Wounded Healers

Wounded Healers is an emergent, healing-centered, multimedia community storytelling project

The project aims to cultivate the well-being of educators, in order to create learning spaces where educators and the young people they serve, can thrive, flourish, and heal. Through dramatic portraits and candid interviews, Wounded Healers celebrates the stories of educators whose own healing work fuels their capacity for and dedication to creating healing-centered and transformative learning environments for young people.

Launched in late 2022 as a project of the Acosta Institute, the exploratory Phase 1 of Wounded Healers presents photographic portraits and a podcast series featuring nine New York City educators and community program leaders who have dedicated their lives to creating spaces for children to thrive, flourish, and heal. In a time of transition and turmoil, these practitioners are deeply aware of the impact of racial and socio-economic trauma on their communities and know the importance of engaging in their own personal healing work while implementing healing-centered teaching methods in their work as educators.

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In 2023, Acosta Institute is building on the success of the podcast series, through five main activities:

  • Release the portraits and stories digitally on the Wounded Healers website
  • Produce large-scale, framed copies of the portraits and host one or several  art exhibition in collaboration with a New York museum or gallery
  • Organize a series of public programs that engage educators and the public in these stories, and in telling their own Wounded Healer stories, starting with a Summit to explore a Wounded Healer pedogogy
  • Promote the project to expand the number of educators it reaches
  • Gather data  to understand the impact of the  project and consider how it might evolve  and grow in a second Phase
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The opportunity and need

“After more than two challenging years, teachers are exhausted. According to a RAND survey, half of teachers reported feeling burned out. Teacher well-being influences the entire school community including school culture and climate, instruction, and students’ growth and development–showing teacher well-being and student well-being are inextricably linked….While burnout affects all teachers, surveys show that educators of color, who are already underrepresented in schools, may leave at greater rates. Teacher well-being is an important teacher retention strategy that contributes to the diversity of the education workforce, and to the success of students of all backgrounds. ” (CZI, 2022)

Attending to teacher well being is essential to creating environments that attend to student well-being, which in turn fuels learning and flourishing. Teachers, especially teachers of color, need accessible new strategies and communities in which to heal, cope with burnout, process racialized trauma, and reduce their sense of isolation.

While the science of trauma-informed practice has been invaluable in helping educators and healers understand the impact of trauma, recent turns in K-12 and professional education, and the science of learning and development,  show the promise of turning towards a healing-centered paradigm. Drawing on restorative justice, social-emotional learning, mindfulness, and trauma-informed teaching, and decolonizing education, healing centered education builds on strengths based approaches to focus on inner, relational, and collective healing as the grounds for learning, growth, and flourishing.

This approach aims to go beyond understanding the impact of trauma and exploring how communities experience restoration, relief and collective flourishing, through the ancient technology of storytelling. 

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Our vision / Solution

“People have been healing each other since the beginning. Long before there were surgeons, psychologists, and so on, we were there for each other…the enormous power in the simplest of human relationships: the strengths of a touch, the blessing of forgiveness, the grace of someone else taking you just as you are and finding in you an unsuspected goodness.…Everyone alive has suffered. It is the wisdom gained from our wounds and from our own experiences of suffering that makes us able to heal. Becoming an expert has turned out to be less important than remembering and trusting the wholeness in myself and in everyone else. Expertise cures, but wounded people can be best healed by other wounded people. Only other wounded people can understand what is needed, for the healing of suffering is compassion, not expertise.”

Kitchen Table Wisdom by Rachel Naomi Remen

The Wounded Healers Portrait and Podcast Series is a multimedia healing arts project that profiles educators, through interview and creative portraiture, who have dedicated their lives to creating spaces for children to thrive, flourish, and heal.

The concept “wounded healer” finds its roots in Greek mythology and is interpreted in Carl Jung’s work. For Jung, the wounded healer’s sensitivity to and understanding of their own wounds enabled them to help others heal. Jung was especially attuned to physicians or those who administer medicine. In our portrait and podcast series, we reinterpret the concept with attention to the lives of exceptional educators.

Stories are curated to feature practitioners who are deeply aware of the impact of racial and socio-economic trauma on their communities and know the importance of engaging in their own personal healing work as they implement healing-centered teaching methods with their students.

As wounded healers, they embrace the challenge of working and teaching in systems that perpetuate violence and inequality.  They are resolute in moving through the challenges to bring about a better world. In essence, this project aims to send messages of inspiration, affirmation, and hope to depleted educators who are trying to stay the course. In a time when there are multiple crises and those who educate and care for people are experiencing difficult conditions, this project aims to send messages of inspiration and hope.

The project’s theory of action, borne out in initial project events, is this: 

  • Individual healing and well being of educators are necessary for those people to create healing spaces for others - it is the fuel, not the barrier, to educators creating relationships and spaces where students can heal and thrive
  • Sharing educators’ candid personal stories in the form of majestic portraits and intimate interviews, in revered creative contexts,  using high end production values and large scale imagery and telling the stories in ways that celebrate the storyteller’s dignity, courage, and vulnerability, together cause a shift in how we understand trauma, vulnerability, and wounds; presenting them  the context of an art gallery, in sophisticated digital media, coffee table books, and in public art, serves to subtly reframe vulnerable  stories of healing as something to be revered and celebrated, as somehow both  normal, and heroic.
  • Wounded Healers tells stories in ways that celebrate educators and their paths to creating successful healing environments for those they serve. The project honors vulnerability and inspires a shift from woundedness as a flaw or sign of insufficiency, to the very source of  our unique gifts, and a path to becoming whole, in community
  • Sharing these stories acts as a catalyst, creating the possibility for healing community in the form of public and online discussion circles, dialogues, and teacher professional development.
  • The stories act as a catalyst, inspiring other educators to reflect on and  tell their own stories, and have conversations with peers, both of which strengthen their own capacity to attend to their own well being, and create  learning spaces where they and the young people they serve can thrive, flourish and heal.
  • Through engagement with these vulnerable stories of healing, especially when presented with high end production values and in celebrated settings (books, art galleries, etc. ) other educators are inspired to touch into their own vulnerabilities, to reframe them as gifts, and start or continue on their own paths to wholeness.  These portraits and stories  act as the seed, inspiring others to tell their own stories, which then weave a new healing community fabric focused on strength and connection.

Initial community dialogues bringing the public together with these educators suggest that this approach creates a mutuality and vulnerability that makes a different way of being together possible, and that that way of being together is in itself a form of healing and solidarity. Educators whose vulnerable stories are told via the project find themselves celebrated and presented with dignity and respect. Their majesty in vulnerability serves as an inspiration to others. By featuring educators who speak tenderly to the ways in which racialization and structural barriers have created wounds, the stories help us see deeper into the many ways–personal, relational, and systemic–we acquire our wounds, and the ways that both individual and collective healing are intertwined.

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This is “trauma as catalyst for transformation, a… “wounded healer pedagogy”—a pedagogical approach contingent upon interconnectedness, driven by writing purposes, and linked to individual and communal healing processes.“ (Spear, 2014) 

These stories become the fabric for weaving stronger relationships, community and learning. They become catalysts for teachers, and potentially students, in school communities to tell their own stories, and shift teacher and school culture.

Audience: Teachers

In Phase 1, We aim to reach at least 25,000 educators through a combination of digital and in person activities. In Phase 2, we aim to reach 100,000+.

This initiative is designed to support the well-being of teachers who – whether due to being newer to the classroom, or due to the contexts in which they teach, are struggling to keep up with the demands of teaching in uncertain times, are coping with burnout and mental health challenges, may feel isolated or lack support, and are questioning whether to continue in this profession. 

We have found that teachers who are interested in approaches to education that are culturally responsive, anti-racist, social-emotional learning oriented, mindfulness-based, and trauma-informed, particularly resonate with this material. We hope to reach teachers who are seeking support and community beyond or in addition to traditional technically focused supports and PD.

Since launching in late 2022, Wounded Healers has reached [insert # based on Summit session, video views, and podcast downloads]. Based on anecdotal information from those who attended the Healing Centered Summit session on Wounded Healers in October, 2022, [can we say anything – grades taught, geographies, etc]

In 2023, Phase 1 of this project aims to reach, inspire, affirm, and motivate at least 25,000 educators to address burnout, build community, and develop their own innovative, healing-centered practices. We anticipate we can  reach about 75%  nationally through a set of digital offerings (website, podcast, etc. and about 25% through in person exhibition, events, and school programs in and around New York, NY.

In Phase 2, the  project has the potential to  grow its reach and impact in a number of different ways: by partnering to produce a series in a new city, expanding to reach more educators  in New York, expanding into new subject areas, such as healthcare; expanding the virtual programming nationally, or some combination of these.

Stay tuned for future phases

Wounded Healers is a constantly evolving program. To keep tabs on where it is moving and to join the discussion, simply fill in the form below.