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Keeping the Focus on the Positive

by | Feb 20, 2018 | Children, Education, Edutopia, School, Students, Teachers | 0 comments

Keeping the Focus on the Positive

as featured on Edutopia.org:

Edutopia Keeping the Focus on the Positive 739 shares

As a special educator with seven years’ experience as a public school teacher and now seven more as a private tutor, I work with students with huge academic and behavioral challenges. Often the discrepancies between their current performance and what is expected are so large that anyone could point them out.

And I’m frequently surrounded by problems that can feel insurmountable: seemingly unattainable standards, hours of meetings, mountains of paperwork, and more.

I found that choosing to focus on these negative things resulted in feeling frustrated and depleted—burned out. And I realized that often our students who struggle in school are focused on negatives too: Because of academic or behavioral challenges, they come to school every day and have a bad experience.

This light bulb moment made me realize that instead of mirroring students’ attitudes, fears, and anxieties, I needed to show them something different. For this reason, focusing on the positive is one of my most effective teaching techniques.

In fact, research points to teacher support and the identification of positive personal characteristics as the strongest predictors of students feeling a sense of belonging at school, which is essential to their well-being. In focusing on the positive, teachers can foster better academic and personal outcomes for students.

How I Focus on the Positives

Be a cheerleader instead of a critic: I make an effort to focus on positive behavior. Each day, I watch my students to determine what motivates them and get to know what they enjoy outside of school.

Be an observer: Students who struggle immensely with academics are often very talented and motivated in other areas. I ask myself, “What makes this student tick?” or “What motivates them?” or “What special gifts or talents does this student have?” I do this even when processing negative behavior, and once I made this change in my attitude I started to see things differently.

Here are some of my observations:

  • A child with extreme dysgraphia, who struggled to write even simple sentences and often had his head down, told the most creative stories.
  • One of my students with dyslexia was a talented artist. Her face lit up as she drew lifelike portraits at her desk during the lesson. Another student could take anything apart and put it back together.
  • A student with an intellectual disability had the kindest heart. His first thought was always for someone else.
  • A student who acted out, causing frequent classroom disruption when he was given a worksheet, excelled when given a project.
  • One of my students from a group home who required a behavior aide wrote the most beautiful poetry.

Find ways to link strengths to academics: After searching for strengths, talents, and interests, I look for a way to connect what a student struggles with to a skill they already possess. To facilitate this in the school setting, I gave students leadership roles within the classroom and designed project-based learning. I looked for opportunities to provide choice—from the books that students read to the ways they demonstrated learning.

I even searched for ways to incorporate learning into my behavior management practices. I let my student who enjoyed poetry go to the library and get poetry books, and when he was upset, he would decompress by turning his feelings into free verse.

Make academics more accessible: I use creativity and assistive technology to bridge the gap between talents and academics. I showed my student who enjoyed telling stories how to use voice-to-text software that made the recording of stories possible even when writing was difficult. My artist drew pictures in her notes of what she visualized as we read. I also posted art around the room and “commissioned” art to go with the themes of our units.

Help students find a purpose: I try to make sure each student feels that they have a purpose. In the classroom, I searched for things that were broken—pencil sharpeners, staplers, computers—and let my mechanically inclined student fix them. Students who liked to help and had strong interpersonal skills passed out papers or rewards and were responsible for encouraging others.

I find that so often in teaching things change from year to year just as you are adjusting to them. However, focusing on the positive is timeless and cost-effective. It will not be replaced next year by a fancy new program or shiny new technology. It is the foundation for personalized learning and the key to closing the achievement gap for students who are hard to reach.

Instead of starting with the standards that must be learned, I learned to start with the student in front of me. Through focusing on student strengths, I’m able to build the resiliency and interest in my students that’s necessary to achieve academic objectives. By focusing on the positive, I build up the child in front of me to be the best version of themselves.

-Nina Parrish, M.Ed.
Owner | Parrish Learning Zone, LLC

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                                       ~Nina

Nina Parrish, M. Ed.

Nina Parrish, M. Ed.

Co-Owner and Director of Education

Proud mom of two adorable girls. Teacher who has developed an education business that started at a kitchen table and has grown into a thriving small business... Click here to Learn more about Nina.

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Pam Cantrell Burton
Pam Cantrell Burton
2020-10-14T16:15:51+0000
Parrish Learning Zone helped my daughter with on-line SAT and college essay preparation. She not only scored in the top 90 percentile on the SAT after working with Lauren Cannavo, she especially benefited from the tutoring she received for her admission essays. My daughter was accepted at Notre Dame, UVA, William and Mary, and received scholarships to George Washington University and the University of Alabama. She was initially deferred at the University of Chicago and waitlisted at University of Michigan and Emory University. She eventually chose not to remain on the waitlists and committed to UVA.Lauren also advised our daughter regarding her submission of a 20 page essay on community service for DECA, a high school business club. Our daughter, along with her partner, won second place in her category at the DECA state competitions in 2019 and 2020, and received second place at the DECA international competition in 2019.Lauren was not only a top-notch professional, she really cared about our daughter and was so pleased about her accomplishments. We are so very grateful to her and Parrish Learning Zone.
Marijayne Kruus
Marijayne Kruus
2020-05-11T21:51:37+0000
My daughter has a math learning disability and hated math. We started working with Nina Parrish and stuck with it for several months. Her grades have improved, but more importantly, so has her self confidence. She now loves going to work on math and will even work on it at home by herself. We are grateful for Parrish Learning Zone!
Laura Ellis
Laura Ellis
2018-12-14T14:36:43+0000
Mr. Chaves is an extremely gifted chemistry teacher. It's such a difficult subject--my son was drowning by the time we found PLZ. This was truly a last ditch effort on our part. Mr. Chaves was able to turn that ship around after only 4 lessons and my son passed the SOL! He was able to distill difficult concepts in a way that made them comprehensible and he was patient and kind and gave my son the confidence to succeed. His actual eacher expressed surprise and made a point of telling him he didn't know how he did it but he was impressed. It takes a gifted teacher to get results like that.I only wish we'd found PLZ and Mr. Chaves in the beginning of the school year.
Wendy Zelazny
Wendy Zelazny
2018-06-08T02:05:15+0000
Highly Recommend
Anne Kater Reeves
Anne Kater Reeves
2018-06-07T22:46:05+0000
I highly recommend Parrish Learning Zone. My daughter was able to achieve the SAT score she was aiming for with the help of her Math (Mr. James Slane) and English (Mrs. Lauren Cannavo) tutors. Not only did they help her with practice tests but they also boosted her confidence in taking the SAT. The owners (Nina and Jay) were always prompt in answering my emails. They are very accommodating and worked around my daughter’s schedule (thank you Shiela for all your help in finding available dates for my daughter to meet with her tutors). Thank you Parrish Learning Zone for helping my daughter achieve her goal!
Beth Yankovich
Beth Yankovich
2018-03-23T20:29:18+0000
I can't say enough good things about Parrish Learning Zone. My son has historically suffered from low reading comprehension. I felt he needed a little extra help so I contacted Parrish Learning Zone. The owners at Parrish matched my son with the perfect tutor for him, they developed a rapport almost immediately. He is now in 8th grade and doing well in all his classes. My son is very active in school sports and the staff at Parrish are always very accommodating. They always reschedule with no problems. My son even likes to go early to chat with Sheila.
Beth Kent
Beth Kent
2017-11-08T18:59:11+0000
Awesome! Very structured and student focused - they identified the areas of weakness and turned those into areas of strength in a very short amount of time. I loved the communication from the tutor and the company. I received a specific report of my child's tutoring session including improvements and areas that needed continued work. I received reminders of upcoming tutor sessions - which I needed!! I felt the individual attention and service was worth every penny AND found the prices to be much more reasonable that other tutors in the area. I would HIGHLY recommend Parrish Learning Zone to any parent that needs to find highly competent tutoring help for their child. Parrish is simply the best!
Michele Hiltbrunner Freemyers
Michele Hiltbrunner Freemyers
2017-03-14T15:53:50+0000
An excellent place to take your kids for any tutoring needs! PLZ is a very personalized and hands on service! Both of my teenage boys have been through here for various reasons and I know we will continue to make use of them!
Tammy Elms Mosco
Tammy Elms Mosco
2016-06-02T12:20:59+0000
SAT Prep Course with Parish Learning is definitely a worthwhile invest !!...My son's scores improved over 200 plus points!!
Janice Boles
Janice Boles
2014-12-02T22:34:32+0000
I am extremely thankful to Parrish Learning Zone. I have a son that is a freshman in college majoring in mechanical engineering. I am so glad that we found out about the Parrish Learning Zone because they were very caring and really worked hard around my sons high school football schedule to ensure that he received all of the needed instruction in order to do well on the SAT testing. It was a great investment for his future. I believe this experience prepared my son for the transition to college life. He was able to attend a top engineering college and to play football there. My daughter is a senior in high school now and was admitted into two of the top ranked public schools in Virginia. She will be a freshman at one of these schools next year. She also was enrolled in the Parrish Learning Zone for preparation for the SAT. I am again thankful to the Parrish Learning Zone and feel that this was a great long term investment into their futures. I would strongly recommend the Parrish Learning Zone to anyone looking for an environment that offers a caring and knowledgeable approach to educating students. They are the best.
Angela Jackson
Angela Jackson
2014-05-15T00:39:39+0000
Andrew Powers
Andrew Powers
2014-02-09T12:32:29+0000

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