February has been a difficult month for many, punctuated by storms, strikes, snow days, and childcare challenges – on top of the ongoing complexities of COVID. February in Eastern Canada also offers a “false spring” only to dash away hopes of an early thaw with punishing temperatures and deep freezes. False hope and cruel optimism can have a deleterious effect on even the sturdiest of souls.
Indeed, in Cultivating Critical Hope, the authors discuss how losing hope “causes us to become stagnant, decreases our efficacy to engage in leadership, takes away our sense of agency to act as leaders, and widens the gap between espoused and actualized values” (Bishundat, Phillip, Gore, 2018, p. 94). And yet, “critical hope” does not exist in the absence of despair. In the Hope University session I hosted this month as part of the Maple League Better Together series, we talked about how despair is a pre-condition of critical hope; moreover, these concepts are not linear nor opposites, but rather ebb and flow as we navigate ever-changing conditions.
In their critical hope framework, Bishundat et al. (2018) assert that “isolation is an enemy of hope” and “community is an ally of hope.” Furthermore, “Educators who resist isolation by finding community can be more resilient leaders” (p. 94). This concept resonated in the Hope University session: several respondents reflected on the value of interconnected communities of practice that build hopeful spaces; others talked about the relational work that fosters collaboration and critical reflection – both crucial for the well-being of individuals and institutions. Indeed, without reflection and action Bishundat et al. assert, our collective capacity to reconstruct society in more just and equitable ways is diminished (Freire, 1970; hooks, 1994).
In my role with the Maple League of Universities, I’ve had a unique opportunity to see the inside of four universities, sit at tables and gain insights into how the policies, systems, structures inform, shape, and reflect deep cultures. Working with partners ranging from students to presidents and provosts has offered a nuts and bolts understanding of systems (and constraints) and a greater understanding of how universities strive to contribute to the broader society. This experience has also enabled me to beta-test concepts, design projects and initiatives, and facilitate change through diverse communities of practice.
“Hope,” Paulo Freire (Brazilian educator and philosopher) tells us, “is rooted in men’s incompletion, from which they move out in a constant search—a search which can be carried out only in communion with others” (Oppressed 91). In communion with others, we build hopeful and resilient systems where individuals flourish and institutions thrive, even in February.
~ Dr. Jessica Riddell, Executive Director, Maple League of Universities