Executive Function Is the Secret Ingredient to Student Success

Executive function is the mechanism by which our brains manage and prioritize our thoughts, working memory, emotions and actions; Harvard researchers call it our brain’s air traffic control system. Given the incidence of executive function issues in youth, as a byproduct of or co-occurring factor in youth mental health, it is critical for parents and educators to place greater support to help students improve their executive functioning.

Temple Grandin, renowned professor of animal science at Colorado State University and bestselling author of Visual Thinking, shared stories of students on campus struggling to succeed, mainly due to “motivational” issues.

Ludmila Praslova, organizational psychologist, points out that executive function is closely connected to emotion regulation. Executive dysfunction particularly has been linked to PTSD and depression.

Example scenarios of students experiencing executive function challenges include:

  • Failing to remember where they placed notes and assignments
  • Difficulty with planning a project and following it through to completion
  • Struggles to maintain focus during class or on homework
  • An inability to maintain a routine
  • An absence of initiative or drive
  • Leaving important emails and texts unanswered
  • Making self-sabotaging choices such as drug abuse
  • Exhibiting difficulty with maintaining positive relationships

While there is no one trick to address executive function challenges, the following are behaviorally-based strategies that educators and parents can use to support students to improve executive function.

Time and Energy Management

  • Encourage students maintain a consistent sleep schedule, at least 8-10 hours per night for students ages 13-18 and 7+ hours for students over age 18.
  • Support students in planning their schedule in monthly, weekly, and daily increments. This strategy allows them to see big picture priorities and maintain focus on the most urgent tasks.
  • Have students use time blocks to schedule their day, so that each task is tied to a particular time, according to Sherri Fisher, author of The Effort Myth.

Focus and Distractibility

  • Support your student to examine their relationship with their smartphone. What is its role in distractibility? Procrastination? Sleeplessness?
  • Encourage students to engage in physical activity, such as team sports, theatre, and yoga. Exercise increases physical health as well as brain development.
  • Work with students to organize their physical space for completing homework; avoid having them use their bedroom as an office.

Reflection and Self-Awareness

  • Encourage students to keep a confidential journal which will help them to manage the flow of thoughts and responsibilities that occur throughout the day. The act of writing out thoughts, tasks, and priorities will clear their mind and allow them to better focus on what’s most important.
  • Support students to engage in self-awareness activities that allow them to identify challenges and work through problems such as through executive function coaching, adolescent psychotherapy, and meditation.

Executive function strategies are important for students to develop in order to maximize professional opportunities and maintain balance in their personal lives. When students are able to implement strategies that optimize executive function, they will be more productive and have greater emotional capacity to take on life’s challenges.

Excerpted from “Executive Function Is The Secret Ingredient To Student Success” in Forbes Magazine. Read the full article online.

Source: Forbes | Executive Function Is The Secret Ingredient To Student Success, https://www.forbes.com/sites/avivalegatt/2023/02/15/executive-function-is-the-secret-ingredient-to-student-success | © 2023 Forbes Media LLC.
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