Executive Functioning

Teaching is a profession which requires you to be ULTRA organized. You have crazy weird time constraints (“second period starts at 9:34 and ends at 10:29, at which point you only have three minutes to use the bathroom and make it to the third floor of the building”). You have weird location requirements (“fourth period you teach a physics lab course in someone’s ELA classroom”). And you have a million tasks to keep track of (“grade the math test by Tuesday, email a student’s family, make your lessons for next week, debrief your observation with your admin”). Teaching requires the highest levels of executive functioning (organization, chunking up larger tasks, etc.), yet we rarely teach this skill to our students.

Today I was in an IEP meeting for a college-bound senior. This student had met nearly all of their academic and behavioral goals, yet as we discussed the transition to college life, one thing became very apparent: the teachers, the admin, their parents, and the gradebook systems we have in place were doing all of the organizing for them. I wondered what would happen when a college syllabus was thrown their way and the deadlines were never mentioned again. I realized in our efforts to help them succeed in high school, we hadn’t let them fail.

Now, in my opinion executive functioning is incredibly hard to teach. I once had a discussion with an admin where we decided the more effortless organization is for someone, the more difficult it is for them to teach their methods to others. I’m that over-organized person. I LOVE a good planner (I keep two), and I also take pride in organizing my physical and digital space. I chunk tasks into smaller parts without thinking. I have daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly routines I follow obsessively. In a sense, you could say executive functioning makes me feel grounded. Unfortunately, my student didn’t even see the need for it.

So how do we teach executive functioning?

Honestly, I don’t have the answer. All I know is that it’s the last item on the list of things to teach. It’s behind state standards, testing benchmarks, and social skills. And ironically, it’s the thing that could help improve all of those other priorities. A small step is to show students your own organization methods. I often share my screen and show students my Google Calendar outlining the lessons we’ll cover in the upcoming month. Another idea is to require some sort of written planning assignment at the beginning of each week. But as an avid paper planner (over digital), I hate the idea of forcing a student into a certain planning method. But where to start?

If you have ideas or examples of what your school does, I’d be fascinated to know!

Planning about planning,


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