Why authentic relationships + healing-centered learning environments matter for girls

The wellness needs of students, especially girls (anxiety and depression in teen girls is twice the rate of boys), have evolved and intensified during the pandemic so it’s more crucial than ever for all of us adults working and supporting girls and gender expansive youth to nurture warm and authentic relationships with them, and build healing-centered classrooms and youth programs.

Healing-Centered Learning Environments for Girls

Healing-centered engagement is a progression from trauma-informed practice that takes an asset-based approach with an emphasis on hope, imagination, and community. Young people need space to heal, whether from pandemic-related anxiety, personal or collective trauma, or both. Here are some questions to help you get started in advance of the workshop. This exercise is from our newly revised guide, Social-Emotional Check-ins for In-Person Learning, which also includes 26 check-in activities to do with students.

How To Assess For A Healing-Centered Environment


1. Do adults and youth have time and space to connect and communicate with each other about non-academic topics?
2. Do youth have opportunities to share their work and have it celebrated?
3. Are there options for movement when young people need to move their bodies?
4. COVID permitting, does the furniture setup exacerbate the power imbalance between adult and young person, or does it help build connections?


5. Do youth and adults know each other’s names and pronounce them correctly?
6. Do young people have daily opportunities for voice and choice?
7. Are youth and adults encouraged to share stories as a way to connect and learn, such as check-ins?
8. What is the ratio of conversations to acknowledge, see, and value each other as young people and adults, versus conversations about discipline and negative consequences?


9. Are there class or program agreements that young people help create that are available for everyone to see?
10. Are there agendas that are shared for everyone to see to make the class or program feel predictable?
11. How much time is built in for mindfulness and reflection?

On their own each of these 11 questions are simple, yet collectively they are powerful in building a sense of community in which learners, especially girls, both rely upon and push each other. These questions are especially important to support the voice and power of girls and gender expansive youth because of the high priority many girls place on relationships. Too many girls learn that academic success is about being respectful, “polite,” and “liked” by teachers and adults, and in the process, learn to trade in their authentic feelings, thoughts, and beliefs for a good GPA. This price of success that our girls learn to pay has never been higher.

Creating a healing-centered environment becomes part of signaling to girls that being compliant and quiet isn’t what makes them worthy in your classroom. Let’s do this together.


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