Executive Function Skills in the Classroom

Age-old skills in a new package! We all grew up hearing “be positive, flexible, and work hard.” These 3 fundamental tenants of brain management are now being packaged and marketed in education arenas as teachable entities, particularly in focus due to our 2020 Pandemic. With kids ousted from their ‘normal’ classroom environment, where teachers were in charge of the student’s ‘focus’, students have struggled with suddenly having to manage ‘focus’ on their own.

These Executive Function (EF) skills, as stated by the Center on the Developing Child, at Harvard University, are “the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully.” Teachers did all the planning around ‘learning’, and now students are just expected to navigate planning on their own! No wonder so many are struggling.

Executive Function skills are interconnected with social emotional learning (SEL), which is the process through which individuals understand and manage emotions, show empathy, set goals, maintain positive relationships and make responsible decisions. The relationship between SEL and EF can be seen as one in which Executive Function facilitates the taking in of information and the weighing of options to make the best decision, and SEL adds contextual awareness on top of the decision-making process.

Educators know that Executive Function skills and SEL awareness are paramount to students’ academic success. Perhaps most critical during Middle School, when students suddenly are forced to manage multiple teachers for their first time. Curriculums are being developed to better serve students in this basic, and ever-so important arena. These are life-time skills for any age, and the sooner in life an individual is aware of them, the sooner they can apply them to their own lives.

Like the flashlight sitting on a table in a dark room, it is useless until you are aware it is there…

By: Larry Johnson
Project Manager