Department of Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education


First Advisor

Stephanie Wessels

Second Advisor

Lydiah Kiramba

Date of this Version



O'Shea, A. (2020). Understanding hope in elementary students. [Unpublished doctoral dissertation]. University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


A DISSERTATION Presented to the Faculty of The Graduate College at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln In Partial Fulfillment of Requirements For the Degree of Doctor of Education, Major: Educational Studies (Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education), Under the Supervision of Professors Dr. Stephanie Wessels & Dr. Lydiah Kiramba. Lincoln, Nebraska: May 2020

Copyright © 2020 Amber O’Shea


As educators, it is in our best interest to care for the whole child, including social and emotional needs, in order to promote student success. One elementary school in the Midwest has identified increasing hope as a school improvement goal in belief that this will in-turn increase student well-being. With the interest of increasing hope, we must first garner an understanding of our specific population of students so we can create a hope intervention suitable for their needs.

The purpose of this dissertation study was to closely examine four first grade students in order to better understand how they cognize their own sense of hope. Data was collected on these students through teacher researcher observations, surveys, and semi-structured interviews including photo-interviews. Findings from the data were organized by student to give an overall view of each individual and recommendations for practice were created based on the findings from each student.

In this study it was found that six and seven year old students are capable of discussing hope and understanding the concept as setting goals and creating pathways to reach those goals (Snyder, 1991). It was also determined that students need direct instruction as well as examples to create a connection between the concept of hope and the context of their own lives. Furthermore, it was discovered that the students cognized hope through their own personal context lens and background. It was also observed that students may be able to express an understanding of hope and yet still struggle with the skill of setting goals and creating achievable pathways to reach those goals. Lastly, it was found that the students may not be fully self-aware of their own sense of hope.

Keywords: cognize, hope, school improvement

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