Theresa Hill is a social worker, and Jamie Edelstein is an elementary classroom teacher at The Cove School in Northbrook, Illinois. There, they believe that every student, given the appropriate amount of support, accommodations, and time, has the potential to learn, grow and flourish. Using a comprehensive, individualized approach to learning, Cove provides integrated specialized services for students with learning disabilities. The Cove School is part of Proof Positive’s Autism Wellbeing Alliance, a community dedicated to enhancing wellbeing outcomes for autistic people, providers, families, and caregivers.

Theresa and Jamie also attended Proof Positive’s Learning Institute, a professional development workshop for a select group of leaders in autism services. At the Learning Institute, they enhanced their skills in the science and skills of wellbeing and learned how these skills can be adapted for students with autism, but you’ll want to hear it from them. On to you, Theresa and Jamie! 

Theresa: My social work practice uses a strengths-based approach, so it’s been natural to implement Proof Positive’s skills into my small group lessons. I started with the PERMA+ Snapshot survey (a skill that gives a snapshot rating of how you’re doing regarding Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Mattering, Accomplishments, and +Health); I began to try out the skills of happiness with students, classroom groups, and staff. 

Proof Positive’s positive psychology skills have also given my students and me a framework to work with. My students can now identify each other’s strengths. I can see them making positive progress in their relationships with me and each other. 

Jamie: In my classroom, I use the gratitude skill What Went Well to check in with my students at the end of the day. Sometimes, they don’t feel like participating, and I respect that, but mostly, they’re excited to share. Using Proof Positive’s skills has shifted my teaching practice, and my students and I can think more positively about the day. It’s also helped strengthen my relationships with students by getting to know them better through learning what they enjoy about the day when they report what went well.

Theresa: I teach social-emotional lessons to grades 2-6 students in my weekly classroom groups. Recently, we did Strength Spotting (a skill that helps you name and notice strengths in others). I called it a “kindness circle” to make it more accessible. I had students turn to the person behind them and strength spot that person by noticing and naming one of their character strengths. The recipient had to listen, say thank you, and pass it on to the next student. It was very successful!

Jamie: Theresa and I have also formed a pilot program to promote staff wellbeing; it’s really taken off! We introduce a couple of skills at a time so staff can practice them for themselves before spreading them to their students. During one of our professional development days, we put together a training session for staff on practicing positive psychology skills, beginning with Character Strengths (a skill that shines a light on what’s uniquely right with you and who you are at your best).

We presented the PERMA+ Snapshot, What Went Well, and Strength Spotting to 30-40 staff. They all had personal takeaways to promote their wellbeing. All types of staff attended, including occupational therapists, speech-language pathologists, and high school teachers, so we know the skills of happiness are spreading throughout our school.

If staff at Cove School show interest, they know they can come to Theresa or me, and we’ll teach them more. One of the high school teachers said they liked Strength Spotting, and someone even used it with their spouse at home! Afterward, many participants came up to us with the feedback that they felt they could easily implement the skills. That’s the best thing about the skills—staff can apply them to their personal lives, and the skills can help in all types of relationships.

We plan on continuing with staff implementation. We’ve volunteered to share the science of Positive Emotions and created a movement challenge to enhance the +Health. Spending time together promoting wellbeing makes us feel good, boosts positive emotions, and deepens relationships with our colleagues. Our new wellness committee will be key in implementing more skills of happiness with our staff. 

Theresa: Overall, it’s been a joy to teach the skills of happiness to students and staff because everyone likes to feel good and to be recognized for what they’re good at. 

Keep up the good work, Theresa and Jamie! We’re grateful you’re part of the autism community and for your efforts in helping students and staff at Cove experience more happiness. 

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