (op-er-too-ni-tee), noun: a good position, chance, or prospect
- Synonyms: hope, moment, opening
What strikes me about this definition are the synonyms. An opportunity is akin to a moment of hope, an opening. It really doesn’t get any more optimistic than that. Additionally, an opportunity has two parts: both what we can control and what we cannot. There are certain things I can do to position myself for a given opportunity, for a given moment, but I cannot impact all things that may or may not occur With these definitions and synonyms in mind, I’d like to invite us to consider three related questions:
- What might it mean to dedicate oneself to hope?
- How might this productively shift the ways in which we see, experience, and react to change?
- What can this mean for our teaching and learning?
Question #1: What might it mean to dedicate oneself to hope? Hope is a personal feeling directed to the future. We do not hope for what has already transpired; rather, we hope for what has yet to occur. From this perspective, we can understand that dedicating ourselves to hope is orienting ourselves to the future. It means directing our vision towards moments and openings that lie ahead of us. However, we do not know what the future holds, and so the counterpart to hope is uncertainty. We look to the future, placing hope in a moment or an opening that has not yet transpired. Ultimately, we remain uncertain about what will come to be. To fully dedicate oneself to hope, then, is to learn to be comfortable with the unknown. It is to release the need for finality and conclusiveness. It is to find pleasure in exploration. My cat Nova shows me what a full dedication to hope can look like. When I go to bed at night, I shut my bedroom door, leaving Nova outside of the bedroom. She has free roam of the rest of our apartment, and although I’m not entirely sure what she does out there during the night, I know what she does each morning right around 6:00 a.m. She nestles her little body against my bedroom door and slides her two front paws under the door opening.
Her hope is that I will soon open the door, rub her furry white belly, and give her breakfast. She will stay with her paws under my door for as long as it takes for me to open the door – 5 minutes, 20 minutes, 2 hours. It doesn’t matter. She never falters in these efforts; she is consistent and patient, fully dedicated to her hope that the door will open. Question #2: How might this productively shift the ways in which we see, experience, and react to change? When we learn to dedicate ourselves to hope, we adopt a new perspective on change. No longer do we experience fear in the face of change; rather, we find ourselves in a space of intrigue. Instead of avoiding or dreading the uncertainty of the future, we learn to see the future as pregnant with possibility. We understand that change, although uncertain, is ripe with potential. Instead of fearing what the future will bring, we begin to see ourselves as active agents capable of both effecting change and being changed. This latter recognition – that we can both effect change and be changed – is significant. First, when we dedicate ourselves to hope, we realize that we are not passive recipients of the future. Rather, we are individuals with the “capacity to transform [our] reality” (Gamson 44). We can effect change. Second, it is impossible to go through change without ourselves being changed. After a season of change, we emerge on the other side with new ideas, stronger skills, revised perspectives, and/or more nuanced experiences. In short, change initiates personal growth – a perspective from which we might understand change as a space similar to Gloria Anzaldúa’s borderland: “a place where a new kind of self [is] being created” (Alarcón). Let’s briefly return to Nova, patiently waiting outside my bedroom door in hope that the door will soon open. We’ve been going through this morning ritual now for almost two years, and over time, I’ve noticed a change taking place in Nova’s behavior. At first, when I would open the door, Nova would immediately jump up and run a few feet away from me. I don’t know if it was the sudden movement of the door that startled her or maybe it was the sound the door made as it opened. Whatever it was, Nova was the epitome of a true scaredy-cat. However, as time passed and we continued to greet one another each morning, I noticed slight changes in Nova’s behavior. At first, Nova stopped running away from the open door. Her body still noticeably tensed when the door opened, but she did not run. Then, after a bit more time, she no longer became anxious when the door opened. Instead, she would maintain a relaxed posture, calmly gazing at me standing above her. Today, Nova exhibits no signs of the scaredy-cat she once was. When I open the door now, she immediately rolls over on her back, four paws outstretched as she exposes her belly for a morning rub.
In response to this, I bend down and run my fingers across her furry underside. I suppose you could say that this means that Nova has now trained me – her owner – to pet her each morning. However, I choose to see this as a reward for Nova’s faithful and full dedication to hope. Question #3: What can this mean for our teaching and learning? In what she calls “pedagogies of hope,” Limarys Caraballo seeks to “re-vision the curriculum as a space of opportunity, democratic dialogue, critical self-awareness, and hope” (55). It is in this spirit that I offer the following list of potential ways in which dedicating ourselves to hope can fruitfully inform our teaching and learning.
- How can we foster a comfort with the unknown in our classrooms? One option might be re-thinking the traditional essay assignment so that we do not ask/expect our students to come to fixed or formalized conclusions at the end. What would it look like to end a research project, for example, with more questions than answers?
- If we think about every classroom gathering as an opportunity to encourage hope in our students, how might this change the ways in which we talk to/about our students?
- Does the language we use in our class assignments and project descriptions cast our students as agents of change in the worlds in which they are embedded?
- How might we use reflection as a tool to foster students’ growing self-awareness of the ways in which they are capable of both effecting change and being changed? Perhaps this includes regular reflections after class assignments/activities – reflections that are both shared with peers and kept private.
- Just as Nova has taught me what it can mean to fully dedicate oneself to hope, how can we be open to assuming the position of both teacher and learner in the classroom?
- What activities can we bring to our classroom so that our students learn to embrace the opportunity to grow from their experiences, those around them, the moments of transition, their mistakes, and their successes?
We each navigate our own personal journeys full of change, transitions, opportunities, uncertainties, and hope. I invite you to speculate on your own journey below, responding to some of the thoughts I’ve offered here and posing new ideas for future exploration.
– Christine Martorana (cdm11b_at_my.fsu.edu)
Alarcón, Norma. “Encuentros en la Encrucijada.” Introduction. Borderlands: La Frontera. Gloria Anzaldúa. 3rd ed. California: Aunt Lute Books, 2007. Print. Caraballo, Limarys. “Identities-in-Practice in a Figured World of Achievement: Toward Curriculum and Pedagogies of Hope.” Journal of Curriculum Theorizing 28.2 (2012): 43-59. Print. Gamson, William. “Commitment and Agency in Social Movements.” Sociological Forum 6.1 (1991): 27-50. Print.