Table of Contents
Vol. 23, No. 2
Summer 2010

Copyright 2010 by Psychology Press, Inc. All rights reserved.
An article from the Summer 2010 Issue, Volume 23, Number 2

Exploring Hope and the Inner Life Through Journaling

Sheri R. Klein is a Professor in the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Stout where she has taught art/design, art education, and teacher education courses. She has published widely about reflective practices and the integration of art and technology into teacher education.

As a teacher educator and artist, I am interested in creating opportunities for students to arrive at greater self-awareness and understanding. I believe that human consciousness is always evolving, that the soul needs tending, that wisdom is as important as knowledge, and that connection to the inner life matters for educators, health professionals, and other practitioners whose work involves the development of human potential.

Krishnamurti (1981, 15) wrote, “Education should awaken the capacity to be self aware” and Parker Palmer (2007) writes about teaching as a spiritual journey. If we think about development as a spiral process rather than linear process, it is then possible at any time to revisit knowledge, experience, and memories with new insights and greater self-awareness and understanding.

Yet, the current state of teacher education has aligned with a business model of education (Johnson et al., 2005) and adherence to external standards and accrediting agencies drive curriculum, program revisions, professional goal setting and development. This presents many challenges for teacher educators to offer students alternative theories and methods, such as holistic education. Nor does it readily “enable [future or practicing] teachers to think contemplatively or imaginatively about teaching” (Klein 2008, 111). Yet, the role of the self and personal development is integral to identity and professional development of pre-service and practicing teachers (Hamachek 1999). Korthagen (2004, 94) supports an approach to teacher education that “incorporates insights from transpersonal and positive psychology” and assists in developing teachers’ “core qualities.”

However, pre-service teacher education has largely ignored the development of the inner life of teachers’ self-awareness and self-understanding as central to becoming a teacher. Parker Palmer (2007, 18-19) writes, “We teach them [K-16 students] that the subjective self is unvalued” and “the split of personhood from practice is encouraged by an academic culture that distrusts personal truth.” This “split of personhood from practice” is seen in teacher education which emphasizes methods and strategies that do not fully consider the relationships between preservice teachers’ values, emotions, beliefs, dreams and hopes and their intended practices as teachers.

O’Sullivan (2005, 72) reminds us that “hope is needed for survival but along with surviving we need critical vision.” We need teachers who are capable of envisioning and working toward a better world. In doing so, the teacher becomes an artist and a creator of the world as he/she wishes it to be. Teaching then becomes grounded in moral vision.

In Hope and Education, Halpin (2003, 12) writes, “hope has largely been left to psychologists and theologicans … it is a neglected concept in the academic study of education,” including teacher education. Perhaps it is because hope has been identified as a religious/Christian theological virtue that it has been marginalized within secular public education. Yet, it is the secular interpretation of hope that I wish to concentrate on with applications for teacher education. This interpretation involves “anticipating future happiness and trusting in the present” (Halpin 2003, 14) and moving toward “prospects for [educational] reform and renewal” (Halpin 2003, 17).

Journaling as Contemplative Inquiry

Preservice teachers from a variety of discplines explored the concept of hope within the context of a general foundations of education course. Journaling was used by students to contemplate their beliefs about a number of educational issues, including their hopes about becoming a teacher.

While journals have been used widely in methods courses across disciplines (Cohen 2005; Grauer & Sandell 2000; Roland 1995), this journal assignment had multiple aims. First, it was to provide an opportunity for expression of “students ideas, experiences, attitudes, and feelings” (Cohen 2005, 145) in their choice of written, visual and/or audio media. Second, the journal framework provided a structure for students to look inward to contemplate (observe their feelings, suspend judgment, ponder, imagine, discern and see deeply). As such, journaling becomes a form of contemplative inquiry “based not on data, information, and the separation of subject, but on knowledge, wisdom and insight” (Haynes n.d., 5) as well as feelings, intentions, dreams, memories, values, and hopes.

Six out of the 13 questions focused on inner experience and allowed for creative and metaphorical thinking, and visualization and reflection on the moral and spiritual dimensions of teaching, such as

  • What are some memorable experiences you have of a past teacher?
  • What are your motivations for teaching?
  • What do you consider to be the most important virtues and values for becoming a teacher?
  • What is your metaphor about teaching?
  • How would you assist students to connect to their inner lives with the aim of self-understanding?
  • What is your hope as teacher?

The remaining seven questions focused on course/text content relative to teacher/student roles and responsibilities, laws governing education, school funding issues, curriculum/assessment, and school violence.

Of the 48 students, 46 kept full journals; two journals were incomplete and were not used in the analyses. Data analysis of written responses was guided by content analysis (Van Manen 1997) with the aim of understanding the respondents’ meaning. I looked for words and phrases and emerging themes within and across responses: What are your hopes for being a teacher?

Eight students responded to this question with a collage or drawing. Thirteen students expressed their hopes in poetry. Almost half of the students chose to respond to the question in a creative, non-linear and artistic way. Students’ responses to this question suggested highly idealistic and altruistic visions for teaching. They also viewed teaching as embracing the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual domains. Their hopes include leading, directing and “teaching kids things” as well as to “awaken minds,” “encourage,” “create safe environments” and “send positive messages.” They also hoped to “inspire students,” and “help students find their calling,” “to have all students succeed,” and “to start a dream.”

Poetry and artwork also offered opportunities for students to contemplate their hopes in different ways. Excerpts from students’ poetic responses included rhyming poems such as “Become a role model from the start, and support them with my listening heart” and “Watching children blossom and grow makes a teacher’s heart melt like snow.” Another student explored the haiku format. Yet another student explored metaphor in the poem that expressed her “hopes as a teacher are to teach to the seasons, “to be like spring, encouraging new growth … to be like summer with a sunny disposition … to be like autumn with vibrancy and fun … to be like winter, foster growth in times of hardship.” Students’ visual works included hand-drawn, mixed media and digital photo and text collages. One collage included here speaks to the idealism and altrusim of this future teacher.

Motivations and Metaphors

As I looked across the responses from the question about hope, and the question “What are your motivations for becoming a teacher?” it was clear that students expressed idealism and altruism in their desire to help and share with others; they had “an inner need to reach out to people.” As I looked at the responses to the question, What is your metaphor for teaching? I was struck by their variety. Teachers were seen as nuturers/guides, technicians, and artists/creators. Nurturers included gardeners, parents, and farmers who “tend to seeds,” “water them with curiosity,” and “guide them through the storm.” Technicans included mechanics who “need the right tools.” Artist/creators included composers whose students are various instruments, architects, cooks who “don’t stick to recipes,” and where “students are flavors,” painters whose “world is our canvas on which we make our mark,” and other ignitors of creativity “who teach students to keep the fire burning in themselves.” Another category of metaphors described teaching as an activity, event, or thing, for example “like riding a horse,” “an eco-system,” “stargazing,” or “a box of chocolates.” It is clear from the wide range of responses and metaphors that students overall believe that teaching involves attending to the whole person/student and that teaching involves the body (physical presence), mind (knowledge) and spirit (capacity to inspire and dream).


Journaling as contemplative inquiry allowed students to express their ideas, beliefs, and hopes creatively, in some cases visualizally, and in many cases poetically and metaphorically. The journal questions allowed for inner searching with opportunities to connect deeply with the students’ desires, hopes, and dreams. Their responses reveal that they were able to think beyond the technical paradigms about teaching and acknowledge that teaching can be creative yet unpredictable when “things out of your control,” emotional in that it “has highs and lows,” and even a fragile and precious organism (“ecosystem”) that needs care.

I hope that these students in turn engage their own students in the practice of exploring hope and contemplative inquiry. Halpin (2003, 123-125) suggests hope can be put back into education by “taking hopelessness seriously and taking the moral virtues of teaching seriously.” Perhaps we need to also ask students what they feel hopeless about, so that we can minimize, and eradicate cynicism, apathy, despair and pessimism.

Journaling as contemplative inquiry in this one pedagogical encounter yielded some promising outcomes. As a holistic writing strategy, multimedia journals can also offer students opportunities to come up with fresh insights and arrive at deeper self-understanding and self-awareness.


Cohen, R. 2005. Journal writing in mathematics education. In Holistic learning and spirituality in education, edited by J. Miller, S. Karsten, D. Denton, D. Orr, and I. Colallio-Kate. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.

Grauer, K., and R. Sandell. 2000. The visual journal and teacher development. Paper presented at the annual convention of the National Art Education Association conference.

Halpin, D. 2003. Hope and education: The role of the utopian imagination. London: Routledge/Falmer.

Hamachek, D. 1999. Effective teachers: What they do, how they do it, and the importance of self-knowledge. In The role of self in teacher development, edited by R. P. Lipka and T. M. Brinthaupt. Albany, N.Y.: SUNY Press.

Haynes, D. J. n.d. Contemplative practice and the education of the whole person. Available online at

Johnson, D. D., B. Johnson, S. Farenga, and D. Ness. 2005. Trivializing teacher education: The accreditation squeeze. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Klein, S. 2008, May. Holistic reflection in teacher education: issues and strategies. Reflective Practice 9 (2): 111-121. Korthagen, F. A. 2004. In search of the essence of a good teacher: Towards a more holistic approach in teacher education. Teaching and Teacher Education 20 (1): 77-97.

Krishnamurti, J. 1981. Education and the significance of life. San Francisco: Harper. Originally published 1953.

O’Sullivan, E. 2005. Emancipatory hope: Transformative learning and the strange attractors. In Holistic learning and spirituality in education, edited by J. Miller, S. Karsten, D. Denton, D. Orr, and I. Colallio-Kate. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.

Palmer, P. 2007. The courage to teach: Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life. San Francisco: Wiley. Originally published 1997.

Roland, C. 1995. The use of journals to promote reflective thinking in prospective art teachers. In Preservice art education: Issues and practice, edited by L. Galbraith. Reston, VA: National Art Education Association.

Van Manen, M. 1997. Researching lived experience. Ontario, Canada: University of Western Ontario.

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