A High School Social Worker Gets Results With the NHA

Hello, I’m April, a social worker in a suburban high school. I first encountered the Nurtured Heart Approach through a staff meeting at which Dan presented, and later at a large Institute Day. This approach impressed me, especially when Dan emphasized that the NHA had revolutionized his entire approach to working with both children and adults. I liked the focus on a strengths-based approach rather than delving into a person’s negative emotional baggage from the past.

Shortly after my first encounter with Dan, three of our district staff went to be trained in the NHA so the approach could be piloted in our schools. Some were skeptical at first. However, when they came back, their first comments were about how well the NHA worked in their homes with their own children!

At the high school level, rules, punishment, and consequences have been the norm for decades. Because of this, some staff can be resistant – initially – to the concepts presented by the NHA because they believe these techniques are only suitable for elementary students, not for teenagers. However, based on my experience, high school students do need to be nurtured. The Nurtured Heart Approach can help high school students in many different and troubling situations.

I facilitate eight student support groups in a suburban high school with a diverse community. For the most part, the students involved in the groups have various issues that have seriously impacted their lives. Many are low-income students who have, through no fault of their own, led very complicated and disrupted lives. I also facilitate women’s and men’s groups, substance abuse groups, grief counseling for those who have lost a parent or sibling, and so forth.

Two of the concepts that are basic to the philosophy of the NHA are “you are the prize” and “inner wealth.” The NHA believes that students need and want to engage with a teacher or a significant adult in some manner, and that the best outcome for the student results from positive interaction that focuses on strengths. Regarding the idea of “inner wealth,” the NHA focuses on noticing what is unique and special in a person. The teacher or adult then, in attitude, word or deed, deliberately reinforces that inner wealth.

I keep these two NHA principles in mind when facilitating these groups. I remember that my attention is the prize, and that these teenagers, whom some would call obstreperous, defiant, depressed, or any number of negative labels, have inner wealth. I look for the wealth within them, and I help them find the wealth within one another. In our groups, we talk to one another specifically about strengths so that we build the students and one another up. There are unbelievable moments – beautiful moments – when these teens hear what others have said about their character, and the future their peers see for them.

As part of my role, I also work with the parents of troubled teenagers. The parents need to be built up as well. When they enter my office, these individuals often feel that they have failed at parenting. Their teens are using drugs, their grades are dropping, and all the signs of negative outcomes are present. My job is to help those parents feel empowered. The parents may come in angry, overwhelmed, and discouraged, but they do love their children. The NHA helps the parents see the inner wealth both in themselves and their children. From those little nuggets of positive energy, change can occur.

Keeping the NHA principles in the forefront of your mind is something that needs to be practiced every day – at home, at work, and in everyday life situations. It is especially helpful in dealing with any kind of negativity. Having the right attitude can be the most difficult thing to do, but it is also the most rewarding.

Practicing the Nurtured Heart Approach helps me see the inner wealth in each person I encounter.