Embodying Hope in the Classroom

by Eric Royer, Instructional Developer, Reinert Center

Hope can be found everywhere in our daily lives. We’re hopeful for a better world — one that’s devoid of societal injustices, political divisions, and economic malaise. We hope for a rewarding career and strong relationships with family and friends. We’re hopeful for a returned sense of normalcy after more than two years of global disruption. Hope, at its root, is what sustains our attention, empowers us, and orients us toward the future.

Hope is also ever-present and anchored in teaching and learning. As instructors, we hope our courses engage students with perennial questions and thorny topics, sparking the same curiosity and wonder that drew us to our fields and disciplines. We hope students develop the skills necessary to become critical learners and practitioners of knowledge. We hope our courses provide deep, meaningful learning opportunities that allow students to enact positive change in their lives and the lives of others in line with our mission as a Jesuit university.

As a subset of our Center’s theme of “Teaching as Act of Hope,” I want to focus on embodying hope in the classroom. In the scholarship on teaching and learning, “embodied pedagogies” place a premium on integrating the mind, physical body, and emotions as agents of student learning (see, for example, Wilcox, 2009; Cavanagh, 2016). “Pedagogies of hope,” derived from the work of Paulo Friere (1994) and bell hooks (2003), view hope as an ontological need in the classroom that, through democratic dialogue and critical discourse, can address and redress societal injustices and inequities (which often manifest themselves in educational systems). Marrying these strains of the literature together, I propose that “embodied pedagogies of hope” are those that take a holistic approach to student learning by activating different knowledge domains and opening students up to diverse ways of knowing leading to an emancipatory praxis.

Embodying hope in the classroom can take different forms, but I’d like to focus on two ways, in particular, in which we can intentionally channel hope to students through our presence in the classroom and get them to enact hope in the time we have with them and beyond through key course design choices.

Embodying hope through our teaching presence

According to Friere (1994), one of our most important roles as educators is to model hope as a means of enacting and sustaining social change and the common good. This might be accomplished by us facilitating and maintaining learning communities that practice mutual accountability and dialogue across difference (what Friere and hooks label as “democratic dialogue”). We can convey to students that we believe that they’re welcomed in our classrooms, that we respect their contributions, and that we value the previous experiences they bring to the learning process. We can model essential skills (e.g., how to use a database, write a literature review, or engage in critical thinking) and forcefully reject lies in favor of basic facts. We can help students navigate uncertain times by sharing our personal experiences or including the voices of outside experts. All of these might be accomplished by clearly signaling and repeatedly conveying our expectations to students, by using different forms of communication, and by choosing to create and maintain learning spaces that are equitable and inclusive.

Embodying hope through course design

Much like the decisions we make about our presence and facilitation choices in the classroom, embodying hope and getting students to enact hope can occur through intentional decisions we make in the course design stage. We might enshrine a commitment to inclusive and supportive learning environments through an inclusion statement that’s front-and-center on our course syllabi. We can enable student choice on our assignments and assessments to increase the relevancy of course topics, either by giving students a choice in what topic they will research or allowing students to demonstrate their learning in different ways (e.g., giving students the option of writing a final paper or presenting their findings to their peers in a class presentation or recorded video). We can build rubrics that evaluate students fairly. We can make sure that students have the requisite knowledge to learn in our courses through “getting started” modules that cover foundational information and/or skills. We can also structure clear and consistent learning modules that engage students and sustain their efforts by including different types of instructional materials, varied assignments, and learning tools that provide them with an opportunity to act on their learning, both individually and in collaboration with their peers.

To schedule a consultation to talk further about your teaching needs, please contact the Reinert Center at cttl@slu.edu. Please also consider sharing your perspectives on or experience with embodying hope in the classroom in the comment section below.


Cavanagh, S.R. (2016). The spark of learning. Energizing the college classroom with the science of emotion. Morgantown, WV: West Virginia University Press.

hooks, b. (2003). Teaching community: A pedagogy of hope. New York: Routledge.

Friere, P. (1994). Pedagogy of hope: Reliving pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum.

Wilcox, H.N. (2009). “Embodied ways of knowing, pedagogies, and social justice: Inclusive science and beyond.” NWSA Journal 21(2): pp. 104-120.