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If there’s one thing educators have learned over the last two years, it’s that change is inevitable. Whether school is in person full time or fluctuating between remote and hybrid, students will need strong executive function skills to adjust to change. Now more than ever, school leaders and teachers are striving to support the whole child in everyday learning, which makes teaching executive functioning and self-regulation all the more timely. Let’s take a look at what executive function skills are and how you can support them in the classroom.

What Is Executive Function?

Executive function is the set of cognitive processes that give students the ability to self-manage and self-regulate. These skills give students the ability to plan, time manage, focus their attention, regulate their emotions, problem solve, and more. All of these life skills are central to a student’s ability to succeed in a remote learning environment, making executive function skills incredibly important to teach and support during hybrid and distance learning.

Why Is Supporting Executive Function So Important?

The stress and potential trauma students may be experiencing due to the pandemic can take a toll on their executive function skills. Brittany from Success in Special Education explains: “Stress and trauma can affect students of all ages in a variety of ways. If a student feels anxious, depressed or overwhelmed, this can impact their ability to focus on content, participate in the classroom, or engage with others.”  For example, students may struggle with speaking up in class, keeping their attention during lessons, managing their time outside the structure of a regular school day, or starting and finishing assignments.

Thankfully, executive function skills can be supported and taught, and giving these skills the attention they need can lead to a more productive year overall. For ideas on how to teach executive function skills to students, check out the infographic below and browse the suggested resources.

Tips for Supporting Executive Function Skills

Stress and trauma can take a toll on executive function skills, making now a critical time to focus on them. Here are 13 strategies you can use to support your students’ executive function skills.

Time Management

  • Provide an estimate of how long tasks should take and have students use a timer.
  • Have families prepare a regular schedule for at-home learning in case of school closures.

Planning and Completing Tasks

  • Break large tasks into smaller chunks and check in frequently on student progress.
  • Have students record assignments and due dates in one location.
  • Provide written or visual directions for assignments, especially when students may have less access to their teachers when learning at home.

Mental and Physical Organization

  • Share guidance with students on how to set up a productive workspace at home.
  • Create a checklist of what students will need to bring home for a transition to distance learning.
  • Photograph and copy classroom visual aids so students can reference them at home.

Focus and Attention

  • Provide guided notes to highlight key parts of a lesson and encourage active listening.
  • Record online lessons so students can revisit them if needed.
  • Ask students and families to remove distractions from an at-home workspace.

Practicing Self-Regulation

  • Talk to students about the changes that may happen throughout the school year, how it might make them feel, and what they can do to respond to those feelings.
  • Incorporate physical activity or brain breaks into instruction.

Executive Functioning Skills Checklist for Inspiration

Keep this executive functioning skills tip list on-hand to support instruction throughout the school year. Teachers can reference this checklist when planning social-emotional learning lessons, dealing with challenges at school, or looking to address new needs among their students.

Digital Resources for Teaching and Practicing Executive Function Skills with Your Students

Actively teaching students about executive function can help increase their social-emotional and behavioral development. In turn, this can support classroom management as students will be better equipped to self-manage and self-regulate. These executive functioning activities will help educators get started teaching these important skills to students.

SELF-CONTROL Lesson to Build the Executive Functioning Skill of Impulse Control by WholeHearted School Counseling
Grades 2-5

The Teacher-Author indicated this resource includes assets from Google Workspace (e.g. docs, slides, etc.).

Executive Functioning Skills Lessons & Activities – Digital & Print by Pathway 2 Success
Grades 5-8

Flexible Thinking Dealing with Change for Middle and High School by Success in Special Ed
Grades 7-10

“Executive Functioning” 15 worksheets grades 6-9- Google Slides version included by School Counseling Essentials
Grades 6-12