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
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.
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:
- 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
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
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
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.