Father and son sit at the kitchen table with the son's homework spread out in front of them. Both are smiling.

Teaching Executive Function Skills at Home

Executive functioning (EF) skills are the cornerstone of academic success and personal growth. These skills, which include planning, organization, and emotional regulation, are critical for students to navigate the complexities of school and life. While schools play a role in teaching these skills, the home environment is an equally important arena for building executive functioning capabilities.

In this article, we’ll delve into the unique challenges and opportunities parents face in teaching executive functioning skills at home, offering practical strategies and actionable insights for success. We’ll explore why the home environment is a crucial training ground for these skills, how parents can overcome common challenges, and the long-term benefits of mastering executive function.


The Challenges Parents Face

Teaching EF skills at home is not without its hurdles. Older students, in particular, may resist parental guidance, viewing it as an intrusion into their independence. This resistance is often rooted in the adolescent quest for autonomy and identity formation. Parents may also find themselves struggling with their own executive function, adding another layer of complexity to the teaching process.

The solution? A collaborative approach.

Instead of positioning yourself as the teacher, engage in the learning process alongside your child. This fosters a sense of teamwork and makes the learning experience more enjoyable for both parties.

By adopting a collaborative approach, parents can show their children that they respect their growing independence while still providing the necessary guidance. This balance is crucial for fostering a positive learning environment at home.

Home vs. School Environment

The home environment offers a unique opportunity to set the standard for EF skills. Unlike schools, where different educators may have varying approaches to organization and time management, the home provides a consistent setting for teaching these skills. Parents have a critical role in being intentional about building EF skills and applying them to school tasks.

However, there’s a trap to avoid: doing tasks for your child instead of with them.

This not only undermines your child’s confidence but also sends the message that they are incapable of learning these essential skills. The home environment can serve as a foundational platform for executive functioning skills, but it’s crucial to understand how these skills translate into the school environment.

For instance, the organizational system that works at home may not be effective in a school setting where the child has to juggle multiple subjects and teachers. Parents should communicate with educators to ensure that the EF skills being taught at home are adaptable and effective in the school environment.

Elementary school age child sits in front of her mom at the kitchen table with paper and crayons in front of them.

Effective Strategies for Teaching Executive Function at Home

The key to teaching EF skills at home is to learn alongside your child. Model the behaviors you want to see, and involve your child in planning and organizational tasks.

Remember, developing executive function skills is a process that requires practice, repetition, and feedback. It’s not something that can be mastered overnight, but the rewards are well worth the effort.

To make this process more effective, consider setting up a dedicated space in your home where you and your child can work on EF tasks. This can help to create a focused environment that is conducive to learning.

While modeling is a powerful teaching tool, it’s also essential to provide children with the opportunity to practice these skills independently. Consider setting up ‘challenge tasks’ that require your child to utilize their newly learned executive functioning skills.

These tasks can range from organizing a small family event to managing a budget for a school project. The key is to provide just enough challenge to stretch their abilities but not so much that it leads to frustration or failure.

Practical Activities and Exercises

One effective exercise to improve time management is the “my available time” activity. This involves the entire family sharing their schedules for the upcoming week, identifying any conflicts, and planning accordingly. Make it a weekly ritual to sit down as a family and discuss the week ahead. This not only improves time management but also fosters a sense of community and shared responsibility.

Another activity you can try is the “task breakdown” exercise. This involves taking a larger task and breaking it down into smaller, more manageable parts. This can help to make daunting tasks seem more achievable and can be a great way to teach planning and prioritization skills.

Adapting Strategies for Different Ages

Executive functioning skills are not one-size-fits-all. What works for a high school student may not be appropriate for a younger child. Tailor your approach based on your child’s age and developmental stage.

Remember, “the seeds we sow today are the forests of tomorrow.” The skills you teach now will benefit your child for years to come. For younger children, consider using visual aids like charts or graphs to help them understand concepts like time management.

For older children, consider involving them in more complex planning activities, such as planning a family vacation or budgeting for a large purchase.

Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

Parents often make the mistake of rushing the learning process or solving problems for their children. While it may be tempting to resolve conflicts quickly, this robs your child of the opportunity to learn valuable problem-solving skills.

Another common mistake is not embracing setbacks as learning opportunities. The mantra here is, “Process trumps perfection.” Take the time to discuss challenges and setbacks with your child, offering constructive feedback and encouragement. Encourage your child to reflect on their mistakes and think about what they could do differently next time. This can be a powerful learning experience that can help to build resilience and problem-solving skills.

Another common mistake parents make is the overuse of technology as a solution. While apps and tools can be helpful, they are not a substitute for fundamental EF skills like planning and prioritization. Parents should use technology as a supplement, not a replacement, for teaching these skills. For example, while a to-do list app can help with task management, it’s equally important to teach your child how to prioritize tasks based on deadlines and importance.

Mom and young daughter high five while sitting in front of an open laptop.

The Role of Parents

Parents should be actively involved in teaching EF skills but not to the extent that it causes conflict or stress. If you find it challenging to teach these skills, consider using resources like the Effective Student Course as a learning tool for both you and your child. This can provide a structured approach to mastering EF skills and offer valuable insights from experts in the field.

Additionally, don’t hesitate to seek external help if needed. Sometimes, a third-party perspective can provide valuable insights that you might not have considered. Parents should not underestimate the impact of their own behavior on their children’s development of EF skills. Children are keen observers and will often emulate the behaviors they see. Therefore, it’s crucial for parents to practice good EF skills themselves.

If you’re struggling with these skills, consider it a learning opportunity for the whole family. There’s no shame in admitting that you’re working on improving these skills, and doing so can make the learning process more relatable and less intimidating for your child.

Long-Term Benefits of Teaching Executive Function at Home

The benefits of mastering EF skills extend far beyond academic success. These skills are also crucial for emotional well-being. For instance, good emotional regulation skills can help children navigate the challenges of adolescence and adulthood, from handling relationship issues to managing stress at work.

Therefore, it’s crucial to make EF skill development a lifelong pursuit, rather than just a means to an academic end.

Parent marking something on a hanging family calendar while holding a coffee.

Putting Executive Function Skills into Practice

Teaching EF skills at home is a rewarding but challenging endeavor. However, with the right strategies and mindset, you can set your child up for long-term success. Remember, the home environment is not just a place to relax and unwind; it’s also a crucial training ground for developing skills that will serve your child for a lifetime.

Middle school age female student sits at a table holding her smartphone in front of her instead of doing her school work. Another student sits next to her and students can also be seen behind her.

How Anxiety Impacts Executive Function

Anxiety is being discussed more openly than ever before, with many people realizing that what they previously wrote off as everyday stress may be a part of a more chronic mental health problem. For people and students with ADHD and executive dysfunction issues, anxiety can be the norm, with ADHD and executive function issues creating a feedback loop with their anxiety. 

Executive function issues can cause anxiety, and anxiety can, in turn, affect executive functioning by impacting the brain’s ability to process information and make decisions. In other words, they often coexist or, to use a more technical term, are comorbid.

This challenging interdependence or coexistence of symptoms can affect people of all ages. As CHADD reports, up to 30% of children and up to 53% of adults with ADHD may also have an anxiety disorder. These statistics mean that children in every classroom are likely struggling with anxiety, yet it is not regularly addressed. Executive dysfunction can also negatively impact socio-emotional skills, putting further stress on students with anxiety.

At Effective Students, in addition to supporting the growth of strong academic management skills, we also focus on building social and emotional skills that build resilience in students and increase their confidence and competence for a more comprehensive developmental experience. Our academic coaches help students respond when they experience feelings associated with struggles or failures, introducing them to the grit-building process coming alongside them to help them persevere. The causes of anxiety cannot be altogether avoided, but certain skills can be developed to help make it more manageable. 

In this guide, we share an overview of how executive dysfunction and anxiety impact students and how academic coaching can help lessen some symptoms.

Middle school age female student sits in front of an open laptop, resting her head on her hand, with a bored look on her face.

Anxiety, ADHD, and Executive Function in Students

For many students, and even parents and caregivers, the highs and lows of academia are closely tied to emotions, evoking everything from fear and concern to frustration, stress, and exhalation. To improve overall student performance and experience, it’s important not only to focus on the academic part of executive dysfunction but the emotional part as well.

J. Russell Ramsay, Ph.D., explains the connection between anxiety and ADHD, writing in ADDitude, “Individuals diagnosed with ADHD and anxiety disorders tend to have more severe anxiety symptoms than do those without ADHD. But even adults with ADHD who do not meet the diagnostic criteria for anxiety may experience occasional and situational anxiety in their daily lives—precisely because of ADHD, which may cause time blindness, poor working memory, and exaggerated emotions, among other anxiety-producing symptoms.”

Students with and without ADHD diagnoses may suffer from the anxiety caused by executive function deficiencies. When it comes to planning, prioritizing, and completing tasks, these students may panic, feel overwhelmed, or become ashamed of their inability to get started. These students can learn the tools to better manage their executive functions, such as learning how to better observe a situation without first reacting emotionally. This is only one tool in the toolkit that gives the student control of their response, preventing them from entering the cycle of shame or incompetence.

In a discussion published in The Primary Care Companion to the Journal of Clinical Psychology, Dr. Margaret D. Weiss explains that in a study, many patients were aware that due to their ADHD, “they were in danger of not being punctual, procrastinating, not meeting expectations, and of being demoralized through stigmatization. As a result, they would become anxious, and once they were anxious, their ADHD symptoms worsened. The effects of this syndrome can become a lifelong vicious circle.”

Anxiety opposes successful executive functioning, which can lead to more issues with keeping up with tasks and performing well academically. In fact, in the brain, when a person experiences anxiety, the amygdala, the part of the brain that protects us from danger, engages to keep them safe.  Since there cannot be two control centers functioning at once, the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that solves problems, disengages, therefore making it difficult if not nearly impossible for the individual to solve problems successfully in a stressful situation. 

When this occurs in students, specifically around academics, we observe procrastination, task avoidance, emotional resistance.  Anxiety itself can occur around managing schedules, academics, and other goals, therefore impeding the further development of  executive function skills. The student is left at an impasse, often feeling very emotional without a viable solution. The student may appear as if they aren’t trying but the opposite is in fact happening, as they have become paralyzed.

Female adult with brown hair and glasses smiles at an elementary school age girl student who smiles back. The teacher holds a tablet in front of both of them and another student works quietly to the side.

How Anxiety Can Worsen Executive Dysfunction

Some anxious students may be able to hide their anxiety well, but there are a few key patterns to look out for to identify students struggling to manage their relationships between executive function and anxiety. 

Task Paralysis

Task paralysis is a common conundrum for students with executive functioning issues, and it can easily generate anxiety for the students. When students are so anxious and overwhelmed around tasks that they can’t move forward to try to complete it or even get started, students can feel even worse about themselves and become more anxious. This is why one characteristic of executive dysfunction is task initiation—students cannot begin a task such as homework.  

Task paralysis is also a compounding problem, only getting worse the more a student does it as it becomes a habit, something they do without thinking. If a student has been procrastinating or lost time on other tasks, it can feel insurmountable, which can lead to task paralysis and associated anxiety.

When task paralysis occurs, a student may find themselves staying up late to complete a task at the last minute, meaning that they won’t be doing their best on the project, test, or task. The resulting poor grade or negative feedback can bring on additional shame and disappointment.

One effective way to overcome task paralysis is to start with something easy, like organizing a binder or tidying a desk. Once that is done, students find it easier to begin homework with the easiest academic task. This creates behavioral momentum of getting things done in a snowball effect

Difficulty with Planning and Prioritization

Planning and prioritization are two of the most common challenges for students with ADHD and executive dysfunction. Students who do not have ADHD but do have anxiety can also find the initial planning process to be overwhelming, resulting in the students freezing.

Some teachers, coaches, and parents may suggest that planning and prioritization is the key to overcoming the challenges of ADHD and anxiety, without realizing that the planning and prioritization itself can be a source of the negative feelings. If a student is too anxious or doesn’t know how to break tasks down or fill out their academic planner, they won’t be able to utilize planning as a primary tool.

Fortunately, the executive function skills associated with planning and prioritization can be learned and practiced. With this additional guidance and coach-led exercises, students can begin to feel more confident in their own ability to manage their workload because they have a new experience of doing so successfully. 

Academic coaches can create repeatable educational experiences around planning and prioritizing, thus allowing students to feel differently about this exercise and understand the emotional relief it brings. Students will return to what feels good to them. Coaches can create this type of experience. 

Shame and Panic

For students with ADHD and executive dysfunction, the feelings may not stop at anxiety, as that anxiety can further lead to shame and panic. An article in the Harvard Business Review explains the phenomenon of shame and ADHD, explaining, “Forgetting to do something even though they know they have to do it leads to embarrassment, and forgetting consistently turns that embarrassment into searing shame.”

Parents and teachers may worsen the shame and panic in students even when they mean well. When parents and teachers don’t understand the shame and panic from anxiety, they may question and push the student, worsening the student’s confidence and creating a cycle of the student not believing in their own academic abilities.

In an academic setting and beyond, shame and panic, along with chronic anxiety, negatively impact a student’s overall emotional wellbeing. In turn, that declining emotional wellbeing can further hurt their academic performance, leading to a dangerous, vicious cycle.

Problems with Self-Regulation

Self-regulation is defined by the American Psychological Association as “the control of one’s behavior through the use of self-monitoring (keeping a record of behavior), self-evaluation (assessing the information obtained during self-monitoring), and self-reinforcement (rewarding oneself for appropriate behavior or for attaining a goal).”

Executive dysfunction and anxiety can lead to more extreme emotions, putting more pressure on the student’s self-regulation skills. This is often observed in the parent/child relationship when the topic of academics is discussed. Parents may observe an emotional response to a school-related question that is out of proportion to the question. While some emotional dysregulation in teens is common, parents that see a pattern of issues could be on to a larger problem. Issues with self-regulation compounded with task paralysis, feelings of shame, and planning difficulties make it nearly impossible for the student to feel emotionally secure and confident in their academic work.

The academic coach can help students become curious as to what happened and support parents as they remain emotionally neutral, modeling how to observe a situation without having an emotional response. This emotional self-control on behalf of both parties is the foundation to a healthy conversation about school.

Female academic coach works with a middle school student. The coach reaches across a piece of paper to point at something, which the student looks at.

Top Benefits of Coaching for Anxiety and Executive Function

When it comes to overcoming anxiety from executive dysfunction, students hugely benefit from working with an academic coach, like the coaches at Effective Students.

Practical Benefits of Academic Coaching

Through academic coaching, students can learn the executive functioning skills to help them strategize for managing tasks, planning, and prioritization. By working with an expert coach, students can learn clear strategies to overcome challenges, doing so while supported by a patient and encouraging coach.

Academic coaching provides more long-term benefits than traditional tutoring, as tutors are typically focused on helping students succeed in one specific subject, or even for one specific test. The skills learning in executive function coaching and academic coaching can be built upon and used for years to come.

Students who benefit from academic coaching include:

  • Students who need a better approach to managing their academic workloads
  • Students who are disinterested in academics
  • Students seeking more independence but struggling to find success
  • Students feeling stressed by their executive dysfunction

Academic coaches work alongside students, helping them learn a process that they can put into practice on their own. The support of a coach can reduce anxiety for many students, as they know they have someone in their corner helping them change their processes, not just get a certain grade on a test.

Emotional Benefits of Academic Coaching

The academic anxiety generated by executive dysfunction can be overwhelming, leaving the student feeling lost and unsure of the next steps to take. Because executive function coaching is a positive and task-related activity, students can get out of their own heads and move forward, easing the anxious and shameful feelings that stand in the doorway to success.

Students who practice building their stamina and response inhibition also develop and fine-tune self-regulation skills. Academic coaches create positive experiences around school while walking the students through the context of a task, utilizing intentional dialogue so students develop flexible thinking, establishing a positive emotional experience. 

Academic coaching is not a replacement for medical care needed to alleviate anxiety, but it can often offset some initial challenges that trigger anxiety. It is still important to get students the other resources they need for anxiety, like support from their doctor, counselor, or psychologist. Academic Coaching can help students better their relationship to academics and other tasks, complementing the growth in their overall emotional well-being.

Discover How Academic Coaching Can Alleviate Student Anxiety

Academic coaching can be a part of the solution for student anxiety, although it is always important to consult a healthcare provider for students experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression.

At Effective Students, we’ve created engaging courses and insightful programs that help students develop a robust skill set of executive functions, leading to long-term success. While our one-on-one coaching sessions are recommended for building executive functioning skills, we also have the Effective Student™ course. This course teaches some of the essential skills our coaches teach. 

If you’re ready to find the right option for you, contact our team to learn more.

Young Black student engaged in focused study, using an executive function planner to become a more effective learner.

How to Choose an Executive Function Planner for Students

As the new academic year begins, back-to-school shopping is well underway, and, as you review your student’s school supply list, you’ll likely find one necessary school supply listed: a planner. This vital resource can keep students organized as they learn how to tackle what the new year brings. 

Although keeping up with assignments is crucial to academic success, it can feel like a daunting task that brings much stress for students who struggle with executive dysfunction. In fact, Stanford finds that 56% of students consider homework a primary source of stress.

To stay on top of organization and support executive functioning skills, our team recommends beginning with the right executive function planner, like the Effective Students™ Planner. Choosing the right planner can alleviate stressors and prevent struggles that students with ADHD may face when trying to build healthy academic habits. There are a few key features to look for when deciding on which planner works best for your student’s needs.

To create this guide for selecting the ideal executive function planner, we leveraged our experience with students who are building their executive function habits. Read on to learn about the importance of an executive function planner and how to find the right planner for your needs.

How Poor Executive Functioning Affects Students

Choosing the right planner can set the trajectory that supports a student’s executive functioning skills. With a quality planner in hand, students can feel empowered to take control of their agenda for the school year.

Student wearing a backpack that contains an executive function planner, prepared for academic success.

Executive function, as defined by Harvard University, is a learned set of skills that allow you to: 

  • Plan for commitments, assignments, and goals 
  • Use self-control and maintain focus despite distractions
  • Follow multiple-step instructions, even when interrupted 

Executive function skills are often a part of self-regulation, which is a person’s ability to control their responses to situations, emotions, and more. For students, executive functioning skills differentiate between success and frustration as well as the willingness to persevere or procrastinate. 

When a student doesn’t have strong executive function skills, they may struggle with completing tasks and staying focused, even if they’re passionate about the subject area.

Procrastination can also be a symptom of executive function problems, as described in this article. For students, “it can be challenging to distinguish whether executive dysfunction or procrastination are present since they share a lot of overlap, thus they can be hard to untangle, particularly when they present so similarly in the classroom environment.”

Fortunately, executive functioning is a learnable skill set, albeit one that is not typically part of the school curriculum. With dedicated training and persistence, students can learn to prioritize, start, and complete tasks. An executive function planner is a physical tool to support the development and maintenance of executive functions.

Benefits of Executive Function Planners

Having a planner that outlines daily tasks and time sensitive appointments helps students see the big picture, so they can focus on prioritizing. By efficiently coding assignments and assessments in their planner, they can break everything down and have a better idea of how to manage their workload. 

Young student with curly blonde hair intently focusing on coursework, immersed in academic study.

Without this organizational system, school work and extracurricular activities can be anxiety-inducing, leaving students unsure of where to start—which can lead to dangerous procrastination. An executive function planner can alleviate this stress by giving students a clear path forward when it comes to managing their schedules and schoolwork.

Executive Function Planners and ADHD 

People with ADHD often experience symptoms of anxiety regarding their assignments and planning ahead. Healthline reports, “About two-thirds of people living with ADHD have at least one coexisting condition. Specifically, at least one-quarter of people living with ADHD are also living with a diagnosable anxiety disorder.”

By learning executive functioning skills, people with ADHD can potentially reduce their anxiety and better handle everyday stressors. Students with ADHD cannot solve executive functioning skills simply with a to-do list or a particularly robust planner, but a specially-designed academic planner provides a massive leg up.

Executive Function Planners for Students

Students often get paralyzed looking at everything they need to get done, so a planner can help them break down tasks into smaller, manageable parts. Students with poor executive function need extra guidance and structure in their planners, though, to ensure that they use the supply effectively.

An executive function planner can help students create routines and expectations around key executive function skills. By building in the step of evaluating their to-do list every day or the night before, students can begin to stay on track. A good executive function planner will include a clear forecasting model or structure upfront, so that students can easily reference it on their own, as often as they need to.

Once students understand how to use a planner and build it into their routine, they can build in planning sessions on a weekly basis so they practice forecasting. An appropriate planner will provide the platform for students to understand, interpret, and manage the visual workload in front of them.  

An academic planner built for executive functioning skills can be designed for daily and weekly use so that creating this routine is simple and easily followed. 

What to Look For in an Executive Function Planner 

Not all school planners are created equally. While most planners will have the same basic components, executive function planners are those specifically designed with the challenges of poor executive functioning in mind.

Keep an eye out for these key features in a good executive function planner, including: 

  • Weekly View – The student should be able to see everything needed for the week and weeks to come while also having space to make daily to-do lists. These to-do lists apply to homework assignments, projects, and planning for how to study for an assessment.
  • Academic Year – Make sure you select a planner that is made for students, aligning with the academic calendar rather than the calendar year. 
  • Space For Extracurricular Activities – Students are more than just students, so their planner should reflect what they do as a whole person, including space for evening and weekend activities to be tracked. When they can plan for choir concerts, sports practices, games, and other extracurriculars, as well as homework, they’re more likely to continue using the planning system. 
  • Portability – The planner should be easy to carry around and take on the go. If a student planner is too bulky or heavy, the student may be more likely to leave it behind, and keeping the planner on hand is key to effectively using it. 
  • Monthly View – This view can be helpful for planning the overall events and most important tasks of a month, giving students a better understanding of what to expect in the upcoming weeks. Students may list big tests, project due dates, or sports games in the monthly planner view.

The best academic planner is one that will be regularly used. This means it’s helpful to look for a planner that resonates with your student. Whether that’s the structure, design, or even size of the planner, look for the features while finding one that is truly enjoyable to use, you can build positive habits.

Shop Our Popular Executive Function Planner

The Effective Students™ Planner is built specifically for students with ADHD and execution function challenges. Made for the 2023-2024 school year, the Effective Students™ Planner features a sample forecasting model, instructions on how to easily code the planner for simplicity, and study activities as well as visual prompts for consistent study techniques. This executive function planner also has dedicated fields for target number of entries per week, which helps students practice goal-setting and actively challenge themselves.

Many students report difficulty being consistent with a planner or even report not knowing how to use a planner effectively. The Effective Students™ Planner removes the guesswork for students, with clear steps outlined in the forecasting exercise. By design, our executive function planner helps students build confidence in developing reliable habits.

Shop the Effective Students™ Planner for the 2023-2024 academic year.

Find More Executive Functioning Resources for Student Success 

This executive function planner guide serves as a launching point for a successful academic school year, helping you to decide what tools you need to stay on track. Sometimes, though, you need more than a planner to help get you on the right track for your goals. 

Effective Students teaches students, parents, and educators how to better recognize executive functions, and then we help you improve them in painless lessons, often distilled into as few as 15 minutes per week. In addition to our other resources and services, we also offer Effective College Connection and Personalized ADHD Coaching for Students to help give students with ADHD the foundation for a brighter future. 

These programs enable students to learn executive functioning skills and teach some of the essential skills needed for significant transitions like college. If you’re ready to find the right option, contact our team to learn more.

Organizational skills training for children with ADHD is a key step to their development and independence. At Effective Students, we focus on helping students learn to organize and manage their time while learning how to prioritize and forecast when tasks should be done. 

When they start learning these skills surrounding academic management and emotional regulation, the right planner can be helpful. However, students need a planner that works well for them and needs to build habits around learning it. 

A dedicated black female teacher enthusiastically guiding her students through a lesson, fostering an engaging and inclusive learning environment.

Quick Guide: Teaching Executive Functioning to High School Students

Many students’ transition to high school can be difficult, especially if they don’t have the necessary executive functioning skills. According to a 2010 study on academic vulnerability and resilience during the transition to high school, 

“The transition to high school is a critical stage in students’ academic trajectories and can be especially difficult for middle school students who struggle academically. Starting high school on a low academic track and with low academic performance often leads to dropping out of high school.”

The pressures of high school academics can be overwhelming for students that already struggle with handling school assignments, projects, and preparing for assessments. In addition, as students prepare for college, it’s crucial to have a system in place to thrive academically. That’s why executive functioning coaching is crucial for high school students. 

At Effective Students, we’ve seen the importance of this coaching first-hand by working with high school students to give them the framework they need to be prepared for college. We do this by teaching students a process and giving them the space and time to practice, leading to skills and independence. 

Want to learn more? Because we’ve done so much work with executive functioning coaching, we wanted to make a guide breaking down the benefits and how it works for students. Read this guide to learn more about what your high school student can get from coaching! 

Defining Executive Functioning 

While executive functioning sounds complicated if you’re unfamiliar, it is a fundamental skill. As Harvard University defines it, executive functioning allows you to “plan ahead and meet goals, display self-control, follow multiple-step directions even when interrupted, and stay focused despite distractions.” It is also often paired with self-regulation, which describes your ability to control how you respond to emotions and situations. Students with ADHD often struggle with both things, but ultimately, executive functioning is a learned skill— so all students can benefit from it. 

Two black students diligently collaborating on their homework, demonstrating teamwork and commitment to their academic growth.

At Effective Students, we go deeper into the definition of executive functioning. For us, executive functioning skills fall into two categories: 

  • Academic Management Skills– This involves planning ahead, meeting goals, and following directions in a sequence to complete class assignments. Students with these skills can also apply what they’ve learned.  
  • Social-Emotional Skills– This skill set is more related to how students respond to outside stimuli. This is about staying focused, managing your emotional response to stressors, and self-regulation. 

Both of these groups of skills make up the umbrella of executive functioning and set students up for success. For high school students, having executive functioning skills can be the difference between success and frustration, between getting paralyzed by tasks or being able to get things done one step at a time. If a student has executive dysfunction, no matter how exceptional or passionate they are about the subject, they can struggle to evaluate resources, complete tasks, maintain focus, and complete work efficiently.

That’s why it is important to prioritize ensuring students acquire these skills. While students can learn the frameworks associated with academic management and social-emotional skills, they’re typically not taught in the classroom. In addition, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many students may have lost the opportunity to develop the executive functioning skills they need,  especially in the absence of a consistent structure of a classroom. 

With the proper lessons and supportive coaching, students can develop executive functioning skills to successfully respond to the pressures of high school and skill sets like prioritizing, starting, and completing tasks. This will ultimately set them up for success and allow them to thrive in high school and beyond.

Executive Functioning Skills in High School

High school has unique stressors for students, as many are also starting to think about their college decision down the line. In addition to being in a new environment, students also may be taking more rigorous classes and balancing extracurriculars. While more challenging courses and engaging after school activities look great on a college application, it can be a recipe for an overwhelmed student. This is especially true if they haven’t already developed the executive functioning skills they need to thrive in high school. 

A bearded white male teacher actively instructing students using a computer monitor, facilitating a technology-enhanced learning experience.

To help high school students meet the unique challenges they’re facing, our coaches teach three critical skills: 

  • Working Memory– This is holding information in your brain while adding more information. Essentially, this is what allows you to combine two parts to solve a problem. With this skill, you can manage tasks and understand expectations.  Students who struggle with Working Memory can overcome this challenge with specialized instruction. 
  • Flexibility– This skill is related to flexible thinking, which allows you to make changes comfortably, even in your thoughts. This will enable students to adjust their approach to learning or solving a problem without feeling overwhelmed. 
  • Self Control– This skill helps students learn to think before acting and build focus skills. By building self-control, you can set aside time to work on your academics without getting distracted. This skill also pairs with self-monitoring, in which you can be aware of yourself, your emotions, and your performance. By understanding yourself and your current position or state, you can better understand your needs and are aware enough to balance them with your responsibilities. 

Beyond these core skills, our executive functioning coaches also teach vital skills like time management, sustained attention, task initiation, and stress tolerance.  By building emotional-social and academic management skills, students learn to manage all of their classes, extracurriculars, and after-school jobs without feeling overwhelmed. By focusing on emotional and challenging academic skills, students can have the toolbox that they need to succeed. These core skills, such as building organization, time management, study skills, and test analysis, create the framework for success. 

Together,  these skills equip high school students to balance their workload and thrive in their environment. In addition, if your student struggles to recover from distance learning, an academic coach can help with structure, accountability, encouragement, and learning guidelines. Providing these frameworks will help your student re-learn the skills they lost or missed. 

What Executive Functioning Coaching For High School Looks Like

While knowing what skills your high school student needs is important, they also need the right process to learn executive function effectively. 

An African American high school student confidently reading her essay aloud to the class, showcasing her communication skills and academic prowess.

At Effective Students, our team of successful professionals, educators, counselors, and graduate students imparts skills to a younger generation of students focusing on building academic grit. Using the Effective Student™ method, students work with coaches in one-on-one coaching sessions to learn core executive functioning skills. 

When students and parents join the initial consultation, we discuss what to expect from an Effective Student Certified Coach, how to partner with a coach for student success, and answer questions. Students complete an initial self-evaluation to determine their level of self-awareness and current functioning. Parents share observations, concerns, and goals for coaching sessions and student outcomes. This initial session allows us to set goals and determine the process a student will likely follow. 

Coaching begins with an introduction that explains executive functioning and learning and to understand what the student wants to get out of the coaching process. Students are invited into the methodology rather than kept in the dark, becoming partners in their success. By understanding the learning approaches and the reasoning behind why our frameworks are effective, they understand expectations of themselves, their coach, and how to self-monitor and progress. Focusing on the pillars of organization, time management, and study skills, students can put the lessons into practice as they navigate high school. The coaching includes interactive lessons, instructional videos, exercises, quizzes, online materials, and a pacing guide for parents and students. 

At Effective Students, we break down coaching into four stages: 

  1. Coaching Begins– The student meets with the coach weekly, or more often if needed, to implement steps to build executive functioning skills and learn processes to follow. 
  2. Parent Feedback– The parent provides feedback about independence at come. The coach incorporates this feedback into lessons. They also assign the student one or two goals to try. 
  3. Refined Problem Solving– Students refine specific study activities to improve test performance. They also continue metacognitive activities and process independence. At this stage, the student leads more sessions. 
  4. Move to Independence– Students start moving towards increased independence and the use of executive functioning skills. Support is faded by frequency, or the student transfers to a small group and returns to coaching during transitions. 

With the skills learned across all of these stages, students can stay more on top of their classes and experience less stress, and support for independence prepares them for college and how to self-advocate in that environment. 

Ready to Try Executive Functioning Coaching with Effective Students?

Of course, this is a broad overview of the importance of executive functioning coaching for high school students and a snapshot of our process. While it can be daunting to go through the process, choosing a partner like Effective Students makes the path toward well-developed executive functioning skills more straightforward. If you’re ready to start considering coaching for your student, we’d be happy to discuss this further. 

At Effective Students, we’ve created engaging courses and insightful programs that help students develop a robust skill set of executive functions, leading to long-term success. 

While our one-on-one coaching sessions are recommended for building executive functioning skills for high school students, we also have the Effective Student™ course. This course teaches some of the essential skills our coaches teach. If you’re ready to find the right option for you, contact our team to learn more.

A young black boy enthusiastically writing a math problem on a whiteboard, fully engaged in his learning process.

5 Benefits of ADHD Academic Coaching

Students with ADHD often struggle with executive functioning, meaning they can have difficulty starting and finishing tasks. However, executive functioning skills that these students need to succeed are teachable. Harvard University defines executive functions as learned skills that allow you to “plan ahead and meet goals, display self-control, follow multiple-step directions even when interrupted, and stay focused despite distractions.” Learning executive functioning strategies can make a difference for students K-12 in better academic performance and building life skills. 

At Effective Students, we focus on teaching these skills. This includes helping students to learn to evaluate resources, complete tasks, and remain focused enough to follow through and complete those tasks. Because executive dysfunction can impact students emotionally and academically, our coaching includes both academic management skills and social-emotional skills. Through executive functioning coaching, we help students with ADHD get the support they need to succeed. 

Because of that experience working with students, we wanted to make a guide on some of the critical benefits that ADHD academic coaching can provide. Read the complete guide to learn about some benefits of getting academic coaching for students with ADHD.

1. Builds Skills in Academic Management

For many students with ADHD, it can be challenging to keep up and manage all of the assignments and responsibilities of school. Whether that’s staying focused during lessons and taking good notes or doing homework and projects on time, without executive functioning skills— it’s challenging to keep up. That’s why building skills like time management, planning and prioritizing, and organization is a focus of our coaching so that students can better manage their academics. 

Two black students collaboratively reviewing their homework, deeply engrossed in their academic discussion and learning from each other.

Every student also learns differently, so learning academic management needs to be taught understanding different learning styles. At Effective Students, we use interactive lessons, instructional videos, exercises, quizzes, and online materials to give students ways to learn executive functioning skills in different and engaging ways. By learning executive functioning through these different lessons, students will walk away with a skillset to help them manage their academic and personal responsibilities more independently. This focus on academic management sets students up for success and self-direction through the end of high school that carries into college.  


2. Helps Students Apply What They Learn

For students with ADHD dealing with executive dysfunction, starting and finishing tasks can be challenging. This experience can lead to frustration and parent-child conflict. Sometimes students even shut down, which may make it appear like they don’t care. However, frequently experiencing the disappointment of executive dysfunction does not mean students cannot learn academic management skills or will not be able to apply them in the future. Students have a better chance of succeeding academically with a program designed to help them become more independent in starting and finishing tasks. 

At coaching sessions with Effective Students, we help them apply academic management steps that have an immediate positive impact in helping them to get started and following through. Learning how to use these skills independently is baked into our process, so as students continue through coaching, they become more independent with these skills and can carry them throughout their academic careers. Students can better apply what they learn by getting important input from coaches and the opportunity to practice. That’s why our coaching is collaborative, so students can learn by doing and using skills in the real world, not just in academic coaching sessions. 

3. Fosters Social and Emotional Skills 

When they have ADHD and have trouble focusing and starting tasks, students can feel overwhelmed or like they’re failing. This can lead to increased stress levels, which can impact academic performance. In fact, stress can make ADHD worse. According to ADDitude, “Stress-impaired executive function diminishes working memory and impulse control, as well as mental flexibility and coping skills. Stress also makes it hard for people with ADHD to focus and sustain their attention.” That’s why students with ADHD must be able to manage stress levels and learn coping methods in stressful situations. At Effective Students, we focus on building social and emotional skills to help them manage that stress. We also focus on helping students cope with feelings of guilt when they lose focus or have difficulty. Because students with ADHD also struggle with flexible thinking when they face difficulty with a task, we help them learn to adjust to the situation.

A young man with glasses, showing signs of frustration as he grapples with a challenging homework assignment, embodying the struggle of the learning process.

Beyond the impact of stress on ADHD, many students may have lost some of the social and emotional regulation skills they learned in the classroom during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to NCES, “Eighty-seven percent of public schools agreed or strongly agreed that the pandemic has negatively impacted student socio-emotional development. Similarly, 84 percent of public schools agreed or strongly agreed that students’ behavioral development has been negatively impacted.” Working with students during the pandemic and beyond, we’ve helped students deal with this gap in socio-emotional skills for better academic performance in the classroom. Our coaching focuses on response inhibition to help students build emotional and academic skills that might have been lost over the last few years. 


4. Grows Ability to Maintain Focus

Many students with ADHD have difficulty dealing with distractions and maintaining focus. As a part of the social, emotional, and academic aspects of executive function, students must also learn to stay on task. While distractions at home and in the classroom are always a reality, there are key strategies students can learn to maintain focus. 

At Effective Students, our ADHD academic coaching focuses on building skills in focusing and limiting distractions. Working closely with our students, we teach them strategies they can use daily to boost focus in the classroom and while working on schoolwork. When students can stay on task to accomplish more throughout the day and on their assignments, they have better learning outcomes and feel successful. 

5. Allows the Successful Transition to a New Environment

All transitions can be difficult for students with ADHD. According to the CDC, “Transitions can be challenging for children with ADHD, and having to spend time doing schoolwork, homework, and family activities in the same space where parents may also have to do their work can create additional stress for students and parents.”

In particular, transitioning from middle school to high school or high school to college can be incredibly stressful. Without the right skills and strategies for self-management and self-direction, even the simplest things, like learning and completing assignments, can be difficult, and students can quickly fall behind. Being in these new environments can also be distracting and overwhelming for students. That’s why having academic, social, and emotional executive functioning skills is crucial to weather these transitions. 

At Effective Students, our coaching helps students deal with these changes and has a toolkit for handling new situations and learning environments. We can ensure their transition goes smoothly by working closely with students on transitioning and dealing with an increased workload. 

Ready to Begin ADHD Academic Coaching?

Of course, this is a broad overview of the value of academic coaching for students with ADHD. While it can be daunting to go through the process, choosing a partner like Effective Students makes the path toward well-developed executive functioning skills more straightforward. If you’re ready to start considering coaching for your student, we’d be happy to discuss this further. 

At Effective Students, we’ve created engaging courses and insightful programs that help students develop a robust skill set of executive functions, leading to long-term success. 

We offer Effective College Connection and Personalized ADHD Coaching for Students to help give students with ADHD the foundation for a brighter future. These programs enable students to learn executive functioning skills and teach some of the essential skills needed for significant transitions like college. If you’re ready to find the right option for you, contact our team to learn more.

An executive functioning coach, professionally dressed, pointing at a laptop screen with an open educational software, providing guidance to a focused student sitting next to them.

What Is an Executive Functioning Coach?

Today’s world is full of growing distractions. Even within the classroom, students need to have developed or be developing effective executive functioning skills in order to wade through the plethora of screens, events, and other distractions competing for their attention in order to achieve their goals.

An executive functioning coach can equip students with specific skills to help them navigate these daily challenges so they can plan, organize, and complete their tasks with confidence. Executive function coaching can build students into self managers and thus, better learners, setting them up for success in school and beyond.

In this article, we break down what executive functioning is and how executive function coaching can support students for success. 

Defining Executive Functioning

An ADHD coach, passionately pointing to a specific passage in a book, as she imparts knowledge to an engrossed student sitting nearby. The scene captures a key moment of personalized instruction in managing and thriving with ADHD.

Executive function may sound like a lofty psychological concept, but let’s break it down. According to Harvard University, executive function is the learned skill set that allows you to “plan ahead and meet goals, display self-control, follow multiple-step directions even when interrupted, and stay focused despite distractions.” Executive function is often grouped with self-regulation, which is a person’s ability to control their responses to situations, emotions, and more.

Merriam-Webster, meanwhile, defines executive function as “the group of complex mental processes and cognitive abilities (such as working memory, impulse inhibition, and reasoning) that control the skills (such as organizing tasks, remembering details, managing time, and solving problems) required for goal-directed behavior.”

At Effective Students, we define executive functioning skills as those which fall into two categories: Academic Management Skills and Social Emotional Skills.  For students, executive functioning skills can be what makes the difference between success and frustration, the willingness to persevere or procrastinate. A bright student with poor executive functioning skills, which may also be called executive dysfunction, may struggle with evaluating resources, completing tasks, or even focusing on a test in front of them, even if they’re passionate about the subject area. 

The skills associated with executive function must be learned, yet they are not necessarily taught in a standard curriculum.  While the discrete skills fall into either category, we often observe the skills or skill deficits compounding.  For instance, poor time management skills can lead to anxiety, and, as a result, the student cannot start an academic task (task initiation). To solve the student’s challenge, one must have an ability to get to the root cause of what is holding the student back.  

What Is an Executive Functioning Coach?

An executive functioning coach, like the academic coaches at Effective Students, equips students with  skills to help them manage academics such as  processes for organization, task management, and planning. For students who struggle to evaluate resources, formulate plans, and follow through, an executive functioning coach can be a game changer, working alongside the student to develop confidence and competence so the student can overcome previous obstacles to success.

Typically, an executive functioning coach will inquire and clarify to get to know the student, his or her goals, challenges and personal wins as a way to build rapport and align themselves with the student. Effective Student coaches will balance a student’s goals with the goals of the parent, often fostering or bridging communication gaps. Together as a team, a coach and student can clearly define an obstacle the student is facing, then scaffold the steps to success and help hold the student accountable to follow through, while simultaneously connecting with the student emotionally. 

An effective academic coach will instruct and then model the habits and skills that are most needed for independence and self-direction while staying humble and relatable. All the while, the academic coach will keep an open line of communication, plus encourage and celebrate the student as they develop skills and learn to persevere. 

Elements of Executive Function

Executive function is an umbrella term that covers a range of interconnected neurological elements, including working memory, mental flexibility, and self-control.

According to the NIH, working memory is the ability to store information for short-term, task-related use. Working memory is utilized in comprehension, planning, and reasoning.

Mental flexibility is the ability to adjust your attention and responses based on various demands, settings, or rules. 

Self-control is the ability to resist impulses, set priorities, and follow through on those priorities. Self-control also encompasses resisting emotional responses to unexpected information or situations and is dependent on self-awareness.

Working memory, mental flexibility, and self-control represent just three of the many interrelated skills that comprise executive function. A good executive functioning coach will help students understand the importance of each skill and how to leverage it for success.

Other skills related to executive functioning include:

  • organization, 
  • time management, 
  • planning and prioritizing, 
  • sustained attention,
  • task initiation (getting started)
  • emotional control, 
  • flexible thinking, 
  • goal directed persistence, 
  • metacognition (thinking about your thinking and self awareness), 
  • response inhibition (thinking before acting/texting/speaking), and 
  • stress tolerance.  


ADHD and Executive Function Disorder

A bored little girl struggles with her homework as her concerned parents look on.

Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can coexist with other learning difficulties for children, but what is the connection between ADHD and executive dysfunction? Executive dysfunction is a common, often central feature of learning disabilities and other disorders, including ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, says the Institute of Education Sciences. It can also absolutely occur in highly gifted and committed students in challenging academic environments.

Students with ADHD have unique challenges, though, and thus may experience executive dysfunction to varying degrees. People who do not have ADHD can still experience executive dysfunction. To learn more about the relationship between ADHD and executive function, read our article, “ADHD & Executive Functioning – The Chicken or the Egg?”

Executive function issues are commonly present in students with ADHD, and thus, students often experience significant benefits from executive functioning coaching. Students without ADHD can also utilize executive functioning coaching as enrichment and acceleration, honing their skills and developing better habits and skills before college, graduate school, or careers.

What Does Executive Dysfunction Look Like in Students?

Executive dysfunction can present itself in a variety of ways across students, making it hard to identify.  Some students may give up when they encounter difficulties or have an emotional reaction since they lack the skill of self-regulation, while  others may grow anxious from the pressure and stay up until the wee hours of the morning trying to perfect an assignment.

Students with executive dysfunction often feel overwhelmed by school, frustrated that it appears to be so much more difficult for them than their peers, which can lead to a perception that they are less of a student or are not capable. 

Utilizing an Executive Functioning Coach for Students

Students engaging in focused study on the floor, each absorbed in their laptops. Their organized surroundings and concentrated effort are a showcase of their developed study and time management skills, a result of their fruitful engagement with Effective Students.

When considering an executive functioning coach, it’s important to ask whether they plan to work on social emotional learning skills, academic management skills, or both. When students struggle with executive functioning, goal setting can be a helpful strategy, but goal setting alone will not cure or resolve skill deficits such as poor time management or poor study skills. Students appreciate direct instruction in how to overcome the challenges they experience with task Initiation or planning and prioritizing rather than discussing strategies to do so. Most students with ADHD are experiential learners, so coaches have to create experiences for students to learn.   

Overall, executive functioning coaching can help students work smarter instead of harder when the instruction is intentional, and students have the opportunity to practice lessons that have an immediate positive impact or outcome. With practice, when students develop strong executive functioning skills, they will find that they can apply them post-academia and into their personal lives and eventual careers.

Executive functioning coaches who work with students may also be called academic coaches, but it’s important to note that they are not tutors. Tutors focus on a specific subject area, such as math, with the goal of improving grades. Academic coaches focus on teaching students processes and skill sets that can be applied to any subject with the goal of evaluating resources, creating a reliable plan, and consistently following through

With executive functioning coaching, students can:

  • Improve study skills
  • Manage time better
  • Build confidence
  • Learn to study efficiently
  • Become academically independent
  • Stop procrastinating
  • Become confident and competent in managing their affairs

At Effective Student, we utilize the Effective Student Method™ through online academic management courses, one-on-one coaching, and workshops for students.


Benefits of an Executive Functioning Coach

An executive functioning coach can help to bridge the gap between educator, parent, and student to better communicate about academic goals, skills, and expectations. 

At Effective Students, our courses, workshops, and coaching are specially designed with the needs of students in mind, providing hands-on experiences and practice to help cement key skills. Students can combine the engaging online courses with live virtual or in-person coaching, so they can talk about the real struggles they are encountering at school and create a plan to address those obstacles. 

A tenth grade student who took the Effective Student Method™ course said, “I learned tools to not only be a better student but to increase my abilities as a student. This class has opened my eyes and helped me to change my learning techniques for a better end result.”

The Effective Student program provides:

  • Increased academic achievement
  • Increased memory function
  • Increased self-awareness
  • Increased collaboration
  • Better behavior and focus 
  • Better emotional management
  • Better stress management
  • Better problem solving

The Effective Student Method™ Roadmap

The Effective Student Method™ course coupled with coaching is our most popular way to improve executive function in students, teaching them a step-by-step academic management style where they can see their progress. The course is appropriate for students from fourth grade to twelfth grade.

The course empowers students from the start, with an introduction that explains executive functioning and learning. Students are invited into the methodology rather than kept in the dark, becoming a partner in the process.

Next, the students delve into mini-lessons that focus on the pillars of organization, time management, and study skills. Throughout the course, students can schedule one-on-one coaching sessions to talk about what they’re learning with an expert academic coach who’s ready to cheer them on.

The Effective Students online course includes interactive lessons, instructional videos, exercises, quizzes, online materials, and a pacing guide for parents and students.

Discover Academic Coaching with Effective Students

Executive functioning coaching can make a world of difference for a student struggling to find academic success. At Effective Students, we carefully curated our programming to deliver impactful, engaging executive functioning skills to the students who need it most, launching them toward academic success.

If academic coaching may be right for you or your student, explore the Effective Student Method™ course and one-on-one coaching sessions. Contact our team to learn more.

Learn about the differences between Executive Dysfunction vs. Procrastination

Executive Dysfunction vs. Procrastination: Understanding the Difference in Students

When your student puts off their work, you may find yourself asking: are they simply procrastinating? Procrastination is tied closely to the behavioral condition called executive dysfunction—to the point where the two terms are often confused or misused.

In this article, we’ll define and differentiate executive dysfunction and procrastination.

What Is Executive Dysfunction?

To understand executive dysfunction, we must first define executive function. Executive function is the skill set that lets a person evaluate resources, formulate a plan and follow through with the plan to reach their intended goals.

Executive functioning skills is an umbrella term that represents almost a dozen discrete skills, including organization, time management, planning and prioritizing, sustained attention, Working memory, task initiation (getting started), emotional control, flexible thinking, goal directed persistence, metacognition (thinking about your thinking and self awareness), response inhibition (thinking before acting/texting/speaking), and stress tolerance.

Well-developed executive functions require a dance of all of these skills summarized as a self-regulatory process that connects cognition with action and behavior.

On the other hand, executive dysfunction, sometimes called executive function disorder (EFD), is a behavioral condition where a person has significant challenges calling on their executive function skills, making it difficult to plan ahead, stay focused, problem-solve, and more. However, executive functions are skills, which means they can be developed with instruction and practice.


Executive Dysfunction and ADHD

Executive dysfunction is still being studied, but it has a clear connection to other conditions, like attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Students with ADHD have unique challenges, though, and thus may experience executive dysfunction to varying degrees. People who do not have ADHD can still experience executive dysfunction.  To learn more about the relationship between ADHD and Executive Function, see our article, “ADHD & Executive Functioning – The Chicken or the Egg?”

According to ADDitude Magazine, “ADHD is a biologically based disorder and a developmental impairment of executive functions—the self-management system of the brain.” It can help educators and students alike to think of executive functions as little managers in the brain, organizing tasks and planning ahead.


What Is Procrastination?

Procrastination is the deliberate action of postponing doing a task, even though the consequences of the delay are known. For example, if a student has two weeks to complete a project  assignment but does not get started on it until the day before, most parents and educators assume the student has procrastinated. 

The key word here being
deliberate, which means intentionally; in this case, if a student has procrastinated, he or she intentionally or deliberately waited to do the assignment. If procrastination is at play, most often the student is exhibiting a behavior.  To learn more about the difference between a behavior or a skill, check out our article, ”Behavior and the Wizard of Oz: What’s Behind the Curtain?”

Scientific Reports defines procrastination as “a self-regulatory problem of voluntarily and destructively delaying intended and necessary or personally important tasks.” For students and young people, it can be especially difficult to identify how procrastination negatively impacts not only their grades but also their overall behavioral health.


Comparing Executive Dysfunction and Procrastination

Put simply, executive dysfunction is a condition where one has consistent difficulties with the cognitive and behavioral skills related to planning, managing, and executing tasks, while procrastination is the deliberate avoidance of completing a task.  While it appears that procrastination is a common occurrence for a student struggling with executive dysfunction, it is important to distinguish that often skill deficits in task initiation or planning and prioritizing are instead present, rather than intentional procrastination.

In practice, it can be challenging to distinguish whether executive dysfunction or procrastination are present since they share a lot of overlap, thus they can be hard to untangle, particularly when they present so similarly in the classroom environment. Fortunately, well-developed executive function skills built on sound processes can both remedy the executive skill of task initiation and lead to timely work completion and reduced anxiety and stress.


Causes of Executive Dysfunction

Despite how commonly executive dysfunction occurs, we don’t know its true cause. According to the Cleveland Clinic, “Experts don’t fully understand why executive dysfunction happens, or why it can take so many different forms.” It has been linked to a range of other factors and conditions, including ADHD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, autism spectrum disorder, depression, degenerative brain diseases, and more.

However, almost all teens with or without a specific diagnosis struggle with executive function skills.   These critical skills are developed through the teen years and are managed by the prefrontal cortex or the frontal lobe of the brain. The prefrontal cortex develops between the ages of 13 and 23 (and sometimes up through 25 for individuals with ADHD) which is why we observe teens struggling to connect their choices with outcomes. To read more about the Teen Brain, see this article from American Academic of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Teen Brain: Behavior, Problem Solving and Decision Making.”

When a student is observed not completing a project over time, or waiting until the last minute to complete homework, if educators had the instructional tools to deliberately teach students how to plan, prioritize and break assignments into manageable parts, it would be easier to identify if executive dysfunction or procrastination habits occurred first for a student. 

Exploring the origin of why a specific student is having such a hard time getting started on their work (the skill of task initiation) will inform the appropriate instructional strategy. From there, teachers can tailor instruction for the student or groups of students to help them develop skills to overcome their executive dysfunction and eliminate the habit of procrastination.

For many  students, a lack of knowledge impairs them from starting. As adults, we are quick to assume that a student doesn’t do something because they don’t want to, not because they actually don’t know how to. If a student is confused about the outcome of the project or struggles with the subject material, they don’t know how to begin. 

Students may not feel confident that they know enough about the task to do it, or they experience anxiety about how challenging they perceive it to be, so they simply do not start. As academic coaches, we often see written project handouts and assignment sheets that appear to be clear to the teacher, but when we review them with the student, they are missing key components for students to follow a step-by-step process.  

In other situations, students are charged with completing tasks that are unenjoyable, boring, or cumbersome—maybe it’s their least favorite school subject or class. As adults, we may forget the lack of agency many students feel, since It’s easy to forget how having to complete unpreferable tasks is part of growing up. 

As adolescents, students have not developed the self-discipline to push past these negative feelings and get started anyway.  We often observe students  prioritizing non-academic pursuits that they consider to be more fun or engaging. We could share thousands of examples but in the age of cell phones, but we think you get the idea.

Executive dysfunction is closely tied to ADHD, but whether it’s a cause or a symptom is still up for debate. It’s important to consider that students with ADHD or other conditions may concurrently experience symptoms beyond executive dysfunction that affect their classroom experience and behavior.


Symptoms of Executive Dysfunction in Students

Executive dysfunction can have the following symptoms (just to name a few):

  • Inability to manage and control emotions
  • Information processing challenges
  • Trouble managing and organizing tasks and materials
  • Inability to plan ahead for future events
  • Trouble with follow-through on long-term actions


For example, a student may sit down to work on one homework assignment but completely miss that they have another assignment as well. They could forget about the upcoming test they have or let their fear prevent them from committing to studying.

Students with executive dysfunction may display an inability to self-regulate in terms of both cognition and behavior. Some of their peers may look at step-by-step directions and get started with ease, but that type of self-management isn’t possible for them due to their executive dysfunction.


6 Strategies to Address Executive Dysfunction

An executive functioning coach working with a student.

  1. Build behavioral momentum. Take the time to clearly communicate how it will be easier to start with one or two aspects of the task and go from there. The student will build confidence as they approach more difficult activities. 
  2. Set sub-goals. Break down the assignment into smaller parts that are easier for the student to understand. These sub-goals can serve as checkpoints and make it easier to monitor progress.
  3. Explain the “why.” Inform the student about why the assignment must be done and give them an idea of the big picture. Resilient Educator explains, “Clearly communicating our expectations and explaining how they align with course competencies helps students see a purpose to their learning.”
  4. Implement a break system. Regular breaks can give students a bit of relief and allow them to regroup with fresh eyes rather than grinding away at the same assignment for hours.  
  5. Be empathetic. Explain to the student that they may experience intrusive negative emotions when they aren’t succeeding at their executive functions, but that’s normal. Reframing for a more positive mindset can foster a healthier relationship with learning.
  6. Fade support. As students become more independent with a process, make sure to take a few steps back so they can begin working on their own.

3 Strategies to Address Procrastination

  1. Don’t label them. Once a student is called a procrastinator, they can adopt the label and decide there’s little they can do about it. Instead, focus on specific strategies to motivate the student.
  2. Show simple steps. Review the expectation of the assignment and the required steps, giving them more time to absorb the information and cement understanding.
  3. Create a schedule. Set aside a specific time block for homework or studying. A sense of routine can help remove some of the outside distractions that feed into procrastination.

Read more tips on how to stop procrastinating homework in this article.


How Academic Coaching Can Address Executive Dysfunction

Academic coaching can be transformative for students.

What is the difference between an academic coach and a tutor? Often, when a student is struggling in class, a tutor is called. Tutors are experts on subject material, though, and not on the study habits and self-regulation skills that students with executive dysfunction experience. Instead of seeking a tutor, students with executive dysfunction can benefit more from an academic coach or executive function courses, like those we offer at Effective Students.  

The popular Effective Student Method™ course teaches executive function skills to students through a step-by-step academic management style where they can see their progress. The course is appropriate for students from fourth grade to twelfth grade.

For students who would benefit from  one-on-one support, our academic success coaches can deliver in-person or virtual sessions. Working alongside the students, academic coaches can model specific skills and monitor progress in real time. Individual instruction affords parent and school collaboration as needed. 


Explore Academic Coaching for Executive Dysfunction and Procrastination

Executive dysfunction and habitual procrastination can be daunting to overcome. Fortunately , you don’t have to do it alone. At Effective Students, we created engaging courses and insightful programs that help students develop a powerful skill set of executive functions, leading to long term success. 

Explore the Effective Student Method™ course and one-on-one coaching sessions from Effective Students. To find the right option for you, contact our team to learn more.

How Schools Can Help Develop Better Students

It is no secret that to retain information one must study. Whether it is for a test in school or a new workflow at a job, a person needs to have a method in place for learning new material. Unless gifted with a photographic memory, you need to have study techniques in place to absorb new things so that you can recall them later when you need them. Skills like note-taking, retrieval practice, creating associations, and finding patterns—are all necessary steps one must take to build content knowledge. 

Study Skills Curriculum In School

Every student is different when it comes to studying. Some might find it easier to remember content with notes in a free-flow form, others may require a more structured format for organizing materials based on subject matter and topics, and some might further yet need interventions to figure out how best to make things stick. But how is a student to discover their most productive and functional method of studying if study methods are not practiced enough to evaluate whether they are effective and this process is not directly taught by educators in a school setting? In a poll of educators in a school, grades 4-6, 85% of teachers believed that the previous grade level was responsible for teaching students how to study.

Clearly, there is a disconnect between educators in regard to study skills lessons and when they become relevant. Students benefit from learning to study at each grade level as content changes, study activities should also change however, the truth is that students are very rarely taught how to study and often don’t figure it out until college. Can you imagine going to work daily without having been trained on how to do your job? Frustrating, to say the least.  When kids move from elementary to middle school and then on to high school, the importance of studying becomes significantly more vital. As students matriculate into higher grade levels, we often see a drop in their grades because study expectations have gone up while study skills have remained static.

The Problem with Teaching Study Skills in School

We are fully aware that there are amazing teachers everywhere that care for the success of their students and are burdened with standardized tests, curriculum objectives, administrative expectations, and often large class sizes—the truth is that educators have a lot on their plates. How could it be possible to add one more learning target with these roadblocks and does every student need to learn study strategies? 

How Effective Students Can Help

At Effective Students, we understand the importance of preparing students for the rigorous study routines expected of them later on in their high school and college years. Our staff of highly trained educators realizes that there is a demand for support within this portion of teaching, so we are here to assist. We partner with schools to help them enlist students in the process. Through simple, powerful mini-lessons, teachers lay the groundwork for students to be vested in systems that result in successful personal outcomes so they develop independence in solving academic challenges.

Our study skills curriculum with lesson plans takes the burden off teachers giving students the processes with accountability tools that lead to independence and academic success.  Clear checklists, video lessons, handouts, and metacognitive exercises equip students to track their study methods and habits. 


The goal is to help students build strong and organized academic management skills. Learning executive functioning skills helps students achieve more academic success. However, my biggest takeaway is how this program can actually bleed over into other aspects of a student’s (or really anyone’s) life. The key for any of us – the student or not – to be successful in life is to use strategies to stay organized, admit and learn what we don’t know, analyze and forecast our time and learn how to adjust when certain strategies or actions are not working. The ability to internalize these skills as early as we can in a student will help them STAY successful as college students as well as working, professional adults. I love the intentionality of learning and infusing any person’s life with these skills and strategies as well as the idea of having the courage to admit and learn what you don’t know. There is power and confidence to be found for anyone to organize their work, identify and forecast their week and use skills/actions to learn what they don’t know. So empowering!

In addition to helping schools, we give parents the opportunity to reach out directly to us to advocate for their own child’s success. We know how busy it is between a full-time job and the responsibilities that come with having a family which is why we provide individualized resources for students and parents as well as academic coaching support that teach your children the best ways to study. 

At Effective Students we offer the following study skills lesson plans that can go a long way in setting the foundations for strong study behaviors:

study skills curriculum


If you are an educator, parent, or student who struggles with studying, we invite you to contact us to see how we can help. Whether it be online workshops or meeting with an academic coach, Effective Students will use our resources and experience in the field to help produce successful outcomes for your students. 


How to Stop Procrastinating Homework

Procrastination creates stress for students and can impact the production of quality work.  Putting things off, for all of us, creates an overall feeling of things hanging over our heads and never being free from responsibility.  

When students procrastinate, they can create a situation that makes it difficult to self-regulate.  When a student is not well-regulated – in other words, they’re experiencing a moderate to high level of anxiety related to homework –  it’s more difficult for their frontal lobe to be engaged in thinking and problem-solving.  

Want to help your student stop procrastinating homework and reach their full academic potential?  This article takes an objective view of homework procrastination to examine the root cause and provides some expert advice on how parents and educators can best help students.

Common Reasons for Procrastinating Homework


So, why is procrastination so common?  Contrary to what many might believe, the root cause has nothing to do with students being ‘lazy’ or dismissive about their schoolwork.  Rather, some of the most common reasons for homework procrastination include,  

  • Students may underestimate the length or complexity of a project because they have not fully developed the concept.
  • When students feel overwhelmed or become aware of the significance of the project/paper/essay etc, they can ‘freeze up’, rendering them incapable of completing any work at all.  
  • Trying to accomplish homework with ADHD presents unique challenges for students; students with ADHD often need help further developing essential executive functioning skills.
  • Some students may not be getting enough sleep and feel exhausted – both physically and mentally; an exhaustive state robs them of their natural ability to motivate. 
  • The home environment where students typically complete homework may have too many distractions. 

The rule of thumb for parents: perspective is key for parents.  Motivating students from a place of shame is a non-starter.  Alternatively, parents will have more success when they objectively consider the root causes for procrastinating homework – anxiety, exhaustion, constant distractions, or living with ADHD – and look for ways to help alleviate these common factors. 

Homework Tips for Parents: A Word On Motivation


First, motivating students is a misnomer.  Students may want to do well, but really do not know how to do well.  Others may procrastinate because they’re afraid to fail or not be perfect.  

Try following these steps to help your student,  

  1. Begin by asking your student if they are open to help.  While students may say no, parents have the ability to respond by saying they respect their position but would kindly ask them to reconsider.  In other words, forcing students to comply simply compounds the stress and frustration the student is experiencing. 
  2. Recognize that your student may be more emotional with you than with a tutor.  It’s not personal – by keeping your emotions in check, you provide a great example of self-regulation for your student to model.  If you need to step away to get a break, do so.  
  3. Model, model, model!  Get involved by reading the assignment out loud with your student, and create a schedule of how to do a little each day so the student learns how to complete a little at a time 
  4. Perhaps the most important thing to do: empathize!  Kids, just like us, want to be understood and supported.  Even as adults, having to do what you don’t like to do stinks – we call it ‘adulting’. Want to shorten the proverbial gap between you and your student? Provide some real-life examples of how you have to do things you don’t like as an adult and acknowledge their feelings.  You will become instantly relatable. 

Additional Homework Tips for Students

  • Start with something easy to help you get going – we call this behavioral momentum.  Format your paper, write your name at the top of the assignment, and answer the question you feel most comfortable with – just get the ball rolling. 
  • After you establish behavioral momentum, tackle something more challenging – but set a timer (around 30 minutes) so you don’t feel like it will take all night. 
  • Some research shows that individuals are more likely to perform better on an assessment when part of a group.  If you have the time and opportunity, join a study group of people who are all working like you.  
  • Create a work/break schedule and definitely put distractions in another room (phone! Or games/Youtube or other streaming videos).  

Creating an Efficient Homework Schedule 

Okay, parents – you likely already know how important structure and routine can be for your kids. In helping your student learn how to stop procrastinating homework, creating a schedule can give them a greater sense of autonomy while helping them manage expectations.   

In a de-escalated environment, (when things are chill) ask your student to create a homework schedule that he/she would like to implement.  After they present it to you, you’ll have an opportunity to give feedback and set up a trial period.  

The proposal itself is a plan;  the student is evaluating their resources (time) and responsibilities (tasks) and formulating a plan.  Ask your student how they want to be held accountable and let them know you want to discuss it with them at the end of the week to evaluate their progress.  

With this approach, parents demonstrate trust in their students and give them an opportunity to practice being self-direct.  The key word here is practice – so, don’t expect it to be perfect!  Over time and with further practice, they will develop these skills.  

Academic Coaching with Effective Students

Fortunately, for parents and students who feel overwhelmed by homework or are frustrated trying to help their kids, there is help in the form of academic coaching from Effective Students. Our academic coaching services empower students who may be struggling to manage materials or assignments, apply what they’re learning, transition into a new academic environment (high school to college, for example), and procrastinate homework due to heightened feelings of anxiety, fear, and exhaustion. 

Learn how to help your child meet and exceed their academic goals – contact us today!

study skills lesson plans

College Readiness & Executive Functioning: Is Your Student Ready for College?

Time moves fast as a parent. One day you’re looking to enroll your child in a pre-K program – then, before you know it, your child is all set to graduate from high school and embark into adulthood. While senior year is an exciting time for your student, transitioning to college also brings the subject of college preparedness to mind for us as parents, raising one critically important question: Is my child ready for college? 


Of course, college may not be the preferred option (or even the most accessible option) for every student – but a wealth of research routinely shows possessing a bachelor’s degree leads to greater income potential compared to a high school diploma. For example, data from 2021 illustrated that individuals who possess a bachelor’s degree earned approximately $22,000 more on average per year when compared to their peers who possessed a high school diploma. 


The same study notes that college graduates were able to navigate the Great Recession better than their peers who did not possess a bachelor’s degree. During economically uncertain times, a college education may afford your student some much-needed stability. 


Despite the clear advantages associated with pursuing a college education, students will inevitably experience a wide array of academic challenges which compromise their ability to earn a degree. Common academic challenges include poor study habits, difficulties comprehending course materials, test anxiety which contributes to negative exam scores, and much more. The ability to meet and exceed these challenges greatly hinges on your student’s overall college readiness

What is College Readiness?


College readiness (also referred to as college preparedness) is defined as the level of competence an independent student requires to enroll and succeed academically in a postsecondary institution offering a bachelor’s degree program. 


Want to help your student get ready for college? Start focusing on what NOT to do for them. As parents and full-time caretakers, we constantly grapple with allowing our children to do things for themselves. It’s easy to lose sight that hardship – and even failure – is oftentimes a precursor to empowerment and autonomy. When it comes to preparing your student for college success, it’s your job to create the space required for your student to decide to do things for themselves. Academic coaching services from Effective Students are specifically designed to show you how. 

College Readiness Skills = Executive Functioning

Executive functioning skills are the number one indicator of long-term success. Self-awareness, a lead executive functioning skill, coupled with self-management, is what can make freshman year a success or failure. Think about how your student may have to create structure in college in an environment of significantly less structure than they experienced in high school.  The late years of high school and early years of college are when students have the real opportunity to develop these skills through practice, success, struggles, and adjustments.    


The sooner students become independent with executive functioning skills, the more prepared they’ll be for studies in higher education. Living life on their own or living away from home for the first time will expose the presence of executive functioning skills or lack thereof. So, if we’re intentional about building these skills in our kids, they will develop the ability to self-direct, no matter which path they choose.  So what kind of skills are we talking about?  Here are some things to consider: 

  • Is your student getting him/herself up and ready for the day on their own?
  • If they’re already in college, are they going to class?
  • Can the student tidy their rooms and find their materials if needed? (notice we didn’t say want to tidy!)
  • Can the student show up to class, work, appointments on time?
  • Does the student have some knowledge of how to use a digital calendar?
  • Does the student know how to communicate with adults about their needs?
  • Is the student willing to separate from social events to step away and attend to personal responsibilities?
  • Does the student know how to evaluate resources in their academic environment and implement their accommodations?
  • Can your student prioritize or do they become overwhelmed?

Effective Students will help your child become aware of what they can do themselves and where they may need to practice becoming more independent, while also assuring parents that their concerns are being addressed.  Our academic coaches are ready to help college students achieve academic success.

How to Get Ready for College with Effective Students


Has your student recently transitioned back to college or arrived for their freshman year?   Effective Students has coaches that exclusively work with college students; coaches who have the inside track on what it takes for students to be successful as they make this transition. Parents and students have invested considerable time and resources to ensure this next step out of high school is a success.    Empower your student with the support and skills that help them achieve their goals in education, paving the way to long term college success. Have questions about whether this is right for your student?  Contact us for more information or to learn more about our academic coaching solutions for college

© 2023 Effective Students by W3 Connections Inc.