From Trauma to Resilience

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We look forward to the education conference we are co-hosting on September 28: How Educators Can Create Trauma-Informed Systems in School Communities, where we will address this critical issue, share concrete strategies to strengthen protective factors against toxic stress experienced by many students and, thereby, improve the learning environment for all students.

On average, every classroom has at least one student affected by trauma. According to the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, nearly 40% of students in the U.S. have been exposed to some form of traumatic stressor in their lives. Traumatic events – like sexual or physical abuse, domestic or community violence, death of a loved one – often cause children to have upsetting, overwhelming feelings that can negatively impact their daily life, development, ability to function and ability to recover. These experiences can lead to continuous states of grief, loss, abandonment, neglect, as well as persistent anxiety, fear, and depression.

For some students, school is the only place where they know they are safe and can form healthy relationships. However, students affected by trauma oftentimes have difficulty engaging at school, as they struggle to learn and connect with others. Their behaviors may come off as being defiant, demanding and disengaged.

Trauma-informed education shifts the question from “What is wrong with this student?” to “What has this student been through?” and “What does this student need to reach their potential?” When students are dealing with harmful relationships at home, educators and counselors may be the only people who help these students learn what a trusting, supportive relationship feels like. School personnel have a central role in children’s lives and they are uniquely situated to identify, respond to, and be impacted by students’ traumatic stress symptoms.

Acknowledge Alliance helps schools improve upon or expand their trauma-informed approach by working with both students and educators. It’s crucial to train educators on the trauma that students walk in with, so that they can support their students in the classroom with empathy and be aware of their challenges in terms of learning. Our team of mental health professionals also provides ongoing training and support to our counseling therapist interns, who in turn help students who are deeply traumatized. Many of the high school students we serve have been victims of violence and extreme physical trauma. Furthermore, it’s essential to support school personnel in not only dealing with students’ trauma, but sometimes, also their own.

The core of our work at Acknowledge Alliance centers on building resilience: the ability to adapt well to adversity, trauma, tragedy or even significant sources of stress. Being resilient does not mean that trauma has been erased and that further difficult situations won’t arise. But, by using resilience strategies, students and educators can gain better understanding of their situation, focus more on the positive, self-soothe in moments of distress, set healthy boundaries, let go of anger through compassion, develop a positive support system, and overcome tough times with grit and gratitude.

Reducing Teacher Stress


Does teacher stress affect students? The answer is yes. A recent study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Pennsylvania State University found that “when teachers are highly stressed, children show lower levels of both social adjustment and academic performance.” High levels of stress negatively affect teacher wellness, causing burnout, lack of engagement, job dissatisfaction, poor performance and high turnover rates. These factors hinder teaching and learning, lower student-achievement and increase financial costs for schools.

There is a crucial need to support teacher wellness, effectiveness and retention in order to help our youth achieve the most positive outcomes in school and life. Teachers, whom spend the most time with youth aside from family, have the greatest capacity to positively shape a child’s future. However, 46% of teachers say they feel high daily stress. Often, teachers are overwhelmed by multiple demands and the pressure of achieving academic goals, while struggling to address each student’s unique needs and emotional barriers. For example, when children are worried about their parents’ divorce, those emotions follow them into the classroom and make it hard to focus on schoolwork.

The social emotional health of both educators and students is paramount in our work at Acknowledge Alliance. Each of our services – educator coaching, teacher/leadership groups, social emotional learning lessons and counseling – all focus on strengthening resilience, social competencies, emotional regulation, empathy and meaningful relationships. By building skills and coping strategies into the everyday interactions between educators and students, school becomes a happier, healthier and productive place to be. Through our ongoing support, teachers learn how to better manage stress, engage students and handle challenges without calling it quits. In turn, students feel more connected to school and become more motivated to succeed.

Here are some quotes from teachers who noticed positive changes in their stress levels after working with our staff:



“Acknowledge Alliance staff helped me become more aware of the lack of work/life balance my life had and what changes I could make to get that back on track. Talking to her really lifted a lot of stress off of my shoulders and her continued check-ins helped me tremendously.”

“The Acknowledge Alliance session at a staff development day in January helped me reframe how I approach managing my stress at work and helped me recognize how important emotion-focused coping is to handling stress.”

“The Acknowledge Alliance staff person on site improved my overall well-being with her positivity, support, and willingness to listen and provide advice or insight when needed. She always had a smile on her face, which spread good cheer. My students and I were always happy to see her. Her calm presence and empathetic ear was always a mood elevator. This positive impact on our school community is no small thing since there are so many stressors that go along with the teaching profession.”  

A Special Thank You Message

On Giving Tuesday, we'd like to give our heartfelt thanks to YOU for supporting our work with educators and students! Watch the clip below to hear directly from one of the educators we've worked with for several years. 

At our Appreciation Party earlier this month, Principal Anita Lee shared how our services have directly impacted her profession. As a teacher, she was on the verge of leaving education due to burnout, but her career took a turn when she participated in one of our Resilience Groups and saw the value of it. She is now the Principal of Cherry Chase Elementary School.

One of Acknowledge Alliance's focus areas is supporting adults in education to better support students in classrooms. Whereas the purpose of Resilience Groups is to build the resilience of teachers through small group conversations, the Principal Leadership Group is specialized for principals and administrators. 

Groups are an opportunity for educators to build meaningful relationships with other educators, feel listened to, learn effective strategies for dealing with stress, and share strategies for better communication across the school community. Learn more about our other services here.

A Motivational Transition

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“Our meetings mean a lot to me because sometimes I feel bad or sad and I know I can tell you and you’re going to hear me and not judge me”. 17-year-old student

Acknowledge Alliance is proud to share Ricardo’s success story, as told by one of our Transition Program Therapists.

Ricardo was referred by Sequoia High School District to get support through our Transition Program after transferring from an expulsion school to District High School. In this program, we offer weekly therapy sessions for students transferring or returning to comprehensive high schools from the smaller settings of the County Court and Community Schools, expulsion schools and Juvenile Hall.

This was Ricardo’s second year attending school in the United States after emigrating from Mexico two years ago. His family made the decision to send him to live with his family in the US because he was deeply involved in a gang in Mexico, which meant that his life was in imminent danger.

From our first session, it was clear that Ricardo was overwhelmed. He struggled to adjust to the new school’s academic expectations, student volume, and social and economic diversity. His relationship with his mother was unstable as well, and he was greatly missing his maternal grandmother, with whom he grew up.

Ricardo and I met weekly, sometimes twice weekly, during school days. He showed up to every meeting with no exception, sometimes asking to meet again, during more strenuous times. He became comfortable expressing his emotions, whether it was sadness, joy, or anger. When he tried to make sense of certain situations and/or relationships, he often referred to previous conversations we had.

Through our sessions, Ricardo learned to understand and value the perspective and maturity he gained through his life experiences and tragedies. He developed a better sense of who he is, what his needs are and where he can get those needs met – allowing him to manage himself better within and outside his relationships. “I can control my reaction to my mom better, because of therapy.”

By the end of the year, Ricardo felt that he had adjusted to school and became strongly motivated to succeed: “When I started going to school, I just wanted to waste my time, but now I want to graduate and go to college.”

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2016-2017 Evaluation Highlights

We are pleased to share highlights of the comprehensive evaluation of our programs during the 2016-2017 school year.

Resilience Consultation Program

• 94% of educators working with Acknowledge staff reported an increased awareness of student social and emotional issues.

• 93% of educators reported using at least one strength-based strategy - such as talking supportively to students who are struggling, communicating high expectations to students and focusing on positive things students do rather than negative things - at least monthly to engage and reach their students.

• 90% of educators reported an increase in positive educator/student relationships.

• When asked which Social Emotional Learning topics were most useful, the top two categories that students reported were friendship and mindfulness, followed by problem solving and character strengths.

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"I am already empathetic and understanding of the lives of the students, but it is very easy to fall into a negative mindset about why students are behaving in certain ways and why they aren't doing what we are expecting. Making a conscious effort to view our students through an empathetic and understanding lens has made a huge difference to my teaching."
— Teacher

Collaborative Counseling Program

• 95% of Court and Community School students reported that their counselor listened to them without judgment and was someone they could trust.

• 93% of Transition students reported that counseling helped them to express their emotions constructively.

• 93% of Transition students were enrolled in school and working towards high school graduation.

• 100% of therapist interns we trained reported an increased understanding of the high-risk, multi-cultural adolescent population they worked with.

“Counseling was very helpful to me because it helped me express my feelings and thoughts with someone who actually listened to me and had good things to say about them. Also it was really helpful because I received tips and advice that helped me a lot throughout the whole time I’ve been here.” — High school student

Suicide Prevention Awareness

Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the United States for persons aged 10-24.

In 2009, our Social Emotional Learning lessons were piloted as a response to the youth suicide clusters in Palo Alto. Concerned teachers and parents wanted to know what could be done in elementary school to strengthen student resilience, so that youth can better navigate their teen years. In the past 2 years, we’ve been offering teacher resilience groups at the high school level too.


Recently, Acknowledge Alliance was a key contributor to the K-12 Toolkit for Mental Health Promotion and Suicide Prevention, which is being promoted across the state. The State of California enacted into law the “Pupil Suicide Prevention Policies” requirement, AB2246. All California Local Education Agencies (LEAs) must have this policy in place by the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year. The Toolkit is included in the Model Policy as a resource for implementing this policy. The Toolkit contains information about what schools can do to promote youth mental wellness before mental health concerns arise, how to recognize and respond to a mental health crisis, and how to support a school community after a suicide loss. The Toolkit also supports a school’s primary goal to educate youth because mental wellness is essential to the ability to learn. 

Sarah Kremer, our Resilience Consultation Program Director, co-wrote sections of the Toolkit on how helping students develop social and emotional wellness can aid in suicide prevention. Here are some excerpts:

A safe and caring school climate includes feeling safe at school, feeling part of decision--­making, and having a sense of school connectedness, which “is the belief by students that adults and peers in the school care about their learning as well as about them as individuals”( CDC, 2009b, SAMHSA Toolkit, p. 12). Suicidal behavior can be reduced as a sense of school connectedness is increased. Combining suicide prevention with efforts to increase connectedness furthers both goals.  

Part of mental health promotion and suicide prevention in youth lies in the development of students’ social and emotional wellness. (Note: “wellness” refers to overall emotional well-being for the purposes of this document.) Two evidence based strategies, Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and Mindfulness, share similar goals and outcomes for the emotional, social, and academic development of youth. Both enhance youth academic achievement and wellness, decrease risky behaviors, and improve relationships with peers and teachers. Each uses a different approach to achieve these outcomes (Lantieri, Zakrzewski, 2015). The SEL framework promotes intra-personal, interpersonal and cognitive competencies. Mindfulness, paying attention in a systematic way, deepens the internal ability to apply the skills learned through SEL. These strategies complement each other. SEL develops skills and Mindfulness enhances the ability to apply those skills such that a student can better understand themselves and others, develop meaningful relationships, and make constructive decisions.

This is why all our Acknowledge Alliance services around social emotional learning and resilience are so important. We intentionally support and work with everyone in school communities – students, teachers, principals, families and mental health counselors – to create positive learning environments that further personal growth, connectedness, happiness, success and hopeful futures.

22 Years of Heart-Centered Work

On May 11, 2017, the Wright Institute presented a prestigious award - an honorary Doctorate of Philosophy Degree – to Judith Gable, our longtime Acknowledge Alliance Collaborative Counseling Program Director. We’d like to congratulate Judith and recognize her for the life-changing work she continues to do every day.

For the past 22 years, Acknowledge Alliance and the Wright Institute have built a solid working partnership and internship program. 9-12 students from the Wright Institute Doctor of Psychology program are selected annually to join our team as counseling interns. They work on school sites and deliver direct counseling services to traumatized and underserved youth. We support our interns with regular clinical supervision and clinical training focused on the best practices for working with this specific population.

The intensive training of our Wright Institute doctoral interns is crucial. The students they serve show signs of depression, academic failure, and aggression as a result of the trauma they experience at a young age (along with other factors out of their control). The deeply rooted issues that they face are oftentimes related to their sense of hopelessness and anger at the adults who fail to meet their basic needs for consistent care, safety, and attachment. Through consistently providing students with meaningful and quality therapeutic relationships in a nonjudgmental safe space, they improve their school engagement; find compassion for themselves and each other; and experience renewed hope and a glimpse of a future with new possibilities.

Under Judith’s dedicated and outstanding leadership throughout our 22-year partnership, the Collaborative Counseling Program has overseen 186 Wright Institute interns – many of whom are successful and recognized psychologists today.

We sent a survey to our past interns and asked, “How did Acknowledge Alliance prepare you for where you are now?” Here are just a few of the glowing responses that speak volumes about the lasting impact of Judith’s guidance and our program:

“It was a great experience – my first in thinking dynamically about people's behavior. Judith was one of my favorite and best supervisors. I still think of her insightfulness and compassion (for clients, but also for me as a trainee).”

“The supervision that I received from Judith was stellar. She helped me think about complicated trauma and find ways to reach kids who others had decided were unreachable. I think often of my work at Acknowledge and it is always with gratitude and appreciation.”

“Judith has been an inspiration and a pivotal part of my work/training since the day I moved back to the Bay Area for grad school. From supporting me and helping me to develop patience as a beginning clinician, to providing further opportunities with Acknowledge Alliance, I, like so many others, owe so much to Judith, Beth and the rest of the family at Acknowledge Alliance.”

To gain more understanding about the unique ways we train our interns and work with traumatized youth, read Judith’s publication:  “Unlikely Transformations: Kids in Prison and the Psychotherapy Interns We Train to Work with Them.” 

In one of her passages, she wrote, “These kids need adults who can meet them where they are, honor their open wounds, and consistently shine a light on the beauty and innocence that lies beneath their protective armor.” Judith, thank you for living up to that example – you have truly inspired and shaped many lives throughout your decades of heart-centered work.

Forget-Me-Not: Fields of Hope

Event Highlights

       Honorees: Steve Hamm, Rob Felicano, Timoteo Anaya-Gracian

We can't help but smile when we remember all the acts of kindness, inspiring moments and heartwarming stories that were shared amongst us at our 10th Forget-Me-Not. This has been our best year yet. We had the highest attendance and reached a new milestone in our fundraising efforts. Thank you to everyone who took a part in this event - we appreciate your support, your generosity, and your life-changing impact.

Introducing Our Educator Honorees

Introducing Our Forget-Me-Not Educator Honorees
Steve Hamm
Kennedy Middle School
Cupertino Union School District

Mr. Steve Hamm has been an educator for the past 23 years. He taught English for 15 years at Union Middle School prior to moving into administration. He began his principal tenure at Piedmont Middle School and is currently the Principal at Kennedy Middle School in Cupertino. Mr. Hamm strongly believes in work/life balance - for staff, teachers and students alike. As an instructional leader, Mr. Hamm strives to bring social-emotional curricula into the classroom and as professional development for his staff. He believes that happy people are productive people and his job is to make them happy. 



Rob Felicano
6th Grade Social Studies & Language Arts Teacher
Columbia Middle School
Sunnyvale School District

Aside from Rob’s mother, Agnes Felicano, his classroom teachers were his best role models of successful and responsible individuals. In fact, his teachers were some of the most positive influences on his life in ways they may never know. His passion for studying History, for example, began as a 6th grade student. His teacher, Mrs. Loree Nichols, inspired his love of Ancient Civilizations, and led him to becoming a 6th grade teacher himself.

Many of his favorite teachers were alumni from California State University, Chico. With that in mind, he chose to enroll at Chico State to once again follow in their footsteps. Chico was a wonderful chapter in his life – it was the institution where he earned not only a B.A. in Liberal Studies, but also his teaching credential, and M.A. in Education in Curriculum and Instruction. After graduation, he was thrilled to begin teaching Humanities as a 6th grade teacher in Los Angeles.

Since 2014, he has had the privilege of being part of the 6th grade faculty at Columbia Middle School in Sunnyvale, California. Although his primary curriculum is History and Literature, he makes social emotional learning a priority in his classroom. His goal is not only to make learning engaging, but also to hopefully help develop resilient, reflective and confident young people. He is grateful for the amazing mentors he’s had as a young learner. He tries to show the same encouragement for the students he has the opportunity to teach in his classroom each year.

Both Steve and Rob are outstanding educators - we look forward to celebrating
their achievements and dedication to our youth at Forget-Me-Not!

Connecting Strengths

Each of us has signature strengths – things we like doing and are good at. Discovering our signature strengths and using them in new ways can make us happier and healthier. Channeling our strengths can also help us achieve our goals and boost our feelings of competence.

The VIA Classification of Character Strengths is comprised of 24 universal character strengths that fall under six broad virtue categories: wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance and transcendence. Signature strengths refer to those character strengths that are most essential to who we are. 

This month, Acknowledge Alliance helped teachers tap into their signature strengths. During a Professional Development session at Columbia Middle School, teachers were first asked to individually identify their top strength. They assembled a glass pebble art piece using their chosen strength icon. It was empowering for teachers to make their strength visible – when finished, they literally held their strength in the palm of their hand. Afterwards, they were asked to find others in the room with the same strength. As groups got together and shared their experiences, the whole room acknowledged each other’s strength in understanding, support and appreciation.

One of the takeaways from our teacher activity serves as a reminder that:
Connecting with your own strengths may help strengthen your connection with others too.

This Valentine's Day is a great opportunity to start practicing ways to use character strengths! Here are some ideas to cultivate the five strengths that are most connected with happiness:

Try a new cuisine and eat food of a different culture.

Do at least one outdoor activity weekly such as hiking, biking, brisk walking, or jogging.

Think of a time when you or someone close to you overcame a challenging obstacle and succeeded.

Count three things you're grateful for before going to bed every day.

Let someone know a strength you saw them use and how much you value it. Words of affirmation is a powerful love language.

What are your signature strengths? Get to know yourself better by taking the VIA Survey

Welcome Sharon!

We would like to give our warmest welcome to Sharon Navarro, who recently joined our team as our Director of Development. We are proud to have her on board and hope you'll have a chance to meet her soon! In the meantime, a few words from Sharon...

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Hello, I am thrilled to be part of the Acknowledge Alliance family! I have a strong passion for our mission to promote the lifelong resilience in children and youth by strengthening the caring capacity of the adults who influence their lives. This passion has guided my career.

Having worked in the nonprofit sector in San Mateo and Santa Clara County for the past seven years, I appreciate both the challenges and opportunities our region offers to reach our community with necessary and vital programs. I am deeply committed to the children, educators and families whose lives we touch and honored to work alongside our community partners.

In my short time with Acknowledge Alliance, I have been moved by the dedication and commitment of our staff and Board and by the generosity of our supporters. What an amazing and talented team!

I look forward to meeting and talking with many of you over the coming months and am excited to promote the legacy and programs of this wonderful community asset. Please feel free to contact me at - I’d love to hear from you!


Gratitude: What Fills Your Heart?

                 October 26, 2016


With the holidays around the corner, there is much to plan, but also plenty to be grateful for. Practicing gratitude every day benefits our minds, bodies, hearts and relationships. Gratitude is a relationship-strengthening emotion because it helps us realize how we’ve been supported and affirmed by other people. What would it feel like to focus more of your thoughts on what is good in life? 

Research illustrates how gratitude can help students achieve higher goals and more satisfaction with relationships, life, and school. For adults, gratitude enables people to be more optimistic, experience more social satisfaction, and sleep better with fewer worries.

At Acknowledge Alliance, we end each of our Social Emotional Learning lessons with an activity relating to gratitude and reflection. For example, after a lesson on character strengths, we ask students to think about someone who has taken a role in helping them grow their strength – perhaps a parent, friend, teacher, or coach. We then ask them to write in their journal: “Thank you ____ for helping me be ____.” Can you think of someone you can thank too?

There are many different ways to practice gratitude – keeping a journal, performing a random act of kindness, seeing the growth opportunity in mistakes, committing to one day a week where you won’t complain about anything. The ideas go on! Making gratitude as part of a daily ritual can even be as simple as smiling more often or telling someone you love them and how much you appreciate them.

On that note, we’d like to express our warmest and deepest gratitude to our donors, partners, supporters and our Acknowledge family. Thank you for believing in our mission and helping us grow every step of the way. Your support, kindness, and encouragement transcends into the lives of all the students and teachers we serve. We are grateful and we appreciate you.

Farewell to Tracy White

At our recent staff retreat, we said farewell to Tracy White, our Development Director for over 7 years. We are sad to see her go, yet happy to see her extending her career growth. Tracy has given so much to this organization. Her efforts are well recognized and we shall always remember how important she was for us. We wish her nothing but the best!

Quote of the Month

2016 Annual Fund

We're ready to launch our annual campaign in the coming weeks! Please help Acknowledge reach our $40,000 fundraising goal by making a gift and/or sharing our work. Thanks to everyone who already made a contribution and gave us a head start!


2483 Old Middlefield Way, Ste 208
Mountain View, CA 94043

Making an Impact

             September 29, 2016


2015-2016 Evaluation Highlights

Resilience Consultation Program

• 100% of school staff reported an increased awareness of student social and emotional issues.

• 96-100% of school staff reported using strength-based strategies to engage and reach their students.

• 93% of school staff reported increased empathy and understanding in the lives of their students outside of school.

• 88% of school staff reported an increase in positive educator/student relationships

"It is easy to overlook some of our own strengths and focus on things we are not doing well. Our Resilience Consultant reminds us about some of those things that we do well and have become immune to seeing. With just a few words, she can change our mindset and confidence level to give us the motivation to keep going!" — Teacher

Collaborative Counseling Program

• 88% of Court and Community School students reported that their counselor listens to them without judgment.

• 96% of Transition students reported feeling connected to at least one adult at their school.

• 93% of Transition students reported that counseling helped them to express their emotions constructively.

• 100% of therapist interns we trained reported an increased understanding of the high-risk, multi-cultural adolescent population they worked with.

“Counseling has helped me figure myself out and has helped me realize I’ve made mistakes and also has helped me be more mature and own up to my mistakes.” — 14-year-old student

Learn more about our services here.


Acknowledge Alliance is saddened by the sudden loss of Bob Beyer. Bob served as our Board President and was deeply involved in our agency for the past three years. He lived the quote: "The world is changed by your example, not your opinion." He has truly touched the lives of many with his kindness and wisdom.

During this transition, Brooke Kernick will serve as our Board Chair.

I Wish My Teacher Knew

Ms. Schwartz started "I wish my teacher knew" as a way to get to know her students better. The responses were eye-opening and inspired many teachers across the nation to try this exercise.

"I wish my teacher knew that my family and I live in a shelter."
Read more

2016 Annual Fund

Acknowledge is gearing up for our annual campaign. Our goal is to raise $40,000 this year! In the following months, we will be showing you the top ways Acknowledge makes a difference in our community.


2483 Old Middlefield Way, Ste 208
Mountain View, CA 94043

Teacher Voice: Jessica Adams

In this video, Jessica shares her middle school teaching experience and highlights the ways Acknowledge is making a difference for her classroom.

"Middle school is kind of the age where they're trying to find a sense of identity, but I think they're also trying to find a sense of belonging...which can make them vulnerable. I feel like once you can get to know the child and start trying to address all of their needs
academic, physical, social emotionalthen you can really start to make some some progress with the kids. They put their walls down. They feel more safe. They feel like they can take more risk in the classroom (intellectual risk). They tend to have more of a growth mindset. They're less worried about what their peers are going to think or say about them because they know this is a safe place."

Acknowledge is serving more middle schools this school year. Some of the schools we're working with include: Kennedy, Sunnyvale, Columbia, Crittenden, Beechwood and Selby Lane. With the success of our 3rd to 6th grade Social Emotional Learning (SEL) curriculum, we have developed a 7th grade curriculum to reach even more middle school classrooms. In addition to SEL lessons, our Resilience Consultants are continuing to support teachers like Jessica through mentorship and coaching.

People Come First

On April 29, 2016, two hundred educators and school personnel from multiple districts in the Bay Area attended the sold-out Success in Schools: Making the Connection Between Mental Health and Academic Learning Conference. Acknowledge Alliance is thrilled to have hosted this event in partnership with the San Mateo County School Boards Association and the San Mateo County Office of Education. It was a powerful day of learning and conversations to better our school communities. Jean served as a panelist and shared her lessons from the field in her years of experience.

Lessons from the Field:
Jean Hamilton, MFT and Resilience Consultant, Acknowledge Alliance

Here’s what I most want you to know as you think about the connection between mental health, academic learning and success in schools.

My comments come from 16 years as a Resilience Consultant, from facilitating many Teacher Resilience Groups and from being a therapist.  

1. People come first
2. Relationships matter
3. There’s strength in community
4. Listening is a healing act
5. Oppression blocks learning
6. Teaching and learning are inherently joyful activities

#1: People come first. All the other points follow from this one. What does this mean and how do we use this as a guiding principle in our work in schools? What would decisions look like if we put people first? What would educational policies be like if we started from how they impact people and put people first?

People are human and humans have certain inherent characteristics: we want connection. We come into this world looking for it, expecting it. Humans are cooperative—by nature. We like each other. We want to work together.  We are caring and enjoy showing that care and affection for each other. We are infinitely intelligent, like coming up with new, creative, flexible solutions to any of our problems or challenges.

People have feelings. Good feelings and painful feelings. We’ve all experienced hurt of some kind: loss or grief, fear, loneliness, being left out, physical injury or pain, embarrassment or shame, trauma and the list could go on and on. Feelings and our ability to think flexibly are what make us human.

In making the connection between mental health and academic learning, it’s important to remember that there’s a connection between feelings and thoughts. How we are feeling affects our thinking and how we learn. How we are thinking affects our feelings. They are intertwined.

Young people learn when they are feeling good about themselves. Teachers teach best when they are feeling good about themselves. This is where we want to put our attention if we are to help young people be successful in school: learning how to deal with our own feelings so we can better help young people deal with theirs.

#2: Relationships matter. Our work at Acknowledge Alliance was founded on the belief that, next to parents and families, teachers spend the most time with young people and that if we support teachers and the other adults in schools, this would directly impact the lives of young people in positive ways.

One of the protective factors highlighted in resilience theory is that if a young person has at least one caring adult who knows them, has high expectations for them, communicates a sense of belonging, recognizes their strengths, and gives them opportunities to be themselves, express themselves and their strengths, this builds resilience and the capacity to face challenges with self-awareness and confidence.

 We took this theory and applied it to building relationships with the adults who work in schools.

As a resilience consultant, this is what I do: I get to know teachers. I listen to them. I acknowledge their strengths; I tell them what I see that they’re doing well; I value them, I appreciate them, and, perhaps most importantly, I like them.

#3: There’s strength in community. Humans are meant to be together. We want to be connected to each other, to community. We want and need a sense of belonging to something bigger than our individual selves. Community gives us purpose, provides space for people to know who we are, helps us to count on and lean on others when we need to, and it gives us a chance to show up for others, be the support someone else needs.  Classrooms and school communities offer this opportunity—for all.

#4: Listening is healing act. Listening brings about change. Listening is a collaborative act. It is an act of empathy. (These points reiterate some of what Ross Greene was talking about earlier this morning.) I believe that if we truly learn how to listen to each other, keeping our own “mental health issues” out of the way, that’s when healing can begin to take place.

Listening communicates that you trust the person you’re listening to, that you respect them, and that you care.

What if we taught others to listen, to be fully present with and to give aware attention to each other? Classrooms would look different. And so would our schools.

#5: Oppression blocks learning.  Understanding what oppression means and how it operates in our world, in our schools, is vital. This means that understanding how classism, racism, adultism, and the oppression of young people, to name a few, work to separate and divide us from one another is crucial to thinking about how to create optimum environments for learning.

Oppression is the mistreatment of one group (usually the dominant group or the one with power) by another based on some characteristics of that group. It also involves the allocation of and access to resources. Dominant groups receive the resources; the oppressed groups do not. I’m thinking particularly about class and race. These oppressions operate in all our institutions and, for sure, in our schools.

In my mind, we can’t separate out any thinking about mental health issues from how some of these forces are at work in the lives of young people, their families and their communities. Racism and classism exist. Adultism and the oppression of young people exist. These are the key oppressions operating on young people in our schools today. We need to understand the link between how someone feels about him or herself and the affects racism, for instance, has on them and/or their people.

I believe that work to eliminate oppression is liberating for all of us. We recover our full humanness and a sense of our connectedness to all other human beings.

#6: Teaching and learning are inherently joyful, pleasant and fun human activities.  I can’t leave this panel today without making a comment about the true nature of teaching and learning. As humans, we love to learn. We want to learn. We are curious as a species. We like taking in new information about the world, making sense of our environment and the universe around us. This is enjoyable and fun. If we can clear the hurts and painful emotions out of the way, the love of learning, and of teaching, can emerge more fully.

Here’s a note from one of the teachers I’ve worked with in a teacher group. It illustrates the power of listening, connection, caring, and resilience:

"The most beneficial part of the group was building relationships with my colleagues. There is something very important about teachers connecting with other teachers since very few people truly understand what we go through as teachers during the school year. Therefore, being listened to and heard by those who live it and get it was very beneficial for me.

I built resilience and realized that I was not alone in my struggles. I learned that I needed to take care of MYSELF, too, in order to take care of my students at school. I learned that whatever feeling I was feeling was OKAY and should be recognized and addressed. I use this on a daily basis with my students."