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Student Support Services- Executive Functioning

Student Support Services- Executive Functioning

A focus on executive functioning (EF) can significantly impact academic success. Understanding what executive functioning is, how it can affect your child(s) educational experience, and what you can do to nurture these lifelong skills is something we focus on for all students. The holidays present a unique opportunity to reflect on your child's/children's educational journey and engage them in ways to nurture success in the short and long term.

What is Executive Functioning?

The term “executive functioning” broadly refers to a set of EF skills that help us process common tasks. The "skills" make up strategies and techniques to manage everyday life, including the demands of school. From a scientific perspective, these are "neurologically-based skills involving mental control and self-regulation," according to LD Online. EF can be broken down in the following way:

  1. Future Orientation / Planning - anticipating future needs & requirements
  2. Organization - spatial awareness & physical objects
  3. Task Initiation - knowing how to get started 
  4. Time Awareness & Management - recognizing the passage of time and how long things will take
  5. Sustained Attention - impulse control and managing distractions
  6. Emotion Management - frustration tolerance and managing transitions

Why do EF skills matter?

At a minimum, understanding and strengthening EF skills will build your child's awareness of their learning journey. Furthermore, many researchers claim that EF skills supersede IQ as a predictor of academic and career success. In fact, the prefrontal cortex region of the brain is primarily responsible for EF skill development, and there's a growing body of brain research suggesting that EFs are tied to this part of the brain. The prefrontal cortex is so important because it is responsible for judgment, attention, and behavior, such as emotional responses. As a result, a focus on EF has become a standard for educational excellence in schools.

Here are a few ideas to consider practicing at home:

  • Use calendars and practice scheduling
  • Create to-do lists to help prioritize projects
  • Practice breaking down large tasks into manageable pieces
  • Take technology breaks to eliminate distractions

Our goal is to help students understand and build their EF skills to promote independence and academic engagement. There is a balance here where the SSS team is trained and prepared to provide successful structures for students to help eliminate distractions and organize themselves. Our students are building metacognition skills and learning to make choices. By introducing tools such as timers, visual aids, and learning breaks, we can help students better manage their learning.

Successful children are the result of strong collaboration throughout a community. Healthy families working with schools and involvement in extracurricular activities are hallmarks of success from childhood through adulthood. Why not take time to talk to your children about successes and challenges at school and consider modeling several EF strategies for success?

Heidi Laws 

Head of Student Support Services